Kyoto (Arashiyama and Moss Temple)
We had four of the most comfortable sleeps in Arashiyama, a beautiful suburb—a far cry from the North American definition of that word. Arashiyama is close enough for a daily pilgrimage to Kyoto (via tram) yet tucked-away enough to be a quiet refuge. Kyoto residents are particularly connected to nature and sensitive to seasonal transitions (in everything from cuisine to art) and nowhere is this more apparent than in leafy, unspoilt Arashiyama. The apartment we rented embodied tradition. Arashiyama Hanare is registered as one of "Kyoto's important cultural properties", and was built in 1935 and restored with the help of local artisans using natural materials and traditional techniques. The kitchen sink is stone, one of the owners an ikebana master and did I mention the mini zen garden and hot tub? What more can I say. Pretty much a perfect stay, notwithstanding our check-out: a stressful (but in hindsight hilarious) morning that had Ken biking to an ATM with the landlord's mother in order to liberate our car from a ruthless parking lot.
The food in the area did not disappoint. We ate a flavourful 3 course yakitori dinner at Kokoro-tori prepared before us by the chef, since we were helpless looking at the all-japanese menu, and savoured a french-japanese fusion lunch at Grand Plié.
A short drive away from Arashiyama is Saihō-ji (or "Moss Temple), a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple that stands on grounds covered in thick, carpet-like moss. It's a place I've heard quite a bit about because they have a unique way of limiting tourism. In order to visit you must write (yep, pen & paper) to the Temple weeks ahead of time—our apartment host helped with this— then prepare for a ritual when you arrive. Each visitor participates in "shakyō", the copying of a sacred sutra with ink and brush, and engages in a sitting meditation or chant, a process lasting an hour or more.
We came ready to do this, wrists loose but were slightly disheartened when others around us quit mid-way. Resolute to finish, we dipped our brushes in black ink and scribbled undecipherable characters for 45 minutes straight. While I waited for Ken to finish I snuck a few iPhone snaps. "This isn't a race, it's an act of piety", I kept telling myself while relishing the fact that I was done first.