Kyoto – My 3 day trip

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Kyoto Photo Album

It’s very early on a Monday morning, my eyes hurt but it’s time to make our way to Shinagawa station for the infamous bullet train to Kyoto!  It’s my first time and I have to say, I was pretty excited!  I have read all about Kyoto and heard all the stories so I was ready for a taster myself!

The Bullet Train
I have seen “The Bullet Train” on many “must do in Japan” lists but to be honest with you…  It’s just a fast train. OK well really fast (361 mph!).  To be honest, I expected luxury but we just got a seat with some nice leg room, no blankets, no pillow, no water, no hot face towels, nothing.  Do I expect too much sometimes?  It’s mighty expensive and I don’t think I will be rushing back to get this.

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An over night bus for me next time, even though it practically killed me going to Osaka two months back. The Bullet Train does get you from A to B in a ridiculously fast time though which was nice as we needed all the time we could get on our short trip!  We had no time for breakfast so you ate this.. Hmmm appetizing. I could identify half of it.

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Kyoto Station

Pretty amazing station I have to say. Spotless and really modern.  I guess most people get a little surprised arriving here, expecting to see Geisha walking around in colorful kimonos, temples towering over you on a dusty path(I saw one Geisha on my our trip – more than most people see!).  Kyoto is a city.  I knew this and I was eager to get to the hotel, dump my gear off and start looking for temples.  The Karasuma hotel was nice and was just one stop from Kyoto station.  It did the job and it was part of a package which was filthy cheap (detail below).

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Here is a list of Temples I visited over the 2.5 days in Kyoto in order:

1. Tō-ji (was founded as the city’s guardian temple in the year 794, the year Kyoto became the capital city)

Five-tiered pagoda is 57m tall, making it the highest wooden tower in Japan. It was last built in 1643 after having burned five times. It is wooden after all!   There was some rather nice temples with elaborate interiors surrounding the main pagoda.

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2. Kiyomizu-dera (founded in 780)

This one is quite popular. It’s sits on the eastern hills of Kyoto and it offers some excellent views over the city from the famous wooden terrace. I also tasted some spring water here which apparently has healing power!  The walk up to this Temple was a steep one and it started to rain which gave the surrounding area a rather sinister edge.  I knew Kyoto was touristy but seriously putting 10 Ramen returants, 15 tack shops and some pottery shops right beside the temples can just ruin the experience for some I’d imagine.  As we reached the top the sun came out which was just magical and the huge entrance is visible.. Then it started to rain again. Loving Japans rainy season!  It’s just like Ireland but they make a fuss about it over here.

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3. Kinkakuji / Golden Pavilion (a Zen temple built in 1397)

This certainly had the “wowsa!” factor.  Yes gold!  Gold leaf actually.  We had torrential rain here and a really good blasting of sun.. Really nice to see it in the two settings.  The evil gloomy temple transformed in colorful piece of golden candy.  It was burnt down in 1950 by a crazy monk and it was rebuilt 5 years later.  I think you see a pattern emerging here…  Like most of the temples there are surrounding parks but why would you stroll around them when this is here? Highlight of the trip.

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4. Ryōanji (Peaceful Dragon Temple Zen Garden founded in 1450)

Well, what can I say.  A Golden temple to a bunch of rocks on gravel surrounded with some gaudy scaffolding that no one has an explanation for.  To be avoided…..  The garden is described as “dry landscape” and it’s exactly that, weathered, dull and meaningless.  The park we walked through was nice though but we really should have used this time checked out something else.

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5. Chionin Temple (built in 1234)

After a rather lengthy bus journey from Ryōanji, we finally got to the Chionin Temple and we were greeted by Japans largest temple gate and it was just enormous!  24 metres tall.  The walk up to temple involved a steep trek up some stone steps (if you don’t like walking, Kyoto is possibly not the place for you!).  The main hall is still used today and there was some monks ringing bells and praying as we walked in with our shoes in plastic bags.  Amazing interior, no photos allowed inside obviously.  We walked about in our socks gazing at the sheer scale of the building and it was the first and last time we saw some monks in Kyoto.  Pretty epic really!

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6. Sanjusangendo (founded in 1164)

This was quite near to Chionin Temple.  I wanted to check this out as it had been recommended by many people.  Now I know why!  This was a real jaw on the floor moment.  I have never seen anything like this.  1001 human sized statues of the goddess of mercy in a huge hall, all lined up in rows.  In the middle is an enormous statue that just towers over everything.  I just can contemplate how these were made back when tools barely existed… eery!

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7. Fushimi Inari Shrine

It’s getting late and we had time to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine which is in “Lost in Translation”.  It was one of the main Shrine areas I wanted to see on this trip.  A little far out and out of the way but 100% worth it.  It’s famous for the many thousand shrines dedicated to the god of rice and foxes.  It’s also famous for the countless torii orange gates that line the entire trek of the mountain.  We got to this at sunset and it’s was so quiet and barely anyone there.  It was really nice to get away from it all and just wander around a mountain forest in the middle of no where.  We could only make it to the half way mark where there was some beer in a closed bar tempting us.  Some amino acid juice from a vending machine did the trick and we started our descent.  Sweatastic!  I luckily had some company for this trek, I don’t recommend going alone late at night.  It would be quite scary and easy to get lost.

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8. Nijō Castle (built in 1603)

We had a few hours to kill before out trip back to Tokyo so we decided to check on the local sites out.  Possibly number one attraction for tourists in Kyoto.  It’s terrible, expensive, waste of time and boring.  The interiors were so dull.  I think most people start their Kyoto viewing here.  Possibly not a good one to end a trip on!  It’s famous for it’s squeaking floors.. Enough said.  No photos as they are boring.

Home time!  Kyoto was just amazing and is definitely my Japan highlight so far.  We got a mighty 8 sites in out of the thousands Kyoto has on offer.  It will be pretty hard to beat this.  Magical land does exist after all.  I might go back at Christmas time when there will hopefully be snow.

Complete Photo Album of Kyoto

Kyoto Tips

Travel Pass – you will be getting a lot of buses and some trains.  Get a 1 day or 2 day Bus/Subway pass.  Not valid for the JR lines but you can easily manage with this.  Costs a measly 2000 Yen.  Get it as soon as you arrive from the information shop in Kyoto station.

Map – I know you probably have 15+ maps..  Most are terrible, especially the Lonely Planet one.  Get the green covered one from the information shop in Kyoto station (ask for it).  It’s got everything and it easy to follow. Bus, subway routes and sites.

Our Package:  Excellent package here.  Helps if one or all of you are foreigners!  If you Japanese it’s a different story. The price pretty much makes the hotel free since the bullet train normally costs 25000 Yen.

Rainy season:  People warned me Kyoto would be insanely busy.  It wasn’t.  Brilliant time to go.  Quiet, not crowded, seats on buses and no queues.  Rainy season is recommended although it is sweaty and humid.  Bring multiple t-shirts, umbrellas and water proof foot wear.

Charges:  Many of the temples have entrance charges.  Most are around the 500 yen mark.

Temples have closing times:  One thing we did not really research!  Temples close early. Some as a early as 4pm.  So early morning rise is recommended.

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~ by redegg on July 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “Kyoto – My 3 day trip”

  1. Ah Kyoto…
    Nostaligic time…nice pictures I have a nice night shot of Kyoto to share http://www.japan-i.jp/explorejapan/kinki/kyoto/kyotoarea/d8jk7l000001lz3d-img/d8jk7l000001lz59.jpg it’s beautiful!

  2. I’m getting more and more jealous reading this blog Colin!

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