|Cherry blossoms on the Nijo Castle grounds
Sunday, April, 9
Some clouds remained on our first morning in Japan, but
the temperature was comfortable and the sun managed to peek through
now and then. Our first day was to be quite busy, which was probably
not the best idea for a couple just starting recovery from dateline-enhanced
We both awoke at the same time, a little after 5 AM. Our internal
clocks were telling us that, according to Pacific Daylight Time,
we should be awake by now. I was surprised to see the first light
of dawn through the hotel room curtains. daylight savings time
is not practiced in Japan. The extra hours of sunlight remain
mostly for the benefit of the nation's many farmers. City folk,
with their fixed schedules, simply arise to brighter days as the
spring and summer progress.
With some difficulty, we managed to fall back to sleep for a couple
of hours before heading down to partake of the hotel's large, buffet
breakfast. As I did for nearly the entire first week, I played it
safe and stayed with the standard, western-style, high-cholesterol
breakfast. It was something I normally avoided, but without access
to my usual cereal and milk, bacon, eggs, ham, toast and fruit were
the closest that I could come to what my stomach would consider
to be a normal way to start the day. With all the walking we had
ahead of us, I wasn't particularly worried about the calories involved.
Efforts were made to provide good ventilation, but we were soon
reminded of some of the sensitivities we had developed living in
California, the world's largest non-smoking area. Even our hotel
room had the background odor of old smoke, something that hadn't
assaulted my olfactories for a long time.
After delivering our luggage to our next hotel, our first stop
of the day was to be my wife's old hair salon. She was a regular
customer there from her college days and they went to some incredible
lengths to make our Japanese wedding something very special and
most memorable. They provided our wedding kimono as well as my wife's
traditional wedding makeup and wig. Along with that, we were taken
to the beautiful little inn were we had the ceremony and reception
in a rickshaw, stopping for pictures at the nearby Nijo Castle.
We dropped off two of the fifteen gift packages of Ghiradelli chocolate
that we brought along for the people we were visiting. They reciprocated
by giving my wife a large jar of their latest luxury body lotion.
|The shogun's palace in the Nijo Castle
We walked to our next stop, the Nijo Castle, where we would finally
have time to tour the historic monument that was part of our beautiful
wedding-day memories. Even by mid-morning Sunday, the castle's entryway
was filled to capacity with tour busses and the grounds were already
swarming with visitors from all over the country, drawn by both
the history and brief annual appearance of the treasured cherry
blossoms. A slightly hazy, but a bright sun was shining down, warming
the air and adding a touch of humidity.
A steady stream of visitors walked along the route suggested by
signs along the way. The castle grounds were large enough to accept
the many visitors without it feeling mobbed. That experience would
be waiting for us later in the day. Originally built in the early
1600's, the castle offered some interesting insights in to the lifestyles
of Japanese royalty as well as some interesting parallels to how
modern societies keep their leaders secure.
The wide hallway around the royal greeting rooms and living quarters
contained the famous "nightingale floor" technology. Even
the softest footfall of the most stealthy ninja would produce a
distinctive "chirp" as the floorboard wobbled slightly
in its specially-designed brace. In each room where the Shogun would
meet with visitors contained a wide doorway marked with a bright
red sash. Always waiting just out of sight behind the doors were
his special guards. The presence of the sash alone would probably
discourage any visitors with untowardly ideas.
Thanks to the exquisite artwork of Naonobu Kano (whose name came
to define one of Japan's best-known styles of traditional artwork),
the inside of the castle matched the beauty of the surrounding gardens.
Even though the inside of the castle is kept fairly dark behind
drawn shooji (rice paper-covered doors) to protect the priceless
paintings, the opulence of the palace rooms easily shined through.
Near the rear of the palace grounds was a long stone stairway to
an older castle that burned down in the eighteenth century. The
landing at the top provided a breathtaking view of the castle grounds
as well as much of downtown Kyoto. It must have been a grand sight
to see in its time.
|Cherry blossoms as media event on the grounds
of the Nijo Castle.
In the gardens, the blossoming cherry trees were surrounded by
amateur photographers. They clustered like paparazzi around the
most beautiful trees. When I was growing up, trees blossoming in
spring brought very little special notice, so the reverence of the
Japanese for this special time of year was a little surprising to
me. This was an event rich with symbolism and historical tradition.
It took a while, but later on our journey, I finally started to
understand a little of what they felt.. This would not be the day
that it happened, however.
We had time for lunch in a shopping mall that shared the underground
space with one of the major subway stations. There were nearly two
city blocks of boutique-like shops and restaurants as well as a
large underground parking garage. This was the newest of these centers
in Kyoto city, so it was the first opportunity my wife had to explore
it as well. We lingered over an okynomiaki lunch and had
to rush a little to meet up with the guided tour we had planned
for the afternoon.
The tour was given in English, but was distinctively Japanese in
style and format. We were given little cloth badges to identify
us as part of the group and our guide would normally carry a brightly-colored
flag high overhead for us to follow. On this particular tour, our
guide was making do with a slightly faded orange umbrella, but it
served the same purpose. The pace of one of these tours can easily
be described as "fast." With the start of ours being delayed
by twenty minutes to wait for a busload of ticket-holders being
delayed by Sunday afternoon cherry-blossom gridlock on the slender,
downtown streets and, once we were under way, being slowed down
further by the same problem, the pace of our tour was closer to
"frantic." On top of that, our biological chronometers
were beginning to tell us that it is getting close to bedtime. Nonetheless,
a remarkable afternoon was about to unfold.
Next: The package tour -
a game of follow-the-leader played at warp speed