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I started blogging in 2007 during an Air Force deployment to Iraq and kept at it when I got back. Since then, I’ve written for DadCentric, City Dads Group, Humor Blogs, and other sites. This site is primarily for our family travels and adventures, because I forget stuff if I don’t write it down. Our family trips include 2 girls (11 and 8) with a boy (9) in the middle; they’re led by a guy who’s deployed to Iraq twice, visited all 50 United States, run with the…
Wednesday, June 13 began with hot coffee at McDonald’s in Kyoto, because that was the only place I could quickly find hot coffee in our new ‘hood (we also had fried meat on a stick from a nearby street vendor). By 9:45, we were at the “Golden Pavilion” — Kinkau-ji Temple. Covered in gold leaf on 2 floors, it was built by a Shogun as a retirement villa, but willed to become a Zen temple after his death in 1408. It was absolutely beautiful.
Not pictured: the thousands of tourists gawking at it all around us.
Before we ventured onward, I lit a candle for “do a brisk business” and offered its prayer to Buddha or God, and I’m still waiting on the onslaught of brisk business that is surely coming my way.
After my candle ceremony, a bunch of Japanese kids with workbooks approached us and asked if they could interview me to practice their English for their school. I told them not only could they interview me, but interview my children as well! So they did. Afterward, they gave us little fans they’d colored, and we gave them some of our jam from Georgia, and any ill will left over from WWII went away immediately between the U.S. and Japan, because my kids helped Japanese kids with their homework, and there was peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.
We walked the Philosopher’s Path along a canal and had deep thoughts and profound conversations before visiting the “Silver Pavilion” at Ginkaku-ji Temple, which isn’t really silver, but we liked it. We actually liked its grounds better than the golden pavilion’s, and it wasn’t nearly as crowded.
There was also a zen garden by the silver pavilion, and it was JUST like the ones I’ve seen in lawyers’ offices who went to liberal arts colleges before getting their J.D.s, only this one was much bigger and felt more authentic.
It was now afternoon, and we walked through Okazaki Park by the Heian Jingu Shrine and then to a little upstairs shop where we’d reserved a couple hours in kimonos or yukatas, which we put on and wore to the Kodai-Ji Temple and to get ice cream before a tea ceremony at Camellia Tea.
I loved learning the history of Matcha tea and how a proper Japanese tea ceremony is conducted. The tea and the experience surrounding it were wonderful, and since we still had extra time in our yukata rentals, we walked around the city for a bit and enjoyed some old school Kyoto cosplay.
We changed into our normal clothes and ventured to Mount Inari to the most popularly photographed place in Japan. It was 6pm, but my son and I were determined to hike through the more than 1,000,000 torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha to the summit and see the sunset.
Along the way are lots of smaller shrines and foxes, which were the messengers for the god of rice, Inari.
We made it up and back down in under 2 hours and were able to catch the sunset from atop the mountain. I was very glad to see vending machines along the way (though the drinks got progressively more expensive as we climbed), as we bought many waters once we got near the top (despite the elevated prices).
Despite the exertion, I loved it. I’ve hiked across England and in 27 U.S. national parks, plus countless state parks and trails throughout the United States, but this was my favorite hike anywhere. I loved how unique it was, how beautiful, and how peaceful (as the higher we went, the fewer people we encountered!).
It was now dinner time, so we took the train to Kyoto station, escalated to one of the higher floors and had tonkatsu at Katsukura. It was delicious.
By the time we got back to our AirBnB, my Apple watch indicated we’d taken over 24,000 steps that day and climbed 70 stories. It was an exhausting, action-packed, and utterly delightful day. I loved it.
We awoke on Tuesday, June 12 to a kaiseki breakfast brought into our room while we sat in our yukatas (i.e., pajamas). After our meal, we made our way down to the bus stop, which took us to the train station for the 3-hour train ride toward Kyoto. But before getting to Kyoto, we got off the train, shoved our bags into lockers, and then walked into the local area by the Odawara train station, because my bride had read that there was a noodle place there that had earned a Michelin star, but we walked around with iphone navigation for several minutes without finding it. So, we had lunch at Mister Donut, because sometimes, you gotta keep it real.
We re-boarded the train for Kyoto, arrived just after 2pm, and found our AirBnB, called Azzuro Elefante, a traditional Japanese home where we’d be sleeping on futons on tatami mats for the next 5 days (luckily, this one was registered as a hotel, so the sweeping new law that was enacted while we were in Japan that cancelled over 60,000 AirBnBs did not affect us). We grounded our gear and headed out on foot to explore our new city, crossing through Maruyama Park to Niomon Gate at Kiyomizu-dera Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage Site over 1,000 years old.
We climbed the stairs, explored the insides of the temples, climbed more stairs, and took in the views from atop the hill. The children reached for water for ceremonial cleansing, because clean hands are happy hands (and because everyone else seemed to be doing it).
We walked through the enormous and interesting Nishiki Market, and I decided I needed to find an authentic Japanese pipe, because I like to get pipes when I travel to new countries, so I began searching Yelp for a tobacco shop at the same time as I was looking for a place for us to get some great noodles. My family got in line at Ippudo while I ran several blocks to get a bamboo Japanese-made pipe that I loved before returning to the family for dinner that looked like this:
It was spicy and awesome. The pipe was nice, too.
We went to bed fairly early, as the next day, we’d be hiking through the most photographed tourist destination in all of Japan.
Monday, June 11 started early, as we boarded our Shinkansen “bullet train” at 8am. I was excited about my first ride on these super fast trains I’d heard about as a child. We grabbed breakfast on the platform to eat on the ride to Odawara station, where we took a local train for a bit, and then a bus to Hakone.
My oldest looked a bit green on the bus ride and filled a large percentage of an empty convenience store bag with her partially-digested breakfast. When we exited the bus, it was pouring rain. We stood, frustrated, where the bus had dropped us off, trying to decide whether to walk through the rain to a shrine by the lake or to a path of 400-year-old cedars. Either way, we had a couple of hours before our pirate ship ride across Lake Ashi. My son took a step back and kicked over a ceramic Dalmatian in front of a local shop whose overhang we were using for shelter. A lady walked onto the front stoop, visibly angry at him for knocking over her decoration. Startled, my sickly eldest dropped her convenience store bag full of vomit. She froze, watching the bag drop to the concrete and spill its contents. “Umm…I’m sorry?” She felt terrible, and she wasn’t even sure this angry woman spoke English. The lady glared at her. “Just—sorry?!” and she went back inside as the children trudged away.
We ducked into Kotolier Cafe for hot coffee, a clean restroom, and to hide from the angry shopkeeper down the street. After a half hour or so, the rain lessened a bit, and we decided to visit the path of cedars.
The strong winds and pounding rain storms made small work of the cheap umbrellas we’d brought, but made us glad we’d bought Disney ponchos the night before. We hiked through a 400-year-old cedar-lined path leading to Hakone Checkpoint; the trees were planted to mark the road by the then-reigning Shogan.
We skipped the hike to the shrine and arrived early at Motohakone port to board the ship (the Royal) that’d take us on a scenic cruise across the lake.
We disembarked the ship and were supposed to take a ropeway to have black eggs and noodles, but the sulfuric acid fumes were so strong that the ropeway was closed, and a shuttle took us instead. The black eggs’ shells are so colored because of the sulfur, and eating one extends one’s life by 7 years, but you’re not supposed to have more than 5, which is why they come in groups of 5. We bought a pack and had one each, since I figure I don’t need another 35 years anyway (because we eat organic at home).
Given my extra 7 years, I suppose we should start planning my 50th birthday party. I want it to be “black egg Hello Kitty” themed.
The hot noodles after our hot eggs were delicious, because we were cold, wet, and starving by this point, and hot Ramen noodles in Japan are awesome.
The Hakone Ropeway at Owakudani was open, so we proceeded high above the yellow-from-sulfur Valley of Hell, which would have provided awesome views were it not pouring rain, but we could still look down upon Hell, and how often do you get the chance to do that in life? We took a couple of cable cars down the other side of the mountain and then hopped on another bus that stopped right by our inn for the night: Senkyoro. This would be our first experience at a traditional Japanese inn.
Before we talk about the inn, I’d like to clear up some variant terminology we saw in Japan. Variant to me, at least. The “ropeway” was what I’d call a “cable car,” as it was a little metal container with benches that was carried by cables that ran above the metal container and took us across a ravine, high in the air, like we used to do at Opryland in the ’80s. A “cable car,” in contrast, is what I’d call an “inclined railway,” because that’s what they call it in Chattanooga, which is the only other place I’ve ridden what looks like a trolley that’s pulled up the side of a mountain by metal cables while the “car” is on tracks. Now back to our story.
We removed our shoes and had our bags taken to our room, which consisted of a large room with tatami mat flooring and a dining table in the middle of the room. Outside sliding glass doors was a lanai, and to the left of it was our own onsen. By the time I’d put on the slippers outside our room, my youngest was naked and in the onsen, which is, as she says, “how she rolls.”
We were invited to don yukatas and enjoy tea, which the inn hostess prepared for us immediately. What kind of fool turns down green tea and robes after a day spent in the rain? Not this guy.
Room service consisted of an entire kaiseki meal brought to us on the table in our room. It was amazing.
After dinner, the staff removed our table and replaced the floor space with futon mats for sleeping.
At which point, I decided to enjoy the onsen for a bit.
It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon and evening. From 4pm until we checked out the next morning, we never left our room (they brought breakfast in the same fashion as they’d done dinner in our room).
When we left, as we did in our AirBnB in Tokyo, we left some Georgia jam as a thank you gift.
The next day, we were headed to Kyoto!