A Day to Explore Kyoto

There are many customs in Japan that I have been learning this week. In a previous post I mentioned about the variety of slippers you put on depending on the room you enter. Some other customs I have learned include

  • When entering a home from the outside it is customary to first wash your hands.
  • When paying for goods, it is impolite to hand money directly to the cashier. They will hand you a tray or mat onto which you place the credit card or money.
  • When handing a card, gift, letter to another person or when they hand the same to you, you give/accept the item with both hands and gently bow your head to show appreciation of receiving the item.
  • Before and after a meal you say a blessing, not unlike back home. Before you eat: ita daki mas     After the meal: go chi so same deshta

The Golden Pavillion

On Tuesday I had a day to explore Kyoto on my own. After checking out of my hotel in the morning I grabbed a day bus pass and set off for Rokuon-Ji Temple to see the Golden Pavillion. Another of Japan’s World Heritage sites, it was built first to be a villa of Kintsune Saionji. In 1394, the 3th Shogun of Ashikaga, Yoshimitsu, began to the build the site taking special care to make it a site to behold. After his death it was made into a Zen temple per his will.  The building consists of three types of architecture. The 1st floor is Shinden-zukuri, palace style. The 2nd floor in Buke-zukuri , samurai style and the 3rd floor is Karaky style or Zen Temple style. The 2nd and 3rd floors are covered with gold leaf on Japanese lacquer. A Chinese Phoenix sits atop the roof. Tis was one of favorite place to vista thus far on the trip. I enjoyed a cup of tea while sitting outside below tall trees and felt very at peace here. I was amused at the groups of school children stopping me to practice their English and take pictures with me. This has happened many times throughout  the trip.

A place to have tea among the trees

My next stop was Ryoanji Temple. Built around 1500 by a Zen monk, this temple houses a simple rock garden consisting only of white sand and fifteen rocks known to be one of the masterpieces of Japanese culture. The path leading up to the temple is beautifully landscaped. Every time I turned my head there was something else to see. Japanese landscaping evokes much contemplation and reflection on the viewer.

Zen Garden of stones

I travelled next to the Nishijin Textile Center and purchase some embroidered silk fabric for a friend back home and then stopped to visit the Shiramine Shine, which is dedicated to sports. Soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, baseballs, field hockey sticks another sporting equipment decorated each shrine. On this day there were a few athletes visiting and saying prayers at many of the small shrines spread throughout the grounds.

A shrine for athletes

Continuing on, I found my way to the convergence of the Kamo and Takano Rivers and took some time to cross both. Large stepping stones in the shapes of turtles and birds created a path stretching from one bank to the other. Up river a series of waterfalls could be seen. Next up was a stop at the Shimogamo Shrine. This was a place of serenity and calm.  I stopped for lunch at Hanaore Restaurant which specializes in Sabasushi. “Saba” is mackerel. To make Sabasushi, fresh mackerel from the Sea of Japan is soaked in a vinegar base sauce and them put onto sushi rice. It is then presses into a bar (know as Oshisushi, meaning pressed sushi). I was treated also to a small order of salted mackerel that had been preserved in salt 7-12 months which I was told is a nice compliment to the bottle of sake I had sipped on.

Crossing the rivers

The gate to Shimogamo


Near the restaurant I met my cooking instructor, Taro Sekei. Together with four other students, we walked a short distance to his home where we were greeted by his wife Yoshiko and daughter Karuko.  We started class by going over the menu and learning about Japanese cooking ingredients. Below is a list of the dishes we prepared:

  • Dashi : vegetarian and non-vegetarian (Japanese soup stick made from kelp and bonito fish flakes)
  • Miso soup (two types: vegetarian and non-vegetarian)
  • Yakinasu no Nibitashi (Grilled & simmered eggplant)
  • Tamago yaki (Japanese omelet)
  • Goma-ae (half cooked spinach)
  • Tsukune (Japanese chicken meatballs)
  • Ponzu Sauce (citrus and soy based sauced with dashi)
  • Agedashi-tofu (fried tofu with ginger sauce)
  • Tsukudashi (rice condiment) 

The ingredients we studied included:

  • Soy sauce (5 types)
  • Miso (3 types)
  • Sake (for cooking)
  • Mirin (sweet sake)
  • Kombu (kelp)
  • Katsuobushi (dried and shredded fish flakes)
  • Seasonal mushrooms

The tools we learned to use included”

  • Cooking chopsticks (3 types)
  • Square omelet pan
  • Tofu pan
  • Miso strainer

Chef Ryan

After cooking we sat down to enjoy the meal together and celebrate our new skills. We were served some Japanese sweets and green tea for dessert and parted ways shortly after. If you ever travel to Kyoto and are looking for a unique experience I highly recommend this class.

A meal I worked for.

I made my way back to the hotel to meet Mr. Kusanagi. Together we travelled to his home; about 20 minutes away form Kyoto near Japan’s largest lake. There I met his wife Maki, and their three children, Yutakta, Yurika, and Kyoka. They treated me to a meal of shabu-shabu and sushi; yet another amazing meal. After dinner we played some game,  Sequence and Spot-It, and then prepared for bed. I had my first experience sleeping on a traditional Japanese bed.  With another full day of sight seeing behind me, I was ready for some sleep.

Shabu Shabu dinner

Tomorrow I will take the bullet train (Japan’s fastest) to Hiroshima, a two-hour ride southwest of Kyoto. Once there I will visit a flower shop near Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park the visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the museum. I will dedicate the flowers and 1000 paper cranes, which were folded by members of the Lawrence community this fall and shipped ahead of time. Afterwards, I will meet with a survivor of the atomic bomb blast and hear about his experiences.


4 comments on “A Day to Explore Kyoto

  1. So glad to know you are ok. Was worried, because I had not heard from you. What a beautiful trip you are enjoying/learning as well. Can’t wait to see you and try out some new cooking. Take care be safe and know you are loved!!!! Mom

  2. taro says:

    Your son Ryan is a super cool guy!! Sooo kind too! He is so polite and brought my daughter a gift! Thank you Ryan for deciding to come to my cooking class. Next time you are in Kyoto, let me know. Now that I know you can drink(from the sake picture above), we will go grab beer together. haha!

    • Keser says:

      Thanks Taro! I had a blast. I will give recommend your class to all future Lawrence teachers who visit Japan. Look for me in the future. I WILL return to Japan.
      Domo arigato gosai mas!

    • Pam Krein says:

      Taro and family, thank you for taking wonderful care of my son. I hope one day we can all get together. I love your cooking videos and pictures of your beautiful family. Love and hugs, from Gresham, Oregon. Pam

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