Kyoto, Japan – Part 2

Here are the other half of the photos from Kyoto. If you’re into Japanese history, culture, food, architecture and gardens, I’d recommend at least three days exploring Kyoto. There are so many temples to visit, gardens to explore, restaurants and food to sample, and little streets to get lost in.

They following photos are taken from Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion), wandering along the Path of Philosophy, visiting various temples, gardens and wandering the streets of north-eastern Kyoto, known as Higashiyama, and discovering the little streets of Gion. I fell in love with the district known as Higashiyama (which is dotted with various temples and gardens, and has an old world feel to it). So I’d suggest spending at least a day or two exploring this area, if temples and gardens are your thing. And for foodies, Gion is full of interesting restaurants – and keep your eyes open for geisha.

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Getting Around:
Kyoto has a reasonably good metro and bus transportation system, which means you can get almost anywhere in Kyoto relatively easily. To get to Kinkaku-ji, take bus 101 or 205 which takes about 40 mins from the central bus and train terminal. Bus tickets cost 260 yen for one way, or if you’re planning to get the bus around town for the day, a daily pass costs 700 yen. To Ginkaku-ji, take bus 5, 17 or 100. I spent the day walking back to Gion along the Path of Philosophy (with a good map in hand). From Gion, you can get the metro back to Kyoto Station. For those who like walking, Kyoto isn’t a huge city, and many sites can be easily reached on foot, provided you have a good map in hand.

What to buy:
Sweets! Kyoto is well known for its sweets, particularly the town speciality of sweet triangles made from rice flour and filled with a flavoured bean paste. Try the cinnamon ones – they are delicious. You cannot leave Japan without purchasing a kimono. There are a few tourist aimed shops in the shopping arcade off Kyoto’s main shopping strip Shijo Dori. If you are after something of better quality, visit Nisijin Textile Centre (located west of the Imperial Palace). By chance, I stumbled across a little shop along the Path of Philosophy selling antique kimonos, known as Mrs Fumimaro’s Antique Kimono Salon. The tiny shop is full from floor to ceiling with antique kimonos. You could spend a few hours sifting through all the amazing textiles. I was lucky enough to find one I fell in love with, and at a reasonable price too.

Kyoto, Japan – Part 1

So this is the first instalment of our days spent in Kyoto. If Tokyo is known for its metropolis and skyscrapers, Kyoto is known for its temples and shines. I don’t think any city in Japan is as fortunate as Kyoto to be home to so many spectacular buildings and quaint little streets. Kyoto is old Japan, and Tokyo is new Japan. Kyoto is also a mecca for all those foodies out there – don’t forget to visit Niskiki Market, dine in some of the fabulous restaurants and purchase some of the many sweets that Kyoto is famous for.

Our first stop in Kyoto was Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine, which is well know for its vermillion gates. This is a vast shrine complex (we didn’t have enough time to explore it all) and would take a good half day to experience properly. Our next stop was lunch and Kiskiki Market. This market place is known as the kitchen of Kyoto and is bustling with tourists and locals alike, purchasing lunch, snacks and Japanese kitchen staples. The storeholders sell many things which are almost unrecognisable for the western traveller, but simply ask, or if you’re brave, dig in and try all these weird and unusual things.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to the Imperial Gardens, before taking the train to Arashiyama. This district of Kyoto is located west of the city, beneath Mount Arashi. Arashiyama has an old world feel to it. There are no skyscrapers, large apartment buildings or bustling traffic – the district is peaceful and slow paced – it’s almost difficult to believe that Kyoto city is so close. In Arashiyama we paid an interesting visit to the monkey sanctuary and the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, before evening fell and we took the train back to Kyoto and had a feast in a local restaurant.

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Getting There:
Kyoto is well connected by rail to the rest of Japan. The central train station is located at the southern end of the city. The closest major airport is Osaka Kansai, which can be reached via direct train from Kyoto.

We stayed at Ikoi-no-le hostel. Located in a quiet street, within easy walking distance to the central train and bus station, although the rooms were small, they were clean and well kept. And the staff was incredibly helpful.

We ate at Wa-ta-mi located on Gojo Dori almost every evening whilst we were in Kyoto. The food was decent, and cheap, and it was within easy walking distance to our hostel.

Koya-San, Japan

Koya-San was probably my favourite place in Japan. Far from the cosmopolitan cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Koya-San is a world of its own. Nestled atop of a mountain, at almost 1000m above sea level, this former Buddhist monastery town still retains its old world charm. The small town of about 3000 inhabitants is dotted with a plethora of temples and shrines, as well as a vast UNESCO heritage listed cemetery. We spent the afternoon amongst the cherry blossoms wandering around this picturesque and spiritual town.

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Getting There:
Take the train from Namba station in Osaka to Gokurakubashi Station. If coming from Kyoto, take the train to Osaka, then to Shinimamiya to change to Gokurakubashi. From Gokurakubashi, take the cable car up to Koya-San and from the cable car station there is a regular bus service to the main sights in the town. There is a Koya-San pass you can purchase from Namba Station of Shinimamiya Station, which covers all rail and bus services to and from Koya-San.

There are plenty of former temples and shrines which now serve as bed and breakfasts. This is a great option if you want a unique cultural experience in Koya-San.

Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

We set out from Tokyo (where the weather was stunning – bright blue skies with radiant sunshine) hoping to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi – one of the five lakes which are found at the base of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately we were sadly disappointed when we arrived – the entire area was surrounded by a thick fog and the temperature was close to freezing. Mount Fuji was no where to be seen. So we spent the afternoon sitting in a lakeside restaurant, eating Hoto Noodles (a local specialty of Lake Kawaguchi) from cast iron bowls, whilst taking in the eerie view of the lake.

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Tokyo, Japan

So we spent a couple of days exploring Japan’s capital. Tokyo is a large metropolitan city, with many things to see and do. Their metro system runs like clockwork and with the fantastic grid criss-crossing the city, it is not difficult to get to any part of the city. If you are planning to do a lot of siteseeing in one day, I’d recommend that you purchase a day pass for the metro, which is about 700 yen ($7), and it gives you unlimited use of the Tokyo metro system. Just beware that some of the metro lines are independently owned and some are part of Japan Rail, so double check which pass you purchase. I think the one that covers the lot is 1000 yen ($10) for unlimited travel for one calendar day.

The sites we visited during our few days in Tokyo were Senso-ji Temple, Ueno Park, Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji Fish Market, Akihabara Electric Town, Shinjuku, Shibuja and many other place in between.
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Getting There:
Tokyo has two international airports, Narita and Haneda, which have great connections to many cities around the world. Tokyo is also well connected to the rest of Japan by an amazing rail network.

We stayed at Quality Hostel K’s House in Asakusa. This hostel was fantastic – probably the best we stayed in during our time in Japan. Located only a short walk from Asakusa metro station and Senso-ji Temple.

Sushi! The Fish Market has the freshest sushi around, however wherever we ordered sushi in Tokyo the freshness, quality and value for money was second to none.