(We're just gonna pretend that I didn't fall off the face of the earth for eight months and continue on where we left off, cool?)
After leaving Osaka, my boss and I hopped on a train for the hourlong train ride up to Kyoto! We had booked a bus tour to take us to three sight-seeing stops: Nijo-jo Castle, the Golden Pavilion and Kinkaku-ji Temple, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. (Japan has both an emperor and a shogun; it was described to me like how England has both a prime minister and a queen.)
Everything is very cute in Japan! There was a construction project going on where we were supposed to meet our bus, and all the barricades and alert markers were little pink people or happy green frogs that looked kind of like Keroppi from the Sanrio/Hello Kitty store we used to visit when I was a kid.
My favorite fun fact about the palace was that it was built so that the floors would intentionally creak whenever someone walked across the floor. This was to prevent assassins from sneaking up on the shogun's family!
We had a really great tour guide who knew lots of fun facts about the places the bus dropped us off, and about things we passed while the bus moved from place to place.
It wasn't a very bright day, but the grounds were lovely.
Then we took a short ride over to our next stop ... the Golden Temple!
The First Gate
I was really excited about this stop, because I'd never seen a temple before. I wish we'd gotten to go inside the actual Golden Temple, but it contains a lot of Buddhist relics, so we only got to tour the grounds.
The actual pavilion ... covered in gold foil, with a phoenix at the very top, kind of like a weathervane.
It looks very peaceful, but along the fence I took this picture from, there were TONS of tourists.
This place was so beautiful. There were hidden staircases, and all these little pots where you could make a wish and try to toss your yen coin into it.
Behind this incense was another arch in which a statue of the Buddhist god Fudo-myo-o lived, but we didn't get to see the statue, just the arch and more decorative pieces. Instead, you could toss more coins towards him, and you could waft the burning incense towards yourself in order to heal what ails you.
I also got to ring this giant gong! This one is for requesting a wish from god.
When we left, we were given a thin slip of paper that was a talisman/charm; our guide said it indicated security for your family and prosperity for your business, and that you should hang it in a high place in the entrance hall of your home. But you have to have a frame ... don't put a pin in it, or it's bad luck! She told us, "god will say 'ouch!' and send you demon instead!" And that we needed to come back Japan every year to get a new one. :)
Finally, we came to our last stop, the Old Imperial Palace. The first emperor to live here was crowned in 1331!!! Unfortunately, they had a lot of fires over the years, and the palace kept being reconstructed, so the palace I saw was only about 160 years old.
The Emperor officially lives in Tokyo now, not Kyoto, but (if I'm remembering correctly) dignitaries and royalty still can stay at this palace.
There are multiple places for your carriages to rest when you visit!
And there are multiple houses within, of varying levels of fanciness and function.
This is the Shishiden building, where they held important ceremonies.
They really know how to do impressive gates in Japan!
Finally, our tour bus took us back to the train station. We had to get back to Tokyo for our flight back to the U.S., but not before trying ... conveyer-belt sushi!!!
That was a really fun experience, and we tried lots of different things! Miso soup, green tea, and lots of different little plates of various fishies. You just pull down whatever you want to eat as it passes you, and then the waitresses look at the patterns on your plates to figure out what you owe!
Then it was time to leave Kyoto, and hop on a bullet train for the capitol...