The President and the soft cream

U.S. President Barack Obama, center, enjoys

So, the one thing that we missed while we were in Kyoto was President Obama literally in our backyard. He visited very nearby Kamakura while he was here for the APEC conference in Yokohama, and he even landed his helicopter at Ikego, the Navy housing area just over the mountain from us. Here’s more about his visit from the Mainichi Daily News (which I think translates to the “Everyday” Daily News), from whom I also got the above picture (because I missed actually taking it in real life!).

Not to get too political, but this visit combined two things of which I am a huge fan: the President and Japanese “soft cream.” Disturbing name, delicious substance. As a Midwesterner, I take my soft serve very seriously and have been delighted to see that the Japanese do the same. Their flavors, however, are not what you find at the DQ: sweet potato, corn, hydrangea, cherry blossom.

Soft cream stand in Tokyo.

Apparently Obama enjoyed green tea soft cream. My mother and I sat on that very bench in Kamakura, at the Daibatsu temple, and enjoyed soft serve (blueberry) ourselves last June. This is the second time I have almost had ice cream with the president; when we lived in Alexandria he came to my favorite place, the Dairy Godmother, the day after I had been there. Maybe someday, at some random place in the world (he’s got to go back to Kansas someday, right?), Obama and I will have ice cream at the SAME TIME!

Autumn in Kyoto

Maples and Ginkakuji Temple

So Rob came home eventually, and it has been very nice to have him. After months at sea, literally working all the time, I think that relaxation is somewhat difficult for him. So we seized our Veterans’ Day weekend to take the bullet train to Kyoto. Accidentally, we went at one of the prettiest times of the year: maple leaf season.

Good-bye, I'm going to Kyoto

Getting off of the train at the soaring modern Kyoto station, Kyoto looks like any other city in Japan: miles of pavement and plate-glass. Scattered all over the city, however, are pockets of transcendently beautiful places. I think it helped that we didn’t bomb Kyoto into oblivion in WWII. There are actually entire old neighborhoods, although not as many as one might think.

Hushed, elegant, exquisite, composed, contemplative, meticulous: my inner narrator groped for adjectives while I contemplated innumerable scenes of natural and architectural splendor tucked behind gates and walls and twisting streets (that is, when I wasn’t trying to keep Chip from scooping up the meticulously raked rock gardens and throwing bits of them around). Gazing over the delicate grace of a shogun’s jewel box of a house and zen garden built in 1485, one is acutely aware that one is descended from hairy barbarians who probably didn’t even get around to bathing that entire year much less creating such works of aesthetic perfection. Much better writers than me have described Kyoto, though, just pick up a Fodor’s. Here are some of Rob’s really nice pictures.

Of the Kiyumizu Temple:

This is the Kiyumizu "Pure Water" Temple. Its verandah is perched high on a cliff, and apparently there's a saying in Japanese that starting a big endeavor is like jumping off of Kiyumizu.

Not jumping off the verandah at Kiyumizu Temple.

In Gion, the geisha district:

Evening in Gion. Sadly no geishas were spotted.

Oh this old thing? This is just my evening chores kimono.

Stocking up for the evening at 7-11.

At Nijo-jo Castle:

This castle was built by the Tokugawas, the same shogun family that brought us Nikko. The floors inside are called "nightingale" floors: they squeak prodigiously to warn of intruders.

Giant mum display at Nijo-jo. There's got to be a homecoming queen in there somewhere.

At the Inari Fushimi shrine:

Chip runs the thousands of torii gates, just like in Memoirs of a Geisha!

At the Tofukuji temple:

Tofukuji, best place for maple gazing.

At Ginkakuji Temple (also pictured above):

Raking the zen garden rocks at the Ginkakuji Temple. I think that this would be a lovely job.

On the Philosopher’s Walk:

So named because a Kyoto University professor used to walk here daily. It just begs quiet contemplation...

...and fried potatoes. This is Rob's new favorite street food: the Potatornado!

This seems like an obnoxious amount of pictures, but we only scratched the surface. Three-ish days was not enough in Kyoto. We’ll just have to go back someday.