April 1st
Osaka....take II

I had the alarm set for 6:50.  Thank God it is not raining; but it is cloudy & only 39*  It was going to be a long day, as I signed up for a full day tour into Kyoto.  I had a little leftover steak which I put on a roll; had that for breakfast.  I finished packing my day bag; & was up in the Stardust a little early (8 am).  ShorEx was handing out bottles of water, as they usually do. But they wanted to warn us that if we did not take our own water, the bus driver would charge us $5 a bottle once we got on the bus.  Hmmmmm, that’s a new twist!

Today’s tour was entitled “Traditions of Kyoto” (OSA-DW); & it departed at 8:30.  There were only 9 of us on this tour; plus our escort Roxanne (minister’s wife), our guide Keiko & the driver Mr. Shibashi.  I’m glad Pat was along for this tour, as the rest of the bunch fall into the boring category.

We had plenty of room to spread out on the bus as we made our way across town & out to the expressway for our one hour journey to Kyoto. It’s Sunday; & traffic was almost nonexistent in Osaka.  We drove through industrial areas with stacks spewing smoke into the already polluted air. After a long stretch of nothingness, we arrived into the outskirts of Kyoto.


Even though Kyoto is a large city of nearly 1.5 million people, it has the feel of an ‘old world’ city.  There are no skyscrapers; only large clusters of low to mid rise buildings interspersed with areas of green.  Kyoto Tower is the tallest structure on the skyline; & it looks about 3 times the height of any buildings around it.  Although the season is just getting underway, there were some cherry blossoms already in bloom.  The weather was looking more promising in Kyoto than it was when we left Osaka.

Our first stop today was at Katsuhashi-An, a traditional Kyoto confectionery, where we would learn to make katsuhashi candies.  We arrived at least 30 mins. earlier than expected; so they were still setting up our work tables. This gave us a few mins. to use the restroom, which had those interesting electronic self rinsing toilets.  With instructions written in Japanese & very cryptic illustrations, you just had to experiment with different buttons to see what would come from where. There were a few giggles coming from inside those stalls.

We were then lead into a room where chairs & tables were set up with all the ingredients to make these sweet treats from rice dough, soy flour & cinnamon.  There were bowls of liquid flavorings, cocoa powder, strawberry paste & azuki red bean paste in the center of each table.  And we were each given aprons, plastic gloves, a rolling pin, a pastry cutter/scraper & a printed recipe with illustration all written in Japanese.

Our Japanese hostess, dressed in traditional kimono, spoke no English; so we relied on Keiko to translate while the lady just pointed at things. They warned us to roll up our sleeves because the soy flour would get stirred up & fly all over the place (& it did).  We took premade rolls of rice dough, rolled it out very thin; & cut it into small squares.  Some of the dough, we mixed with strawberry flavoring; some with the cocoa powder to make a chocolate treat. We were like kindergarteners experimenting with play dough.

Once we had made our squares, we added tiny spoonfuls of the various fillings.  We folded them into triangles & pressed the edges together to form a seal.  Although I followed her directions to the letter, I thought they tasted pretty horrible.  It was like they were ‘raw’ & needed to be cooked or baked or something.  We were told that the Japanese love this stuff.  But we got a few giggles out of this experience; & had fun with it.

From there we were lead up to the 2nd floor to an embroidery museum (Shishu-Yakata).  I’ve done a fair amount of needlepoint, embroidery & crewel in my time; & I LOVE this kind of stuff.  But what they had on display took my breath away.  It was mostly crewel work, where you use floss thread & make long stitches very close together to make a tufted look.  It can be tedious & very time consuming depending upon the size of the project.

There were pieces that were the size of a ‘sampler’ with almost microscopic stitches.  And there were framed pieces that took up a whole wall.  A few of the framed pieces must have had ‘billions’ of stitches; & I don’t see how a human could do that kind of work.  It would take hundreds of people thousands of hours to do a piece of that size.  There was no one upstairs to answer questions; so I wondered if some of this was done by machine. Whoever/however the work is done, it was done perfectly.  Nary a thread out of place.

We were given time to browse through the candy shop on our way out. They had samples of the type of sweets that we had made.  And they offered us cups of ‘tea’ (at least I think that’s what it was supposed to be).  It was  very green, looked & tasted more like a funky salty bouillon. I could barely swallow my one sip.  Lots of us bought some of their delicate & intricately decorated candies.  I got a few sampler boxes to bring back to the crew as gifts.

We left there about 10:15; & drove a half hour to the west side of town heading to our next stop at Kinkakuji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavillion).  Along the way I spotted this huge Japanese character created out of piles of rocks on the side of a mountain.  It spells the world ‘dai’, which means great/large.  There are 4 other different characters on the sides of mountains close by.  Every year, on the evening of August 16th, these rock piles are used to create bonfires on the final day of the O-Bon Festival (a period when the departed are said to revisit this world).  This ceremony known as Daimonji, signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, return back to the spirit world.

Once we arrived at the temple complex, there was a short walk from the parking lot.  Even though the sky was predominantly blue, it started to sprinkle rain ever so lightly as we entered the gardens; then it suddenly stopped (could this be some kind of sign?).

We proceeded straight to the lake where we could observe this beautifully gilded Zen Buddhist temple.  The pathway was very congested; & it was difficult to move to the edge of the lake to take a better photo.  This temple was reconstructed in 1955 to replace the original 14th century temple (which was burned down by a mentally unstable novice monk). Buddha’s ashes are said to be housed here.  The temple’s reflection on the still water was beautiful.

Each of the 3 stories of this structure are built in a different style.  The lower floor is of residential style; one giant open space with shutter covered walls  & unpainted wood on the outside.

The middle floor is in the samurai style (made for the warrior aristocrats, with sliding wood doors & latticed windows).  The top floor is built in the Chinese zen style.  The walls of the top two floors are covered inside & out by solid gold leaf.

Keiko told us the gold foil squares are 4”x4”; & there are over 100,000 of them placed over black lacquer.  The pyramid shaped roof is thatched topped with black shingles.  On the very top of the roof is a bronze phoenix ornament.

The temple extends out over the Mirror Pond (mirror which signifies wisdom). And in this pond lies 10 small ‘islands’ that were specifically placed to represent famous places in Chinese & Japanese literature.

From there the path winds through a series of simple, yet symbolic gardens. After climbing a short, steep set of stone steps, we reached the upper gardens.  There was a small waterfall over a koi pond.  And then an ‘altar’ of ancient statues that people tossed coins onto.

Atop another set of stone steps is a small pond that has a simple stone pagoda standing on a little islet.  At the bottom of the pagoda are the images of 4 Buddhas.  It is dedicated to the dragon that controls the water supply to the temple grounds.

It was about this time that Pat & I looked at each other, wondering just how many more flights of stairs were coming. This tour was marked as a moderate adventure; & nobody warned us that it involved mountain climbing. At the very top of the garden we came upon the small, simple Sekka-tei tea house.

This was pretty much the end of the line, except for the concession area & gift shops.  A few steps further; & we came upon a long, steep, cobbled incline. (What goes up, must come down.)  It appeared that Pat & I had both ‘hit the wall’ at the same time.  As sympathetic as Keiko was, there was no other way to get back to the bus. My hip & knee were screaming.  Traction on those stones was poor; & some of us had to stay on the outside of the stairs so we could hold on to the railing.  It was crowded; & the young whipper-snappers were speeding down the center. This stop was only an hour long; but it felt like 3!  I can’t tell you how happy we were to see that bus.

It was quite a drive across town to get to our lunch stop which was at a traditional Japanese restaurant called Minokichi (circa 1716).  We were seated in a small dining room off to the side.  Pat & I had a table to ourselves.

We were served by 2 very demure, kimono clad waitresses.  They paraded in with course after course of beautiful looking dishes & 3-drawer boxes that held all kinds of surprises.  We’re not sure what three quarters of it was.  If it weren’t for the few pieces of sashimi, one of the soups & the tempura, I would have starved.

Pat was a little more brave & actually got down a few of the things I couldn’t. I was actually grateful that Celeste wasn’t here today.  She would have starved rather than eat any of this.

In all honesty, it was a beautiful & expensive lunch ($60 USD) that was wasted on most of us.  And I didn’t hear anybody raving about how good their meal was.  Most of us took advantage of the bathroom facilities before leaving the restaurant.  It was another one of those multi-service toilets.

Back on the bus for one more stop, Kodaiji Temple to attend a tea ceremony in a special room called “Gesshinin”.  We passed some lovely urban scenery with delicate willows & cherry blossom trees with buds about to burst.

We finally arrived at Maruyama Park; & we were dropped off in a large gravel parking lot.  This meant another long walk down a steep incline (without handrails this time), through a garden, past the temple itself & to a small separate building  where the tea ceremony would be held.  I am grateful that there were stools to sit on (instead of the floor).

A lovely, serene-looking young woman slowly & meticulously performed the carefully choreographed preparation & serving of the bowl of tea. Keiko was kneeling on the floor beside the ‘stage’ to explain every step of the process. It was amazing how many steps it took to properly straighten & fold a napkin.  And watching her gently set the bowl down in front of us & turn it slowly clockwise so that the design inside the bowl was positioned just right.

The tea was deep green in color & frothy.  It tasted much worse than what we had this morning.  We were also served a white ball of ‘something’; it was totally inedible.

After we were served, she invited us to come up & try to duplicate the process that she had just shown us.  One gentleman did a fairly good job; & then knelt before his wife & served her tea.  Then a lady in our group also gave it a try.  She obviously had paid closer attention.

Once finished, we were allowed to wander through the little village of shops & snap photos of horse drawn carriages & a few geishas that just happened to be standing there in full regalia.  Most everybody was interested in doing a little shopping there.  I wasn’t; so I started the long journey back up the steps, heading toward the parking lot to check out another attraction that was next door.

When the bus first pulled in, I spotted a lovely terraced cemetery up on a hill. And below that I could see the top of a huge concrete statue.  I was curious to see what that was all about.  I walked up to a gateway that lead into an open courtyard with the monument in the distance.  There were many people coming & going.  I did not understand the signs; but it appeared that there was an admission fee.  I followed the lead of others; & handed the lady 200 yen ($2.75 USD).  She in turn handed me a smoldering joss stick (a type of indirect burning incense) & an information pamphlet.

I quickly scanned the pamphlet so I wouldn’t look like a foolish tourist or do something disrespectful.  From this I learned that Ryozen-Kwannon is a memorial to honor all the ‘unknown’ foreign soldiers who perished on Japanese soil during World War II.

In the center of this large square courtyard was a 12 sided, shallow reflecting pool.  On either side were long open pavilions; straight ahead was the Ryozen-Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) Memorial Hall with an 80’ sitting Buddha atop it.

There was no air moving; & the smoke from the joss stick I was holding was pretty thick.  I headed straight for the huge incense burning urn positioned right in front of the memorial.  I & several others placed the stem of the stick in the sand & said a short prayer.

I stood looking up at the face of the statue; she looked serene & rather knowing.  You could feel peace there.  I did not wander into the pavilion. Since I couldn’t see my bus from there, I didn’t want to tarry & get left behind.

I did pause to admire this gorgeous red pagoda that housed a large golden orb.  There were a few cherry blossom trees in the courtyard that were in full bloom.  They were beautiful.

We were all back on the bus by 2:50; & started our journey back to Osaka.  I think everybody was pretty worn out since it was a quiet ride. Traffic had picked up quite a bit; & we were creeping along slowly in the same spot where we got stuck in yesterday’s traffic jam.  It was less cloudy & had finally stopped raining by the time we arrived back at the ship at 4:15.

Once onboard I headed straight to the Stardust for one last immigration check.  Afterward I stopped in the C.U. to pick up the schedule for iPad classes on the next segment; & then finally to the Library to pick up my trivia prize from 2 days ago (another glass wine stopper with the seahorse logo on it).  Since I had skipped out on lifeboat drill on the previous segment, I felt like I should attend this one.  And I was out on the aft deck to take photos when we sailed at 6 pm.

The CosmoTower is the tallest bldg.; the Aquarium the most colorful one.

Maritime Museum


Capt. Glenn made an announcement that he’s putting ‘pedal to the metal’ tonight & to expect choppy seas.  He advised that we secure anything loose or fragile in our cabins.  I called Celeste to see what her excuse was for not showing up at lifeboat drill this afternoon.  Her heel spurs were really hurting; too much walking on her tour today.  I told her about mine & how much she would have hated our lunch.

I showered & got comfy.  Liz brought dinner about 8.  I gave her the box of sweets that I had made this morning & a small box of the cute little Japanese candies I bought in their shop.

For my dinner, I started with an appetizer of tempura fried ahi tuna roll with Asian vegetable slaw & Yuzu aioli.  The tuna was so fresh & lightly sweet with the aioli.  Divine!

Next, a cup of cream of root vegetable soup with rosemary oil & potato straws. The rosemary oil gave it a lot of extra flavor. Very good!

My entree was a half order of orecchiette pasta with plum tomato sauce, sweet peppers, eggplant, olives & pecorino cheese (to which I have become addicted to).

For dessert, I had the caramel Napoleon slice with fudge sauce.  It was beautifully plated & delicious.

Tonight we set our clocks forward one hour; something that we will have to do 7 more times before we reach Alaska (bummer).  After I finished dinner, I edited today’s photos until about 10:30.  The ship is just beginning to roll nicely; I have a feeling I’m gonna sleep like a rock!

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