What a wonderful time we had in Kyoto! It is a pretty magical place with a top-notch university. Even though it took some effort to get here, I’m so glad that we did.
The train ride(s) to Kyoto on Thursday left us all feeling a bit grumpy and tired, but once we landed at our hotel, we were able to relax a little. The hotel was relatively new, but the rooms were traditional style, which was something we were excited to try. In Japan, “traditional style” means sleeping mats on top of bamboo floors. Aside from a low coffee table, which you use by sitting on a pillow on the ground, there was no furniture in the room. But, we were tired, the mats were comfy and we rested well.
ongoing project on backlash to international human rights and criminal tribunals. It was a pleasure getting to share my work with a really sharp group of up-and-coming international law scholars. They had very insightful comments and suggestions for refining some of the concepts central to my new book project and helped me to better understand some of the empirical data I had already collected on my Japanese case study, including during the interviews I did in Tokyo. In addition to their excellent comments and questions, I also had a chance to learn more about their research, and I’m so excited to see their research agendas unfold. Plus, they treated me to a delicious dinner after!
Our Own Wandering on the Path of Philosophy
Since we hadn’t been able to spend much time exploring Tokyo together and I was off working until late on Thursday, C and I were eager to spend Friday together as a family. Plus, the sun was shining and the following day was forecasted to be pouring rain, so we wanted to make the most of it. We took advantage of W’s early wake-up time to walk through central Kyoto toward the northwest corner of the city, vaguely toward the Path of Philosophy (so named after a Kyoto University professor of philosophy who used to walk this route each day) and a small playground nearby. Along the way, we stopped at the Shogoin Temple and the Konkai-Komyoji Temple. We were early enough in the day that we got to see people stop by on their way to work to pray and pay their respects and to watch and listen as a priest did his morning chants.
During our meandering toward the Path of Philosophy, we walked through narrow alleys and lush gardens, imagining what life must be like for the residents who live on these gorgeously maintained, tiny, hilly streets. At last, we reached the Path of Philosophy and the much-anticipated playground. Although it was a tiny old thing, the girls spent 45 minutes running, swinging and playing make believe.
After our stop at the playground, we headed south on the Path of Philosophy, taking our time. The girls enjoyed stopping to look at the fish in the canal, while C and I enjoyed catching up after a busy few days. All told, it was a pretty perfect way to enjoy a spectacular spot.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves – Kyoto Style
Typically when we are traveling, we head back to our hotel after lunch for a little rest/work break, but this time we decided to keep going. Even though we knew we were pushing it with the kids, we wanted to take advantage of our one full day in Kyoto. So, after spying on a young couple taking wedding pictures outside of the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art and enjoying some really delicious noodles, we hopped on a train to go to the eastern part of the city, Arashiyama. Unfortunately – or actually, fortunately – we failed to hop off the train at the right station and suddenly found ourselves in the mountains. It was a happy accident – one with a downright gorgeous view.
We got on the next train heading back to the city and got off at the right stop this time. After a quick green tea ice cream, we wound our way through the exceptionally packed and super-touristy streets until we reached the bamboo forest. Both C and I were expecting less tourist infrastructure in the forest, which is really more of a walking path, but it was
pretty amazing nonetheless. The bamboo forest is exactly what it sounds like – a forest made up of only bamboo shoots. The bamboo trees tower above you, and they bend a bit over the path so that you feel like you are in a green tunnel with slivers of light passing through. Along the way, you pass a shrine and cemetery, and soo many other tourists. It’s odd and ethereal and definitely worth a trip.
Instead of returning along the bamboo path, we hiked down on one of the nearby mountain trails, with not a single bamboo shoot to be found. We did, though, stumble upon a set of stairs that were just how old mountain stairs should be: gray stone, with a bit of moss, steep and plentiful. N had the idea of putting together a stop-motion video of her and W sitting/chatting/playing on each step.
By the time we made it down the mountain, we were thinking that we would just head back into town for dinner. But, instead, we caught a glimpse of a sign for the monkey park. Curious, we asked a couple of strangers who were exiting the park if it was worth it, to which they said, “Absolutely!”
C and I were a little apprehensive of the idea of a monkey park, more for the well-being of the monkeys than anything else, but the girls did not share these concerns, especially when they heard you could feed the monkeys. We agreed. It seemed like a good opportunity to interact with the animals in a pretty unique way and to learn more about them.
Little did we know, interacting with the monkeys required a 30-40 minute hike up a pretty steep mountain trail. Normally, we wouldn’t flinch about a hike like that, but we had already walked about six miles that day, which is a lot when you’re 6. (W had the luxury of a stroller, although we regularly kicked her out of it, so she had logged a lot of miles, too.) But, if you promise something, especially if it involves monkeys, you need to follow through. So, up and up and up we went.
After a long hike and a brief stop at a playground along the path, perfectly placed to distract kids from whining about how tired their legs are, we arrived at the monkey park.
The park is less of a “park” than it is a large, open area overlooking the city with a small feeding hut in the center. The monkeys, all Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys), roam freely and they are definitely not afraid of humans. They go about their business, occasionally checking the people out, but mostly not.
The girls were most excited about the prospect of feeding the monkeys, so we spent a long time in the feeding hut. Monkey Park turns the tables on typical human-animal interactions: the humans go inside the caged hut to feed the monkeys who can roam free outside.
Both girls were excited, but W in particular was just giddy. She couldn’t believe that all she had to do was hold a peanut in her hand and that a real monkey would reach in and grab it! We stayed to watch the monkeys be called home for their last feeding of the day, which was comprised of chestnuts, chestnuts and more chestnuts. After that, we headed down the hill, everyone still pretty chipper.
It was clear though, that W was ready to conk out for the night. We rushed to grab a quick dinner so that W wouldn’t all asleep hungry and wake up famished in the middle of the night. She was pretty much falling asleep between each bite, though, and C had to keep reminding her to chew. After just a few bites, she couldn’t do it anymore and quickly fell asleep in her stroller. N stayed awake as we took the trolley through the twinkly geisha art garden and headed back into the city.