Ever since the start of this trip, the word “Shinshu” has been catching my attention everywhere we go – in all different places and all different contexts. It’s been driving me nuts, because it’s not in my dictionary. Randomly discovered yesterday that it’s a name for the province that used to exist where Nagano Prefecture is now. So there you go. Still doesn’t explain why I’ve been seeing it everywhere.
Today, after breakfast…
we checked out of our hotel in Nagano, and headed for our next destination. We hopped onto the hotel’s shuttle bus for the station… then hopped straight back off again, because somewhere along the way, the sun shade had fallen off James’ camera. I found it back in our room, so we hopped back onto the next shuttle bus and headed off.
At the station, we managed to get a seat on the very next shinkansen, so we hustled up to the platform and hopped aboard when it arrived – our very first trip on the main Tokaido Shinkansen for this trip. A bit under an hour later at 250km/hr (though it sure didn’t feel that long), we arrived at our next destination: Kyoto. First thing to do on arrival: go get a manhole card from the Sewage Office a block from the station. Sadly, when I got there, he told me they were out. Or at least, I think that’s what he said. He didn’t have any, either way.
For the third time for me in Kyoto, it proved completely impossible to book a Toyoko Inn here – once again, it’s the fact that we’re here on Saturday that’s the issue. So instead, I decided to book a ryokan again. This time I decided to shop around a bit and find a new place to try – named Kikoku-so. While the initial plan was to spend five nights here (and so not have to move around so much), I could only find a place that’d let me book for two nights – which is probably a good thing, because the cost per-person per night here is more than the total cost for both of us to stay two nights in the Nagoya Toyoko Inn. (Actually, the original quoted price was higher, but I requested no dinner our second night here so we didn’t have to worry about rushing home from sightseeing, and the total dropped by a quarter.)
But since we came direct from Nagoya, so it was too soon to check in, so we dropped our luggage off and went to sightsee. The original plan was to just spend the afternoon admiring Shosei-en, an extensive garden literally just over the road from our ryokan. Shosei-en is actually the gardens of Higashi Hongan-ji, a temple just a few blocks away. We first decided to go and find ourselves some lunch, eventually stopping in basement eatery – James had a lunch set, and I had zaru-udon (udon noodles with a dipping sauce) which came with a mini egg-on-rice bowl. Most tasty. The waitress was most impressed that I could read the Japanese menu.
Since our search for lunch brought us near Higashi Hongan-ji, we decided to visit there before seeing the gardens. Higashi Hongan-ji, “Eastern Temple of the Original Vow”, is one of the two main sub-sects of Pure Land Buddhism, supposedly the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan. Originally the Eastern and Western temples were the same temple, but the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu split them apart in 1602 because he was concerned they were becoming too powerful.
It was quite an impressive temple, with a huge gate structure, and a huge hall honouring the founder of the sect, and (to our amusement) as somewhat smaller hall honouring the Amida Buddha, the actual central focus of Pure Land beliefs. We were required to remove our shoes before entering, and sadly there were no photos inside the halls, but it was quite an impressive hall all the same.
Once we were done there, we finally headed to Shosei-en. Also known as Kikoku Gardens (supposedly after a type of orange that used to grow here, so I guess that explains the name of our ryokan), it was an extremely lovely place. Though not entirely serene, thanks to the constant sounds of traffic even in the middle of the gardens, and occasionally a helicopter hovering overhead.
The ground cover of the garden was mostly grass rather than moss, and it had pavilions and tea houses and whatnot dotted all over. Plus a lake crisscrossed by bridges. I explored for a while, then sat still and tried to feel the zen of the place, but soon it was time for us to check in, so we headed for our ryokan. (Gotta say, though, today’s weather was absolutely perfect for hanging around in a garden. It’s hard to believe that just two days ago we were slogging through snow.)
It’s a very nice ryokan, possibly befitting what we paid for it. Much more service than when we checked in – at Kawashima, our previous ryokan here, we were shown to our room and left to our own devices, but here we were taken up, settled in, and they made tea for us. They speak enough English here for James to be involved in proceedings, which is useful (though sometimes it’s English nouns embedded in Japanese sentences).
It’s got an extremely lovely central courtyard with a pond containing koi, and the central hallway runs over a little bridge.
We’ve got a big two-part room on the top floor at the front of the ryokan, which is high enough that we can see over the wall of Shosei-en over the road and into the garden. Our room has a toilet and shower/bath attached too (supposedly the only one like that in the whole ryokan, though I certainly didn’t specifically request that). The room is named Zengetsu, “moon visible in the morning”.
They’ve also got a family-sized bath here, so we booked the use of it before dinner and had a good soak. While we were in the bath, the staff converted our room to sleep mode, moving the table and putting out the futons.
Then it was time for dinner – a full Japanese-style kaiseki meal. The first course was sashimi, with sesame tofu, sake lees and other small sides. Then there was steamed sea bream with bamboo and wheat gluten. Then grilled Spanish mackerel. Then a plate of tempura, with a bowl of… some manner of salad to follow. Then there was rice and miso soup, with a small plate of pickled sides. Lastly, grapefruit jelly, served in a wedge of grapefruit peel. (The table was extremely reflective, though, making it quite difficult to get photos without one of us being reflected in the background.)
After dinner, we headed back to our room to relax, and then to sleep. Time for an early night, for a change. One downside, the traffic noise in the room is much louder than I would have expected…
Today’s photo count: Four hundred and nine. Actually didn’t need to change the battery all day, probably because the last one only went flat right at the end of the day yesterday.
Today’s pedometer count: Only 9,534 steps, for 6.7km.
Today’s goshuin count: I would have expected Higashi Hongan-ji to have a goshuin, but it didn’t. So none.
Today’s stamp count: It did, however, have stamps. Three of them (though I saw a sign saying there’d be two more, but when I asked at the information desk, she said there weren’t any).