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After leaving the sweltering Hiroshima, we went to Kyoto to catch the climactic moments of the last half of one-month long Gion Matsuri: Atomatsuri-Yoiyama (night floats parade during the last half of the festival) and Atomatsuri-Yamaboko-junko (the parade of floats during the last half of the festival). We were lucky to have fairly good weather on both days since the extended weather forecast checked in US predicted rainy days for the most of our stay in Japan. Since Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in Japan, the city of Kyoto was packed with tourists from Japan as well as abroad. Many people walking around in the central (Gion) area of Kyoto were dressed in traditional Japanese summer robes, yukata, and visited many sight-seeing spots in Kyoto (so many spots that one cannot visit them all in a week or two). Initially I assumed most of the yukata-clad young women were Japanese, but then realized that they were probably Chinese (most likely Taiwanese), upon hearing the language they spoke. They blended well into the Japanese festival. (There were several shops that catered to the tourists who wanted to experience Japanese festivals dressed in traditional Japanese robes.) Gion Matsuri that started as appeasement to the angry gods that caused natural disasters is now the one-month long festival that certainly contributes to the tourism economy of the quaint and beautiful Kyoto. We had tofu kaiseki (a dozen or more dishes made up of tofu) on the night of yoiyama. It was delicious. (I am thinking of making yudofu (hot pot tofu) with soybean milk with some broth when winter comes.) The restaurant was so packed with reservations that we had to wait more than 1 1/2 hours. However, waiting was easily done while visiting many night-floats and spectacles with other people swarming the streets.

On the following day, after enjoying daytime parade of floats and flower-hat ladies parades, we visited Kiyomizu temple, which was built without using any nails (many of Japanese old structures were built without using nails partially, I think, to increase flexibility thus durability during the quakes.) Since the temple sits at the top of a rather steep hill the street to the temple is sandwiched by many shops, cafes, and restaurants to encourage the visitors to take rest and do some shopping. (I suspect that the religious zealots would be offended by such a very human development surrounding the Kiyomizu temple.) As always, the Kiyomizu temple was very crowded. However, there was one rather obscure and kooky thing to experience right near the entrance to the temple: Tainai-Meguri (Rebirth Experience). Tainai literally meaning the womb represents the womb of Amida (bodhisattva), and we are encouraged to go through the pitch-dark narrow tunnel of uneven ground to experience the rebirth. It was a rather unsettling experience to go through that pitch-dark tunnel while following a guide rope. So I forgot to spin the slightly lighted rock at one point to make a wish (I just touched the rock.)

Nanzenji zen gardens were most calming and refreshing experience. The zen gardens in the temple complex were serene and beautiful, providing some meditative moments during the gregarious but noisy festival.

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