Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kyoto, Japan

Fri 13 Sept - Sun 15 Sept, 2013

Raf informed me of MAS' cheap tickets to Osaka earlier in April (retrun RM799 all in) so I quickly grabbed up the deal without knowing who else would be joining. Later I found out there would be 10 of us, including Raf's friend and family; and his friend's friends. Anyway, I knew K Liza would be joining us, so I was good to go!
She makes really good cakes, cookies and breads, so if you want to order, click the link :)

Sorry I digress. Back to the trip. Our flight departed from KLIA the night before, just by midnight and we arrived Osaka the next morning at 7.15am. I didn't do my online check in earlier, so I couldn't be seated together with K Liza as the flight was full. And I was seated by the window. Oh well, flight time was just 6.5 hours, so it was bearable. We were served light supper of wraps, and breakfast of nasi lemak (the other option was toast/bread I think. I figured I needed more carbs to last until noon).

Immigration at the airport was smooth. Since there was a new regulation (starting 1 July 2013) which waived Malaysians of a visa for social visit of less than 90 days, with the ICAO standard passport; travel to Japan has been made a lot easier :)

After passing through customs with no declaration, I was stopped by a plainclothes police officer flashing his badge to me, asking me where I was from. Then he started to converse in Bahasa! No kidding. I asked him if there was a problem? He explained that he was just having a chit chat on our puspose, duration and place of visit. I guess he was checking whether we were genuine tourists. After the friendly chit chat, we made our way to purchase the JR 1 day West Rail Kansai area pass to get to Kyoto. Only overseas tourists can purchase this pass and we had to submit our passports. The pass cost us JPY 2000 (about RM 70). We could go anywhere in Kansai area within 1 day, including to Nara and Kobe. But since we had limited time, and there were plenty of sightseeing to do in Kyoto, we had to forgo the other locations. Perhaps next time.

The JR train was clean and comfortable. The 100km ride to Kyoto took us about 1 hour and 15 mins. It was a breeze. As we reached Kyoto station, we proceeded to buy the Kyoto sightseeing 2 day pass for JPY 2000 (RM 70) which gave us unlimited access on Kyoto City buses and subway trains which covers 5 major sightseeing routes, i.e. Arashiyama, Kinkakuji, Okazaki, Ginkakuji and Higashiyama area. Using the pass was very convenient as the route went to all the attraction sites.

JR West Rail Kansai route
JR train

comfy train
Meiji chocolate building in view from train
Arrive in Kyoto!

Prior to going to Japan, my friend Iris has suggested to me the must go sites as she knew I wouldn't be able to cover everything within 2 days! She was right - there were just too many temples, shrines, castles and parks to visit in Kyoto and picked for me a few from the plethora of attraction sites! I really appreciated her advice - would be hard to choose on my own. She had visited Japan many times, and she could speak Japanese well too.

Before embarking on our journey, we wanted to put our bags first at our guest house - In Kyoto Arklead Gojohorikawa and if possible, check in, quick lunch and shower then off we go. We were told check in time is at 4pm. I did inform the guest house earlier our time of arrival and the possibility of early check in.

There was a bit of confusion at Kyoto Station, trying to find our bus which would go to our guest house. Nonetheless, a group of young Japanese girls came to our rescue. I forgot their names by now, I should have written them down. They helped us locate our bus stand no. and chatted with us while waiting for our bus. They were actually taking English lessons so it was a good practice for them at the same time. Such lovely girls. Luckily we snapped some pictures with them. I'm loving Japan already.

Lovely girls helping us out

Finding our guest house was a bit tricky as it is situated at a small alley in a quiet area. We alighted at Shimabaraguchi, in front of a French bakery - which would serve as our landmark everytime we were to find our way back to the guest house. I showed the aunty behind the bakery counter our map, and she pointed the direction. No English was spoken, but we managed to find our way with some sign language and really basic Japanese I learned from Iris and Nurul.

Our bakery landmark

Our guest house is simply awesome! I love it! It has a kitchen with a kettle (no pots, pans, cutleries and plates provided but we were already informed by the guesthouse during booking confirmation. these could be purchased from the nearby 100 yen shop. so I will not complain), a 2 door fridge, a microwave, an attached bathroom with small bath tub with a mini TV (wow!), Shiseido toiletries (lovely smell), hi tech toilet and a PC which could also serve as a TV. All this only cost us JPY 6250/room/night (RM220). Since I shared the room with K Liza, each of us only paid RM 110/person/night. Because I was so fascinated with my room, I took a longer rest stop without realizing! It was already almost 2pm when we were ready to move. We were behind schedule as the temples and castles mostly close at 5pm with last entry at 4.30pm

bed, table, pc which also serves as TV
yes that's a mini tv at the bathtub

lovely kitchen

vanity fair

shiseido toiletries - love the sweet smell

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple)

Our first destination today is Kinkakuji, quite a distance from our guest house. We were supposed to take bus no 206 from Shimabaraguchi to Shijo Horikawa and change to bus no 12 to Kinkakuji. Well, we did that, but we took the bus from the wrong side of the road. We ended up making a loop back to Shijo Horikawa and then only proceeded to Kinkakuji, which took us more than an hour. Finally we arrived at Kinkakujii at almost 4pm. Seems that we could only make to 1 site for today. Our next stop should have been the Nijo castle, but it would be closed for entry within 30 minutes, so we couldn't make it in time. Alas, let's just enjoy Kinkakuji while we were there. Entrance fee is JPY 400 (RM14)

in the city bus
Kyoto people love to cycle
lovely Kinkajui by the lake

Kinkakuji up close

natural roofing

Excerpt from Japan guide:

Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu's grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later. 

Iris told me to try the mathca (green tea) and red bean delicacy at the temple, but since we were there quite late, so we spent the time taking pictures and admiring the beautiful temple until closing time. 

It was too short a time to venture to Nara or Kobe but still early to go back. Also, the other attraction sites in Kyoto would be closed by now. So we decided to have early dinner at Rose Cafe, a halal Turkish restaurant. Yes, it's a shame we were in Japan but were eating Turkish food instead. We could try the seafood dish actually, but I didn't do research on that, so we decided to be safe. 

Ah finding Rose Cafe wasn't that easy. I didn't have its full address with me, I have left it at the guest house, since I didn't plan to go here today. We took the subway to Marutamachi (the only subway trip we took using our 2 day pass!), then tried to find the Kojinguchi intersection. We asked a few passers by, taking a bus, then my hunch told me we were taking the wrong bus, so we alighted, crossed the road, waited for the bus on the opposite side and turned back. I walked through Karasuma street (which was actually the wrong road!), then stopped by at the Palace Side hotel to ask for directions. The staff was friendly, giving me a map and access to wifi so I could set the directions on my phone. Finally we took the bus that we originally boarded (which was actually the right one!), but had to disembark at the intersection of Kawaramachi street, which the helpful bus driver signalled to me when it was time to go off. We walked a bit, got into a supermarket where we met a German Muslim who helped gave us the direction to Rose Cafe. Finally we arrived at already 7pm! Phew, what a journey! I almost gave up and just wanted to eat at Subway or McD that we saw at Marutamachi. Glad we didn't give up. 

subway station

spacious subway


Rose Cafe found!
Halal certification

I had a Saba plate set of fish with white rice and bean soup (JPY 850 or RM 30). It was just so-so, but since I was hungry, I walloped everything. The sticky white rice was heavenly though - Raf ordered additional rice, to supplement it with his serunding. 

My saba fish set. JPY 850 (RM30)

After dinner, we tried to find the Kyoto Islamic Centre which is supposed to be nearby Rose Cafe, but we couldn't find it. We had actually made the wrong turn. So then we proceeded to Gion to catch a glimpse of a Geisha / Maiko in performance. No problems getting the bus now. We alighted at Gion, which is just in front of the beautifully illuminated Yasaka shrine, so I made a bit of detour there to take some pictures. No entrance fee required.

Yasaka illuminated

A feature of Japanese temples - water for washing hands

Lanterns at Yasaka shrine


Taken from Japan guide:
Gion (祇園) is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain. 

We then walked along Shijo street until reaching the Kamo river. We saw some tea lounges, but no Geisha / Maiko in sight. I read that there is a performance for tourists at Gion Corner, but we already missed it as the performance starts at 7pm. There were some escorts looking for customers though. So it was then time to go back and rest.

Gion at night

Tea lounge found, but no Maiko

Kamo river promenade

Ah rise and shine. We were really exhausted from the first day, so we took a bit of time to start off at 7.40am after breakfast in our rooms. I had planned to start at 6.30am lol since Kiyomizudera opens at 6am

Kiyomizudera Temple 

No problems taking the bus today, as we were experts by now. We took the 206 bus straight to Kiyomizu-michi stop. It was a bit of hiking up to the temple, passing buy pretty traditional houses and shops. 
Entrance fee is JPY 300 (RM 10.50)

Taken from Japan Guide:
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally "Pure Water Temple") is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall's pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.

Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple's primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.

at the entrance of Kiyomizudera (no ticket required here)

also pagoda outside of ticket area

beautiful forest surrounding Kiyomizudera (entrance fee requirement starts here)

the forest surrounding Kiyomizudera

natural roofing

wooden stage jutting out 13m on hill

trail around Kiyomizudera

relax here while sipping matcha

Higashiyama District
From Kiyomizudera, we walked along the narrow alley which houses many rows of wooden traditional shops. I absolutely love this vintage view of Kyoto. No entrance fee required.

From Japan guide:
The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city. Recent renovations to remove telephone poles and repave the streets have further improved the traditional feel of the district.

The streets in Higashiyama are lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants which have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries. These businesses retain their traditional design, although many have been renovated through the years, and they continue to serve customers today, selling local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs.

shops lining the Higashiyama area



flat mochi

beautifully preserved historical street

the street is hilly

old shophouse

you can take this rickshaw pulled by muscular athletic men with special shoes

another traditional shop

it's so clean and beautiful. hardly any rubbish. problem is rubbish cans are hard to find too! Japanese bring back their rubbish

As we were walking along the row of shops, we stumbled into a dress as a maiko photo studio. We thought it'd be fun and an unforgettable experience. Thanks to Najmi for proposing this to us ;) So we signed up for a photo session - but more on that later in the post.

Dress as Maiko at Shiki studio

There are also many temples and shrines between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka shrine. Although the distance is about 2km, we hardly noticed it as we were so mesmerized by the atmosphere. It felt like being transported back to ancient Kyoto, almost like a scene from Oshin - a popular drama shown on TV circa 1990.

Maruyama Park

We then stopped for a while at Marayuma Park to take a breather while eating some snacks we brought along and eating macha (green tea) ice cream. According to Japan guide, in the first half of April, when the cherry trees are in full bloom, the park becomes Kyoto's most popular and most crowded spot for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami). The centerpiece of the park is a tall shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), which gets lit up in the night. No entrance fee required.

Yasaka Shrine

We continued our walk to Yasaka shrine, which is just next to the park. No entrance fee required.
From Japan Guide: 

Founded over 1350 years ago, the shrine's main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. In front of it stands a dance stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. Each lantern bears the name of a local business in return for a donation. 

Yasaka shrine at daylight

Yasaka shrine lanterns


It was already 12.45pm. We headed next to Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion temple, taking the 100 bus from Gion bus stop just in front of Yasaka shrine to Ginkakuji. Entrance fee is JPY 500 (RM 17.50)

Female bus driver while going to Ginkakuji. Woohoo!

From Japan Guide:

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) is a Zen temple along Kyoto's eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather's retirement villa at the base of Kyoto's northern mountains (Kitayama). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa's death in 1490.  

Today, Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden. It is enjoyed by walking along a circular route around its grounds, from which the gardens and buildings can be viewed

beautiful tree at Ginkakuji

Ginshadan sand layout

sand and forest

meticulously layed sand. do not touch!

pond at Ginkakuji


serene pond and pavilion

view from top of Ginkakuji

bamboo forest

Philosopher's Path 

While heading towards Ginkakuji, we were walking along  Philosopher's Path or Tetsugaku no michi. No entrance fee. 
From Japan guide:
The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city's most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots.
Approximately two kilometers long, the path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.

Too bad it wasn't blooming nor autumn season, so there was no burst of colours from the flowers or foliage. 

Way to Ginkakuji & Tetsugaku no michi

the philosopher's path. Felt like a philosopher already :)

the clean stream. ducks swimming around. we don't see this at Sg Gombak

Along the way also, we met a Malaysian and 2 Indonesian students from Kyoto University, riding their bicycles. Oh yes, Kyoto folks like to ride their bicycles, plus it's good for health and the environment. So we asked them for directions to the nearest Halal food restuarant - which was between the option of Camphora canteen at the Kyoto Uni campus or Indian food.
more kawaii-ness ^_^

maneki neko

yummy smelling, cute octopus cartoon. Nurul, this one can eat or not?

It was quite a long wait for the bus to take us towards the restaurant. We finally managed to find Asian Kitchen and Raju at 4pm. However, Asian Kitchen was closed already then. We didn't find Camphora though. It'd be cool if we'd been able to eat at the university campus. Since we were pretty famished by then, we settled for Raju. I shared my dish with K Liza of bryani rice and naan bread set. It was a huge set, so we decided to share it. It came with milk tea and lassi. Raju was playing Hindi music videos which I was oblivious to until I finished my meal. Such a shame right, having Indian food in Japan!   

tandoori chicken with naan and rice

music video playing behind

After early dinner, we decided to go back to have a rest. It was really tiring walking around today. However, before going back, we stopped by at Kyoto station to buy a 1 day bus pass (JPY 500 or RM 17.50) for tomorrow since we are going back to the Maiko studio; and that would take more than 1 trip. 1 trip costs a flate rate of JPY 220  (a whopping RM 7.70!!), regardless the distance. Had we known we would hardly be using the subway (only once), we would have bought the 1 day bus pass X 3 (for 3 days) instead.

While we were at Kyoto station, admiring the modern structure of the station and the nearby Kyoto tower, we saw Isetan and decided to pay a visit. It isn't anything like in Malaysia - the department store has 11 levels! And this is at a transportation hub station. It also has a floor dedicated to kimonos and yukatas. However, they are really expensive (price varies, from RM hundreds to thousands!) so we just admired their beauty from afar. Back to the guesthouse then for a good rest.

Kyoto tower

Kyoto tower reflection on Kyoto station building

the very modern Kyoto station which serves as a hub for trains and buses. And a 11 storey Isetan shopping mall

We woke up in the morning to the sound of trickling rain on the rooftop. It was raining quite hard. Typhoon Man-Yi was approaching Japan with wind gusts up to 162km/hr in Toyohashi, Aichi perfecture. We were told it would last until around 2pm the next day. So we had to be careful while doing the sightseeing.

Since we didn't complete our course yesterday, we decided to go to Fushimi Inari today. I have planned to visit Arashiyama area which is further and is out of the boundary of the tourist day pass. We would have to pay additional fares to go there. However, we had to cancel this plan as we would be taking photos as Maikos this morning. Since Fushimi Inari is always open, we decided to go there early, before our appointment at the studio at 9.30am. But we waited at Kyoto bus station for so long for Bus #5. We had to postpone Fushimi Inari to after our studio session.


We arrived at Shiki studio on time. We signed for the Sakura plan (JPY 5500 or RM 192.50 - a reasonable price) where we would be dolled up into a Maiko - first putting on full face make up -yes with the white powder and bright red lipstick, followed by wearing the wig and finally putting on the many layers of cloth which make up the Kimono. Warning - pregnant women cannot dress up as a Maiko as the Kimono are tied really tight around the waist. And the wig is heavy too - it felt like wearing a helmet. After we were all dolled up, we were taken to the studio downstairs and posed in 6 different styles as instructed by the photographer. We were then given 10 minutes to take pictures with our own camera outside the studio. The whole session would take us 2 hours. It was a great and fun experience. Just a gripe though - nothing of the studio's fault - I looked chubby in those pictures - with a white round face and thick layer of kimono lol!

curved white powder behind the neck and dangling cloth. normal kimono wearers have the cloth folded like a bag

yes we were dressed like that. hair is a wig. many layers of cloths. with clogs and white 2-toed socks

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari would be our last spot before leaving Kyoto sob sob. Time flew so fast! We took bus 206 back to Kyoto station and had to change to the elusive bus #5. After an hour of waiting (!), finally the bus arrived. This bus serves a rather outskirt route, away from the modern buildings and follows the Kamo river. It was just a short ride of about 15 minutes but a scenic one. The Fushimi Inari did not disappoint and worth the bus wait. I just love the bright orange Torii gates lined up in contrast against the dark forest of Mt Inari.  It would have been better if we had known the hourly bus schedule to save time. We took pictures with our umbrellas as it was still drizzling. Something different at least. No entrance fee required.

From Japan Guide:

Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794.

bus follows the path of Kamo river

Fushimi Inari entrance

the Torii gates

scriptures on the Torii gates

branched out


stores outside Fushimi. it was a rainy day

the calm Kamo river

It was then time to bid farewell to Kyoto. Of course, it was simply not enough as there are so many more beautiful historical places to visit in Kyoto, but we had to leave for Osaka. We made our way back to our neat little guesthouse where we left our luggage under the care of the ever helpful Nakamura, the guesthouse caretaker after checking out in the morning. We left for Osaka at 4pm under the drizzling rain. It was so nice of her to lend us the umbrella. It was left by previous guests so it was free to take.

Our adventure continues with the next post to Osaka.



Blogger hortensia said...

envious...making me wanna go to kyoto again.

11:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home