My second day in Kyoto happened to be on Christmas Day. It was weird to spend Christmas away from family, and needless to say it didn’t really feel like Christmas this year. However, I was happy to have the chance to go to Kyoto, and it was fun to do something new and different even though I did miss my family.
One of my teammates was also in the Kyoto area around the same time, so we decided to meet up and spend part of the day together in the Arayashima district of Kyoto to do some sightseeing. Since she was staying in a different city, she got in touch with me on Christmas morning to give me her ETA. I was much closer to Arayashima than she was, so I hung out at my guest house for a while before locating the nearest bus stop. I waited, but the bus I was supposed to get on didn’t come. I kept waiting, and still no bus to my destination. I finally got a text from my friend that she had already arrived at Arayashima! I pulled out my phone to check other transportation options, thinking I might catch the subway instead. As I was researching on my phone, a man who was sweeping the sidewalk behind me (I saw so many people sweeping their sidewalks in Kyoto!) asked where I was going. Through some basic English, he communicated that I needed to go “up” the pedestrian walkway and then “down” to the other side of the street to get to a different bus stop. I smiled gratefully as I dashed off to the stop, where I was picked up promptly by the next bus headed to Arayashima.
Finally, about 40 minutes later, I met my friend in Arayashima. Our first stop was one of the major attractions of the area – a giant bamboo grove. It wasn’t very large area-wise, but the bamboo was TALL and towered regally overhead.
After traversing through the bamboo grove, we did a little exploring and ended up climbing many steps to the top of a hill behind the grove. From there we had an excellent view of some hills and a river, and spent a few minutes taking pictures and eating a snack while enjoying the view. The river was so clear that if you look hard enough in the photo, you can see the rocks below the surface of the water!
We were somewhere near a monkey park, although we didn’t actually go to it. Apparently, there was a chance that monkeys might be in the vicinity, though, because we saw this sign:
After our little break, we walked back downhill and headed back toward the town area, crossing a historic bridge. As soon as we’d crossed, we decided it was about time for something to fill our hungry tummies, so we headed back across the bridge to an okonimiyaki joint in the main part of town.
What is okonomiyaki, you ask?
Only my favorite food EVER!!
Actually, it’s not. But I do like it quite a bit, and even have my own homemade version that I whip up quite frequently. I’d had okonomiyaki at a restaurant during my first trip to Japan (way back in 2009!), but had not had it since, other than the kind I make at home. So it was definitely on my “bucket list” of things to do in Japan this time around.
Basically, okonomiyaki is like a cabbage “pancake.” To make it, you whip up a thick pancake-type batter and throw in shredded cabbage and whatever else you want. (“Okonomiyaki” literally means “baked [thing] as you like it”). Some sort of meat, such as beef, pork, or seafood, is commonly added. I make my homemade version with onions, shredded carrots, and bacon. You spread the batter in a frying pan and cook it up on both sides, then add mayo (a perennial Japanese favorite) and okonomiyaki sauce (somewhat like barbecue sauce).
At the place my friend and I went to, I was a little disappointed because, instead of letting us fry up our own okonomiyaki on the hot grill that was at our table, they fried it for us and delivered it to our table already cooked. Oh well. It was still tasty!
After our venture in Arayashima, we headed to Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion temple that’s one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto. I wasn’t necessarily sure if I wanted to pay the 400 yen to go see it. This was not to go in it, mind you – this was just to get close enough to see the thing! However, even though I’m not a huge temple/shrine fan, I’d decided that this building was noteworthy enough for me part with four hundred of my hard-earned yen.
As it turns out, I ended up being quite happy with my decision. There were TONS of people, but I was still able to sneak in some shots of the glistening temple. It was kind of a landmark experience for me, because it made me realize that these famous places that I’ve had images of for so long – for example, on Japanese postcards that I had as a child – are places that I’m actually seeing IN PERSON. It wasn’t that I had dreamed of seeing that particular place for a long time, but rather that I’ve dreamed of seeing Japan for so long – and even though I’ve been in Japan for quite some time, being able to travel and do some sightseeing gave me a fresh realization that my dream of being in Japan has actually come true.
After Kinkakuji, my friend headed home, but I decided to stay in the area and walk to Kitano Tenmangu shrine, where I’d heard that there was a large flea market every month on the 25th. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to visit it, since I was fortunate enough to be there on the 25th! Because it was a little later in the day, some of the vendors were finishing up, but there were still many, many vendors who were open for business. It was fun to walk through and browse, even though I didn’t see anything that I just had to have. I wandered around and got a few shots of the shrine:
I saw some people in costume working there, although I’m not sure if they were ordinary workers or if they were just performing for a special occasion:
According to the zodiac calendar, it’s the year of the wild boar, so I saw pictures of boars in many different places throughout my stay!
After the market, I proceeded to walk to the Nishijin Textile Center, which I’d heard was an interesting place to visit. I got there around closing time, so some of the attractions were finished for the day, but there was a lady demonstrating how to use a foot-powered loom to make an obi (the belt of a kimono). It was quite fascinating, and I stood for some time watching her and trying to figure out how it worked, though I’m afraid my poor un-mechanically minded self could not make much sense of it all. If anyone knows anything about looms, please enlighten me!
I finally walked home, cold, tired, and hungry. I stopped at a convenience store – oh Japan, how I love your convenience stores! – and, since it was Christmas, I bought the traditional Japanese Christmas food, fried chicken. With an accompanying salad and a chocolate orange ice cream cup to go with it, I was quite happy!
It hadn’t been a traditional Christmas, but it had been a great day, and I went to bed a happy traveller!