Since we were there, we stopped at the Heian Shrine. The towering torii marking the entrance looked bright and freshly painted. The main draw of this particular shrine is its garden. Unfortunately, it's about two weeks early for the sakura trees to be blooming, so they only have tiny buds and are otherwise bare. The only thing in the garden at the moment would be evergreens and moss. While that's pretty, it's not really worth paying to see. ;_;
We wandered around inside the shrine for a while, and jornada202 and megory picked up some health and good luck charms for gifts. Most large shrines sell charms of various sizes. Some shrines specialize in a particular area, such as safe childbirth or success in school or love charms.
Next we sought out the Craft Museum, which I had heard was in the area. I could see where it was on the map, but finding it in three dimensions proved a lot more difficult. We wound up walking all the way around the Museum of Modern Art before we found a building that sorta kinda looked like it might be the place. We walked in and finally found our destination tucked away in the basement.
If anyone ever comes to visit Kyoto, I highly recommend this particular museum. It has displays of many kinds of traditional crafts--woodworking, pottery, paper-making, weaving, metal-working, stone carving, and much more--accompanied by looping videos showing the craftsmen at work on all the stages of the creative process. The amount of work that goes into each item is breathtaking, and of course the finished products on display are gorgeous. The most amazing thing is that there is no entrance fee for the museum.
We finished up in the museum gift shop, which had a wide variety of craft items available in many price ranges. In fact, we were quite impressed by the reasonable prices. Many souvenirs were purchased.
We followed this up with a visit to the much more famous Kyoto Handicraft Center. This is a tall building with many crafts and souvenirs on each floor, and it is always packed with foreigners. When I first came to Japan, this place was quite exciting. If you are only in Japan for a few days and want to buy gifts for people, it's a good spot, because it has a large selection of items that appeal to tourists all concentrated in one place. However, seeing it now, especially right after coming from the Craft Museum, is rather disappointing. The prices are inflated, for one thing. The exact same item selling for $7.50 at the Craft Museum was $10 at the Handicraft Center. For another, the items (especially in the kimono and yukata section) are obviously mass-produced for tourists and are not at all like the real thing, which we were able to acquire for lower prices at the flea market.
By the time we finished, it was getting to be late afternoon and we realized we still hadn't eaten. We intended to hit the shopping arcade along Teramachi Street, so we headed down there, but we stopped for supper at an Indian restaurant instead. It was getting dark when we finished, so we decided to go directly home.
Thursday was declared to be All-Kyoto-All-the-Time Day. My plan was to squeeze in the most famous landmarks that they had not yet seen. We started with Nijou Castle, which is absolutely stunning. It's enormous, but that's just the beginning. The amount of detailed carving and painting that went into decorating the vast Second Building really takes your breath away.
The garden was delightful as well, with ponds and decorative rocks...but of course, the sakura were still only buds. (There is a signboard outside the castle entrance that gives visitors daily updates on the status of the sakura blossoms. It read "buds are swelling.") We finished up our visit with a stroll through the souvenir shops.
The next stop was Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion. The draw of this spot is that it's a big building covered with gold. It's a great photo opportunity.
After leaving Kinkakuji, we walked down the road toward our next destination, Ryouanji, which I chose because megory wanted to see a Zen garden. It was about lunchtime, so along the way we searched for a place that would have vegetarian food. We managed to locate a little soba noodle restaurant called Gontaro tucked away with only the gate visible from the street. It turned out to be a lovely place with friendly staff. This gave my parents a chance to struggle with using chopsticks to eat long, slippery noodles. (jornada202 handled her chopsticks like a pro, despite only having used them for the first time when we went out for okonomiyaki last Friday.)
We continued on to Ryouanji, where we were greeted by, wonder of wonders, actual blooming sakura. Not all the trees were blooming, but here and there we could see some. I even got to take a picture of everyone posing in front of a tree with blossoms to prove that they were here in the spring.
(You know you've been in Japan too long when you stop to take a picture of individual flowers to show that it's spring. My cell phone camera, by the way, has a special "close up" setting marked with a picture of a flower specifically for this purpose.)
During our walk through the garden, I discovered that my parents had never been to Kiyomizu Temple. We can't have that. So, rather than going to the shopping arcade as planned, I decided to take them to Kiyomizu. This entailed locating a bus stop with a bus that wouldn't go all the way to the station, which took us on a tour of the back alleys of Kyoto. We then took a bus all the way to Fourth Avenue, which made everyone appreciate the speed of the subway. Several transfers later and we were there.
The walk up to Kiyomizu Temple is dangerous for me, because I'm addicted to buying pretty pottery. The road leading there is called "Teacup Hill" because it is lined with pottery shops. I managed to resist on the way TO the temple, but on the way BACK...well...I caved. I was sucked into buying a $100 set of hina dolls.
At least I restrained myself from buying the $250 teacup...
No plans yet today. I was going to take everyone to Hikone Castle, but I'm fairly certain the flowers aren't blooming there either. They're all more interested in packing to make sure everything will fit in their luggage. And we still haven't managed to fit in any karaoke or print club. ^_^;