Golden Week: Part 1

Here stands the tori gate to Heian Jingu, a massive temple built in 1895 for Kyoto’s 1100th anniversary. It is also where Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Komei are enshrined.

Today marks the beginning of Golden Week, or Ogon Shukan, a cluster of national holidays. The Emperor’s birthday, Showa Day, ‘Earth’ Day, Memorial Day and Children’s Day all occur this week. As well, due to a national rule that anytime there are holidays falling a day apart from each other, the day in the middle also becomes a holiday, so the country gets the entire week off. Many people use this opportunity to travel around Japan, but, since we are already in the place that everyone loves to travel to, Nicky and I decided it would be best to go to less popular places.

Our plan for the day was to take Vaaska to the dog park, then visit Heian Jingu, one of the largest shrines in Kyoto, the Budo Center (where Japanese martial arts are performed in an old Japanese-style hall built in the 1800s to train an army), the Kyoto City Zoo and then to have dinner at Bikkuri Donkey (literally “The Surprised Donkey”) before heading home for the evening.

Vaaska loves this dog park. He can be taken off the leash and run, which is rare, and the other dogs who go there are amazingly friendly. There is also a group of special needs people that frequently visit, and their highlight of the park visit is being able to pet him after watching him perform his tricks. In the summer, it might have problems with bugs, but for now, its the perfect place for him.

Afterwards, we took Vaaska home and headed East, towards Heian Jingu, where the rest of our activities for the day are also located. Heian Jingu is a gorgeous complex with four main gardens surrounding it. It is, in my opinion, far prettier than the Imperial Palace. I have heard that during early April is the best time to go, as they have one of the loveliest cherry blossom gardens in the city. Perhaps next year Nicky and I will have the chance to visit it. We explored the grounds leisurely. The gardens reminded me frequently of my father’s landscaping. You can view more pictures in my April gallery.

After our visit to Heian Jingu, Nicky wanted to go to the Budo center, so we headed down the street. It’s a very nice complex (no pictures allowed), and when we went, there was an iaido demonstration going on. Iaido is a sword art, focusing on the drawing of one’s sword. It was very beautiful. We also got some information for Kyudo, Japanese archery, as Nicky wants to continue her studies in it while in Japan, and I am considering starting it as well, for meditative purposes. 

After the Budo center, it was off to the zoo- though, unfortunately, despite being mostly impressed with the zoos I have seen in Japan (both in Tokyo and Hokkaido), I was pretty let down by Kyoto’s own. The majority of the animals were very old and quite sick looking, and there were more children there than actual animals. It’s one saving grace is that is has a pretty neat collection of owls. It will probably turn out to be one of the worser decisions we have made in terms of places to go, as by the time we left, we both were beginning to feel the beginnings of a scratchy throat...

In any case, after the zoo, we were ready to head home. We stopped for dinner at Bikkuri Donkey, one of the coolest (and cheapest) restaurants in Kyoto. The atmosphere is really fun, and the overall design of the floor, ceiling and wall is great. One of the most fun parts is when the waitress brings the menu, as its a gigantic, fold out plank board. We each chose a meatloaf, and had parfaits for dessert. For me, it was a wonderful day, mostly because it’d been a long time since Nicky and I both had a day off together just to go do something fun. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.