Sunday, November 14, 2010

Backpacking Japan: Going Around Kyoto

We went around Kyoto using a combination of Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Subway One Day Card.  To be honest, it's not easy to figure out the map, since there's too many of us, I left the navigation to my peers and get lost with them... yes, getting lost is an integral part of the experience.

You can read through how to access public transport at Kyoto City Web.  This pastel colored kyoto city bus and subway map likewise gives you a visual guide around Kyoto.  The day card doesn't always mean unlimited access, extra fees may be required for certain stops marked as "squares", so do take note of the legend.  The bus or subway stops doesn't normally stop near the entrance of these tourist attractions; 5 to 15 minutes walk may be necessary.

  • Kyoto Sightseeing Card (1,200 Yen for one day, 2,000 Yen for two days) - Unlimited usage of Kyoto City Buses, Kyoto Buses and the two subway lines in the city of Kyoto. The 2-day pass can be used on two consecutive days.

  • Kyoto City Bus One Day Card (500 Yen) - Unlimited use of Kyoto City Buses in central Kyoto. The area of validity is smaller than that of the Kyoto Sightseeing Card, and doesn't include some of the city's more outlying districts, such as Arashiyama.

  • Kyoto Subway One Day Card (600 Yen) - Unlimited use of Kyoto's two subway lines on one calendar day.

    Kyoto is everything cultural heritage sites; there are more than seventeen temples, castles and shrines.  Visiting all of them would definitely be overload.  Since most sites close by five in the afternoon, it's best to start early.  The best season to walk around these sites should be between mid to late November, when there's an explosion of colors brought about by the autumn season.  late March to April would also be best for cherry blossom viewing.  And here I am, walking around in August, at the height of summer, and I tell you, it was such a bad idea.  At an average, I could consume three or more iced desserts in a day.  The vendo machines that you can find anywhere served its purpose to keep us hydrated.  A bottle of water costs about 100 yen on the vendo machine.
        Day 1
      Tenryuji is a Zen temple in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. It has been ranked first among the city's "Five Great Zen Temples". Last summer, the zen garden looked so pretty, but I sat there  imagining how much prettier it would be in autumn.
      • To get there: Tenryuji is just a few steps from the Keifuku Arashiyama terminal station. The small Keifuku trains connect Arashiyama with the Ryoanji/Kinkakuji area and Shijo-dori.  The JR Saga-Arashiyama Station is a 5 minute walk from Tenryuji and is served by the JR Sagano Line (San-in Line) with frequent trains that take about 15 minutes to Kyoto Station.
      • Hours: 830 - 1700 daily
      • Admission: 500 yen
      Nijo Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Edo Shogunate, as the Kyoto residence for himself and his successors.  It took some time to go around the premises, the garden was huge and twas interesting to step on those so called "nightingale floor".  The floors of the outer rooms at the castle squeak whenever someone steps on them. The squeaking sounds much like the singing of the nightingale but they weren’t designed because the shogun liked to hear birds singing but he was very fearful for his life, and the squeaking floors were designed to alert the ruler if anyone approached his chambers.
      • To get there: Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Subway Line
      • Hours: 845-1700
      • Closed: Tuesdays (Wednesday if Tuesday falls on a national holiday)
      • Admission: 600 yen
      Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.  Looking from across the lake (photo above), it looked picturesque with it's reflection on the lake. However, up close, it looked plain and simple.  Its premises was also not promising.
      • To get there: Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 220 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 250 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, around 900 yen) or bus (10 minutes, 220 yen, bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) from there to Kinkakuji.
      • Hours: 900 - 1700, all days
      • Admission: 400 yen

      Day 2
        Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers.  It is also famous for the countless torii gates, offerings by worshipers.  These are etched with Chinese and/or Japanese characters of names of businessmen who made those offerings. that cover the hiking trails of Inarisan, the wooded mountain behind the shrine's main buildings. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail.  We hiked up those steps just half the way.
        • To get there: JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line. The train ride takes five minutes and costs 140 yen from Kyoto Station.  We took the bus and we waited for about 45 minutes for it on the way back.
        • Hours: Always open, all days
        • Admission: free
        Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple") is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan.  There's obviously a good number of couples and locals compared to other temples.  IMHO, this is probably the most interesting among all temples, aside from me being unmindful of the walk uphill because of the numerous small stores and tea houses along the way.
        Jishu Shrine
        Behind Kiyomizudera's main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. It is believed that if you successfully find your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.  And yes, I was able to find my way to the other end with my friends' help, does it mean I need a matchmaker to find my match?! :)
        Otowa Waterfall
        The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause (left to right) wisdom, beauty and longevity. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.  We knew little about this fact during the trip, we thought it was all for "love"; no wonder an old woman lined up for this too! (I drank the one on the left.) :)
        • To get there: by bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 220 yen). Get off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple. Alternatively, Kiyomizudera is about a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line.
        • Hours:  600-1800 
        • Spring & Fall Illumination: 1830-2130 mid March to mid April and mid November to early December
        • Admission:  300 yen (400 yen for illumination)
        WHAT TO EAT:
        Aside from the heritage sites, one thing I love about Kyoto is food!  We did not find so many typical Japanese restaurants like those serving sushi, sashimi, tempura, ramen (save these for Tokyo).  When in Kyoto (or southern Japan), have these interesting meals part of your to do list:
        Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) served in a small diner outside Tenryuji
        Quail yakitori is popular outside Inari Shrine. (Fox's hunt them.)
        everything green tea at a desert shop on the way up to Kiyomizudera
        Takoyaki (octopus balls) pitstop after Kiyomizudera
        (you won't miss this when heading to the restroom by the vendo machines)
        After a scorching hot day at Kiyomizudera, the skies started to rumble, so we had to swallow those takoyaki and rushed downhill to the bus stop.  It was not long before the rain poured.  We all cramped into a corner, under the roof of a restaurant extending on the sidestreets and screamed as we rushed inside the bus when it arrived several minutes after.  We must looked so poor yet clumsy, the people on the bus had a good laugh.  An unusually big japanese guy seated next to me can't stop giggling and laughing til the next bus stop.  We finally caught the attention of the locals who are generally reserved with their actions.
        • PONTOCHO. Pontocho is one of Kyoto's traditional nightlife districts. It is a narrow street running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River. Overlooking the Kamogawa River, there is a row of restaurants and teahouses, ranging from inexpensive to highly exclusive establishment offering good ambience.  We would have wanted to sit at those alfresco tables but were taken aback by the cover charge of 300 to 500 yen per head on top of a 2000 to 4500 yen set menu.  Although there's a good selection of restaurant with plastic food display window, it took us a good thirty minutes to find a restaurant with english menu at a reasonable price.  We ended up on the third floor of the first building, in a restaurant that serves a wide range of bento boxes, yet we still got a table by the window overlooking the river (indoor).
          Pontocho: large eel bento for 2400 yen (L), all sushi plate for 1400 yen (R)
        • SHIJO DORI.  Perpendicular to Pontocho, the 4th Avenue must be it for shopping at high-end department stores like Takashimaya.  We kept coming back here, not to shop but to take advantage of its luxurious restrooms!  This avenue looks like one of Kyoto's main (accessible) street since after a day of sightseeing, we almost always end up here to change to the bus stop to our hostel.
        • NISHIKI MARKET. Known as Kyoto's Kitchen is a narrow, shopping street, lined by more than one hundred shops. Various kinds of fresh and processed foods including many Kyoto specialties, such as pickles, Japanese sweets, dried food, sushi, and fresh seafood and vegetables are sold.  Unfortunately, we missed out on this since we got lost in those small alleys and ended up going back to Pontocho for dinner.
        • GION.  Crossing that bridge on Shijo Dori leads you to Gion.  You might bump into a Geisha as you walk through Gion or if you don't find one, dress yourself up!  We didn't make it to Gion, but we were lucky to get a glimpse of a Geisha at the Kyoto Station and I was so tempted to run after her to take a photo, they simply walk too fast.
        Next stop:  Mt. Fuji, Kawaguchiko


      Gypsy said...

      I am officially as green as your green tea ice cream! Kakainggit talaga. Hehe. The Black sesame seed ice cream is to die for--hope you tried it!

      freeze said...

      hehe black sesame? i missed out on that, but i'm not so fond of black sesame. but if you say "to die for", it would have been must try too.

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