Friday, 02 November, 2012 20:12

Off To Kyoto – The Old Capital

Shinkansen – Bullet Train

A Great Way To Travel ….. It was with a tinge of sadness that we left our cosy apartment in East Ginza. We said our goodbyes to Scott who had three more days in Tokyo and headed for Tokyo Station and the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Kyoto. Just over 2 hours later and a very relaxing train ride we arrived in Kyoto, and after a short taxi ride we were in our new apartment in Kyoto. In the afternoon we walked around our local area, found the supermarket and took on the adventure of buying some supplies all in Japanese for our 5 day stay in Kyoto. That evening we took a short walk to the famous Gion area. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. It is filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses where geishas entertain. Gion has a high concentration of traditional wooden merchant house and due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.

Gion – Hanami-koji St

On Your Bike …..  On our first full day in Kyoto we decided the best way to get around was by bike.   There are numerous bike hire companies in Kyoto so we went to one relatively close to our apartment and hired two electric bikes for the day.   Bike hire is very cheap and for the day for the two bikes only cost Yen 3000 which is about $36.00.  Very good value.  Our first stop on our bike trip was to  Kodaiji Temple.  This turned out to be an amazing experience.  Instead of just a temple we found a complete area full of shops and restaurants all aimed at tourists.   No need for morning tea, every second shop was offering samples of their food and drinks they were selling or just offering free coffee and biscuits to get you to stop at their store.  There were hundreds of school children there on day excursions and they were so happy and friendly with many of them saying hello to you in English.  The Temple though turned out to be a bit of a dissappointment as it was completely covered for renovation.

Kodaiji Temple Entaran

Our Next Stops …..  Our next stop was the Heian Jingu Shrine about a 4 km bike ride up one of the busiest streets in Kyoto.  A walk around the Shrine for 30 minutes off to our next stop the Imperial Palace.   For those that are interested, a Temple always has a Budda and a Shrine doesn’t.   Usually Shrines are used for weddings and Temples are used for burials.   The Imperial Palace is only open to the public twice per year and we were lucky enough to be in Kyoto for the Autumn opening. So along with 50,000 Japanese and about 4 Europeans we walk through this most impressive array of buildings and gardens.   One thing we give the Japanese credit for is how to handle large volumes of people and whilst there was a lot of people at the Palace, you felt like you were just having a casual stroll around the Palace.

A Small Section Of The Imperial Palace – Kyoto

From the Imperial Palace we rode our bikes to the Nijo Castle.  For a Yen 500 ($6.00) you were able to walk through the castle and all the gardens. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle’s palace buildings 23 years later.

Nijo Castle Entrance – Kyoto

Japanese Gardens In Noji Castle – Kyoto

Back on our bikes to ride home as it was getting late and it was dark around 5.15pm, we came across a roof covered street (Sanjo St) which runs for a kilometer and contained shops and restaurants.  Although it is pedestrian only, you are allowed to ride push bikes so we ventured down to explore.  We came across a vendor selling traditional Japanese crepes using sesame seeds, honey and some unrecognisable ingredients and not having any lunch we stopped to give them a try.  They were delicious.

Crepes For Afternoon Tea in Sanjo Arcade – Kyoto

Cycling Kyoto – Liz in Sanjo Arcade

So our first full day in Kyoto turned out to be a great day especially since we were able to enter the Imperial Palace.

Venturing Further Afield …..  Day 2 and we decided to go to Nara, a 45 minute train journey from Kyoto.  Our morning in Nara was spent visiting the Kofukuji Temple, going to the Government Offices which has a viewing deck on the top floor of the building for a 360 degree view over Nara, then on to the Yoshiki-en Traditional Japanese Gardens.  From the gardens we walked to the Todaiji Temple which is the world’s largest wooden structure and built by the Emperor Shomu in the 8th century.   This is an amazing building and contains a giant Budda (15 meters high) and two very impressive guardian deities.

Todaiji Temple – Nara (The Largest Wooden Structure In The World)

Many of the main attractions in Nara are situated in or around a 660 hectares Nara Park which contains an abundance of wild deer.  It is a novelty when you see your first couple of deer as they are very tame and come up to you for food.   It was a novelty to see school children lined up with a deer in the middle of them for a photo shoot.  The deer are so tame they just stand there and take it all in.

Wild Deer In Nara Park

From the Temple we walked through the park back to town and by this time it was 3:00 PM so we searched out a restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine and had a delicious 4 course lunch for the two of us for just Yen 1600 (about $20.00).   What we have noticed in Japan is that if you go to restaurants used by the locals, the prices are very reasonable and excellent quality.   If you go to the restaurants targeted at tourists you pay very high prices.  The same the world over.

Ichizoku Restaurant Where We Had Lunch – Nara

By the time we finished lunch it was time to head back to Kyoto and our cosy apartment.

A Day In The Metropolis …..   We had not explored the downtown area so on our third day, Saturday, we spent the day wandering the main shopping area of Kyoto.   For a city of only 1. 5 million population this downtown area is amazing.  The variety and quality of the shops, department stores and restaurants is just amazing.   To put it in perspective the shopping district of Kyoto would be larger and have a much wider range of stores than Melbourne CBD. The Teramachi Shopping Arcade, pictured below, is one of a few arcades in the CBD and is about a kilometer long.

Teramachi Shopping Arcade – Kyoto

Another arcade, Nishiki Food Market, is not quite as long but contains only food stores of every possible variety.  Nearly all the stores have tastings of their product and is is a real experience to walk along tasting the wide variety of foods on offer, and not knowing what you are sampling.

Market Stalls in Nishiki Food Market – Kyoto

Dinner In Gion …..   Saturday evening we walked back to the Gion area for dinner and went to a restaurant called Issen Yoshoku which is famous in Kyoto.  We walked in and were promptly seated and given a rather large red menu with Japanese writing on the front.  To our surprise when we opened it there was only one item on the menu.   Yes one item. It consisted of a pancake style base made of tempura batter on which was piled spring onion, egg, dried shrimp, grilled fish paste, dried bonito (fish), ginger, Konjak jelly (plant) and flour. When cooked on a hot plate it is folded in half like a calzone pizza and served with a sweet soy sauce.  It turned out to be delicious and we understood why there were queues outside the waiting for takeaway and the restaurant was full of customers.

Issen-Yoshoku Being Prepared

Our Delicious Meal – Issen Yoshoku

Having no desert on the menu we then found a bar on the 5th floor of a building that specialised in only crepes and drinks and had the most delicious crepes you could imagine whilst sitting next to two elderly geishas and being entertained by a very competent barman.

Rob With A New Friend

Our Final Day In Kyoto …..    Sunday was our final day in this beautiful city and we decided to see a couple of tourist sites on the outskirts of Kyoto.  The first, a short train ride away was the Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine.  This Shrine was in immaculate condition and very impressive.  Obviously Sunday is an important ceremonial day in Japan because there were many Japanese children dressed in Kimonos and boys in traditional dress. The Shrine is famous for its thousand torii gates which straddle a network of trails behind the main building.  The trail leads into the forest of Mount Inari and runs for 4 km to the top of the mountain.

The Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine

 Our train took us back to Kyoto Station in order to catch a bus to our next destination, the Kinkakuji Temple.  Kyoto Station is an architectural masterpiece and I have never seen a train station so imposing.  There are escalators that run up 10 floors in a row to the top of the building where you can see down into the main station ground floor.  There are three departments stores in the station and the total floor area of shops is probably double the size of Chadstone Shopping Center.

Kyoto Station – An Architectural Masterpiece

 Not Just Another Temple …..  This time we left the comfort of the trains for the Kyoto bus system to venture north to the Kinkakuji Temple or as it is more commonly known, The Golden Pavilion.   Well we certainly left the best till last.   This temple is covered in gold leaf and as we arrived mid afternoon it glistened in the setting sun.  This is just a magnificent building set on the edge of a lake and surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens.

Kinkakuji Temple – The Golden Pavilio

And so our 5 days in Kyoto comes to an end.   An amazing contrast to Tokyo.  You see Kyoto as old Japan and Tokyo as new Japan.

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