My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Entries in Kyoto (10)



The image of gold clad Kinkaku-ji reflected in the waters of Kyoko-chi is one of the most recognizable in Japan so I thought it would be a great place to take my friend from work, Cassie, on her first trip to Japan while we were in Kyoto a month ago. I actually visited Kinkaku- ji on my very first trip to Japan and thought it would be fun to visit again over seven years later.

After the third Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利 義満), abdicated to his son he purchased the site from the Saionji family in 1397 to build his retirement villa which he called Kitayama-den. Kitayama-den was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple of the Rinzai sect upon Yoshimitsu's death in 1408 per his wishes. The official name of the temple is Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺, Deer Garden Temple) after Yoshimitsu's posthumous name, Rokuon-in-den, however the gold pavilion became so famous that it is more popularly known as Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, Temple of the Gold Pavillion).

Although the rest of the buildings in Ashikaga Yomitsu's complex were destroyed through war and fire, the golden pavilion stood the test of time until 1950 when it was burnt down by Hayashi Yoken, a 22 year old monk. The current pavilion was built in 1955 as a replica of the original and was restored with thicker gold leaf in the late eighties. In 1994 it was registered as a World Heritage Site.

Kinkaku-ji was our first stop of the day in Kyoto and as Cassie and I walked through the entrace gate we could see the first initial signs that the some of the leaves were just beginning to turn color.

The disc shaped end cap tiles, called gatou, on this building near the entry displayed the 5-7-5 leaf paulownia kamon (家紋, crest). Emperor Godaigo conferred this crest on the Ashikaga family in the 13th century during the Ashikaga Shogonate. In modern times this kamon, known in Japanese as go-shichi-no-kiri, is used by the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan and is a symbol of the Japanese government.

Soon we approched the lovely golden pavillion which serves as a shari-den (舎利殿, reliquary hall) to enshrine relics of the Buddha. During Ashikaga Yomitsu's time the pavilion served as a guest house where he met with foreign dignitaries and Japanese aristocracy.

Each of its three floors of the pavilion are designed in a different architectural style. The first floor, Hosui-in (The Chamber of Dharma Waters, 法水院), was built in the Shinden style used for palaces in the Heian period. With white plaster and unpainted wood it is the only floor not covered in gold leaf.

The second floor, Cho-on-do (The Tower of Sound Waves, 潮音洞), was built in the Buke style of samurai houses.

The top floor, Kukkyo-cho (Firmament Top, 空竟頂), was built in a Zen temple style with beautiful bell shaped windows. The tiled roof is topped with a bronze statue of a phoenix leafed in gold.

Set within Kyoko-chi (鏡湖, Mirror Pond) are several beautiful islands with pine trees.

These Jizo Buddha statues in the temple's garden are a popular place to toss coins for good luck. 

Built during the Edo period the Sekkaitei (夕佳亭, Place of Evening Beauty) tea house is perched on a hill with a lovely view of the golden pavilion and is currently the oldest building on the temple grounds. Inside features a famous pillar made from nandina wood.

After seeing Sekkatei Cassie and I stopped in the visitor's tea house so that she could try matcha for the first time. Matcha is finely milled green tea that is used for Japanese tea ceremonies. Because of matcha's bitter taste it is traditionally served with a wagashi sweet which you eat prior to drinking the tea.

Our last stop before leaving the grounds was to visit Fudo-do (不動堂). The small shrine houses a stone statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo-myo-o. Although it is normally not on public display the statue can be seen during Setsubun in early February and on August 16.

Kinkaku-ji is a truly beautiful spot and definitely a great place to visit while in Kyoto. Located in northern Kyoto you can get to Kinkaku-ji by taking the 101 or 205 bus from JR Kyoto Station and getting off at the Kinkaku-ji machi stop. From the bus stop it is a three minute walk marked by signs. Kinkaku-ji is open from 9 am until 5 pm every day with a 400 yen cost of admission for adults and 300 yen for children.



Things have been a little crazy for me lately. In a forty day span from mid-September to late-October I spent only fifteen days in Ann Arbor. Honestly, I am a bit exhausted and looking forward to being back home for a bit.

The traveling kicked off when Frank and I flew to New York for a few days. We ate some wonderful dinners at Blue Ribbon and Mission Chinese and had a decadent brunch at Norma's. We visited the Whitney Museum to see a wonderful Edward Hopper exhibit and then paid a somber visit to the 9/11 Memorial. We also snuck in some time to visit the Feast of San Gennaro and pick up spices at Kalustyan's. One of the big highlights was that we got to see my favorite play, The Glass Menagerie, being performed at the Booth Theater starring Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto. It was really quite amazing.

That Saturday we then drove to Connecticut to see Michigan play U Conn. It was an ugly football game but thankfully Michigan pulled out a win.

After being back home for two days I flew out to Japan for work. That weekend I had time for sightseeing and started my Saturday morning by going to the Osu Kannon flea market and picking up a few fun items.

I then took the Shinkansen south to Himeji to visit Himeji Castle. The main keep has been under restoration since April 2010 continuing through March 2015. I had previously visited the castle in September 2008 before the restoration began when I was living in Japan and my sister came to visit. I decided to visit the castle again so that I could see the restoration process. I also spent a little time at the nearby Japanese style garden, Koko-en.

On Sunday I spent the day in Kyoto. I was with my friend from work, Cassie, who had never been to Japan before so I took her to see a few lovely temples and shrines. We visited the gorgeous golden Kikaku-ji followed by the amazing rock garden at Ryoan-ji. We then visited the sand gardens at Ginkaku-ji and ended the day by visiting my favorite place in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha, to wander through the brilliant crimson torii.

After a long work week I was ready to head home that Friday. I went to the airport to see if I could get on the non-stop flight to Detroit, but unfortunately I was stuck with my connections through Honolulu and LA. I had some time before my flight so I headed to Arimatsu which is known for its special technique of tie-dying fabrics called shibori.

I finally got on my 8 pm flight and after a three hour layover in Honolulu (where I got breakfast at Nico's Pier 38 and wandered the airport gardens) and LA (where I grabbed dinner at Encounter in the Theme Building) I finally got home at 6 am on Saturday morning.

The following weekend Michigan was playing Penn State so off we drove to Happy Valley for the weekend. We had a fun day tailgating but lost the game in the fourth overtime.

After a week at home I was out in Arizona this week past week for work. It was very busy with long work days but I did get to see some friends who live in the area in the evening and satisfy my fix for In-N-Out Burger. Also, when driving to work one day my co-worker and I saw some hot air balloons and one even landed near the road we were on.

As you can imagine, not too much has happened on the home front with all this traveling going on. There are two items of note, however.

First, right before all of the traveling started all of the rough inspections for my bathroom and laundry were approved. Now I just need to get some time to start closing the walls up!

Second, the house paint was looking a little faded and there was some peeling that needed to get addressed so we hired a guy to paint the house. We are keeping the same basic color scheme but going with bolder, darker shades. Below is an example of the new paint on the left and the old paint on the right. It makes a world of difference and I can't wait until it is done.

Anyway, that's what I have been up to lately. I'm looking forward to some time at home to get going on finishing up the laundry and downstairs bathroom. On top of that I have a bunch of apples and sugar pumpkins that I bought yesterday that I plan on making into applesauce and pumpkin puree.  Have you been doing any traveling or working on any fun projects this fall?


Picture of the Day: Autumn at Tofuku-ji


















Kyoto, Japan


Picture of the Day: Kiyomizu-dera in Autumn

Kyoto, Japan


Picture of the Day: Temple Roofline at Tofuku-ji



















Kyoto, Japan


Picture of the Day: Fountain at Kizomizu-dera



















Kyoto, Japan


My Favorite Shrine in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha

Kyoto is an amazing place full of Japanese shrines and temples. With roughly 2000 to chose from you could spend years and not see it all.

On my first trip to Japan back in 2006 I had a Sunday to myself that I spent in Kyoto. As I was planning my day off a Japanese colleague asked me what I was planning to see. I said that I was trying to narrow down to a few temples and shrines to visit since there was no way to see it all. "Yes," he replied, "as you Americans say don't even think about it."

Not only did he do a nice job of working an English colloquialism into the conversation (he loved picking them up from watching American TV) but he was also right that if you go to Kyoto and try to see everything you'll end up seeing nothing.

I've been to Kyoto many times over the years during business trips to Japan and while I was living over there and when I've gone I usually focus on visiting just a handful of places. With all the amazing places to see in Kyoto I have a special fondness for Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社). It is south of town and a little bit out of the way but so worth visiting.

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the kami (神), Japanese shinto spirit, Inari (稲荷). Inari has many depictions sometimes represented as male, female or androgynous and sometimes as a collection of three or five individual kami. There are many Inari shrines in Japan but Fushimi Inari is the head Inari shrine and dates back to 711 AD.

The entrance to Fushimi Inari has a typical layout. On the sando (参道), or shrine approach, two large red sacred gates, torii, mark the main entrance to the shrine's grounds. Passing under the second torii, on the left is a temizuya (手水舎) which is a basin filled with water for purification before entering the shrine. Continuing along the sando is the romon (楼門), or tower gate, which you pass under to enter the main area of the shrine.

Inside the shrine the go-honden (本殿), main shrine, is a beautiful building located at the base of Mount Inari and is the heart of the shrine complex.

Inari is associated with white kitsune (狐), or foxes, that act as his/her messengers. A typical Inari shrine has very stylized fox statues flanking gates and Fushimi Inari is no exception. The ema (絵馬), Shinto wooden wishing plaques, at Fushimi Inari are even in the shape of a fox. You can buy one at the shrine, write your prayer or wish on it, and then leave it at the shrine for Inari to receive.

The thing that I absolutely love about visiting Fushimi Inari is wandering through the torii (gates). Inari is the patron kami (spirit) of fertility, rice, agriculture, foxes, industry and worldly success. Because of the two later items companies in Japan will have torii erected at Inari shrines with their company name written on them.

The rows of torii create paths that wind through the forest and up the mountainside. Although there are generally a good number of people near the entrance to the shrine you can quickly find yourself alone as you explore deeper along the paths. It is a really peaceful and beautiful experience and if you should ever find yourself in Kyoto, be sure to make a trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

To reach Fushimi Inari Taisha, you can take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station and get off at Inari Station. The train ride is about five minutes and then the walk to the shrine from Inari station is about three minutes. 


Misadventures of Lisa & Trisha: The Great ATM Debacle

Going to the To-ji Flea Market this past weekend made me reminisce about the first time that I went there.  I had been living in Japan for a little over a month and it was cherry blossom season.  Over lunch one day, Trisha, another ex-pat, and I decided we should go check out the blossoms in Kyoto that upcoming weekend.  I already had plans on Saturday but Trisha wanted to go for the whole weekend, so I met Trisha early Sunday morning at Kyoto Station.

I had read about the flea market at To-ji that is held on the first Sunday of the month and since it was happening that day and To-ji is not too far from Kyoto Station we decided to start our day there.  We had an awesome time looking through all the fun items and finding treasures.  We happened upon a lady selling a wide selection of beautiful scrolls and Trisha found one that she loved.  It was expensive, however, and Trisha had already used most of her cash to pay for her hotel room the night before so we set off to find an ATM.

We asked directions to the nearest bank, but despite trying a few times, Trisha's bank card didn't work. There was another bank right across the street so she tried there with still no luck.  She then tried an ATM in a convenience store but got denied there as well.  As it turns out, her bank had a holiday that day and in Japan that means you cannot access your money in any way, including ATM withdrawls.  Being Americans, Trisha and I were completely caught off guard because ATMs are always available in the US. Since my bank was the same as Trisha's I was stuck in the same situation of not being able to withdraw any money.

I had headed off to Kyoto without much cash planning on taking some money out when I got there so  between the two of us we had only about ¥3000 ($30 at the time).  In the US that wouldn't be a big deal since you can use a credit card for just about anything.  Cash is king in Japan, however, and you can't use credit cards in a lot of places.  Luckily, we could buy our shinkansen train tickets home using a credit card but we had to make do with cash for everything else.  With entrance fees for our planned stops running ¥300-¥500 each we were on a tight budget for the day and buying anything else at To-ji market was out of the question.

We went back to scroll stand to explain that Trisha would not be able to buy the scroll after all.  The lady seemed to indicate that Trisha could still have the scroll. "What is she saying?" Trisha asked me.  "I think she is saying that if you give her your address she'll send it to you and you can pay then," I replied, "but I could totally be misunderstanding her."  Trisha figured it was worth a shot and after writing down her address we were on our way. 

For the rest of the day we scrimped by walking everywhere and eating a lunch of America Dogs (Japanese for corn dogs) from a convenience store.  We went to Nijo-jo castle to wander through its famous cherry tree groves and then headed to Maruyama Park (free!) to see its huge famous weeping cherry tree.  Maruyama Park also turned out to be great for people watching with thousands there for hanami (blossom watching) parties with food and drinks spread out on blankets beneath the trees. We splurged on a yatai (food stall) snack at the park and headed up the hill to Kiyomizu-dera.  The sun was low in the sky at this point and we had picture perfect views of the sunset over Kyoto and the temple ringed by blossoming cherry trees.  It had turned out to be a great day despite our morning mishap and we headed back home happy but ready to get some money out first thing on Monday.

A few days later Trisha's scroll showed up in the mail as promised and this time she was armed with the cash to pay for it.  As for me, from that point on I always made sure to have plenty of cash on hand because you never know when a bank holiday can creep up on you and catch you unawares.


Autumn in Kyoto

Although I've been to Kyoto several times, I've never been during Koyo (colorful leaves) season so I was happy to have the chance to do so today.

First things were first, however. To-ji in Kyoto has a wonderful flea market on the first Sunday of every month so I stopped there before venturing out to see the autumn leaves.  

I always have fun when I go to the To-ji flea market and this time was no exception.  I ended up buying a small abacus (¥500), five glass balls (¥2000), an old milk delivery box (¥2000), and a set of enamel ware soup spoons (¥500). I can't wait to bring my newfound treasures home.

After getting my fill of browsing and bargaining, I headed to Tofuku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera which are Buddhist temples in Kyoto famous for viewing their autumn leaves.  The temples were swarming with tourists so moving around was slow, but the inconvenience was more than made up for by the beauty of the vibrant colors.  My favorite part was the view of the leaves from the bridges over the ravines at Tofuku-ji.  

North American maple trees in the fall are beautiful but there is something especially lovely about the tiny, delicate leaves of the Japanese maples. 

If you are interested, check out the rest of my December 2011 Japan Trip here: Visiting Hieizan Enryaku-jiKobe: Luminarie + BeefFavorite Eats in Toyota-shiCentrair Airport Bath 


First Trip to Kyoto

Today I am heading back to Japan for a work trip. Japan has played a pivotal role in shaping who I am. It is the foreign country that I've visited the most and the only country outside of the US that I have lived.

My first trip to Japan was back in early April 2006 for a business trip a few months after I had started my job.  I had never been anywhere in Asia before and I was thrilled at the chance to go. Being a work trip I didn't have much free time, of course, but I did have a Sunday off that I used for sightseeing.  With just one day available for a mini trip and already being in Central Japan I decided to go to the obvious choice, Kyoto.

Kyoto is a magical place, full of amazing ancient temples and shrines.  The fact that it was cherry blossom season only enchanted me even more. I visited some of the more famous sights of Kyoto including Nijo-jo, Nishi Hongan-ji, Kinkaku-ji, Sanjusangen-do, Heian-jinja and Kiyomizu-dera, soaking everything in and taking pictures.  

After leaving Kiyomizu-dera I slowly wandered down the hill through the maze of shops and stores back to the road. I saw a trio of Maiko (apprentice geisha) and was impressed with their poise and beautiful kimono. I also had a chance to try Kyoto's famous sweet, yatsuhashi, which is a soft sweet rice flour wrapper with various fillings like sweet red bean. Ever since it has been a favorite special treat for me.

As I rode the Shinkansen from Kyoto back to Nagoya that evening I didn't know that I would eventually live in Japan or even that I would be back on several trips, but I did know that I had a special day and seen some amazing, beautiful places. I'm looking forward to going back...