It has been exactly a month since I arrived in Japan and I'm finally embarking on my first long distance trip. I will be making my way to the city of Kyoto. A trip which I have been waiting for a year and a half (Was initially planning to visit Kyoto city during the 2006 Golden Week). In preparing for this trip, it took me 1 week to confirm on the bus tickets and the route to take. Luckily, I'm able to reserve and purchase the bus tickets online, it really save me the hassle of going down to Nagoya station to get it and I'm able to arrive at Kyoto much earlier. Using buses as a mode of transportation is much cheaper than the Japanese bullet trains (approximately half the price).
Here is the plan for Kyoto:
In this plan, there are 3 sights which are considered the Best of Japan - Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizudera and Ginkakuji. The rest of the sights other than the Path of Philosophy is considered by Japan-Guide to be Outstanding.
Travelling to Kyoto
I have to wake up an hour earlier than I used to on weekdays at 5.55am. When I'm getting ready to leave my dormitory, I was surprised that the doors and gates are locked. But I'm able to go out through the back door and scale a low wall to get to my bus stop. The Tokaidai - Nagoya bus is quite punctual and it also arrives at the station around the designated timing. I waited 10 minutes in the interchange before I boarded the bus to Kyoto. The Kyoto express bus cost 4,000Yen for a return trip. It arrives at Kyoto station 15 minutes late. Guess it is caused by the many traffic lights leading to the station.
0. Kyoto Station
I rendezvous with the rest of the guys at the Kyoto Station Tourist Information Centre. The architecture of the Kyoto station is indeed magnificent.
Our first stop for the day is Sanjusangendo(三十三間堂). It is a 15 minutes walk away from Kyoto Station. The weather is pleasant with the sun shining above us. Short-sleeve shirt is perfect for the day and it is pleasantly cooling. This first temple is renowned for its long history and its large number of Kannon(観音) statues. The name of the temple comes from the 33 bays within the temple and for its length. There are 500 Kannon statues flanking a large main Kannon representation. But what really caught my attention is the large number of statues depicting sentient beings from other realms of existence - Garuda, Gods, Asuras, etc. No photography is allowed in the temple, so I only have the external view of the remarkably long temple here.
Our next stop is the Kiyomizu Temple(清水寺). This temple is up a hill and it takes another 20 minutes of walking from the Sanjusangendo temple. Here is a photoshot of me with a friend at the entrance of the temple after a long climb.
A view of the temple's pagoda and the entrance. There is quite a large crowd visiting the temple today. It is autumn season and this temple has one of the best autumn viewing hotspot.
At the temple entrance hall, there are some metal pipes for visitors to try to lift them up. It is remarkably heavy and I believe no one is able to even move them.
A panoramic view of the eastern mountains of Kyoto from the temple. You will notice the different shades of tree colors in the picture - from green to yellow to red.
Here is the popular image of the Kiyomizudera. The main stands provide splendid viewing during autumn. There is also a night viewing from 6pm - 9pm when the temple is lighted up in a multi-colored facade.
Next to the temple is a Shinto Shrine where people pray for happy relationships. It can be clearly seen that the local Shinto beliefs and Buddhist beliefs have co-existed and complimented each other greatly.
In the temple there are spring water for visitors to quench their thirsts.
A Japanese monk asking for alms.
After Kiyomizudera, we moved on to our next destination - Gion. This is where we decide to have our lunch. It is another 20 minutes walk before we arrived there. The meals in Gion are relatively expensive, costing 1,200Yen for a Gatsu-don set lunch.
By the time we finished lunch, it is 3pm and we moved on to our next temple visit - Chion temple (知恩院). As compared to the previous two, this temple belongs to the Jodo school(浄土宗).
Likewise this temple is also preparing for the first light-up tonight. NHK has stationed their guys there to broadcast the first light-up to the people around Japan.
5. Heian Jinju
After leaving the temple, we decided to take a different route where we will be walking next to a small stream leading to the Heian Jinju (平安神宮).
Along the way, we saw Geishas.
Alright! We have arrived at the entrance to the Heian Shrine. There is a mega-Torii gate at the entrance. But this is not the largest Torii gate in Japan, the largest is in Tokyo - Hakone (visit my older entry for photos on the mega-Torii)
Here is the group photo of all of us.
6. Path of Philosophy
By the time we have completed the Heian Jinju, it is around 4.30pm. I put forward a choice whether should we go ahead and visit the Path of Philosophy(哲学 の 道). It just a path next to another stream leading to the Ginkakuji(銀閣寺). But it will take another 45 minutes of walking. Everyone is good to go. Here is a photo-shot of the Path of Philosophy. I heard that this place is especially beautiful during spring time when the sakuras are blooming.
Everyone walked extremely fast on the path and we reached the end of the road 15 minutes before the expected arrival time. Ginkakuji closes at 5pm coincidentally. From what I have heard, a friend of mine also arrived to the temple when it closes the last time. So the moral of the story "At the end of the Path of Philosophy is a closed temple".
By this time, everyone is tired out from all the walking - 5 hours of non-stop walking. We took a bus back to Gion and visited the Jinja around the area. There are many lighted up lanterns in there.
Walking down from Gion, we go on to our final destination - Pontecho. It is a narrow street famous for its restaurants and geishas. We crossed the river from Gion to the main shopping district of Kyoto.
Here is Pontecho. There are many restaurants in this narrow winding street.
We have our dinner round the corner at a restaurant.
I'm trying my hand at a grape fruit drink. It requires me to manually grind the grape juice out.