This year, U.S. 7th Fleet began its Indo-Asia Pacific tour with its first stop to Osaka, Japan. U.S. 7th Fleet’s flagship USS Blue Ridge’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) was offering cultural tours, such as the one-day tour to Kyoto on my birthday on Feb. 26, 2016.
Besides 7th Fleet Sailors, our tour group came from all over the world such as Australia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Austria and Canada. We took the Osaka train station and a bus ride to Kyoto.
I won’t tell you how old I am, but it is not as ancient as the 1200 year-old historical city of Kyoto. Kyoto used to be the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years before the seat of the emperor was transferred to Tokyo.
Our first stop was to Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photography of the castle was prohibited at the flatland castle due to sensitivity of light reflections inside the rooms, including antique artwork.
In 1601, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to assist with the construction of Nijō Castle. The castle is separate by rooms, specifically catered to various guests and occasions. For example, the Reception Hall has artwork of tigers and leopards that is supposed to intimidate strangers from taking advantage of the Shogun family. Rooms for families and shogun’s advisors had a more of an intimate feel with artwork display like cranes and cherry blossoms.
Dating back to 14th century Japan, the Golden Pavilion or Deer Garden temple is one of the most popular visited sites in Japan. Each floor incorporated architectural themes such as samurai and zen.
Taking photos of the Gods inside the temple would include jail time, so it was a privilege to witness the 800 plus year-old golden Kannon Bodhisattva or Buddha statues and look into the eyes of other Buddhist gods with quartz eyes at Sanjusangendo Temple.
Sanjusangendo Temple was founded in 1164 A.D. at the demand of Emperor Goshirakawa who was not only a devotee of Kannon Bodhisattva but also brought about peace by spreading Buddhism throughout Japan.
The 1001 Buddhas showed the meaning of teamwork. “It takes many hands to help one person,” said a Kyoto tour female guide, referring to the Buddhist gods.
Entering Kyoto Imperial Palace was like entering into a vast movie set. International visitors required advance applications to enter the palace. The palace was decorated with beautiful 600 year-old bonsai trees, the ground was covered in white sand, and I got to see cherry blossom trees bloom for the first time this winter.
We visited Kyoto Handicraft Center during our lunch break where artisans created Damascene jewelry. Damascene is a process whereby non-precious metals are inlaid with 18k or 24k gold; a process that was originated in the Middle Ages and employed by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In Japan, damascene was also used to decorate weapons and shogun artillery wear. I bought a pair of damascene earrings for myself, as a birthday present.
Our trip in Kyoto ended with us walking on the historic shopping lane leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
The historic shopping lane was decorated with locals and mainly tourists wearing rental kimonos, Japanese silk fans and food stalls that served hot Kobe beef buns.
My first trip to beautiful Kyoto would not have been made possible if it weren’t for the opportunities provided by the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship Blue Ridge MWR tours. I am looking forward to more memorable ship tours to other countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.