JAPAN: Kyoto (京都)

The next stop on our 13-day Japan journey was to the lively city of Kyoto! Before I get into all the fun things we saw in Kyoto I would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors the people who got us some swanky new luggage for Christmas: Mellen & Lar-wii! After a little research it seemed that backpacks were going to be the best way to get around Japan as we would be taking the train form city to city using the highly discounted tourist-only Japanese rail pass. There was limited luggage space at the end of each car, and these bags fit comfortably above out seats in the overhead luggage rack. They also made walking up and down lots of steps from the train and subway platforms a lot easier! The backpacks we got were designed to be manhandled by airport baggage carousels, so no worries about losing a shoulder strap in the process. Overall I would say they performed quite well!

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oooohh…aaaaahh…
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Waiting to board the train to Kyoto. I need to tie my shoes.
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The future is here…bullet trains.

After our arrival in Kyoto we decided to head up to the imperial palace and have a look around. The architecture in Japan is quite different than China, and I think David was rather taken with all the dark wood on the exterior of some of the buildings. The roofs in particular were unique ranging from layered cedar bark to a cork looking material.

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This picture most adequately captures how I feel about Japanese gardens. 非常漂亮!

My favorite part of the imperial palace ended up being the gardens as we were not permitted to enter any of the structures. The gardens were distinctly different than what we were used to seeing in China in that they seemed a little less manicured and more wild or natural. They tended to have more grass/moss and green spaces as well.

After we left the garden we grabbed some food and attempted to use an ATM. Long story short, I found that 7-11 ATMs accepted foreign cards and displayed English instructions on the screen, so we stuck with that plan for the rest of our trip. I was hesitant to put my card in one of the Japanese bank machines, lest I not be able to figure out how to get it back out! Soon enough though, it was time for some comic relief…

 

 

 

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Explaining that he is trapped in a subway to someone who fortunately spoke English and Japanese.

 

img_4226David needed the bathroom after we exited the subway, but the bathroom was back through the subway gate we had just left. Since we had pre-loaded passmo cards he thought he could just go back through the gate and then exit without getting charged. I decided to run up to the street level to take a look around while I waited and then I got some strange text messages. Apparently the gate wouldn’t let him back out after he was done because he had not travel anywhere on the subway. Luckily he found someone to communicate this to a guard so he could escape!

In the late afternoon we took a stroll through the Nishiki market, tried some interesting snacks, and found ourselves a nice big glass of Kirin because we needed to know if it was actually better at the source. Turns out they have a whole offering of beers we had never seen before, including a cider!

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Nishiki market, attached to two other long arcade type shopping streets, you could spend an entire day just wandering the shops there. We also found a very delicious vending-machine style ramen restaurant nearby.

 

There are so many things to see in Kyoto, and with only 3 days I was having a hard time prioritizing what we could see and what we should save until next time. I had little to no help from the Dave in the planning process, so we kind-of stumbled our way through Kyoto. Luckily I had read about a special world heritage bus route that operated on the weekends where you could hop on and off at your leisure for an entire day. The loop runs past most major UNESCO world heritage sites in Kyoto (or past additional transportation options to get to them in some cases). Overall it was a great way to see a lot of places very quickly (emphasis on quickly), so here is our photo summary of everything we got to see that day.

After hopping a bus two hours after the start time the first place we chose to visit was Nijo-j0 Catsle. It consisted of several different rooms set-up in a zig-zag sort of pattern with hallways around the outside of all the room. The rooms themselves were the inner part of the castle. The interior was almost entirely made of wood along with paper panels with paintings on them. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside, and the outside was under renovation for a large upcoming celebration. It may also be coincidentally for the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo that most of the country is getting a face lift…there were many recently started construction projects we ran into throughout our travels.

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Entrance gate to Nijo-jo
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Loving the natural wood look here.
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Overview of part of the castle from above, you can kind of get a feel for the zig-zag pattern here.

The second stop we chose had a temple called Kinkakuji, otherwise known as the golden pavilion. It used to be privately owned before it was converted into a Buddhist temple upon the former owners death. It is also covered entirely in gold leaf!

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Kinkakuji – the golden pavilion
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Being asked to practice English with some students on a school outing.
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Sneakily trying to put Pikachu and Tigger back in their bag after getting a selfie.

The third stop: Tadasu-no-Mori Forest for a short stroll and a beer. We were told this location might be more interesting to visit in the evening, as such, we did not stay very long.

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Stop four: Ginkakuji Temple (also known as The Silver Pavilion). This was actually my favorite stop we visited on the bus route. This pavilion was originally built by the grandson of the man who commissioned the golden pavilion, and it is referred to as a zen temple. The setting is very natural with the exception of two distinct zen sand gardens. There is a very nice walking path to explore along the property, as well as a Buddhist temple behind the pavilion.

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Ginkakuji: The Silver Pavilion
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Representation of Mt. Fuji.
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Representation of waves beyond Mt. Fuji.
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Enjoying the scenery beyond the pavilion.

The fifth and final stop we chose was the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Due to time constraints and not wanting to have to hail a taxi back to our hotel, we only explored part of the area here as the drop off point was a decent hike away from the temple itself.

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Lots of orange around here!

The last full day in Kyoto we went to the Sento Imperial Palace Gardens which require you to reserve a spot in advance to visit. This palace previously served as the residence for the retired emperors. Unfortunately, being made of wood, it burned down several times and after the third time it was not rebuilt as there was no retired emperor at the time. Today most of what you can see are beautiful gardens and some out buildings including tea houses, ceremonial sites, and the Omiya Imperial Palace built for one of the Empress dowagers in 1867. Today the royal family will still stay here when they have occasion to visit Kyoto.

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The Omiya Imperial Palace
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The moss and stone pathways is one big difference I have noticed between Japanese and Chinese gardens.

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More stones
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One of the tea houses on the property.

In the evening we made a trip to Gion an area famous for Geisha activity. We took a stroll through a park where we found this temple had just closed as well as a samurai carrying dog and his flute playing owner.

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Take note kids: how not to watch a show…

We even managed to catch a quick geisha demonstration/show at a theater in town. It was admittedly a very touristy show, but at least it gave us a feel for some of the talents these women learn in order to become a geisha. There are more professional shows put on during certain festivals throughout the year, but we unfortunately were not there during any of those times. From what I understand those shows are much higher quality than the one we were able to catch.

 

Before leaving Kyoto we made a second visit to Fushimi Inari to climb the entire mountain. As an added bonus, the capsule hotel we stayed at let us shower and hang out for a few hours after our sweaty walk before we caught our afternoon train to Hiroshima. Overall this was our favorite location in Kyoto for its mix of culture and nature. There were one or two other major attractions we were not able to see including the bamboo forest (Arashiyama) which looks spectacular from the photos we have seen. I suppose we will just have to come back to Kyoto!

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The main temple is situated at the bottom of the mountain with smaller shrines located all the way up the mountain.
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The first visit we only made it up to the red dot which took the better part of 45 minutes (picture taking and gawking included). We decided to make a trip back two days later in more athletic clothes to hike the whole mountain.
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Instructions are as follows: Make a wish and if the stone is lighter than you expect it will come true. If the stone is heavier, it is very unlikely to happen. For the record, the stones are quite heavy…
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From what I understand Inari Okami is the god of rice (among other things like agriculture and trade) and foxes are messengers of this god/spirit in the Shinto religion.
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#MattsShirt

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Inari shrines commonly have many orange/red gates (torii) in long pathways such as this.

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Off the beaten path one can find many different shrines and more torii.

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So many shrines!

 

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As you climb the mountain the torii start to spread out more.
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I can read some of those characters in Chinese, but not so much in Japanese.
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Made it to the top!

 

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