Rose and I arrived at JR Kyoto station at around 11pm. I was a bit surprised because I expected to see more people out, but instead there was hardly anyone. Then again the cold weather might have been a factor. I had heard reports that the week before, the weather really warmed up and as a result some Sakura trees had started to bloom. The main reason why I traveled to Japan was because I wanted to see the Sakura trees first hand and to experience whether or not the petals really does fall like snow flake as how the anime depicts it.
I quickly asked the JR staff on how to get to Kuramaguchi station and subsequently the Aoi So Inn, our place of accommodation, which is a traditional Japanese style Ryokan inn. Once again the JR staff are extremely helpful, and directed us to the subway. Again, I did a lot of research as to how we could find this inn, and I have to thank Google maps and street view. We were able to find the inn fairly quickly.
After checking in, I was more tired then hungry, but Rose and I knew we needed to eat We set out at around 23:45 looking for some where to eat. We thought we found a Ramen place, but as we stepped in, we were told that they were about to close. The only thing that was left for us was to visit the convenience store: Lawsons and grab some food there. As soon as we walked in we were greeted with “Irasshaimase” from all the staff behind the counter. I didn’t know what to reply, so all I said was “konbanwa” and gave them a little bow. Formalities out of the way, we grabbed what we wanted to eat…instant noodles FTW. We also grabbed other things to eat too, I reminded Rose that she should get something small to munch on since she suffers from mild motion sickness. By the way, the food was really cheap...honestly.
The next day, was also cold and windy. I was actually not prepared for this. Having heard reports that Japan was warming up, I packed light spring clothing, so as we walked the Kyoto streets I had several layers of clothing on just to keep warm. Rose and I got the subway to JR Kyoto station and the aim of the day was to find our bearing and explore some of the famous places around the city.
It is advisable to actually visit the foreign tourist information center in the major city areas, the foreign information center has English speaking staff and they will be able to answer any queries that you may have.The Foreign visitors center in Kyoto is located on the upper floors of JR Kyoto Station. After departing the visitor’s center I managed to stumble upon an anime character that we have all come to know and love; Astroboy.
We both headed towards the bus ticket office which is situated right outside JR Kyoto station. If you are planning to travel around Kyoto by bus, you can purchase an all day pass which allows for unlimited travel on certain routes. We decide to check out Nanzenji Temple and walk upon the Path of Philosophy towards Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). If you are no stranger to traffic congestion, and don’t mind being in one, then traveling by bus around Kyoto is your thing. Passengers enter the bus from the rear, quite different to the Sydney buses, and at each stop the fare is shown on a display which you pay as you get off.
We were told by a fellow passenger to get off for Nanzenji, the Japanese people are extremely friendly and polite, and will try to help you if you get lost. Most will know a little English to help you along, but if they don’t they will still try to help you. Worst comes to worse, they will accompany you to a point and show you from there. That’s what happened when I arrived at Tokyo; but more on that later.
After grabbing something to eat Rose and I started to walk around seeing the area around the old railroad, and according to the map Okazaki Canal and around Lake Biwa. Unfortunately the Sakura hasn’t started to bloom as the weather was still rather cold. However, there were a few trees that had started to bloom when the weather was a little warmer.
You might not believe me when i say this, but Nanzenji was the first Buddhist temple that I visited. When we entered the temple ground we were greeted with the giant entrance to the actual temple itself called the Sanmon gate. Visitors were able to go in the gate for a small fee, from memory it was around 400¥. I didn’t enter the gate, instead I entered the main part of the temple itself. Again, the admission was around 500¥. The main draw card of Nanzenji temple is its rock garden...I sat and just enjoyed the quiteness as well as allowing the sun to warm me up. The garden itself consists of large stones, trees and small shrubs placed in a specific location in order to tell or recreate a scene. The atmosphere of the garden itself was really relaxing, and I could have sat there all day...chances were I would have started snoring, and be kicked out for disturbing the peace.
Path of Philosophy
This is one of the walks that I really enjoyed. Also known as Philosophers walk or The Walk of Philosophy, when you walk it you will agree that the name is appropriate. Even though the Sakura wasn't in full bloom, the entire walk itself was crowded. The walk starts a short distance away from Nanzenji and ends at Ginkakuji. The walk is roughly 2km, with food stalls and souvenir shops along the way and a canal running the entire course which also adds to the atmosphere. Rose and i started this walk around 13:30, however if you don’t like crowds, I recommend walking it early in the morning, I’m sure when the Sakura is in full bloom and you have the path to yourself, it would be a wonderful experience.
Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
The Philosophers walk took me a good hour and a half to two hours to complete. I wanted to take in the sights and sound of the area. I decided that i would have to return to Kyoto to see things when the Sakura is in full bloom, but that's for another part. Rose and I turned right onto a busy lane way with food stalls and other shops on either side to make our way to Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is listed as a world heritage site, so we wanted to see what it was all about. Again we had to pay an admission fee of around 600¥. The line to get in was rather long, and the latest that you could visit is around 17:00 local time. Around 20mins of waiting later we were in, and we were greeted to by another rock garden. The walk around the temple wasn't as long as I expected it would be. Still I enjoyed it. After passing the rock garden, visitors would follow a path up a small hill where you can view the entire temple grounds plus have the Kyoto city as a backdrop. Unfortunately, that afternoon, the sky was slightly overcast so i couldn't get a nice sunset shot. Further more, the main draw card, Ginkakuji was under renovations so we couldn't see the pavilion itself. Ah well, next time when I return.
Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle)
When Rose and I finished touring Ginkakuji, we found a poster showing Nijo-jo under lights. Like I mentioned before I couldnt read proper Japanese, so who else better to ask then the police (police in Japanese is Koban). Forunatetly they understood what I was trying to say "Nijo-jo hikari" (Nijo castle lights). We also asked for directions on how to get there. After following the given direction, we got to the bus stop. I can't remember whose bright idea it was, chances were it was me, but the trip back to Kyoto and then getting the bus to Nijo-jo took over an hour...traffic congestion.
I cant remember how much the admission fee was but it was between 500¥ - 800¥. The main gate to the castle was really nice, well it would have been nice as this was my first castle that I had ever seen. You are propably thinking that I don't go out much...and you're right. I dont get released very often (joking). Nijo-jo looked really nice, Rose and I got seperated, but I wanted to take my time to savor the feeling, and imagined what it was like back during the time of feudal Japan. The tour route went from the outer wall to the inner wall, where a moat surrounded the inner keep. Unfortunately we werent allowed to enter, but walking around grounds at night was fantastic. It got even better when I rounded the path, and even though very few sakura trees were blooming the lights upon the branches made you feel like you are in a fantasy land, and at any moment you would see an elf walk beside you.
Well this wraps up the second part, please stay around, as I will be adding more soon.