|Melissa and I agree Japan has been one of our favorite countries so far. The country is so beautiful, especially during this time of year with everything just starting to bloom. The courtesy and kindness that we have been shown on a daily basis is remarkable. I can`t tell you how many times people have stopped to help us with directions, assisted us in carrying our luggage up and down stairs, were actually happy to help us in any way they could. What I really loved was their consideration for the littlest things; small receipt shredders near the ATM machines, plastic form-fitted bags to put around your wet umbrella when entering a building, umbrella racks, hooks for your purse and umbrella when in the theater, and my all time favorite, sorry a little toilet talk here as my step-mother, Charlotte, use to always call it, public bathrooms made for women. Just picture it, a stall large enough so that it has a small plastic chair to buckle your baby in, places for your packages while you sit on a warm toilet seat. And to top it off it has a "courtesy" recording so that if you are feeling uncomfortable about the silence, you just press it and it makes the sound only of your toilet flushing, removing the silence in the bathroom. Gotta love it!!!
Now on to the more important stuff, Kyoto was first settled in the 7th century as the first real capital of Japan. It still retains a majority of the old temples and shrines of ancient Japan. All the pictures I`ve ever seen of Japan appeared here in Kyoto. We started our week by relaxing and amazingly enough finding an english speaking movie to go see, The Aviator. Movies always make us homesick, but we love the feeling of being back home for a couple of hours.
Melissa and I were both hoping during our stay in Japan we would get to see an actual geisha since there are only about 1000 left. Well we lucked out in Kyoto and came across several different groups. Really amazing up close with their intricate hair designs, kimonos and slippers. They are very shy, but we actually got some to stop for us so we could take a picture with them.
We went to Nijo Castle which was originally built in 1603 and was the official residence of the first Shogun, Tokugawa. Shrines and temples to Takugawa are everywhere throughout the country as he was the one who unified all of Japan and kept it isolated and at peace for 250 years from the outside world.
One of the most spectacular places we visited was Ryogen-in Zen Temple which is very small but contains some of the oldest Zen rock gardens in Japan. We also spent a day traveling to the Nara which is one of the oldest cities in Japan.
We are now off to S. Korea for six days to relax a little before joining our groups in China, Mongolia and Russia. I hope all is well with everyone.
Take care, Kathy and Melissa