Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Travels in Japan - Kyoto

I'm getting steadily worse at keeping up with our adventures, aren't I. My excuse is that it's a pain in the butt to write this all on my phone, plus I've been spending most of my time on the Shinkansen napping or staring out at the scenery.

Anyhoo. We spent four nights in Kyoto, and managed to pack quite a bit in. The train station there was incredible, and came complete with a giant Christmas tree. 

On our first night, which was Christmas Eve, we met up again with our Kanazawa housemate Seigo, who had done the hard work before we got there and found a couple of good bars. There is a street/area full of restaurants and bars called Pontocho*, which is a kind of laneway. 

Apparently Christmas Eve is quite a big commercial thing here, and a sort of couples' night out, and the streets of the shopping area near the Gion bridge* were absolutely crawling with people. We found a small bar with a dragon fly as its logo, where we encountered oragami-folding bar tenders, drinks with LED ice cubes, and Santa enjoying one last drink after a night of hard work. 

And then suddenly it was after midnight, and therefore Christmas morning, and ALL of the Santas went off duty!

G bought me some Christmas flowers because I love Christmas and miss not having the big traditional thing, and we turned them into a Christmas tree. 

Christmas Day was spent visiting the Silver Temple (a UNESCO world heritage site) and strolling along the nearby canals. Even in winter it was a pretty walk but I imagine in spring it would be spectacular with the blossoms. 

We also came upon an old viaduct and another temple complex*, but we had left our run too late in the day and it was closed to visitors. The gatehouse was still pretty impressive though. 
And then it was time for Christmas dinner. We wandered about Pontocho* until we found a place with just enough English on the menu to be not completely flying blind... and then we ordered the chef's menu mystery bag anyway!
There was also dessert but I was so excited by it that I forgot to take a picture. It was easily the fanciest meal we'd had since arriving in Japan - mostly we've been having $10 counter meals or ramen - but it was pretty good value, at least compared to Melbourne. All the above, plus dessert, plus three alcoholic drinks each. Altogether we had a very merry Christmas!

Boxing Day included some more spectacular sightseeing. First up was the famous bamboo grove*, which I imagine would be more spectacular with no people around, but was still quite pleasant. 
We also paid ¥1000 to get into a garden* that had been built by a movie star at the top end of the grove, and had a view over Kyoto. The entry included tea and a sweet, which normally go for about ¥500 anyway, and the serenity and lack of other tourists was probably worth the other ¥500!

Next stop was the chaos of the money park*, where you spend twenty minutes hiking up a hill, and then you can feed monkeys from inside a human cage. Apparently the monkeys don't like being looked at or approached, so it was surprising that they seemed to spend quite a bit of time looking at and approaching humans. Although perhaps less surprising given how many people were feeding them!

Next stop was the golden temple*, and I've got zero pictures of it on my phone, so I may add them from my computer when I get back to Australia. But anyway, the golden temple was infinitely more spectacular than the silver one, so if you come here you should definitely visit the silver one first so you're not let down by it!

Lastly we stumbled upon the world's oldest Zen garden*, the ones with takes gravel and rocks. Again this was UNESCO listed and I had expected something a bit bigger or more spectacular. But it was still quite serene,if not entirely what I had expected. I guess the significance is in the history more than in the garden itself. 
Our third full day began with a trip to nearby Nijo castle

where we saw this sign. I have included it here as I had no idea that stick figures could convey the concept of lounging casually so articulately...but apparently they can!
Next up was a hike up Mount Something*, through the famous torii gates. Like the bamboo grove, it's hard to take a good photo, but the higher up the mountain you go the easier it gets. 

Our last stop for the day was the temple/shrine??* that kind of hangs off the side of a mountain on a pier-like structure, and watched the sun set. 

Apparently it's spectacular with the cherry blossoms in spring, and in Autumn when the leaves turn red they are open at night and have lights shining up from  the ground to illuminate the leaves and make the whole thing glow. 

Last stop was the pottery shops running down the road nearby - apparently this is a good place to pick up Kyoto pottery, and although a little pricey in places you can get some very beautiful things. 

So that was Kyoto. I'm exhausted just writing about it - you don't really realise how kick you've packed in until you sit down and record it.

Next stop - Hiroshima!

*I'm too lazy to check all the names of these places and provide links from my phone, but they're all in easily-identifiable pictorial form on the bus/public transportation map, available at the information centre at Kyoto station. You can also pick up one and two day bus passes from the ticket machines in the main bus bay at Kyoto station (but apparently nowhere else that we could find), which I'd recommend doing if you're planning to see a few things


  1. Amazing! I can't imagine I can reach that place. I do really love Japan as well as their foods that full of healthy and people also are very friendly.

  2. what a wonderfully different Christmas! I know I would be the same, a little sad without the traditional tree and stuff but still, it was an adventure and a Christmas you will always remember :) And an awesome trip!

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