Date of Travel: 30/01/2012
I was tired. Really tired. I could barely sleep the eve of the day of our flight (29th Jan) due to all the excitement and anticipation. We had been eagerly waiting for this for the past six months after all. All the research on places to go, all the planning – it had all led up to this moment at last. It did not help that it took 24 hours to reach Kansai Airport from our homeland of Christchurch, New Zealand; which also included a stopover in Singapore for over seven hours. I did manage to find a nice quiet corner to rest, but still couldn’t get any shut-eye. But none of that seemed to matter. We had finally arrived at Kansai airport. The adrenaline from all the excitement kept me awake. We made our way through past customs in a daze, picked up our luggage, navigated our way to the mail room to pick up our rental mobile phone, and somehow managed to find our way out of the airport to the JR station. There, we picked up JR West Kansai 1-Day passes we had purchased through H.I.S in New Zealand, and used it to get onto the Haruka Express to our first destination – Kyoto.
Flying over the Southern Alps in New Zealand
The train ride from Kansai Airport to Kyoto took about 1.5 hours. It was definitely longer than I had remembered. Nonetheless, it was an eye opener. The Japanese architecture, the denseness of the buildings, the narrow roads, the countless train stations we passed; these were a stark reminder that we are no longer in familiar territory.
Taking the Kansai Express to Kyoto
Upon arriving at the station, we went straight to our accommodation (K’s House Kyoto) to drop off our luggage. Thankfully it was only a short 5 to 10 minute walk to the train station. I cannot imagine having to travel in a crowded bus or to walk somewhere further in the state which we were in. After dropping off our luggage, we went back to the train station to find something to eat as it was lunchtime. Despite the fact that I had been to the train station several times before, the sight of how large it is still amazes me. There was also a light snowfall at the time, something I had not experienced in Japan before (my two previous trips to Japan was during summer).
Wandering around Kyoto JR Station
Before finding a place to eat, we went up the escalators to the very top. From there, we had a good view of the surrounding city area. While Kyoto is known as the traditional, spiritual, and cultural center of Japan, the city center screams of a concrete jungle. I have heard that many were disappointed with this sight initially, but not for me. I always found it fascinating how so much history is being hidden behind all the concrete. We headed down a few floors to the main row of restaurants in the Isetan department store, and went for the safe option of deep fried food (katsu) since it was our very first meal. I am usually not a fan of deep fried stuff, but this was delicious. I really do like the way that Japan does katsu, as they are really good at making it crispy yet not oily. They had free refills of rice, salad, and soup too. A fantastic meal to kick-off our trip!
View from Happy Terrace (left), Lunch at Tonkatsu Wako (right)
After lunch, we walked over to Sanjusangendo despite my legs and back starting to give way due to fatigue. The temple is located only a few blocks away from our accommodation, so it wasn’t too far to walk. The main building is one of the longest wooden halls in the world, and houses hundreds of buddist statues. The sight of all the statues lined up in rows was breathtaking, and it was about that time when it finally sunk in that we were in Japan. Unfortunately we were unable to take any photos within the hall, though I did purchase a book as a souvenir.
Jay-C wandering around Sanjusangendo
We went back to our accommodation for a quick break and also to pick up some warmer clothes before heading off to find Pontocho. It was getting dark, and unfortunately none of us had a good map that showed the exact location of Pontocho. We ended up walking straight past it without noticing! When we realized this, we decided to skip it and head over to Gion instead since it was closer. The part of Gion we went to was the Shirakawa area. The area was full of traditional Japanese buildings and featured a canal running along the footpath. The canal was lined with overhanging trees and traditional lanterns which help emit a calm and peaceful atmosphere. It was beautiful, especially with the lamps being reflected on the water surface. The atmosphere was a sharp contrast to the busy and hectic city centre area which was only a few blocks away. I went crazy taking photos, but did not realize that my camera filter was still on. This caused all my photos to come out really dark, which was a disappointment.
The beautiful Gion district
On the way back to our accommodation, we got lost and ended up at Yasaka Shrine. It was the first time I had been to a shrine at night. However with the shrine less crowded and the lanterns lit up, it definitely gave us a chance to appreciate the place more. After exiting the shrine, we headed back towards our hostel and stopped by Coco’s Curry House for dinner along the way. After quickly planning the itinerary for the next day, I turned in for a good night’s rest. My body really needed it!
Yasaka Shrine at night (left), Dinner at Coco’s Curry House (right)
International flights from Christchurch, NZ to Kansai Airport via Singapore (using Singapore Airlines) – 123,500 yen (assuming 60 yen to 1 NZD at time of purchase)
JR Kansai Area Pass – 2,000 yen
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen
Sanjusangendo entrance fee – 600 yen
Souvenir at Sanjusangendo – 500 yen
TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
8,550 yen excluding flights, 132,050 yen total