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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Takayama to Kyoto

JAPAN | Sunday, 29 June 2008 | Views [4536]

Fri 27th Jun - Made the decision last night to go to Kyoto instead of Kanazawa. There is only one way to sensibly get there and that means going back to Nagoya and then on th Shinkansen again to Kyoto. Trains leave here once per hour, so casual breakfast and then off to the station to catch the 9:37 train to Nagoya.

As mentioned on the journey up here, the scenery is beautiful. Another sunny day, so everything dazzles. Long swathes of the green GPS precision rice paddy fields set against the lush green forests are a relaxing backdrop to the journey.

Arrived at 12:05 and straight for the Shinkansen train heading to Okayama on the Hikada express that pulled onto the platform spot on the 12:11 expected time. 2 minutes to board and its off....like a speeding bullet! Hadn't realised, but I had got onto carriage 3 which was a smoking carriage. Everyone was like a chimney! Can't stand smoke, so exited rapidly for a non-smoking carriage. Aaahhh that feels better....can breathe again.

Arrived at Kyoto central station and had some instructions from the web on how to get to my digs near to the Gion district...more on that later. First on to a Japanese rail train to Tofukuji and then transfer to the Keihan line train to Shijo. All easy enough alhough hardly any english at Tofukuji, but it doesn't really matter as easy to work It out.

Within a minute or two of coming out of the station a Geisha walked in front of me and as I turned to watch this beauty walk down the road, I saw another two waiting to cross the road. Gion is renowned as the Geisha district of Kyoto. What a welcome sight that was!

Too early to check in to the Bakpak hostel, so left my bags and went for a walk. The area is a bustling one, with much traffic and pedestrians. Down a few side streets and the place is alive with sights....saw many Geishas going between appointments...you are probably aware that the role of a geisha is to 'entertain', mainly japanese buisiness men, for exhorbitant sums of money and behind the closed doors of pivate houses. They are versed in all manner or traditional etiquette...making tea, playing the Shamisen (3-string banjo), and dancing!

Along the crystal clear Kamo-Gawa river, where the Gardenia bushes filled the air with a heady scent, and the herons were diving for a catch of some of the massive carp. Time for checking in and find out the arrangements

A mixed dorm with a couple of guys and a couple of girls, one of which was on her last day before flying back to Canada. She suggested going to a local temple for sunset, so joined her and glad I did. Went to 'The Hub' english pub for a beer first, then off to catch a train. The Fushimi temple is amazing. The main highlight though is a thousand or so Tori gates/arches that wind their way around the hillside and as the sun sets, take on mysterious lighting effects. Almost everyone had gone by this time, so it was spooky walking around in the dark, lit only by the japanese style lanterns. At a high point on the trail you get an awesome view of Kyoto at night. Well worth the visit.

Back at the hostel and freshened up, I went off to see what Gion had to offer for a late night meal. Had a superb filled pancake for 630 Yen in a place where the randomly shaped wooden tables all had a couple of geisha dressed dummies sat with you... Very amusing really. Walking the streets is incredible. The stunningly dressed 'entertainment' girls are everywhere....bad news for the hormones!

Further on down Shijo-Dori is the stunningYasaka Shrine, an outstanding sight at night, with its bright orange Tori entrance. One of the main features is the central shrine which is illuminated with a mass of bright lanterns. I have taken so many photos today, it's crazy. This place is so photogenic.

Back at the digs and time to spend with some of the other travellers and a nice end to a great day...

Sat 28th Jun -

First stop of the day was the beautiful Yasaka-Jinja shrine. Even more dazzling orange in today's sunshine. What I liked about this one is the walls of tied messages on bamboo and wooden frames. Don't fully undestand what the significance is, but assume it is worshipper's messages to buddha for their wellbeing?

Up through the shrine and into the peacefull Maruyama park, with lovely ponds. There are so many temples in Kyoto that you have to be selective. I passed a few others and ended up in a cemetary overlooking the town. An education in itself, as there are many interesting features to note. Thin wooden handwritten laths are fixed around many of the tombstones. Many people were with buckets and scrubbing brushes to clean the stone of who they have lost. Many beautiful flower arrangements adorn the graves. A time of contemplation....

Next on to the Ryoken-Kwannon buddhist tribute memorial to the 'unknowñ soldiers' who died in wold war II. It stands out from the hillside by having a massive seated buddha as its centrepiece. A haunting ceremony was being performed at the shrine inside the grounds that I watched for a while. You are given an incense stick on entry to carry with you and finally place in the woshipping urn. Must be the shaven head....they now think i'm buddhist...well I did have an orange T-shirt on too!

A great highlight then followed... The beautifully restored group of streets around Ninen-Zaka and Sannen-Zaka. Quaint cobbled streets lined with pretty shops, restaurants and tea houses, leading to the Kodai temple. Teaming with people made it a bit of a jostling experience. One great thing....there are many shops selling a kind of soft sweet pancake filled with many different fruit fillings. So many samples given out that you don't need to buy any, and washed down with copious amounts of fresh green tea. Another batch of shops giving free samples of pickled everyhing and crackers & special biscuits....Well that was lunch then!

At the top of the street, a beautiful group of Geishas amd a few Maiko (apprentice geisha...noticeable as they don't wear the white face make-up)...click...click...click...Just stunning!

Sat for a while and chatted to a mother and son from the UK, who I had seen a few times today, then moved on to the Kiyomizu-dema temple. Another amazing example. This city has an incredible wow factor.

It had started to rain lightly but not too bad yet, although many umbrellas were out. Headed back down the zakas to fill up on more free samples before heading towards the Kyoto Tower with a short stop to have a McDonald's Terriyaki burger. Normally wouldn't, but got to try one of these. Also stopped off at one of the entertainment centres where the volume of the game machines is incredible. Dozens of them, row after row full of bodies oblivious to the noise probably. Brought back memories of the casinos in Las Vegas, but much louder.

The tower is across the road from Kyoto railway station. A good opportunity to see the city from on high. 770¥ to get to the observation platform by lift. As with Tokyo tower, they operate this with air-hostess perfection. The view is superb with its green hill backdrop, and the orange perimiter famework, setting off the tower as being one of the great tower designs of the country.

Back down at ground level and cannot miss out on Kyoto station itself. This is an amazing design. Intricate vaulted metallic framework with ingenious design. Even the entrance is a pice of artwork.

Banks of polished taxis wait outside and the bus terminal in front of it that is part of the incredibly simple to use Kyoto transport network. Had walked a lot today, so decided to get the 206 bus back to Gion. This is fixed price, not all are. Always board at the rear and 220¥ for any amount of journey. All stops announced in japanese and english, well ahead of stopping. No change on these buses, so correct fare into the hopper next to the driver when you get off at the front.

Raining heavily now, but it is refreshing. More Gieshas walking down the road, stopping for photographs, which is very kind of them. So, so beautiful.

Too much to take in for one day, so back to the hostel for a break.

One of those amazing coincidences....back at the hostel, a guy arrived who lives in a road in Glasgow next to where I spent a year of my life in the early 1980's. I shared a house with a good friend who I catch up with occasionally. Brought back some happy memories.

Sun 29th Jun -

At the temple 400 Yen to get in. Rokuonji Temple is the proper name for the temple complex, but Kinkakuji is the name of the Golden Pavillion itself. It is a real stunner, even in the rain. Built with three levels. Level 1 is in the Shinden-Zujuri style. Level 2 (Buke-Zukuri or Samurai house style) and 3 (Karayo or Zen-temple style) are covered in gold leaf, which was re-done in 1987. A gold chinese phoenix stands on the roof. It was designated a world heritage site in 1994. When the rain calmed down, the lake in front of it takes on its true name of 'Mirror pond' or Kyoko-Chi, and the reflections make for some more nice photographs. The gardens are pretty and the rain actually added to its splendour with everything having that extra glimmer.

Apart from the pavillion there is a nice temple next door but gave that a miss as other places I want to see today.

Next off to Arashiyama, which entailed getting a number 59 bus to Yamaoe-Nakocho first. This is where I learnt that some buses aren't part of the Kyoto city pass, as I now needed the number 11 bus the rest of the way, which wasn't part of the pass...should have read that bit. Anyway, for this type, you get on at the back as usual and to the left of the entrance is a small yellow box that issues a white ticket with the number of where you got on. Once the door has closed you cannot get one of these tickets, so have to wait until the next stop to get one. Guess how I learnt that then?

When it comes to getting off, the electronic display at the front of the bus tells you how much to pay for the number you have. Drop 190 Yen into the hopper on the way out....it's all based on trust here as nobody checks at all. But they are ALL honest here and the sysem just works!

Arrived at Arashiyama in the pouring rain. Famed for a couple of things, firstly and foremost is its long bridge and secondly for its monkey park. I really only came here for the bridge as seen plenty of monkeys on my travels. The rain had left the forest backdrop laced with pockets of mist that gave it an air of tranquility and mystery. Walked around the town and riverside for a while getting soaked and then stopped for a streetside snack...first some of those delicious freebies... Izutzu Yatsuhashi, made from rice and soy with flavourings, and Warabimochi, which is made from the root of bracken. All extremely healthy to eat and very tasty. I will say this that the japanese have the most awesome range of street food of anywhere in the world, and so healthy to eat too.. The problem is there being so much choice, you could eat yourself to death....healthily of course!

Back on the bus. This time a city pass number 93 to the imperial palace and park. I knew the palace was closed today, but fancied a walk around the park. Still raining and almost deserted, it gave time to absorb some of today's events in a peaceful environment. The exterior of the Imperial palace enclosure is a fomidable sight. Very befitting of its name.

Final bus of the day, the number 59 back close to the hostel. Not really had a prope meal today, so treated myself to one of my favourites of an Okonomiyaki Mikussu, a form of pancake filled with everything...beef, rice, some small seafood, vegetables, sauces etc. Washed down with a nice glass of beer is a party in your mouth! Hello tastebuds!

Got another burst of energy after that so headed towards Gion corner and wandered down some side streets. Stumbled on some great finds. A terrific temple with a wishing stone... A large stone with a hole cut through it. You write your wish/message on a special paper provided, climb through the hole and then stick it onto the mound of other messages stuck to it. A really lovely sight.

Carried on through the rabbit warren of streets amongst beauiful traditional houses and ended up in the restored area I was in yesterday...a number of geishas ambling by. A great end to an interesting day of sightseeing. Finally back to the hostel shattered.

Even though it's sunday, most places are open as usual and buses/trains run normally. My starting point for today is the 'Golden Pavillion' at Kinkakuji. It is raining and what I wanted to do was a bit spread out, so decided to get an all day bus ticket that cost 500 Yen. Short walk to the nearest bus stop at Shijo-Kawaramachi and jump on the Kyoto Transport bus 205, that goes all the way. When it's time to get off, just give the driver a 1000 Yen note and ask for the all-day pass. In with the note, out with the change, and he gives you the pass, which you then put into the machine next to him to have it validated for start of use. Dead easy....follow the sheep...sorry, the other tourists... Who needs a map, just follow the groups!
Not really got into breakfast here yet. Cannot seem to get what I want although a mesmerising choice is on offer....maybe too much choice. Easier to choose when there is less available. Got some healthy fruit snacks and bananas. Can't go wrong with that.


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