June 8 (Day 11) Highlights & Instagram

IMG_9440cToday we left our lovely Kyoto AirBnB, Kinse Inn, and went to spent one night in a luxurious ryokan. We had a little time in the morning to do some more things in Kyoto, but once we really settled into our ryokan, we decided to spend the evening in. Here are some highlights, followed by the photos I posted to Instagram that day:

We packed up our bags and left them with our hosts until the afternoon. It’s becoming obvious that we have too many little bags of stuff that doesn’t quite fit into our luggage – this is going to be a problem when we try to leave our luggage in Osaka while we take some shorter trips where we want to travel really light, so we decide to go buy an extra suitcase today (we were going to need to do this eventually, anyway).

Then we took the train to Ryoan-ji – the temple with the famous and controversial rock garden. I loved it. I could sit there and stare at it for hours. But, we had other things to do.

We picked up our bags and took a taxi to Hiiragiya Ryokan. This was our first experience of serious Japanese service. This is the kind of place where people come out to meet you, and they already know your name, and the stone floor of the entrance hall is always wet to show that they just cleaned it. As soon as we entered the place, we were treated like traveling dignitaries. They took us to a nice room and sat us down for the check-in process, instead of making us stand at a desk. They showed us around the facilities, and then brought us to our room where they served us a welcome cup of tea with a seasonal wagashi (a small sweet).

The room was incredible – small, but packed with so much beauty. We had asked for a room on the older side (there’s a newer set of rooms as well, but I’ve heard the older ones have more character). It was a tatami mat room, where your table is there on the floor to begin with, and later the table is cleared away and the beds are placed there. There’s also a small room where you can sit at a taller table and look out at your own tiny, impeccable garden. An the bathroom is a three-room complex. One room has a sink and mirror. One room has a traditional wooden Japanese bathtub (already full and kept warm) as well as a shower. And one room has a toilet that’s so high tech that Jason yelled “Oh my god!” when he first saw it. (Because he opened the door and the lid opened on it’s own, and the bowl lit up, and it… gave itself a little shower inside the bowl. I don’t know how else to describe it).

We tore ourselves away from all of this luxury and beauty to take a train to a store where we knew we could find a reasonably priced suitcase. We got a large yellow one, because it reminds us of our favorite Sanrio character, Gudetama (which, of course, is what we have named the suitcase).

Then we rushed back to the ryokan. We were a little late for our 6pm reservation of the family bath – a private room with multiple showers and a tub big enough to hold multiple people (a whole family if you’re small Japanese people, or two giant Americans). We still had plenty of time to soak, though, and change back into our yukatas (traditional Japanese robes) for dinner at 7.

Dinner. This word hardly describes the experience, and we’ve had a lot of amazing, world-class tasting menus. The word for this kind of meal is kaiseki. It was multiple delicious and delightful courses served to us in our room, at the low table, by a woman (well two different women) with impeccable grace. The dishes are seasonal, using local ingredients, and we’re among some of the best dishes I’ve ever had. The woman sometimes left us to our own conversation and sometimes asked us questions about our trip. She conversed with us like it was an art, but not in a way that felt artificial. Oh, and thr way she entered the room while holding a tray, sliding a screen, and crouched down like a delicate, regal forest creature was an act of strength and skill I couldn’t even imagine! The whole experience was incredible. I will have to post photos of all the dishes a bit later.

The staff at the ryokan had recommended some places to walk after our meal, but all we wanted to do was relax and enjoy the beautiful room. We sat at the other table, looking out at our garden, while two women deftly removed the table and cushions and rolled out a pair of heavenly futons. We slept well that night.

Walking tally: Fitbit says I walked 19k steps today, which is a little over 8 miles. Not bad considering we opted to spend the evening in after dinner. That’s a total of 109.5 miles of walking for the trip so far.

And here are the photos I posted to Instagram on this day:

And there are a lot more photos from this day in this set on flickr (with photos from June 9th also).

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