Osaka and Kyoto are actually very near each other, and when I reached Kyoto Station I was amazed at its architecture. It kind of reminds me of Star Vista (Buona Vista MRT), but on a much much bigger scale.
Our hotel, APA Hotel (Kyoto Eki Horikawa Dori) was a 5 minutes walk from the Kyoto Station, and in my opinion was the best accommodation we stayed out of the 3. It was fairly spacious by Japan standards, and the room was well equipped with fast wifi.
I was chatting with an Australian in the sento the night before and he told me there’s a Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) happening the morning we are to arrive at Kyoto, so it was awesome coincidence that we got to witness our very first Japanese Festival. The tradition began way back in the 7th century, and is one of the 3 most famous festivals in Kyoto.
After watching part of the procession, we wanted to go visit Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion). However, genius me misread the name and we ended up at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) instead.
Nevertheless, it was part of our itinerary anyway and the beautiful garden was worth a visit! The said pavilion was not anything near silver though. It was intended to be covered with a silver foil overlay with water reflecting onto its lacquered finishing, but it never came to fruition.
Our next stop of the day, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people come here to drink the water flowing down from the 3 channels into a pond, and hope their wish would be granted.
Others come here to attempt walking with their eyes closed between 2 love stones, and if they succeed, they will find their true love.
However, my Japanese teacher told us that in the past, people actually go to more drastic measures to have their wish fulfilled. It is said that if you jump down from the Kiyomize-dera’s stage (as shown below) and survive, your wish would then be granted.
You can imagine the look of horror on our faces when we were told that so many people jumped down from that great height. Anyway, thankfully quite a majority survived.
On day 2 of Kyoto, we took a day trip out to Nara to visit some temples, but mostly to see deers roam about freely in the parks. It’s quite cool that these deers and humans can mingle around rather amicably.
On the day we went, there were large numbers of both and it was like a scene from the movies. School girls (and some boys) were screaming and running around, with the deers chasing them for deer snacks.
These deer snacks can be bought for just 150yen, and it’s a sure way to get deers to come close to you.
After playing with deers, we visited Todaiji (東大寺), which is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside the buddha temple, we also learnt that the building had been brought down by fires twice, and is now 1/3 smaller than its original structure about 400 years ago.
There were also kids queueing up to crawl through a tiny hole in one of the wooden pillars in the temple. I was so curious as to why they were doing so, as even their teachers were pulling them through one-by-one.
After doing some research (google google), I found out that you will get lucky if you crawl through that hole! It looked more like they were doing it for fun…
Day 3’s main attraction was a visit to Kinkakuji (金閣寺). It was majestic and the golden structure just shone with brilliance under the sunny weather. “Perfect photo opportunity!”, thought every single tourist that entered the garden and blocked the pathway, till security have to chide people to move on.
It was quite a short and relaxing walk through the garden though, with the gold-leaf covered structure being the centre of attention all the time.
The rest of the day we spent shopping at Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. Most of them are local brands that we couldn’t afford or have no interest in, but we did find plenty of great deals at the 100yen and 300yen shops littered along the street.
We also took a look at the famous Nishiki Market, which runs parallel to Shijo street (四条通). It was quite a disappointment for us though, mostly because they sell lots of fresh whole fish or preserved Japanese appetizers that we weren’t exactly looking to buy.
Our last day in Kyoto was a bit more exciting! We travelled to Arashiyama (嵐山), which is known for its bamboo forest.
It’s actually a very touristy place with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants along the main street.
During spring, the cherry blossoms will bloom and can be seen from the Togetsukyo (渡月橋), but when we went all we saw were more tourists.
Michelle posing for pictures amidst the bamboo forest.
If you’re lazy to walk, there are muscular, young & charismatic (adjectives provided by Michelle) rickshaw drivers ferrying people along this scenic route too.
Another place of interest in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You will better recognize it as the place with lots of bright orange Torii gates.
They represent holy gates and are iconic of Shinto shrines. But as usual we are just there to take pictures because it’s a beautiful place to camwhore.
A different city warrants another visit to the cat cafe! This one is Nekokaigi (猫会議）
The cats here are not like the pedigree-ish cats in Osaka, but more like regular cats. However, the owner here have a unique way of interacting with and getting the cats’ attention. You will have to go there and see for yourself to find out!
During one of our nights there, we ventured out to the bars at the Kiyamachi area and walked into a narrow lane (Pontocho Street) where we were lucky enough to spot a few Maiko (left) and Geisha (right) going to one of the many nondescript teahouses.
It is said that if you are not a guest of a regular customer, you probably would be denied entry into some of the high-class restaurants.
We finally settled on a bar called ING Bar, that is tucked away on the 2nd floor of an old building. It’s about the size of a 2-room flat, musty and dark, and has the atmosphere of a quaint Rock n Roll bar from the 80s. Would still recommend it though, as the owners are friendly and speak english.
My last bit about Kyoto will be about Gogyo Kyoto’s (京都五行) burnt ramen!
The soup base is really pretty burnt, think black and sooty. It’s also very thick and flavorful. If you’re seeking a good ramen place in Kyoto, this would definitely be it. It’s a short walk away from the Nishiki Market and is very easy to find.
That sums up the Kyoto Leg of my Japan Trip!
Please stay tune for my last Tokyo Leg post coming soon.
*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!