Day 10

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Saturday, May 29—Kyoto/Nara

As Advertised: Breakfast will be served in your hotel. Today will be a complete day at leisure to independently explore this exciting city. You may choose to take an optional excursion to Nara, an older capital of Japan which was a major cradle of Japan’s arts, crafts, literature, and culture.

Up before 6. This morning we didn’t bother with the Top of Kyoto and its measly “set breakfast” but instead went to the Corbeille Coffee House, off the lobby, for a repeat of the lavish buffet we had become accustomed to in Osaka. Barney and I and Tom and Joan and our three sons had signed up for the “optional excursion to Nara,” where we would visit the Tōdai-ji Temple and Kasuga Shrine.

Our bus left at 8:30 a.m. Nara appears to be about 20 miles from Kyoto, but I would estimate that the bus trip must have taken over an hour. The photos I took at Tōdai-ji were all made within a period of an hour, and my notes say we were to leave there at 11 a.m., which suggests that we did not arrive till nearly 10 a.m. There is a gap of about half an hour between the photos made at Tōdai-ji and those made at the Kasuga Shrine, also in Nara Park. The last of those were taken about 11:45 a.m., and we returned to the hotel about 1:15 p.m., so it would appear that we spent more than three hours in transit. This was typical of all our excursions: it seemed that we often spent more time getting to a site than we were able to spend touring it.

But Kyoko did not waste the travel time; it was always filled with lectures on one topic or another. During the drive to Nara, which she described as the “center of Buddhism in Japan,” Kyoko told us about Buddhism and how it originated in Nepal and came to Japan from India by way of China, was adopted by the nobles of the court, was later simplified to be more appealing to the common people, and thereafter mingled with the native Shinto beliefs to produce the blended religion currently prevalent in Japan. She compared some aspects of Buddhist worship (holy water, incense, rosaries) to their counterparts in Christianity.

Upon returning to our hotel, after we had taken time to freshen up a bit, Barney and I, Tom and Joan, and Matthew sallied forth in search of lunch and the Toji Temple, in that order. Finding the latter should not have been difficult since we knew the general direction it was in and, after all, it boasts the tallest pagoda in Japan, which should have stood out against the skyline. In fact, we managed to take a number of wrong turns, but along the way we ran across a KFC, where we had a good (and relatively cheap) lunch. After eating, we succeeded in finding the temple and toured it in a leisurely fashion, spending over an hour and a half in the grounds. Our walk back to the hotel was even more circuitous, but we enjoyed stopping off at Umekoji (Plum Blossom Alley) Park, where we saw families (adults, children, and infants) spending their Saturday afternoon playing softball and other games, watching the trains pass on the JR Tokaido Main Line, and generally enjoying the outdoors. There is a steam locomotive museum nearby, but we did not visit it.

We returned to our rooms to rest (and in my case to read) and went back out again about 6. Matthew had gone to Jabu-Jabu Land to do some laundry, and we collected him there, trekked back to the hotel so he could drop off his clean clothes, and then went in search of the Kyoto Tower, a relatively new skyscraper with an observatory at the top. When we finally located the building itself (not difficult, as it did stand out above the skyline) and, with more difficulty, the kiosk where tickets for the observatory could be purchased, we decided that, at ¥770 apiece, they were too expensive. So we crossed the street to the JR station, where Barney and Matthew and I had a great dinner at Café de Anri. On the way home, Barney and I stopped at Caffè Veloce for coffee and cookies.

We returned to the room about 9 p.m. Since we were leaving for Hakone the next morning, we showered and packed, then turned in fairly early.