Japan in 10 days (part 2)

Part way through the trip with the girls with traveled to Kyoto. It was a great cultural experience visiting many temples, gardens, and lodging in a ryokan--a Japanese style inn known for the hospitality.
Above is the Golden Pavilion; at the pinnacle is a golden phoenix.

The Ryoanji temple has a stone garden built by a monk. Many different theories have been put forward about what the garden is supposed to represent, from islands in a stream to swimming baby tigers to the peaks of mountains rising above the clouds to theories about secrets of geometry or of the rules of equilibrium of odd numbers. Garden historian Gunter Nitschke wrote: "The garden at Ryōan-ji does not symbolize anything, or more precisely, to avoid any misunderstanding, the garden of Ryōan-ji does not symbolize, nor does it have the value of reproducing a natural beauty that one can find in the real or mythical world. I consider it to be an abstract composition of "natural" objects in space, a composition whose function is to incite meditation."

Our ryokan was an adorable little inn with gardens, a hot spring, and authentic Japanese cuisine. 

Everyone was so sweet and accommodating. I think they used to many dishes on us but she was always smiling with every tiny bowl, plate, and cup that covered the table. The food was very pretty and interesting. They were good to try, at least once! Things like black sesame jelly, sardine curd, pickled plums, clam miso soup (which was my favorite), etc.

On Saturday morning, we made our way to the Fushimi Inari ShrineSince in early Japan Inari was seen as the patron of business, each of the Torii is donated by a Japanese business. First and foremost though, Inari is the god of rice.
Merchants and manufacturers worship Inari for wealth. Donated torii lining footpaths are part of the scenic view.
This popular shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha (分社?)) throughout Japan.

After coming home from Kyoto, we stopped in Shiotsu to visit my friend, Ayako who invited us over for a sushi party. Another exciting feature in Shiotsu is a diagonal elevator. I'll get up a picture soon.

The Horiuchi family who are some of the sweetest people I've gotten to know well since I've been here.

On Sunday morning, instead of a Bluffton day where I'd wake up late, look forward to my Mom's breakfast, and rush to church; here we have to catch the train so we were punctual and got up early. In fact, we were some of the first ones there. Our parents would be proud.

After church, Ayako hung out with us as we visited a local bontanical garden. It was so much fun having her along, especially since we probably would've gotten lost otherwise :)

In the garden, there were these trees "akamatsu" that struck my eye.

And for the traditional comfort food, we later found our way to a local ramen shop. By these faces I'm pretty sure they all enjoyed it.

...slurping...

...sipping...

...or both...

There's more to come...