Our destination today was Kyoto because we wanted to see the more traditional side of Japan.
Tokyo wasn't always the capital. It's a tradition for wherever the emperor dwells to become the capital and before Tokyo, it was Kyoto. Kyoto was the second capital of Japan between 794 - 1868.
Early morning - well, not really early. Just after rush hour we went to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto. It was a 30 mins ride from Nagoya Station.
I dropped down to the cafe for some breakfast first.
It was actually quite nice inside compared to the hotel. Very Japanese style. And the great thing was the cafe was only open to hotel guests long before its official opening time. There was a door you could enter from inside the hotel rather than go outside.
Breakfast choice on the other hand was quite limited. You had around 4 set meal choices with one being close to Western like the chicken salad I had.
So, the first place we were going to visit was Kiyomizu Temple which was built in 780. It's built on the Otowa Waterfall which gave it its name "Kiyomizu [Clear Water]".
It was another place I've always seen on Japan travel programmes and looked very impressive on its wooden pillars.
Once we got off at Kyoto Station, we got the bus to Gojo-dori Street. Should really be Gojo Street but that's the official translation.
If you bought a Suica card in Tokyo then it works here too. Other IC cards like Manaca and Pasmo should work too.
Buses worked differently here than back in Tokyo. You entered from the middle of the bus and then paid on your way out from the driver's side.
The interesting thing was every time the bus stopped and resumed motion, you would hear the driver saying, "We are now moving again." And it wasn't even an automated broadcast! The driver actually had a headset on to make announcements. That said, he almost sounded mechanical too. Guess anyone would be doing it everyday ^^;
You really can't miss the stop because you'll see loads of people waiting to cross the road and funneling into a street!
There were already some interesting architecture around the area. This was Kouyama Temple if my Kunyomi's correct...
These apartments looked cosy. Nice design too.
There was a Kimono rental service that seems to be very common in tourist spots. 9800JPY (60GBP) for the day here...?
There was quite an uphill walk before we reached the temple grounds.
That line you see on the left was pretty much the pedestrian area. You had the odd traffic coming through every now and then but again, there was plenty of order. No one, getting stressed or trying to push each other out the way just to get through.
And yes, there was a modern day Lawsons conbini here too. At least they got rid of their brand blue colour and tried to blend in ^^;
I think it was around a 15 min hike up depending on whether you stopped to admire the area or not like I did.
Looks like it was a long way up, huh? Didn't really realise the path was that long and high up until I looked back! Quite a nice view already from here.
A lot of sakura blossoms blooming.
There was still quite some ground to cover before we reached the main Kiyomizu Temple building.
And here was one of the gates into the area. It was swarming with people.
But once you walk around the gate to continue upwards...
It does get quieter.
I think these are little monk statues dressed up to show respect for their ancestors. Not really sure...
From the crowds outside, you wouldn't think there were quiet spots like this.
Some of the script on stones like these looked really old so it was quite hard to read. The wooden sign mentions relics of "Saint Kinou"...
Here was a shrine dedicated to one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, Goddess Benzaiten.
She was the Goddess of everything that flows such as water and time. They use traditional Kanji here 辯 Ben instead of 弁 which is probably common back in the old days before Japanese started simplifying Hanzi (Chinese characters) their own way.
Chinese characters are referred to as Sino characters when they are used in other countries.
Time for the main attraction, Kiyomizu Temple itself! There were a lot of people around the ticket office but the queues were really fast. Ticket could be used as a nice bookmark. Very nice quality.
There were quite a lot of maintenance work going on but, not enough to ruin the visit.
Once through the gates there was a test of strength. I think it was equipment that monks used such as staves.
Think they were cast iron and very heavy.
No one could lift the big middle stave apart from one man. It was probably more than 20kg.
Lanterns looked really old and made of metal too. Not sure if I prefer these or the Sensoji ones.
You could see the red pagoda from here... We walked all the way from over there, huh? Didn't feel that long, lol.
Long way down and more maintenance work at the other side. Think it's been going on for a few years now.
People taking a whiff of the incense for good fortune as per tradition in buddhist temples.
So what do you think the story is here then? I actually didn't notice this until I got round to processing this photo, lol.
I think it was a damsel in "distress" who needed someone to help take a good picture of herself. Girl on the right with the shades might have been the girlfriend who approves =P
"Let us give our respects to water, the source of all life."
No tripods. Would be hard to take night shots here but then again... Temple's all illuminated at night I think so wouldn't be too bad.
Shoes off and no photos in the main prayer area.
There were charms and o-mikuji on sale as with the other temples like Sensoji.
Well, back out we go.
Ah yes, there was a God of Love or should I say fate here? Most of the visitors were ladies. I blame all those romance J-dramas and movies =P
God of Love himself.
There were two "Love Stones" here where if you managed to walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, you will have a good relationship.
I think it was too busy to do that though... Didn't see anyone doing it. I guess having something to believe is good because it gives you positive thoughts at least.
Couples paying a donation of at least 5000JPY (32GBP) to got their names framed together.
Natives weren't the only ones making the wall of fame. Visitors from Taiwan, Spain, Brazil etc.
Well, time to move on. Feels like I'm stalking someone since the girl with the purple kimono appeared in my photos again, lol... Very beautiful kimono though.
Now either you took the stair case back down...
Or you follow the one way exit round and see this.
Amazing view, eh? You're actually not supposed to stop and take pictures as you followed the one way exit. There was a guard that ushered people on if you did stop.
A pair of Chinese women got separated from their group I think so they worked their way back. They couldn't speak Japanese. The guard tried to stop them going backwards but they begged him in Cantonese and pushed through anyway... Well, at least he didn't try to stop them by force.
Can't have a place of worship without purification water.
They bring about different blessings apparently, from right to left; health, love and studies.
Maintaining these wooden pillars must be expensive. Apparently they didn't use a single nail to hold it all together.
Pretty little blossoms.
Kiyomizu was as great as it looked on TV but can't beat visiting in person!
Nijo Castle (And a Broken Smartphone)
Next stop, Nijo Castle ^^
Now at this point, my LG G3 phone started acting up... It rebooted itself then got stuck in a reboot loop so I couldn't use it any more. I got separated from my friend and now I had no more Google Maps to point me in the right direction... =(
Alone, lost, I tried not to panic and decided to continue with the itinerary we decided on. I had printed out some directions on paper just in case something happened to my phone.
Unfortunately, the printouts didn't really cover the whole local area so, I was lost in Kyoto... It was quite an adventure just following local signs, trying to find my way to the next destination.
My friend and I hadn't decided on a place to wait if we got separated. Going back to the hotel on Shinkansen would just be wasting time so, maybe I'd meet him along the way since we should be visiting the same places following the same itinerary.
At least I got to see more of Kyoto's buildings along the way. This place was probably a theatre of some sort... Maybe from the Imperial Army age?
I was looking for a subway station that would take me to close to Nijo Station or maybe a bus nearby.
I eventually found one but... Wasn't sure which stop I should be going to. The printouts I had said the nearest subway station was Uzuma Satenjingawa so I tried to use my Suica IC Card and an error occurred. Next thing I did was go find a ticket machine but couldn't find the station I was looking for...
Eventually I didn't want to waste any more time and just decided to get a taxi. Had a nice conversation in Japanese with the Kyoto born taxi driver who kept complimenting me on my Japanese. Probably the longest conversation I've had in the native language since arriving in Japan.
After getting some doubts about my language skills back at Kawagoe, it gave me some confidence back ^^
I learned Japanese back in high school and even then it was by snail mail, instead of via the internet. It was still slow back then at 56K (4KB/s) and you paid by the minute so, streaming video like on YouTube today was pretty much impossible and connections weren't stable enough for voice calls.
So I didn't get any practice with the spoken language at the time. Nowadays I think it's much easier to learn languages thanks to speedy, flat rate broadband internet access.
Anyway, after being stuck in the traffic for a while (it was really bad in Kyoto), I was finally at Nijo Castle - should probably call it fortress since it's a series of buildings behind walls.
For some reason there was a long queue for the ticket window while the ticket machines next to them were empty so I went straight for the machines instead.
The machines even had an English option so no idea why people didn't just use them... Maybe they didn't have change.
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
There were audio guides for rent. Didn't want one because I was just interested in sight seeing rather than lengthy explanations about the places. There was around an hour left until closing time so, I had to be quick.
One of the buildings, the guard station, was under maintenance quite close to the entrance.
Yup, going to have to be quick if I'm going to walk around all these places in an hour. Spent too long at Kiyomizu ^^;
So, we have broken through the first defensive perimeter. Onto the second perimeter wall.
Outside the entrance were just white walls but inside, you see there was much more details along the tiles.
Obviously, they must have spent a lot more on these gates. Craftsmanship was beautiful! Not sure if it was real gold paint though. Probably not since you could actually touch it.
The twirls almost look the same from a distance but they're not.
Outside Ninomaru's Palace. This place was huge! Unfortunately again, no photos were allowed inside. Neither were shoes =P
That said, there wasn't much to see inside aside from preserved paintings of tigers that were gifts for the Shogun and scenes of what it would have looked like back then represented using mannequins.
Once again, some amazing craftsmanship here. It was royalty so I suppose one wouldn't expect less I guess.
Now to visit Ninomaru's back garden.
These bells were used to alert the people when the castle was under siege.
I have no idea why there were coins on the bells here. Probably some kind of wishing thing or they were donating...
Very impressively sized garden.
Weren't many blossom trees in here.
Some trees were covered in rice straw called "Komo" to protect them from the cold...I remember seeing Japanese wearing straw coats in O-Shin to keep warm in the wintry weather too though.
They looked like some funny sculpture to be honest, lol.
Structures around here was definitely more impressive than the ones in "Little Edo" Kawagoe.
Just the garden alone was a big long walk. Imagine keeping the lawn trimmed... Wonder how they did it back then?
Grass were off limits. It was cloudy and a bit chilly. Not as nice as when we went to Skytree but at least it wasn't raining.
Onto higher ground as I headed deeper into the castle. All your bases are belong to us =P
Honmaru Palace was closed unfortunately. It was the second line of defence at Nijo Castle.
And here was the inner moat of the castle. There were a few Koi in it but not many. Looked very clean though.
15,800 trees planted around the castle, 47 types. They were used for all sorts of purposes such as fuel, food and armour during emergencies.
Well, need to be prepared when you're holed in by enemy armies...
This is one huge warehouse for storing rice. Then again, you had an army to feed.
A bit of Zen for you which actually originated from China but since the practice is more prevalent in Japan these days I'm sure most people think it's a Japanese way of gardening.
Out here, there were more blossoms.
I've yet to experience what the cherry blossom viewing is like which is again, something I grew up seeing in Japanese media. It was why I planned this trip for late March.
It was pass closing time by the time I got to the exit but plenty of people were still chilling out at the break area. People were still being served instead of being ushered out.
There was a huge queue of tourists waiting to return their audio guide as I left the place.
I didn't come across my friend while I was at the castle and yes, my smartphone was still broken so I had to use the local tourist map. My camera wasn't broken so I snapped a picture of it for reference.
The nearest station was Nijo Station, the station I had originally tried to get to. Was just a straight route instead of lots of little turns this time.
A Tenrikyo place... A religion that branched off the Japanese's main Shinto believes. Building was very nicely built.
Nurseries around Japan sure know how to cutify themselves and attract attention!
Funnily enough, my friend had decided to follow the itinerary too and we ended up reunited again at Nijo Station.
The JR trains are quite different here compared to those in Tokyo. Seats were more old looking.
It was getting dark but since we won't have time to come back to Kyoto for a second day, I insisted we drop by Arashiyama to see the bamboo grove.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
We hadn't had any lunch so when we got to the Saga-Arashiyama Station we grabbed an ice-cream from one of the stalls, lol.
Green tea flavoured! Biscuit was damn hard to chew though! Maybe it was supposed to be used as a scoop? ^^;
Smaller shrines are dotted all over Japan along with the red gates that give credit to patrons.
So many traditional houses around Arashiyama. Ones that weren't just a store front like in Kawagoe.
And here we were! Bamboo grove!
Funny that girl was taking a selfie when I took this picture... Looks like she was waving, lol.
There's actually not much to see other than lots of bamboo. A Western guy was chatting up some native girls and joked "I love bamboo", lol.
The bamboo around here wasn't just for show. It's used for making local souvenirs and goods. They were barricaded off by tall straws but you really didn't have to stretch up to take photos like a lot of people did.
You could see a few spots where the barriers have been split apart - probably because some people like the couple here, wanted clean shots of the bamboo.
I kind of wanted the same thing but if you walked in a bit further there were areas where there weren't anything blocking the view.
Love shrines seem to be quite popular in Kyoto... Well, at least this is the second shrine I've seen dedicated to the god of love. Seems to be working for some people.
A lot of people seem to know when a camera's pointed their way, lol.
Further in there was a spot dedicated to the Gosen Wakashuu [Runner-up Japanese Poetry Collection] which were made up of poems submitted to the emperor back in 951AD but were rejected as entries for the main Kokin collection. 7 of them are on display here and are mostly love poems.
You could even find a QR code on the description.
Rail crossings were another thing that were common around Japan whether you were in the city or country side, it was always the familiar "ding ding" sound and the alternating red circular lights as the train comes.
Another thing I always see from Japanese programmes, lol. Pretty much a symbol of Japan, IMO.
So apparently, these were still hunting grounds today where people used guns?
All day bike hire for 100JPY. Cheap!
You might hear how clean Japan is and it really is. Well, free of litter that is. In places like Shibuya there is graffiti everywhere... Here we have people etching their names onto the bamboo to make their mark - literally.
There was a Monkey Mountain in the area but it was already closed. Tourist spots mostly closed around 5:30pm it seems. Soon we were making our way back for the Shinkansen.
One downside about the Green Seat pass is you always had to reserve your seats so you're restricted by time if you want to keep those seats.
No idea why there was a Teracotta Army statue here. Owner must like Chinese history.
Some restaurants were closed for the day. Maybe they only catered towards tourists.
Going in the right direction then.
Arashiyama area seemed so tranquil...
Old and new buildings side-by-side which is a common sight. More common around here in Kyoto.
Seems to be quite a nice place to live in.
These small rundown apartments reminded of J-dramas that portrayed poorer families.
Well, I was really in Japan now and wasn't just dreaming about the place from what I saw in the media. Been a great trip so far albeit setting aside little time to eat ^^
And it was nice to be away from the tourist spots, just seeing what the local areas are like. I think this was a modest little dairy store.
Then we spied this... Jerry's Pies with the Union Jack all over, lol.
Either it was British pride or they were just using the flag to market the goods. Wonder how much business they got. It was a Japanese guy running the store and he didn't seem to like us hanging around outside taking photos ^^;
In Japan you often see little shops like these underneath apartments with verandas on them and sometimes laundry hanging out...
Back in the UK, it's just walls and windows. No verandas, no exposed stairs. The stairs for apartments (or flats as we actually call them) are always behind a single locked door to stop unwelcome people hanging around them.
Doesn't seem to be a worry in the low crime rate country of Japan.
I think this was an abandoned home. A mailbox was still visible outside.
If it was this hour back in Scotland, you'd have a teenagers hanging around shops messing around making noise, bothering other people for fun.
Here was another popular chain conbini "Family Mart". It was so quiet around here compared to back in Shibuya... No graffiti too.
And they had bins for combustible rubbish! Such a rare sight around Japan. In Scotland you don't have to worry about dividing up your trash - at least not yet although it's starting to happen. Still, despite the council's best efforts you'll find litter everywhere. Particularly old newspapers and plastic bags.
I think we passed a different part of this railway earlier. Station was still a bit of a walk away.
Very close now. Arashiyama where the bamboo grove was can be seen in the background.
Trains like these are still available in the UK as part of a slow luxury train journey called the Orient Express. Need to go on one some day.
Ah... If only Scotland had vending machines that sold hot drinks.
Then again, most people there prefer fresh drinks and go to the big chain cafes like Starbucks or Costa ^^;
More Chikan "pervert" posters. I really can't take it seriously when it looks like a Marvel comic poster... Then there was also a poster warning about hazardous selfie-sticks. There were plenty of people using those around but I seriously doubt you'll electrocute yourself...
Social media just spurs on selfies... And the Oscars too =P
And that was the end of our trip in Kyoto ^^
On the way back, we bought some Dango which was a dessert made up of 3 differently coloured balls. You see them in Japanese media all the time so I wanted to try some.
Also bought a barazushi bento (lunch box) back for dinner. Packaging was nice but didn't know what to expect taste wise... The box looks like it's made of wood but it's actually foam.
The coffee, despite the packaging, was actually owned by Coca-Cola but in small print. Marketing tactics, eh?
When you think of "sushi" you probably immediately think raw fish but, it actually means rice that's soaked up with vinegar so that was what this barazushi bento was. It was small but it was so sweet and sticky I couldn't finish it ^^;
As for the Dango there was so much casting sugar on them the sugar went all over the place the moment you opened the box... Tasted kind of like marzipan. Didn't have too many of them because I don't have much of a sweet tooth these days.
For some reason, every time I think of Dango I think of cuttlefish meat balls that you commonly find with Chinese noodle dishes ^^;
As if my phone being messed up wasn't enough, there appeared to be a problem with my Suica IC card. I went to the ticket office and the guy ran a check on it. Apparently the system thought I was still inside a station in Kyoto. I asked the man how I could fix it. He printed out a copy of the status report my card had and quickly said, "I don't know, go find out yourself." =/
Thinking back, it must have got stuck on entry mode when I had got lost and there was a problem with the ticket gates. It had flashed red showing a warning, "Please contact a member of staff." I had ignored it and just bought a ticket at the ticket machine to continue. That's probably why it was still stuck on entry status.
Kyoto wasn't exactly a quick train journey away... At least, not by local train. I didn't know what I could do. Maybe buy a new IC card like the local Manaca card...?
I decided to try the travel centre in Nagoya and they told me there was nothing they could do. Only way I could fix it was to go back to Kyoto and ask the private trains company there to fix it.
Fortunately we were heading that way the next day so, for the time being, I just had to buy my tickets.
On the way back to the hotel in Nagoya, we dropped by the shopping centre and found a Donguri Republic store that specialised in Ghibli goods. A dedicated shop instead of a small section like the one back in Akihabara.
It had this cool Totoro display near the doorway. Spirited Away was also playing - one of my Ghibli favourites ^^
Japan and Hong Kong seems to have Mother's Day on the same day - second Sunday of May. UK was the 4th Sunday in Lent which has been in March so far.
I was a bit confused at first when Mother's Day had just passed and suddenly on the Hong Kong news I was hearing about Mother's Day again ^^;
If you just wanted some cool Ghibli goods when in Japan, you really don't have to go to the museum but I'd really recommend it. It's quite a magical place to put it one way ;)
Well, been an adventurous day. Sure, there's still lots of places I haven't visited in Kyoto but I think I saw plenty of good sights for a day's visit.
Was interesting trying to navigate around without tech too ^^;
We also got a different room at our hotel in Nagoya where we could at least open the window to vent the insanely hot "sauna" rooms... But even then it was still too hot. I bought an ice cold drink from the vending machine and it was warm in no time!
Still, a little more bearable I guess.