By Alice Baldock
I was very excited to come to Kyoto; one of my first indirect experiences of Japan was reading a book set here, and I have wanted to visit Japan ever since. We first visited the Imperial Palace, home to the Emperor for over 1000 years. In my mind, I had the idea that it would be similar to Buckingham Palace, one of the palaces of the monarch in my country. However, it was the opposite of the enclosed grandeur I imagined. Instead, it was luxuriously open. Beautiful buildings framed large expanses of open expense, making the spectacles seem even more spectacular in comparison to their empty surroundings. The gardens to one side of the palace were stunning, I longed to lose myself among the trees draping over quietly moving streams and graceful bridges. However, these were closed to the public, so I could only gaze from afar.
After a beautifully crafted lunch in Uji, which consisted of food which was carefully carved into beautiful shapes – engraved mushrooms and pumpkins shaped like leaves – we visited a Buddhist temple and took part in a tea ceremony. The temple was astounding in its size and majesty, whilst the hands-on experience of the tea ceremony was light-hearted and left everyone in a good mood. Our day was completed by visiting a tatami-matted restaurant and experiencing very traditional Japanese cuisine. The sociable aspect of the meal, which involved looking vegetables in a large pot on the table, encouraged lots of conversation across cultures.
Pictures by Inga Menke and Paul Claes