Japan trip 7 days in Kyoto part 2

So, more kyoto…

Actually, on the 29th we went out of Kyoto and somewhere i have never been.  We took a train up the eastern side of Lake Biwa to Hikone.

Hikone has a castle, and i was hoping there would be some snow- there was snow on the peaks in the distance and on some inaccessible hills, but none on the ground.  By this time a lot of businesses were shut for the new years holiday and the town was pretty quiet.  We walked the 800 metres from the station the the castle grounds. 

Hikone castle stands in a rather large park. It has its own mascot!  Unfortunately the connected museum was closed, although the castle was open.

We had to walk up the hill to get to the castle proper (a lot of the outer walls and guardhouses are still standing) and under the bridge that took you to the inner court.

The park has two UNESCO soundscapes- one is summer insects, the other is the sound of this bell

Only some parts of the buildings were open to visit, and they tended to be very empty. It was the grounds and landscape that were interesting.  There were a lot of families there. There were also some boats offering rides in the moat, swans (including a black one!) and what looked like sakura blooms (usually not open in December)

Then we headed back to the station, cold and rather hungry.  On the way there we spotted a small french restaurant that was open.  We were the only customers, and had their daily set menu. It was delicious!

Back in Kyoto, we looked at some shops close to the station.  This was in the mall that had Sofmap, which was a store we had a lot of trouble finding some years ago.  They have done some remodelling since the last time we were there. I went to a craft shop in the same mall.

In the evening G and i went out and wandered through the alleys of Pontocho, one of the traditional entertainment districts.  We went to a place called Steak and wine. We had some very nice (and very small) beef, some very nice beef prosciutto and some wine. Coming home, i saw this sweet potato roasting van. It brought back memories of hearing the sound when i lived in japan.

The next day we were back in Kyoto, visiting the “silver temple”. Ginkakuji isn’t actually  covered in silver like the golden temple is covered in gold. At one point there may have been plans to do so, and the name provides a sort of matching temple.  It is another old villa turned into a temple and has beautiful grounds

I have realised i didn’t take a picture of the big and mounds that are there- i have been enough times, i don’t take pictures of everything anymore.

After we finished at the temple we walked along the philosophers path.  This is a walk alongside a canal that runs from the temple and though neighbourhoods, passing other temples.  It is very pretty and popular with tourists.  There are a number of shops and galleries along the way

We stopped for a drink and snack at the Yojiya cafe. Yojiya is a well known kyoto cosmetic brand that has reached out into cafes as well.  This was in an old teahouse and very japanese.

I had a traditional japanese sweet and a matcha latte

This face is the logo for yojiya.

This was the garden outside the cafe.  We were up on the second floor, so had a good view.

There was a cat community along the path.  People feed them, so there is a large colony.

We finished the walk at a coffee shop G loves. Its just a tiny shop in a neighbourhood, but it has coffees from all over the world.

After that we headed back into town and did a bit of shopping.  G and i ended up buying a new suitcase at this point…

We bought a few souvenir things, tried some fried foods at a street stall and generally looked around.  I went down Nishiki market ( a street lined with food shops) to get some amazing tofu donuts.  It was really crowded with people buying food for new years and tourists.

In the evening we went back to Pontocho and tried another restaurant. This one specialised in lamb chops.

On the last day in Kyoto we split up.  M really wanted to see snow so he and G went to the ski-fields about 40 minutes away.  I headed into the mountains to Kurama, a tiny village, to go to an onsen.  G and i went hiking there on our last trip and i have been to the fire festival in October there.  I had never visited the onsen though.  They have a minibus at the station, so its easy to get to.  There is an outside bath and there are inside baths.  It is possible to just buy entry to the outside bath, or you can get inside and outside, which comes with towels and a yukata (cotton kimono) to wear when walking between inside and outside and also in the relaxation room.  I have no pictures of the onsen (everyone is naked) but it was very relaxing and warm. When i was done i had a lovely tempura lunch in their restaurant and walked back along the street (there is only one) to the train.

Me in yukata

The only street

A little roadside shrine

This tengu is a symbol seen a lot in the area.

I took the train back to kyoto proper, then caught a train to osaka.  G and M saw snow and caught a different train to osaka.  We met up at our hotel, which was completely new one to us.

Kyoto can a bit frustrating.  There are a lot of tourists and the people of kyoto are not the politest/friendliest in japan. There are some beautiful places to visit though.

Japan trip- 7 days in Kyoto-part 1

On christmas morning we woke up early, checked out of the hotel and headed for Kyoto. Its about a 40 minute – 1 hour trip by train (depends on the train, line and destination). I was still coughing a lot, so i wore one of the face masks.

Once at kyoto we stuck our backpacks etc in a locker at the train station (suitcases were sent ahead from the hotel) and headed for the market.  The 25th of the month is a flea market day at a particular buddhist sects temples across japan.  The one in December tends to be big as people clear their houses in advance of New Year.

The market was pretty good. Last time round i found it a bit too touristy, this time it still had a lot to appeal to tourists but there was also a lot of interesting stuff.  There were also a few stallholders i recognised from osaka!

We found a different drip coffee stall and had some freshly roasted coffee.

After wandering the market for a couple of hours we went to Kinkakuji- the golden temple.  This is in the same area as the temple where the flea market was.  Kinkakuji was originally a residence for a noble, then was turned into a temple. At some point the villa was covered in gold leaf.

I was still feeling not so great at this point, so we headed back to Kyoto Station to pick up the bags, have lunch and then to the hotel.  It turned out the hotel was essentially next to a bus stop, so it was pretty easy.  I crashed for the rest of the day while G and M went out exploring.

As i was so sick, we looked at the planned activities and rejigged. On the 26th G and M went to Kobe without me.  Kobe had been a maybe day for the last few days in Kyoto, primarily to go to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant that we like.  Thats pretty much what they did while i stayed at the hotel and slept.

On the 27th we went somewhere new!  In all the times we have been to kyoto we have never gone to the the Fushimi Inari shrine. Thats the the one with all of the orange torii gates up the mountain.  It was snowing when we got there, and very crowded with tourists. No serene pictures of torii gates!

M decided to walk along the path. I opted not to (still sick), so G and i looked at the stalls and shops in the area, and i ended up in a coffee shop.

Following the shrine we headed a couple of stops further and went to the Gekkeikan sake factory.  The factory was interesting and offered some tastings as well.

Sake barrels at the local train station

Then we took a train back to Gion, had lunch and looked around the shops.

I then went to Misayubari- a tiny needle shop

Its down this passage

Sitting in a tiny garden is this tiny shop

As well as needles and scissors they also sold these handmade pins.  They are tiny.

The next day we had a wander from Kiyomizudera down to Gion.

Kiyomizudera is another temple complex, this one was famous for holy water (its not officially holy anymore).its main temple is a wooden structure with a huge deck that is popular for photos as there is the wooded hillside below and the city of kyoto in the distance.

The temple was constructed without nails and is currently being rebuilt/repaired.  The rebuilding of temples is very common in  japan and is actually part of the process with some shinto shrines.

The covered over area is usually an open deck.  There was only one section open this time.

Access to the temple is on foot- the bus stops at the bottom of the hill and we walked up the streets (cars still come up the streets, so i suppose we could have grabbed a taxi…)

The temple grounds are extensive and we wandered around on the paths

After we had our fill we walked down a different street, this one was lined with shops selling stuff to tourists (both japanese and overseas).

This we took a sharp right, down a flight of steps

A lot of shops along here too

There are a lot of shops and cafes along the way- we stopped at Inoda coffee which has a lovely garden outside.  We also visited a couple of my favourite temples.  These were noble residences that were then turned into temples.

One of these is kodai-ji which is my favourite temple, in part due to the garden, but i was feeling cold and not so well by this point, so i sat in the tea room and had matcha and a japanese sweet.

At this point we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the main shopping area for lunch and back to the hotel.

We did a lot of walking on these days, drank a lot of coffee.  Some of our dinners were just convenience store food, heated up at the shop and taken to our room(s).

Stay tuned for part two!






Kyoto day three

Day three in Kyoto (December 27).  This was planned to be around Kiyomizudera and the Higashiyama area.

Kiyomizudera is a big temple complex, around a spring of holy water.  It’s up the side of a hill, and I have a very specific route relating to visiting it.

So we caught the bus out there, and got off at the appropriate stop.  Because it is near the top of a hill and the streets are morrow, buses don’t actually get that close.  You have to walk up a steep hill. Some pictures from the walk.

An apartment building, a bit more decorative than usual.

This gives an idea of the steepness of the hill.

Old shop with kids stuff outside. Backyards are not a thing in old Japanese houses.

The area is known for its ceramics.

There were a lot of souvenir shops on this road, and there were even more on the road we went down the hill on.

The temple itself was quite busy, it was a Saturday and the end of the year.  There were a lot of couples in kimonos, which was interesting.  When I lived here it was rare to see men in kimono, and it would usually be in summer, where they wore yukata. It was also not so common to see younger women in kimono- yukata were common, and you would see kimono for the celebration of 20, or at New Years, but there were quite a few.  Kimono are expensive- a proper one, with all the accoutrements will cost into the thousands.  By contrast, Uniqlo sold a yukata set (yukata, obi and hand bag) for about $50 when I was here and you could buy a higher end one for about $100-$150.  Yukata are cotton, they are summer only, and onsens.  Proper kimono are silk, and need more accessories.

But we also saw a lot of ads for kimono rental and I suspect that is why we saw so many in kimono in Kyoto- rented as a couple for the day.

Kiyomizudera is a lovely temple, but part of it is undergoing reconstruction, and was covered in scaffolding and tarps. So I don’t have pictures of the bits I like.  There are a number of different shrines around the temple grounds, including one to help you find love!  There is also a place where you can drink the no longer holy water.  The temple was founded for its access to its holy water, but at some point in the 20th century the government decided that declaring water to be holy was not to be done, so it is no longer holy.

Anyway, there is a spot where it falls over a ledge, and you can stick long handled cups out to drink it.  We have one this in the past, and even bought the special plastic cups to commemorate (rather than use the shared metal ones). G was looking forward to new cups, but it was not to be.  As we were coming down the steps we notified the line for the water was no longer as organised, and then we noticed no cup selling stall! No idea why.  So the theme of this holiday “not quite what we were expecting” is well established.

So we have some pictures from the temple and grounds.  And a comment on selfie sticks.  Sure they sound silly, but there were so many people using them in japan- not to take a selfie of their new makeup or to pull duck face, but to capture a picture with a friend.  Ten years ago, where I lived here, it was very common for strangers to ask you to take a photo, or to be able to easily grab a person to take a photo of you and your party. Not so much anymore- selfie sticks have replaced interaction.

The view out

Fire is a serious risk for Japanese buildings. Preparation ahoy!


Continue reading “Kyoto day three”

kyoto shrine visit

Today we did the new year shrine visit in Kyoto.  Yes, it was January 2, but the crowds at the main shrines in Kyoto can make the ones we saw in Osaka seem small.  So we wait a day and then go.  Still a bit of a festive atmosphere, but less crowded.

We caught a fairly early train from Osaka, and it was a special rapid, so only half an hour.  We arrived before 9, a fact I only know because we saw the queues of people waiting to go into the sales (there is a department store and a couple of shopping malls attached to the station).  After grabbing a coffee we headed up to the shrine.

One of the excitements of the day was realising just how much it had snowed the night before!  We only got a light dusting in Osaka, but Kyoto received quite a bit!  This was evident from the train heading in, roofs covered, snow on the fields and generally around.  It was cold, but not excessively so.

The shrine we were headed to is the one in Gion, the Yasaka shrine.  

On the way there we managed to avoid much of the snowy sidewalks by using the underground passages, but we had to be street level to cross the river and to get up to the shrine. G had to learn how to walk on snow/slush/ice.  

A view of the entry to the shrine grounds. Still a lot of people!

Still a lot of people, and a lot of people like to wear kimono.

After wandering around the shrine we headed for my favourite Kyoto temple (yes, I have a favourite!) Kodai-ji.  It’s not a huge temple, what I like is the grounds, the manageable size, and the fact that one of the halls is usually given over to a display on various traditional handicrafts.  One time it was weaving, other time pottery.  Anyway, we didn’t go when we were staying in Kyoto, so I wanted to visit today. 

And I have almost no photos, as I took them all on the big camera (and we haven’t synced those yet.). All I have is one of me in the bamboo forest 

I also have one of the matcha and sweet we bought.  There’s a tea space where you can sit and contemplate the garden while sipping green tea.

After this we went to the tiny museum nearby- the ticket into the temple includes both the temple and the museum (and there is a different ticket which includes another temple which is a former residence with a lovely garden- highly recommend this too). The museum has pieces of lacquerware, and today it had a screen with popular sights of Kyoto in the Edo era.

 In the open area in front of the building with the museum there were some stone tables and someone had made this snow bunny

Then we headed back into town.  We went through some of the shops, accruing some lucky bags along the way.  The last step was going to a shopping centre near the station and buying a new suitcase, to help with some of the stuff we have accrued.  There is a model train shop there, one of its popular features is track rental- you bring in your trains and run them on the track layout they have set up.

Then we caught a train back to Osaka.  A lot of walking, but a nice day.

Added- more pics! It turns out my phone and iPad were hiding some!

The poster advertising my favourite temple!

The garden at Kodai-Ji 


Kyoto day 2

Boxing Day and something completely new! We took a tour of the old Imperial palace in Kyoto.  

You have to book ahead, and this used to be done in writing, by mail!  But now it can be done online.  Japanese citizens are simply notified of the day and must accommodate it, visitors from overseas can nominate a day/time when a tour is offered.  I had never done this (the whole by mail thing) and we booked it for this visit.  It is free http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/Kyoto.html

We booked the first tour of the day (10 am) and trekked off at about 9, in order to ensure we were there 20 minutes before, as instructed. Much of the grounds have been turned into a large park.

We arrived in time, dutifully formed a line, as instructed, and showed our tickets to at least two different people.  We then got to wait inside. It was cold.

The palace is no longer lived in.  It was used for some ceremonies in the 20th century, but almost none now.  The tour does not go inside, it’s all looking at the outside.  There are a couple of places where you can see inside, but these are few.  For a few days each year it is opened up mores, and thousands come in to view the interior paintings (while standing outside).

It was interesting, if a little dry and the weather was cold.

The garden was nice

Once the tour was done we headed back to the station, and ended up having some coffee and cake

Next up? Misuyabari, the needle place we had tied the day before.  I had never heard of them before but two different blogs mentioned them.  It’s a 400 year old needle maker and shop! This blog post does a much better job of explaining and directions.

We went down a hall…

And into a garden

The needle shop is in the back of the photo

It’s tiny.  I bought some needles and a tiny travel sewing box and some pincushions.

After the needles we went back to a bakery we had passed for lunch.  To do so we wandered the backstreets around the shopping area.  There are lots of quirky shops, and it is key to remember that some of them are not on the ground floor.  We found a yarn shop (Avril) I had noted for visiting (from blogs) by accident, going in to a building for a TinTin store.

Their website http://www.avril-Kyoto.com/ytop.php

The side streets and alleys can be fascinating.  We eventually wound up wandering through Pontocho, which is one of the old entertainment districts.  It used to have geisha (not sure about now) and was the district Liza Dalby lived in when she was writing her book about geisha.  Now it’s mostly bars and restaurants

The alley runs,parallel to the river, and there are spaces  where you can see it.

At the end of the alley we turned onto the river path, and came back along that.  At this point in the river it is very man mad- the river bed is bricks and cobblestones!  Entirely lined and directed.

My phone was having trouble with the light- this is at the same time as the other photos, just in the other direction.

There are many restaurants and bars that look out over the river- premium dining, especially in the summer!

We ended,the walk at Shijo bridge, the main way into Gion, across the river.

It did get darker during the walk.

A bit of shopping (looking at hats and gloves) and back to the hotel to rest.