My Trip to Japan: Heian Shrine + Kyoto
Day Four – Kyoto, Heian Shrine, and Teramachi Street
My first full day with Betsy started out with a serious hangover and an incredible lunch. After a night of drinking a boat load of mugi the night before – a potent Japanese liquor – and still being very jet lagged, I was not in great shape. But we dragged our asses off our mats and went to grab yakiniku with Betsy’s friends from the night before. They seem somehow unfazed by the entire ordeal or maybe I just couldn’t tell in the flurry of Japanese. Hangover or not, though, yakiniku was by far the best thing I ate in Japan, which really surprised me. I’ve been a die hard sushi fan my entire life and the sushi in Japan was delicious, but I was blown away by how incredible this lunch was.
Yakiniku, as I understand it, is Japanese grilled meat. They brought a big platter of raw meat to our table and lit a small grill in the center of our table. One of Betsy’s friends graciously grilled for us and obviously knew what he was doing because each piece was perfection – tender and flavorful. Betsy said that yakiniku is terrible to do with Americans because everyone is trying to grab enough for themselves, but with her Japanese friends it’s so pleasant and everyone always gets enough.
After lunch, Betsy, her friend Hinaco, and I set off into Kyoto for a day of exploring. Our first stop was Heian Shrine – a beautiful complex of burnt orange torii gates and unbelievable gardens. We walked the grounds of the temple, watched others do traditional prayers, and even took a stab at a hand washing ritual that I had seen at several other local temples. Even though Heian Shrine was only built in the late 1800s, it still had that ancient feel to it, like it is part of a much longer lineage than that.
I was most impressed by the expansive gardens that surround the shrine. Blankets of moss, blossoming lily pads, twisted branches – I was pretty much in photo heaven. The grounds were glorious even against the clouds and rain and each pond seemed even more ornate than the last. And in true Japanese magic fashion, we got a visit from some pretty spectacular great blue herons, which are one of my favorite birds.
We chatted and laughed our way through the garden – and major shoutout to Betsy for translating between Hinaco and I all freakin’ day. She was exhausted by the end of it, but it honestly felt so amazing to be able to interact and joke with someone who is actually Japanese. She definitely knew more English than I did Japanese (my single vocabulary word being ‘yabai’ which means dangerous and is used in a lot of ways), but there was a lot of back and forth. Needless to say, Betsy is a translating rockstar.
After we tired ourselves out at the gardens, we stopped for some parfait, which I had no idea was a thing in Japan. And they go all out – these things were works of art and absolutely put American ‘parfaits’ to shame. I got a matcha parfait, which seemed like one of the safer choices, and I encountered textures that I didn’t realize food could have. Some were soft and melted in your mouth, others stuck to the roof of it and took some getting used to. Although I don’t think I’m going to jump aboard the matcha moment American culture is having right now, it was better than I expected!
We spent the rest of the day walking around Kyoto, ducking into vintage shops and souvenir depots. I bought the most amazing pair of vintage earrings that I’m sure will make an appearance in an upcoming outfit post and picked up a few Gudetama knick knacks to take home. Gudetama is a cartoon egg characterized by his extreme laziness and is also the cutest thing in the world – just sayin’.
Our last stop before heading home was getting sushi for dinner! I was so excited to try sushi in Japan and it did not disappoint, especially after a long day of walking. I tried a little bit of everything and loved it all, of course. We then hopped on the train back to Ishiyama station and totally crashed. Betsy and I agreed that tomorrow would be a day of relaxation after all of today’s walking and translating – keep your eyes peeled for the next post featuring a pretty unbelievable onsen. Oh and lots of deer – stay tuned!