Japan – Kyoto

As I searched about travelling in Japan, many suggested to stay longer at Kyoto and make day trip to Osaka because there are more to explore in and around Kyoto. I contacted some of my Japanese friends before I booked my travel. Sayaka, whom I met during my exchange year in Switzerland, happened to move to Kyoto from Osaka when I was planning to come. She said I could stay with her at Kyoto. Hence, I started my travel in the order of Tokyo – Fujisan – Kyoto.

To get to Kyoto from Narusawa, I actually took a bus back to Tokyo and a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I requested for a window seat on the side facing Mount Fuji as recommended on travel forum. The scenery especially the sunset was beautiful but my eyes hurt trying to see anything closer because the train moved too fast. The whole day was gone when I reached Kyoto, it was already night. The train station is quite big and Kyoto Tower is just outside the train station.

Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Station

Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Station

I was excited to see her again after 12 years since we last met. Now she is married and has a son. I stayed with her for 5 days and I really enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her son – Yasuharu!! I had a room to myself and Yasuharu would come in to play. He was a good company even though we both didn’t really understand each other. I did learn a few Japanese phrases from him.

Stayed at Sayaka's place and spent most of my time playing with Yasuharu!

Stayed at Sayaka’s place and spent most of my time playing with Yasuharu!

I think it was not so convenient to travel with a kid, therefore I’m really grateful that my friend took the time and effort to show me around Kyoto. On the night I arrived, she showed me the direction to her house and which bus to take.

On the second day, I followed Sayaka to a kindergarten. She was searching for a kindergarten for Yasuharu. It was quite fun to play around Japanese kids even though I had no clue what they wanted to tell me. After the visit, we walked along the famous Philosopher’s Path  (哲学の道), which is a stone path that follows a canal that is lined by Sakura trees. It was winter when I was there so the Sakura trees were bare, no flowers nor leaves. Approximately 2km long, the path begins around Ginkakuji Temple or The Silver Pavilion (銀閣寺) and ends at Nanzenji (南禅寺). Sayaka wanted to start from Nanzenji but she could not find the way. When we found the path, we already missed Nanzenji so we just continued walking until Ginkakuji.

A walk along Philosopher's Path

A walk along Philosopher’s Path

Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion

On the third day, we went to The Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji (金閣寺). The top two floors of the temple are completely covered in gold leaf and the temple can be seen reflected in the adjoining pond. The temple’s garden is also very scenic and there is a charming tea house. The walk around the temple was calming despite the number of tourists.

Kinkakuji or Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji or Golden Pavilion

In the afternoon, we went to Arashiyama (嵐山) which is a touristy area in the Western outskirts of Kyoto. It is particularly popular for its cherry blossom and and fall colour seasons. The reason I wanted to visit this place is for the famous bamboo groves. The place itself was full with tourists, especially on the day we went as it was the start of Arashiyama Hanatōro (花灯路). Hanatōro means flower and light road and during Hanatōro, the streets are lit up by thousands of lanterns.

Sayaka’s husband and Asuka came along. While walking towards the bamboo groves, we passed many temples, including the famous Tenryuji Temple (天龍寺) but we didn’t enter any. We walked along the path surrounded by bamboo and reached Okochi Sanso Villa, which is the former villa of the popular actor Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), located in the back of Arashiyama’s bamboo groves. The compound of the villa is huge and from the view from the top was breathtaking. We spent quite some time there because Hanatōro didn’t begin until 5pm.

Arashiyama bamboo groves

Arashiyama bamboo groves

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa

When it was 5pm, they lit up the lanterns and it was so beautiful. We walked past the bamboo groves again. I probably took too many pictures but it was hard to capture nice ones as my hands had to be still to get clear pictures with low light. We walked towards Togetsukyo Bridge. The river and the surrounding mountains were colourful from all the lights. The whole area was really crowded but even so it was freezing cold!

Arashiyama Hanatōro

Arashiyama Hanatōro

On the forth morning, we went to Fushimi Inari Shrine or Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), a Shinto shrine in Southern Kyoto, which is is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It is famous for its thousand of torii gates (senbon torii), painted in orange and black, which were donated by individuals and companies. These two parallel rows of torri gates form a walking leading to the forest of Mount Inari. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. I had to meet Kana at noon to go to Nara (奈良) and due to the lack of time, we could not explore the entire mountain trails.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

On my last day, we went to Kiyomizudera Temple or Pure Water Temple (清水寺), listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. It was built in 780 at Otawa Waterfall, hence known as Pure Water Temple. The main hall and its stage were built 13m above the hillside without the use of nails. One could see the whole view of Kyoto from the stage. From the main hall, a three-storied Koyasu Pagoda stands among the trees in the far southern end of the temple grounds, and a visit is said to bring about an easy and safe childbirth. Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking, is situated behind the main hall. The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit – to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy. There is always a line of people waiting to drink from the streams.

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple

After the visit to Kiyomizudera Temple, Sayaka brought me around Higashiyama District. It was a great way to experience traditional old Kyoto. The wooden houses along narrow lanes, merchant shops and tourists in kimono walking along the lanes evoke a feeling of old Japan. We also walked past a few temples along the way.

A walk along Higashiyama District

A walk along Higashiyama District

Before stopping for lunch, we visited Yasaka Shrine or Yasaka Jinja (八坂神社). It is also known as Gion Shrine because of its location between Gion District (popular for Geisha) and Higashiyama District. I tried Omikuji, which is a randomly-drawn fortune telling paper slip. In Japan, they tie the slips around a tree branch, believing that good fortune will come true and bad fortune can be averted.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine

Our last stop of the day was Heian Shrine or Heian Jingu (平安神宮). Heian is the former name of Kyoto. This shrine was built on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors. There is a massive torii gate at the entrance. The shrine is very spacious and the main buildings are a partial replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period. Apparently I only found out later that there is a garden behind the main building, which I didn’t see when I was there.

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine

We had to rush back after Heian Shrine as Sayaka and Yasuharu needed to pack up and catch a train to Tokyo at 4pm. My bus to the airport was at 8pm so I had some time to kill. After putting my luggage into a locker, I went for a walk around the city center. I wanted to go to a temple but only realised it was already closed. Most temples close between 4pm – 5pm, it would be good to plan to start the day early. Besides it gets dark by 5pm during winter time. In the end, I spent most of my time in a mall selling electronic stuffs like Low Yat at KL, as well as checking out Japanese playing Pachinko!

5 days passed by really fast and there is so much more to see in Kyoto. There wasn’t enough time to see everything but I believe I had seen most of the main attractions. Nevertheless, I would love to come back to Kyoto again, one can never get bored of Kyoto!

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