2012 Japan Trip Day 6 – Kyoto

Date of Travel: 04/02/2012

Time really does fly when you are having the time of your life. Before we knew it, the last day of the first leg of our trip had arrived. There was still plenty to see and do in Kyoto, so we checked out of our accommodation early and left our luggage at the hostel. We picked up some breakfast from a convenience store, took a bus from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji temple, and had our breakfast at a small rest area along the approach to the entrance. Kinkakuji, along with Ginkakuji and Kiyomizudera, are among the most well known temples in Japan. It always brought back special memories for me, as it was the first temple I had ever visited in Japan when I went with my school group back in 2003.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

The main building of interest is the golden pavilion, which sits on one end of a large lake. The lake itself was surrounded by many bonsai, and had a number of Koi, ducks and cranes swimming around. The whole scene felt peaceful and natural. It also helped that we were there relatively early, so there was not too much of a crowd. Apart from the building however, the rest of the temple ground was pretty average compared to Ginkakuji.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

After leaving the Kinkakuji complex, we walked west along the road towards Ryoanji. While Ryoanji is well known for its rock garden, the size of the temple grounds was quite large. There was a small lake, with a small shrine area located on a tiny island on it. Ryoanji itself featured a beautiful tatami hall, with a veranda for visitors to rest and enjoy the rock garden. Interestingly, the rock garden featured about 15 rocks, all of which cannot be seen at the same time if the viewer remained stationary. Brownie and J.C. weren’t too impressed though, so we did not stay there very long.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

Our next stop was Nijo Castle, but we could not figure out our preferred method to get there. One option was to use trams, but we found that this was a bit too pricey, and would not have been much faster than walking. As such, we ended up walking from Ryoanji all the way to Nijo Castle, which was about 5 km and took about an hour. We did stop at Yoshinoya along the way for lunch, which was pretty good for its price. When we finally arrived at Nijo Castle, it turns out that we were at the wrong end, as the entrance was to the east. After walking around the big block to the entrance, my back was killing me as I had been carrying around a heavier backpack than usual (since we had already packed everything). Luckily there were coin lockers available where I was able to dump my backpack. Nijo Castle itself is not as grand as other castles around Japan (e.g. Himeji, Matsuyama, and others). However, the openness of the compound, and the ability for visitors to actually wander around the interior (unlike the Imperial Palace) still made this worthwhile. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos of the interior.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

As with many other similar attractions, Nijo Castle featured a nice lake and foliage. We were also able to climb the castle walls to have an overhead look of the compound. Personally I appreciated the castle grounds more than I did with the actual castle building itself. It was hard to believe that just over the castle walls were busy streets, again highlighting the uniqueness of Japanese cities.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

On our way back to our accommodation, we decided to walk along Nishiki Market, which is known for selling plenty of food that is uncommon to see outside of Japan. Unlike many of the other areas we visited, this place was jammed pack with people. It was hard to maneuver around the narrow lanes, but then again, this was one of those places which should be enjoyed slowly.  It gave us a good chance to take our time to see the unique food available. At the end of the alley (which stretched 5 blocks) was a tiny but busy shrine, and a western restaurant with one of the most impressive food displays I had seen thus far on this trip. I also bought a pair of boots here in anticipation for the second leg of our trip.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????DSC01186  DSC01188

We headed back to the hostel to pick up our luggage. While there, we decided to eat at a café attached to the hostel. The food was cheap and was pretty good. The waiter was also very friendly, and was happy to practice English with us. A band was also setting up for the night gig, but unfortunately we had to leave in order to check-in at our next hotel before check-in time closes. We dragged our luggage back to Kyoto station, and took a train to Osaka. Once at Osaka, we transferred to another train which took us north to Itami airport. On one of the train trips we took along the way, there was only one other person on the train apart from us three. It was the most eerie train trip I had taken, as it felt like a ghost train. We checked in at Osaka Air Terminal Hotel, and spent the rest of the night channel surfing and resting up for our morning flight the next morning. It did feel slightly depressing that the first leg of our trip was over, but with so much left in our trip, there was still plenty to look forward to!

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Bus from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji – 220 yen
Train trip from Kyoto Station to Osaka Airport Terminal – 960 yen [Kyoto to Osaka, walk to Umeda Station for train to Hotarugaike, transfer for train to Osaka Airport Terminal]

2) ACCOMMODATION
Osaka Airterminal Hotel – 4,800 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near hostel – 230 yen [Teriyaki burger and strawberry bread]
Lunch at Yoshinoya Enmachi – 590 yen [Gyudon set]
Takoyaki at Nishiki Market – 180 yen
Dinner at Cafe at K’s House Kyoto – 870 yen [Karaage and Yakisoba]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Kinkakuji Temple entrance fee – 400 yen
Ryoanji Temple entrance fee – 500 yen
Nijo Castle entrance fee – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from ryoanji – 250 yen [Postcards]
Souvenir from Nijo Castle – 350 yen [Yatsuhashi Toy]
Warm boots for Hokkaido leg of trip from ABC Mart @ Nishiki – 12,780 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
22,730 yen (190,435 yen total)

Total Cost of Kansai Leg excluding Airfares
66,935 yen (11,156 yen per day on average)

2012 Japan Trip Day 5 – Kyoto/Nara

Date of Travel: 03/02/2012

On this day, Japan celebrated Setsubun (day before spring begins). Many locals would visit temples and shrines to celebrate the event. There were a lot of activities happening around Kyoto, and we made our plans accordingly. We started the day purchasing breakfast from convenience stores (as we had done every other day so far on this trip). We then took a JR train from Kyoto Station to Inari Station, and had breakfast on the approach to the Fushimi Inari shrine.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

The shrine is one of the most popular in Kyoto, and it was not surprising that it was full of people paying a visit. But our destination wasn’t the main shrine grounds. Rather, it was Inari-San that we were here for. We walked past a line of people paying their respects, around a building with several priests inside chanting, towards the back of the shrine grounds. We stood at the base of the path up the mountain and admired the seemingly endless row of Tori gates that greeted us. I had read about it and seen photos of it all over the internet, but the magical and mysterious feeling of the place was too overwhelming for words and photos to portray.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

We walked along the path of Tori gates, passing by the occasional shrine, rest area, a lake, and miniature family shrines. We paused for a quick break at the main rest stop halfway up the mountain and admired the view of Kyoto. It never really occurred to us just how large Kyoto city was. If we had not been to any of the temples/shrines in the previous days, we would have thought of Kyoto was just another concrete jungle. It was amazing just how much is hidden away out-of-sight in Kyoto (or in Japan in general). We continued up the mountain, wandering around mini-shrines and what appears to be several grave. There was definitely an eerie feeling in the air as the density of Tori gates decreased while more and more graves were present.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

After we descended from the mountain, we wandered around the shops looking for souvenirs and food in nearby areas. On the way back to the train station, Brownie started having hiccups. He asked J.C. and I to stand guard while he went behind a fence, laid down on the ground, threw his feet up against the fence, pushed against the fence with his feet such that his back was off the ground, and started drinking water while upside down. Must say, the sight of him doing that was almost as interesting as Fushimi Inari itself. Almost.

???????????????????????????????  00144_(new).mkv_snapshot_00.00_[2012.05.13_13.15.00]

Our next destination was Nara, which like Kyoto, was once the capital of Japan. It was easily accessible by train from Inari station It is also famous for being one of the two major towns in Japan to have free roaming deer. A warning though – no matter how cute those creatures are, they can be very aggressive and vicious. Just ask anyone who purchased deer crackers and tried feeding them. There were a number of Japanese schoolgirls and tourists running for their lives, which was hilarious to watch…until one of those furballs started nibbling on my jacket.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

We walked past the Deer Park to Todaiji temple, which in my opinion, is one of the most impressive temples in Japan. It is also one of the largest wooden structures in the world at one stage (it supposedly still is, though some other building in Norway claims to have that title). You can compare the size of it against the puny people walking into the building. It is also home to one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. The sheer scale of the building made us feel small and insignificant! Inside the temple, there were other guardian statues, a miniature model of the temple, and a hole in a pillar which supposedly grants enlightenment to those who manage to crawl through it in their next life (we watched a big asian tourist try to squeeze through with a smile on our faces). Outside the temple is one of the creepiest statues I have ever seen, though it supposedly heals any ailments a person might have if they rub the respective body part of the statue.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

After leaving the temple complex, we wandered around the surrounding park area and started heading towards Kasuga Taisha Shrine for the lantern display. Along the way, I managed to find my favourite orange flavoured drink in Japan called Qoo! In the meantime, Brownie satisfied his curiosity by buying an ice cream from a vending machine which had the perfect Engrish (see photo – and no, it did not provide Brownie with a richer life). As it was still quite bright, we decided to detour and find some dinner. The only place we managed to find was a small tea house at the base of the hill. The people who ran the place was extremely friendly. I ordered rice porridge and kaki-no-hazushi, the latter of which is a specialty of Nara which is a mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. It wasn’t a filling dinner, but it was enough to keep us going for the rest of the night, and really helped warmed us up.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

We started walking back up the hill towards Kasuga Taisha Shrine. I bought a paper lantern along the way and lit it up. However, Brownie got obsessed with taking a great photo of a statue of a deer. By the time he was done, the candle in my lantern went out! After ridiculing him about his COD complex when it came to taking photos, we continued towards the shrine complex. We passed by hundreds of stone lanterns along the way which were dimly lit. Within the shrine complex itself were more lanterns, and more Shinto Priests chanting away. Overall, the magical vibe of the stone lanterns made this one of the most memorable nights in recent memory.

DSC00997  DSC01012???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

On our way back to Kyoto, we ended up taking the wrong train which went in the opposite direction. Luckily, we noticed this immediately, and quickly changed trains at the very next stop! There was one more event in Kyoto which we were interested in going to at Yoshida Shrine, where a huge bonfire is held. However, we were completely wasted from such a long day that we decided to just crash at our hostel (it was quite late by the time we arrived back anyway). We were quite hungry, so we stopped by a convenience store along the way to get some snacks. I ended up buying the popular “pudding” dessert, which is essentially just Crème Brule. It was a great midnight snack, and a nice relaxed way to end yet another awesome day.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????

Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Train from Kyoto Station to Inari Station – 140 yen
Train from Inari Station to JR Nara Station – 650 yen
Train from JR Nara Station to Kyoto Station – 690 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near hostel – 360 yen [Chocolate Croissant, onigiri, almond pocky]
Lunch near Fushimi Inari – 1,100 yen [Amago-don and Kitsune Soba]
Taiyaki snack at Fushimi Inari – 300 yen
Qoo Orange Juice – 150 yen
Dinner near Kasuga Taisha Shrine – 1,580 yen (Porridge, Kaki-no-hazushi set)
Pudding dessert from Lawson Convenience Store near Hostel – 147 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Todaiji Temple entrance fee – 500 yen
Kasuga Taisha Shrine entrance fee – 500 yen

5) OTHERS
Cellphone strap at Fushimi Inari Shrine – 450 yen
Paper lantern at Kasuga Taisha Shrine – 500 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,967 yen (167,705 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 4 – Kyoto/Kobe

Date of Travel: 02/02/2012

The first order of the day was to obtain the second JR Kansai pass which we were going to use to get from Kyoto to Kobe. Once this was done, we took a detour and walked over to Toji Temple, home of the tallest 5-storey pagoda in Japan. Unfortunately, many of its buildings were under renovation. In addition, the sun was located right behind the pagoda, making it very difficult to take good pictures. Inside the pagoda, we were able to see the wood work which went on in the foundations which was an amazing sight. Shortly after, a tour guide spotted Brownie (the only non-asian of our travelling group) and tried to explain the history of the grounds to him. Whenever she struggled to find the words, she would speak it in Japanese to the other two of us. We would just nod our heads, pretending to understand what she was saying. Once she found out that we were completely clueless, we all had a good laugh! We arrived back at the train station shortly after to take a train to Kobe. It was a local train with no toilets on board, and it was a 1.5 hour journey to Kobe. Due to my anxiety issues, my bladder decided “hey, let’s pretend you need to take a piss!” We hopped off the train in Osaka so that I can quickly hit the bathroom. I had accounted for the possibility of this but it didn’t really matter since the next train was coming in a few minutes…or so I thought. For some reason there was a large delay, and the next train only came about 45 minutes later! Go figure.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Toji Temple

As it was close to lunchtime, we decided to get off at Sannomiya station to have some Kobe Beef at Kobe Steakland. Unfortunately I left the map at the hostel, so I asked the nearby information desk for directions. Turns out they were absolutely clueless, and we ended up on the wrong street. Going by my memory, we managed to find it just 5 minutes later thankfully. And boy was it worth it. While I was the only one who went for Kobe Beef, all of us were satisfied with our lunch. After the filling lunch, onwards to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (longest suspension bridge span in the world at the time we visited) we went. We struggled to walk from the train station to the information centre due to the extremely strong wind. At one stage, Jay-C tried jumping up, only for the wind to blow him backwards several feet! But none the less, the bridge was an amazing sight to behold, though once again the sun was in the wrong place.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Delicious Kobe beef lunch (left), and Akashi Kaikyo (right)

On the way back towards Kobe, Jay-C wanted to take a detour to have a look at the Tetsujin-28-go (Gigantor) statue which he had spotted from the train. It was fun trying to take photos of it in creative positions. After about 15 minutes of photo taking, we went back towards Kobe for one of the attractions I really wanted to go – the Earthquake Museum…which to my dismay was closed just several minutes before we arrived! It was due to struggling to follow really badly written maps and underestimating the distance between the train station and the museum. But at least the exterior was beautiful! Luckily I managed to drown my sorrow with plenty of omurice and taiyaki at a neighbouring mall.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Tetsujin-28-go statue (top left and right), Earthquake Museum (bottom left), and Omurice dinner (bottom right)

We decided to end the day by visiting the Kobe Harbour area, and I was wanting to use a subway to get there (since the subway entrance was right in front of us). Instead, Jay-C wanted to use the JR trains since we have a pass for it. In the end, it took about another 40 minutes to find the train. By the time we got to Kobe Habour, my feet were killing me. Still, we managed to walk around half the habour area before my feet decided that enough was enough. We spotted a few interesting things along the way (e.g. a random Elvis statue in the middle of nowhere playing “Suspicious Minds”), but we still had washing to do and hence hopped on a train back towards Kyoto, but not before taking plenty of pictures around the habour (including the red bridge used in the Fate series). Once we got back to the hostel, Jay-C and I did the laundry while Brownie fell asleep while holding his bible! As we were too lazy to find a place to dump his clothes, we just dumped it onto him! Don’t think he realized till the next morning. Either way, it was perhaps our most tiring day of the trip thus far and filled with some disappointments, but overall still a very good day!

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Kobe Habour (left), and sleeping Brownie (right)

Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
JR Kansai Area Pass – 2000 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near Kyoto Station – 135 yen [Croquette and omelette bun]
Lunch at Kobe SteakLand – 2,985 yen [Kobe Beef Lunch set]
Dinner at mall across the street from Earthquake Museum – 1,291 yen [Hamburger steak and omurice]
Taiyaki snack at the same mall as above – 100 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Toji Temple entrance fee – 800 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Akashi Kaikyo Bridge – 368 yen [Magnet]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
10,579 yen (157,738 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 3 – Kyoto

Date of Travel: 01/02/2012

We started off the day by stopping by a convenience store to pick up some breakfast. It was the second morning in a row which we did this, and it would soon become the norm for the rest of our trip! We then headed over to Kyoto Train Station to take our first subway ride of our trip towards Imperial Palace, which was one of the few tourist attractions that was in close proximity from a subway station. Though the Imperial Palace compound itself is small, the park surrounding it is massive (1.3km spanning North-South and 0.75km spanning East-West). We found a quiet spot at the North-Western corner near the Konoe Pond and ate our breakfast, then wandered around to find the Imperial Agency Office to join the English Imperial Palace tour. The tour itself is free, but advanced reservations are required which we luckily arranged a few weeks prior. I am sure that neither of us actually paid any attention to the lady speaker, and just went nuts taking photos of everything. Unfortunately, due to the compactness of the buildings around the ground, none of us could really take any good photos of anything apart from the little Japanese garden. Also, we were not allowed in any of the buildings and could only admire its exterior.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
The Imperial Palace grounds

After the tour, we wandered around the Palace grounds a bit more to admire the spaciousness of the outer park area (which was vastly different compared to the claustrophobic nature of the city centre). We visited several buildings, such as an information area and an old office/school building. It had unfortunately started to rain a bit, and we were unsure of our afternoon plans of heading over to the Arashiyama, which is located West of the main part of Kyoto city. We decided to find some place to eat while deciding what our plans would be for the rest of the afternoon. Lunch itself was an interesting experience. It was the first time we ordered our food via a ticket vending machine. Food came out really fast, and was surprisingly good considering how cheap it was.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Wandering around the Imperial Palace park

The skies cleared up considerably after lunch, so we decided to stick to our original plan of heading over to Arashiyama. Once we arrived at Arashiyama, we almost got ourselves lost trying to find out way through some small back alleys to the main street from the JR station. We finally reached the town area, and found its relaxed atmosphere refreshing. We went straight for Togetsukyo Bridge (which was featured in an episode of K-ON!!), then backtracked to Tenryuji temple. While the temple itself had nothing that immediately stood out; its central garden, the hallway to the altar at the back, and the interior which is visible to the public gave the temple a very calm and peaceful atmosphere. Probably also helped that it had less people compared to some of the earlier temples we had visited.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Arashiyama and Tenryuji Temple

After Tenryuji, we walked along the main roads towards Adashino Nenbutsuji. The walk was longer than I thought (about 30-40 minutes). By the time we did arrive, Adashino Nenbutsuji was already closed! While I was a bit disappointed, we laughed it off and took a different route back to the train station. This time, we walked the Bamboo Grooves, which is a short 10-20 minute walk along a path lined with Bamboo trees. We did also passed a nice quiet lake and old specialty shops along the way. I had however completely forgotten to remove my UV filter despite it being such a cloudy day, and as a result most photos came out dull and dark.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Northwest Arashiyama, and Bamboo Groves

We returned back to the city area to meet one of my friends from Fukui. However, he had a dentist appointment and ended up being very late. Nonetheless, there was still plenty to do around Kyoto Station. We visited the Kyoto Tower (first time I went up there despite being in Kyoto twice before), and visited several shops around the station. When my friend came, we requested that we go somewhere that has plenty of vegetables for dinner due to having a lack of greens over the past few days. We ended up going to a buffet restaurant, and was perhaps the worst meal I had of the whole trip as most of the food was cold, was mostly finished, and was pretty darn pricey (though my friend paid for it…which made me feel even worse). But either way, it was great catching up with my friend again, and it was yet another great but exhausting day of travelling overall.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Back at Kyoto JR Station for dinner

Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Kyoto JR Station to Imadegawa Station – 250 yen
Train from Nijo Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station – 190 yen
Train from Saga-Arashiyama to Kyoto Station – 230 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near accommodation – 360 yen [Yakisoba-Pan, Melon-Pan and Oolong Tea]
Lunch along Oike Dori – 690 yen [Korean chicken dish]
Fruits and Pocky from Kyoto Isetan – 454 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Tenryuji Temple entrance fee – 600 yen
Kyoto TV Tower entrance fee – 770 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Imperial Palace – 500 yen [Charm]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
6,944 yen (147,159 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 2 – Kyoto

Date of Travel: 31/01/2012

I woke up at around 7 am to a bright morning in Kyoto. I was surprised at how energized I felt considering how dead tired we were the night before. Brownie and Jay-C were still asleep, so I decided to let them snooze for a while longer while I freshened up, picked up my camcorder, and went out for a quick stroll down the road. I didn’t have to venture very far, as one of the bridges crossing the Kamo river was located just a minute or two away by foot. It was a beautiful sight, and highly contrasts the concrete jungle of the area around the Kyoto Train Station. After taking in the scenery, I headed back to the hostel to wake up the other two sleepy heads. It was another hour later before we finally headed out to explore the Eastern side of the city.

DSC00389 DSC00398
Northwards view of Kamo River (left), Alleyway outside K’s House Kyoto (right)

While researching about Kyoto, I had read on several websites that one of the best ways to go around the city was on bicycles. Luckily our accommodation had some rental bikes for about the same price as a bus pass during winter. We decided to rent a few for the day, and it was well worth it! We biked up north along the eastern side of the Kamo River (stopping by a convenience store to pick up some breakfast along the way) then headed east through Kyoto University before finally arriving at Ginkakuji.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
The rental bikes (left), Kyoto University (right)

This was my third time at Ginkakuji, and the walk up the hill past the small restaurants, souvenir and Yatsuhashi stores with the constant chime of “Irashaimase!!!” was very nostalgic. The grounds of Ginkakuji was more beautiful than I had remembered. The moss covering the ground and trees was something I did not see often back in my home country. The sight of the main building surrounded by foliage, a small pond, and a sand garden to its right showed off the simplistic yet beautiful architecture/landscaping which Japan was well known for. Although there was a large crowd, it did not ruin my enjoyment of the temple grounds at all.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
The sand garden of Ginkakuji (left), View of main building overlooking a koi pond (right)

After exploring the temple grounds for a good 40-50 minutes, we headed down the slope back towards the shops. We decided to have an early lunch at a small cafe. I had been to this same cafe on my previous two trips, and on both occasions I ordered curry udon. Looking to keep the tradition alive, I went for curry udon once again! After having lunch and purchasing some delicious Yatsuhashi (which we felt obliged to as they had offered us nice warm tea for free) we hopped back on our bikes and went south along the Philosopher’s Path towards Higashiyama. Even though the Sakura trees were completely bare (as it was winter), the bike ride was very pleasant. I could only imagine how beautiful it would have been if it was spring.

???????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Yatsuhashi shop (left), my beloved curry udon (right)

A couple of hours later, we finally arrived at Higashiyama. However, we had problems finding a place to leave our bikes. We ended up having to pay 200 yen to leave our bikes at a parking lot down the bottom of the hill. The path back up the hill to Kiyomizudera was once again full of shops and restaurants. However, as it was mid afternoon at that time, the place was packed, and as a result we did not enjoy it as much as the approach to Ginkakuji earlier in the day. Nonetheless, it was still worth exploring. Kiyomizudera was beautiful and had a very good view of the city. However with all the construction work going on, we can’t help but feel that the atmosphere of the temple was ruined somewhat. Still, this was a temple that I had always wanted to visit, and it still surpassed my expectations of it. We also had some fun at the Jitsu Shrine watching people walk from one stone to another without looking (which supposedly brings good fortunes for finding love if one is successful). One lucky guy managed to succeed, though he did trip over the other stone at the end.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Start of approach to Higashiyama (top left), Kiyomizudera’s main stage (top right), Love Stones at Jitsu Shrine (bottom left), Alter at Jitsu Shrine (bottom right)

Yasaka Shrine was next on our list. Though we had visited it the day before, we wanted to see how it looked like during the daytime. To my surprise, the atmosphere of the shrine was completely different. There were more people around, and the sunlight allowed us to focus more on the architecture of the buildings. The simplicity of the architecture was beautiful. We spent the rest of the day strolling through other parts of Gion we had not been to yet, had dinner in the central city area, then went back to explore the Shirakawa area of Gion. After the stroll, we hopped back on our bikes and cycled back to our accommodation for yet another good night’s rest.

???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????  ???????????????????????????????
Yasaka Shrine (top left), Hanamikoji section of Gion (top right), Shirakawa section of Gion (bottom left), Green-tea flavoured Yatsuhashi (bottom right)

Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Bike rental from K’s House Kyoto – 500 yen
Bike parking fee at Higashiyama – 200 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from Lawson 100 Store (@ Go-jo Dori) – 315 yen [Sausage bun, curry bun and an orange flavoured drink]
Lunch on approach to Ginkakuji – 650 yen [Curry Udon]
Yatsuhashi from approach to Ginkakuji – 350 yen [Green tea flavoured]
Yatsuhashi crepe at Higashiyama – 450 yen
Hot coco from vending machine near Yasaka Shrine – 150 yen
Dinner somewhere along Shi-jo Dori – 1,000 yen [Oyakodon]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Ginkakuji entrance fee – 500 yen
Kiyomizudera entrance fee – 400 yen [including the walk along the dark corridor]

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Ginkakuji – 400 yen [magnet]
Souvenir at Kiyomizudera – 350 yen [guide book]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
8,165 yen (140,215 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 1 – Kyoto

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)

Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
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

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Lunch at Tonkatsu Wako (@ Kyoto Isetan) – 1,680 yen [Katsu Karaage set]
Dinner at Coco Curry House (@ Shichi-jo Dori) – 870 yen [Fried oyster curry set]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Sanjusangendo entrance fee – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Sanjusangendo – 500 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
8,550 yen excluding flights, 132,050 yen total