Today we are going to Kyoto. We don’t get up too early today. We take the Keihin-Tōhoku Line at 9:51 to Shinagawa Station and transfer to the Hikari shinkansen at 10:10. About two and a half hours later we arrived at Kyoto Station. There we take the 206 bus to the hotel. We bought a 24-hour bus ticket from the driver for 500 yen (€3.90-$4.70). Now there are ticket machines at the station.
As a curiosity, buses in Japan enter through the back door and exit through the front.
Before getting off, you have to pay the ticket. You have to put the exact money in coins in a machine that is next to you. If you don’t have enough coins, there is also a change machine next to the driver.
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We arrived at the stop closest to the hotel. Tonight we were going to sleep in a ryokan, a hotel with traditional rooms, tatami mats and futons to sleep on. We chose the Gion Shinmonso, very well located, with a very cool onsen for €134 ($162) per night. Ryokan are expensive accommodations and this one, I can assure you, was very well priced.
We dropped our stuff and hurried off to Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) for a walk around Gion.
Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) is a Shinto shrine located in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan. Located east of the end of Shijō-dōri (Fourth Avenue) built in 656.
In the year 869, the Gion Matsuri, the most important festival in Kyoto, began. When we visited them we were in the middle of the festival.
The enclosure is huge. We enter through the Nishiromon gate (西楼門) and on the left we find the chōzuya (手水舎), the source of ablutions to purify ourselves. A little further on we will give to several food stalls at the entrance of the enclosure.
We passed through several small shrines until we reached the central courtyard. There we can find the Buden (舞殿), a stage surrounded by hundreds of chochin (paper lamps) with the names of the people and companies that have made donations to the sanctuary, and where several portable thrones of the Gion Matsuri. Although they are only exposed during the festival.
In the central courtyard is also the Honden (本殿), the main hall. There we made a small queue to make a small donation and ring the bell.
We continue walking through the enclosure between small temples. I don’t know if it was because of the Gion matsuri but there were a lot of people wearing traditional costumes.
We exit through the Nishiromon gate and make our way to the nearby Chion-in Temple (知恩院).
But before we got there, it was already lunchtime, and we passed a ramen restaurant that smelled like vice, so we decided to go inside. We had to wait because it was full but it wouldn’t be more than ten minutes.
I think it’s the best ramen I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant calls ramen Miyako. It is not the cheapest but I recommend it 100%.
With a full stomach we headed to Chion-in Temple (知恩院). It is the seat of Jōdo shū Buddhism (Pure Land Sect) and was founded by Hōnen in the year 1234. It is a gigantic complex of 106 buildings, no more and no less.
We enter through the spectacular Sanmon gate (三門). Built in 1621, it is the largest wooden gate in all of Japan at 24 meters high and 50 meters long.
Crossing the door we find the Otokozaka slope, some stairs that take us to the central esplanade of the complex. There we find on the left hand side we see a small pagoda called Tahoto (多宝塔) and on the right hand side the cafeteria and souvenir shop. We bought some fridge magnets there because they were so cheap.
We left the gift shop and went through the box office. Admission is 500 yen (€3.90-$4.70).
The first thing we come across is the Amida-dō hall (阿弥陀堂). The Amida-dō was originally built by Genchi, the second chief high priest of the Chion-in, opposite the Seishidō, but was moved to its current location in 1710. The building later fell into disrepair, but was rebuilt as the present Amida-do in 1910.
The main image is an impressive 2.7 meter tall golden statue of Amida. To enter you have to take off your shoes and unfortunately you can’t take photos.
Next to this temple is the Miei-dō main hall (知恩院 御影堂) that has been under restoration and completely covered from 2012 to 2019 and we could not see it either. This hall was built in 1639 by the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, and is the center of the Nembutsu teachings.
We then passed through a beautiful corridor to the Shūedō, the assembly hall.
Built in 1635, it is a huge hall with an image of Amida (Amitabha) said to have been created by Bishop Eshin (also known as Genshin). At the front of the room, there are images of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, and the fourth Tokugawa shogun, Ietsuna. It is so big that it is said that a thousand tatami mats can fit. Unfortunately you can’t take photos either. Being here they warned that it was time to close the temple and they kicked us out directly. We failed to see much of the temple. We already have an excuse to return, but after 2019 when they open the main hall.
From here we went to rest a bit at the ryokan. There they left us some yukatas and we went directly to the onsen that was completely empty. It was a joy, in terms of hygiene it is the best invention in the history of mankind. Once the bath was over, we went up to the room to have tea and a rather old lady in a kimono appeared who was in charge of preparing the futons for us to sleep on. We already had beds.
After the break we went for a walk through the streets of Gion and Pontocho, the neighborhoods of the geishas although we only saw one and she ran out of a taxi so we almost only saw the trail.
Just behind the ryokan, in a series of very pretty little alleys, we came across a small (very small) temple in which there was a girl praying. It is the Gion Tatsumi-jinja (辰巳大明神) and is dedicated to Tanuki, the raccoon with the fat testicles that we see all over Kyoto.
We are looking for something for dinner passing through some very curious places. But they all seemed excessively touristy to us.
In the end we decided on a very small and sketchy place where the people who were eating looked like ordinary Japanese. It was a great find. It’s a noodle place where you eat at the bar because there are no tables. You have the machine at the entrance to pay and you give the ticket to the only kid who was inside. We assume that he will be the owner, cook and waiter at the same time. The name was in Japanese, but researching it, I found out that it is called Ajinotentoku Shijo Kiyamachi (味の天徳 四条木屋町店) and the address is 455 Shincho, Shimogyo Ward.
After dinner we took another walk through the crowded Pontocho and went to the hotel to take advantage of the onsen before it closes. Now there were a few more people. One of the times that I was taking a shower, a boy of about 6 or 7 years old approached me and I think he was berating me for doing it wrong, but I’m not really sure. He was nailed to Sinchan.
Today super early, we have an excursion but first we wanted to take advantage of the onsen of the ryokan, so we got up around 6:30 and went to the bathroom for an hour.
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When we finish, we collect our things, leave them at reception and go to the nearest subway station (Gion-Shijo). There we took the Hankyu-Kyoto line to Katsura station. We are going to visit the Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮). From there we walk about 15 minutes (10 minutes by bus) to the entrance of the villa.
The Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮) is a country house of the imperial family. Its main feature is that its gardens and buildings are considered a masterpiece of Japanese architecture. Prince Toshihito, son of Emperor Ōgimachi and younger brother of Emperor Go-Yōzei began its construction in 1615 and it was completed by his son Prince Toshitada in 1662.
To visit it we had to book a ticket about two months before through the website. The visit then was free (in 2018 you had to pay 1000 yen) and it is for groups.
When we went to make the reservation, for this villa there was no room. We had booked several more imperial villas, but several weeks after booking, they called us from Japan to tell us that one of the ones we had booked had all tours canceled for that day and we couldn’t go. So we asked if it was possible to book for Katsura and luckily, by phone they let us. The curious thing is that the girl she called insisted on speaking to us in Spanish with the google translator and communication was somewhat complicated.
The guide gave the explanations in Japanese but at the entrance they gave you an audio guide in English, Italian, French or Korean. The villa is spectacular, the gardens are beautiful. It is worth the visit and I recommend it as a must-see in Kyoto.
We were delighted with the visit and headed for the station to go see the imperial palace. From Katsura Station we took the subway Hankyu-Kyoto Line to Shijō Station and there we changed to the Karasuma Line to Imadegawa Station.
We arrive at the imperial park or Kyoto Gyoen (京都御苑) through which we take a walk to the entrance of the palace grounds. As soon as we enter we have a visitor center where we register and are taken to a room (with air conditioning). There we met a group of foreigners who gave us a guide in English to tour the site.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace or Kyoto Gosho (京都御苑) was the official residence of the imperial family until 1869, when the capital was moved to Tokyo.
The visit lasts about an hour and you really only visit the pavilions from the outside, you don’t enter any of them.
Since it was getting late, we decided to eat at a Moss Burger chain burger joint that was next to the subway station. It’s cheap and good but the burgers are tiny.
After eating, we went back to the ryokan to get our things and went to what would be our next base of operations until we returned to Tokyo: the Orient Gojozaka guesthouse. €81 ($97.90) per night and it is a small apartment with a kitchen, a desktop PC with internet connection and a washing machine!
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At the exit of the subway something very curious happened to us. We went out the door and planted ourselves on a large map that was there to guide us to get to the ryokan. A rather old lady who passed by, seeing the lost face and, speaking only Japanese, we made ourselves understand what we were looking for. Then the lady made a gesture for us to accompany her. She took us to the entrance of the street where the accommodation was. She had a nearby store that caught her on the way. What a great lady.
We left our things and, on the way, we went to a nearby convenience store and through signs we managed to buy a detergent for the washing machine. We left a sunset and went to dinner in Osaka. To do this we went to Kyoto station and took the Kodama shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station and from there we changed to the subway to Namba station and here came the problem. I had read that the Namba station was so big that it had more than 50 exits, we must be exaggerating… well, indeed, more than 50 exits. So we approached an information guy and by beckoning him one more time he told us the exit we had to take: exit 29-d.
We went out to the saturated recreational-festive area of Dotonbori and went straight to dinner, which was already very late. We had dinner at an okonomiyaki place called Ajinoya. The okonomiyakis were very good but quite expensive, I suppose you pay for the area.
Dinner had taken a long time and it had gotten very late so we went back to the station to return to Kyoto.
At that time there were no shinkansen so we took the Special Rapid line at 11:25 at night. While I was on the platform something strange happened to me. Standing in line waiting for the train I hear a kind of snoring behind me, I turn around and the guy behind me was sleeping on his feet! with his head thrown back and his briefcase in his hand and the guy asleep, and without anyone’s support, what capacity do the Japanese have to fall asleep.
About halfway through, hundreds of girls got on the train (without exaggeration) who we assume were coming from a concert. They wore matching shirts and scarves.
We arrived in Kyoto at almost midnight and there were no buses to the hotel and it took us more than half an hour to walk there. We decided to bite the bullet and pay for a taxi. Taxi doors in Japan are automatic, they open by themselves. We approached one and the guy didn’t directly open the door for us… live to see. We waited a bit and someone else appeared if he wanted to take us. Spectacular taxi full of crochet tapestries. The trip cost us 1,000 yen (almost €9-$10.90). We thought it would be much more expensive.
Today we have a long excursion, we are going to Hiroshima and Miyajima. To do this we take the Kodama shinkansen at 8:43 to Shin-Osaka and there we transfer to the Sakura shinkansen at 9:18.
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At 10:54 we arrived punctually at the Hiroshima station. There we go to the information desk and they tell us that to go to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (広島平和記念公園) we can take the Hop on-Hop off buses that are included in the JR Pass, so we don’t think about it.
We got off next to the Peace Monument. Also known as Genbaku Dome (原爆ドーム) or Atomic Bomb Dome, it was the closest standing structure to the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast on August 6, 1945, just 150 meters away.
The building is creepy because of its history and spectacular that it has withstood the explosion considering that the area was totally devastated for miles around.
On one side of the building there were several people giving explanations and telling their own version of the story and that kind of thing… that they were the good guys in the movie and the allies were the bad guys, more or less. Anyway… what the hell is war.
From here we took a walk through the Peace Memorial Park seeing the many memorials and ringing the peace bell reaching the Peace Memorial Cenotaph.
The Cenotaph, built by Tange Kenzo, was inaugurated on August 6, 1952, coinciding with the 7th anniversary of the explosion, to commemorate the 200,000 victims of the bomb. It has an inscription that reads: “Rest in peace, for the mistake will never be repeated” (“安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから”).
After the cenotaph we enter the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (広島平和記念資料館), where we find detailed information about what happened that day, such as a multitude of objects found in the ruins (including human skin). Admission costs 200 yen (€1.55-$1.88) and it is a very interesting visit, although it excites and impacts a lot and leaves a hell of a bad body. Whether they are the good guys or the bad guys in the movie, in my opinion there is no way to justify any such massacre.
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From here, we went directly to visit the island of Miyajima (宮島). To do this we take the Sanyo line from Hiroshima Central Station to Miyajimaguchi Station. There we bought something to recharge our batteries in a 7eleven that was already hungry and we went to the ferry, which is included in the JR Pass.
As soon as we get off the boat we are harassed by herds of deer in search of easy food.
We headed past the Toyokuni Shrine (豊国神社) and the spectacular five-story pagoda to Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社).
The Toyokuni Shrine (豊国神社) began to be built in 1587 under the name of Hideyoshi Reijin, by order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He died before its completion and is still incomplete today. In 1897, Hideyoshi Reijin was consecrated and renamed Toyokuni Shrine, and in 1918, it is consecrated to Kiyomasa Kato, the deity of Hodosan Shrine.
According to an ancient record, Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) is believed to have been founded by Saeki no Kuramoto in the year 593, but there is confirmation of its existence from the year 811.
The complex is spectacular, it is made up of 37 buildings (plus another 19 outside the complex) highlighting, above all, the great Torii on the shore of the Seto Sea and the Honden. Leaving the purification room (Haraiden) we go to a kind of terrace where the Takabutai is located, a raised stage used for performances of bugaku or ancient traditional dance.
From here there is a platform from which you can see some wonderful views of the great Torii, that is, you have to wait in line to take the photo. The pity is that at that time the tide was low. When it is high, both the great Torii and the shrine are in the sea.
We leave the complex and go to a small square where there are several temples. Daiganji Temple (大願寺) an ancient temple of the Shinshin sect whose foundation is unknown.
Here we rest a little and we go to the great Torii taking advantage of the fact that the tide is low. It doesn’t look that great from afar, but it’s huge.
After a while taking photos and contemplating the Torii, we go for a walk around the town. The truth is that it has a lot of charm. We bought some citrus kit kat and went back to the shore to contemplate what they say is one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world… And it may be.
We were very sad but we had to start going back, almost 3 hours separated us until Kyoto. At the Hiroshima station we bought a bento to be able to have a proper dinner on the train since we had hardly eaten so as not to waste time.
At 8:48 p.m., the shinkansen left for Shin-Osaka, where we arrived at 10:21 p.m., where we changed to the special rapid line to Kyoto. We took one of the last buses, and to sleep it had been a very long day.
Here we have the map of the places we visited in Hiroshima and Miyajima:
Today we get up early and go to visit the nearby temples.
We left for the Kiyomizu-dera temple (清水寺). From the hotel we went up Sannenzaka Street (三年坂), a sloping street that retains its traditional style. It is full of souvenir shops and tea houses. We must to buy some gifts for the family.
At the bottom of the hill, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple (清水寺) awaits us. The Otowasan Kiyomizu-dera Temple was founded in 778 next to the Otowa waterfall, as a sacred place for Kannon who symbolizes great mercy.
The temple has been burned to the ground on numerous occasions. The buildings we see today are a reconstruction of the year 1633.
The first thing we come across is the Niōmon (仁王門) or Deva gate, destroyed by fire during the war at the end of the 15th century and rebuilt at the beginning of the 16th century.
Behind it we find the Saimon gate (西門) or west gate, also rebuilt in the year 1631 and just after passing it we find the three-story pagoda Sanjūnodō (三重塔) built in the year 847 and rebuilt in the year 1632.
Before crossing the Niōmon gate (仁王門), on the right hand side we find the small Zenkoji temple (善光寺), dedicated to Amida although in its beginnings it was dedicated to the Jizo Bodhisattva. And next we find the stable Umatodome (馬駐), where visitors left their horses before entering the temple.
Crossing the Niōmon gate (仁王門), on the left we find the Shōro bell tower (鐘楼), from 1596 and rebuilt in 1607.
At the top of the stairs we find ourselves in front of the Zuigudō Hall (随求堂), rebuilt in 1718 and dedicated to the mother of Buddha. Admission is 100 yen (€0.78-$0.94).
Next to it is the Kyōdō Hall (経堂), rebuilt in 1633. By the mid-Heian era, it held all the sutras and flourished as an auditorium for scholarly monks from all over the country. In the hall there is a cult statue of the Three Buddhas.
Behind it is the Kaisandō Hall (開山堂) and behind it is the Todorokimon Gate (轟門). Opposite the gate is Benten Island (弁天島), which contains a small Shinto shrine.
Crossing the Todorokimon gate (轟門) we arrive at the temple’s ticket office. Admission costs 300 yen (€2.30-$2.80). We pay and spend.
We arrive at the main hall, the Hondo (本堂), the most famous image in the temple and one of the most famous in Kyoto. The main hall is built on the cliffs of Mount Otowa. This is a traditional construction method called “Kakezukuri” (懸造), an ancient Japanese method that allows the construction of highly earthquake-resistant structures, even on cliffs where construction is difficult due to the latticed wooden support.
This hall is a dedicated performing arts venue for Kannon, the chief god of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
The truth is that both the hall and the altar are impressive. I was very shocked to see that there were about a million fire extinguishers stacked on every corner, which is logical considering that it has burned about ten times throughout its history.
Behind the hall we find the Jishu Shrine (地主神社) dedicated to the god of love and marriage. In it, there are two stones of love, if you walk the distance that separates them with your eyes closed, you will find love. While there, a group of girls arrived and one of them jumped to embrace one of the stones. I thought she killed herself.
From here we went down to the Okunoin Hall (奥の院), which was closed and covered for restoration but from here we could take good photos of the main hall.
From here we approach the Koyasu Pagoda (子安塔). The exact age of its foundation is unknown. The current building was built in the 1500s and is dedicated to Koyasu Kannon (Sente Kannon) and is visited by women to help them have a good birth. From here there are also beautiful views of the main hall.
From here we descend to the Otowa waterfall (音羽の滝), which gives the temple its name. Drinking from this waterfall is supposed to have therapeutic properties and give you health and long life. We queued up just in case and drank. You never know.
We left the temple and rushed out to visit Nijō Castle (二条城). To do this we take bus 202 and in about 25 minutes we get off at the castle gate.
Nijō Castle (二条城) was built in 1603 for the residence of the Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu and from then on it was the official residence of the Tokugawa family until the abolition of the shogunate in 1867.
The entrance cost us 600 yen (2016) and the visit was free following a circuit, but you had many explanatory panels. The buildings are spectacular, something that struck us was the lack of furniture, but it seems that what really mattered was nature and not the material objects of ornamentation, so that is why the imperial gardens in Japan are so impressive.
We ran out of the hall without eating, because there was no time to lose. Anyway we have good reservations.
At the gate of the castle we took bus 12 to the Kinkakuji temple (金閣寺) or golden pavilion.
This temple is probably the most recognizable image of Kyoto, it is a Zen temple with the exterior walls covered in gold leaf.
It was built in 1397 as a resting place for Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death in 1408, it was converted into a temple of the Rinzai sect and its official name is Rokouon-ji (鹿苑寺).
The enclosure is truly spectacular and is a totally essential visit in Kyoto. Admission is 400 yen (€3.10-$3.75).
From here we run to the Arashiyama bamboo forest. To do this we took bus 59. About halfway we got off at a kind of small bus terminal where we waited about ten minutes and from here we took bus 93. Almost an hour later we arrived in Arashiyama.
We got off next to the Togetsu-kyō Bridge (渡月橋), the bridge that crosses the moon.
As it was getting late, they had already closed everything for us so we could only see the bamboo forest, which is the only thing that does not close. Even so, we crossed the bridge and walked for a while along the banks of the Katsura River enjoying the views. We crossed it again and went into the woods.
The forest is very beautiful but it is not very big and you can walk quietly in a while.
After the ride came the problem. It was 6 pm and we were without eating. There were many places but the problem is that we had about 300 yen (€2.30-$2.80) left in cash and in Japan, practically no business accepts payment by card.
We couldn’t find any combo with an ATM compatible with foreign cards. So we went to the Saga-Arashiyama station and there we took the San-In line to the center of Kyoto, finally we were able to get money and buy something to have a snack.
We went to the hotel to take a shower and then we went out for an early dinner. We dined at a Sukiya, a chain specializing in grilled eel, which was what fell.
After dinner we took a quiet walk and went to sleep.
Today is going to be a full day. We get up early and go to the station. There we take the Nara line at 8:23 to Inari station where we get off 5 minutes later. We are going to visit another of the iconic and best-known images of Japan: Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社), the temple of the 1000 Toriis.
The origin of Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is described in Yamashiro no Kuni Fudoki (山城国風土記), an ancient report on provincial culture, geography, and oral tradition that was submitted to the emperor.
It is said that Irogu no Hatanokimi, an ancestor of Hatanonakatsue no Imiki, threw a rice cake, which turned into a swan and flew away. Finally, the swan landed on top of a mountain, where an auspicious omen occurred and rice grew. Inari is named for this miracle (“ina” is Japanese for “rice”).
The sanctuary was founded in the year 711 and is the main temple dedicated to Inari, god of rice and merchants, the most important in all of Japan. For this reason, merchants donate money to the temple for prosperity which the temple turns into the famous red Torii as an offering. Fushimi Inari has a 4 kilometer path lined with toriis that seems to form an endless corridor.
As soon as we leave the small Inari station, we find a large red Torii that gives access to a street that, when we visited it, had hundreds of wrens (lanterns) on the sides, which leads to the Romon no Kitsune gate. (キツネ). The gate was built in the year 1589 thanks to the offerings of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
As we passed the gate we came to the main hall, the Honden. The hall was destroyed by fire during the Onin Rebellion in 1468 but was rebuilt in 1499 thanks to donations.
Behind the main hall and passing through several small temples, the path of the thousand Toriis begins. The torii began to be donated during the Edo period and runs from the base of the shrine to the top of Mount Inari. The path is quite hard since it is a constant climb and with the humid heat of July it is very sticky, but it is worth the climb.
After the hard climb, we go down a side where there are many small curious temples and even a small cemetery.
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After the kick we return to the Inari station. There we take the Nara line again at 9:55 a.m. to Uji station where we get off at 10:16 a.m. to visit the Byōdō-in temple (平等院).
We left the station and began to walk. About five minutes later we reached the bank of the Uji River. There was a small statue of Murasaki Shikibu (紫 式部) a Japanese writer, poet and courtesan who authored the first Japanese novel in the 11th century: Genji Monogatari (“The Genji Novel”), a work that has also been considered the first modern novel of the world.
From here we walk along the traditional Omotesando shopping street until we reach the entrance of the Byōdō-in temple (平等院). The temple was built in 998 as a rural village for Fujiwara no Michinaga, one of the most powerful members of the Fujiwara clan. In the year 1052 it was converted into a Buddhist temple by Fujiwara no Yorimichi.
The most important structure of the temple is the Hall of the Phoenix or Hōō-dō (鳳凰堂), built in 1053 and is the only original structure left standing, as the rest of the structures were destroyed after a fire caused by the war civil in 1336. The hall houses an impressive three-meter figure of the seated Amida Buddha from the year 1053.
The entrance fee is 600 yen (4.66€-5.63$) plus an additional 300 yen if you want to enter the Hall of the Phoenix.
In front of the Phoenix Hall are the beautiful Jodo-shiki gardens from where we can admire the hall from the other side of the pond with the pond reflected in it.
After this we can visit the Hoshokan Museum and in it we can find numerous objects of the temple considered national treasures. It is a very modern building that the truth does not match even with glue but in which it was very cool with the air conditioning.
In the souvenir shop we bought some postcards that were precious engravings of the temple for 50 yen (0.40€-0.47$). At the exit of the museum we find several more temples such as the Jōdo-in (浄土院).
From here we continue running and return to the station after passing through a supermarket that we caught on the way to buy something to snack on. We were going to Nara.
As an important advice to go to Nara: From Kyoto you have to take the Nara line, but there are several services. It is important to take the RAPID SERVICE since it takes 45 minutes and the LOCAL line takes an hour and a quarter.
So, we got on the rapid service at 11:51 and in less than half an hour we got off at Nara.
From the station we took bus 118 for 220 yen (€1.70-$2.06) to the closest stop to Tōdai-ji temple (東大寺), which is Nara Park. The stop is not lost because they are marked on a screen and, in addition, it is where the entire bus full of tourists will get off.
We were very amused that, every time people got off the bus, the driver said something in Japanese, we suppose saying thank you but in a very funny tone.
Already from here, you will start to see herds of Sika deer everywhere like in Miyajima. Deer are considered messengers of the Shinto gods and are protected as national treasures.
Throughout the park there are numerous stalls where you can buy cookies to give them to eat. They are very tame but if they think you can bring food, they can give you a snack. In fact, we saw how a guy tried to rip out the back pocket of his pants. The best thing is to go empty-handed and have them look good on you.
After spending a fun time in the park with the deer (although they can be sooooo heavy), we arrived at the Tōdai-ji temple (東大寺). Construction of the temple began in 728 under the name Kinshōsen-ji (金鐘山寺). The first thing we see is the Nandaimon Gate (南大門) or Great South Gate, built in 1199.
As soon as we pass the door, on the right we find a life-size replica of the right hand of the Great Buddha of Nara. It is really grotesque.
A little further on we come to the gate of the temple complex, the impressive Nakamon Gate (東大寺 中門). This door is closed. To access the complex you have to go to one of the corners where the office is located to buy tickets. Admission price is 600 yen (€4.66-$5.63).
As we leave the office, we behold the grandeur of the Daibutsuden room, the main hall. This is the largest wooden building in the world… spectacular.
As soon as we enter the temple we find ourselves in front of the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Nara sitting with its impressive 15 meters high. The Daibutsu is also flanked by two Bodhisattvas.
On one side is another of the elements that most attract tourists, a column with a hole in its base the size of one of the Daibutsu’s nostrils. Legend has it that whoever passes through will be blessed with enlightenment. Children usually have no difficulty getting through, but adults sometimes get stuck and need help getting out. Needless to say, we didn’t even try, I think I couldn’t even get my head around it.
Outside the temple is a statue of Binzuru-sonja (Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja) sitting in the lotus position. It is said that if you rub the parts of your body where you have an illness or injury, it heals you thanks to it.
From here we walked towards the station. We passed the Kōfuku-ji Temple (興福寺). Established in the year 669 by Kagami-no-Ōkimi (鏡大君), the wife of Fujiwara no Kamatari, wishing her husband’s recovery from illness. The temple is the national headquarters of the Hossō school.
Of course, the main hall was completely covered by works and access to its interior was closed.
It had gotten quite late so we decided to eat at a nearby Coco curry house, which had a menu in Spanish and was run by a very nice lady.
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Here we have the map with the points we visited in Nara:
With our stomachs full, we walked back to the station to take the train, this time to Osaka. We took the Yamatoji Rapid Service Line at 16:00 and 55 minutes later we got off at Osaka Central Station. From here we got on the metro to the castle. We arrived late and the tower was already closed but you can still walk around the castle grounds, which is a huge park.
Osaka Castle (大阪城) was built beginning in 1583 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi on the site of Hogan-ji Temple.
In 1615, the shōgun Tokugawa Iyeasu destroyed the castle during the Siege of Osaka after he moved the government to Edo (Tokyo). Between 1620 and 1629 it was rebuilt again by the Tokugawa.
In 1868 it was destroyed again during the Boshin War and rebuilt in 1931. Nice story about the tower…
In the park in front of the castle are the two time capsules that were installed during the Universal Exhibition of 1970. One is buried 14 meters underground and will be opened in the year 6970, if the human race is still on earth. , which I highly doubt it the way we’re going. The other is buried at 9 meters and is opened at the beginning of each century. Already in the year 2000 it was opened for the first time.
While sitting on a bench, we noticed that there were many people in the park and the curious thing is that they all went with their heads buried in their mobiles. That night we found out that Pokemon Go had been released that day in Japan and they were all super hooked looking for pokemon.
As night fell, more people began to accumulate but they were occupying positions sitting on one side of the park with their beers and their things. We assumed that something was going to happen. We approached a young couple to see if they spoke any English to ask what was going on… They didn’t understand a thing, but we had a laugh. We decided to wait a while. After a while, a fireworks festival began, which we would later discover was for the Tenjin Matsuri. At that moment, after our reaction to seeing the fireworks, the couple realized what we had asked a while before and we laughed again for a while.
From the castle we went to see the night of Dōtonbori (道頓堀) and its grotesque restaurant facades. It is the largest shopping and tourist center in Osaka. It is a shopping street that runs alongside the Dōtonbori River Canal from the Dōtonboribashi Bridge to the Nipponbashi Bridge.
Since we were already a little hungry, we bought some takoyakis at a street stall. The takoyakis are like some kind of octopus croquettes accompanied by sauce and dried bonito flakes that are to die for.
The most striking of Dōtonbori are the illuminated signs and the signs of the restaurants. The classic among classics is the Glico poster, which shows a long-distance runner on a blue running track and the Osaka skyline. The original sign was installed in 1935 and was then 33 meters high. After several signs throughout all these years, the current one was installed in 2014 and it measures 20 meters.
From the Ebisu bridge you will see a lot of people goofing around taking photos imitating the runner. We, as good foreigners, also did it, of course, but I keep those photos to myself.
Along the canal there was a boat going through it with a bunch of guys yelling that it was part of the Tenjin Matsuri.
We took a little festive walk freaking out with the facades of the restaurants and we returned to Kyoto before the bus services ran out.
Here we have the map with the places we visited in Osaka:
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Upon arrival in Kyoto we stop to admire the illumination of the Kyoto Tower, which makes it really beautiful at night. The tower was inaugurated in 1964 and is 131 meters high.
We don’t get up too early today. We had time to visit the Sentō Imperial Palace (仙洞御所). To do this, we took bus 202 to the stop closest to the south entrance of the Kyoto Gyoen gardens, where we got off about 20 minutes later.
To enter the palace, we had made a reservation through the official website about two months before. We pass a check and a search and wait. The visit is guided in Japanese, but they put at your disposal an audio guide in English.
Sentō Imperial Palace (仙洞御所) was built on the occasion of Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s retirement in the early 17th century. In 1854 the palace was reduced to ashes and was not rebuilt again. Today only the gardens and some teahouses that survived the fire are visited.
The gardens are spectacular, although I didn’t find them as spectacular as the ones at Katsura. The bad thing is that it was raining almost all the time and it can’t be seen in good conditions either. A shame.
After the extensive visit, we rushed to Osaka to visit the Kuromon Ichiba market (黒門市場). We got on the 14:13 shinkansen to Shin-Osaka where we got off 15 minutes later to transfer to the Midosuji subway line to the market.
Kuromon Ichiba Market (黒門市場) was founded in 1902 and became a point of reference thanks to its high-quality products. Today, with the rise of tourism, restaurants have been opened and you can even eat at the same stalls.
One of the things we went for was Kobe beef. There was a small meat stall there that had a small iron where you passed the meat. It had all an impressive pintón, and some spectacular prices. We decided on some cutouts he had that were some of the cheapest. It cost us €30 ($36) for 100gr. Now, the meat was to cry. I will never forget that taste.
We also ate a tuna korokke (Japanese croquette), a skewer that was an octopus with the head stuffed with a quail egg, some sushi and a yakitori skewer. As it was already closing time, most of the stalls already had their products on sale and it was much cheaper to eat.
After lunch, we headed to Dotonbori for one last ride and to buy some souvenirs. We discovered the Daiso, shops selling everything at 100 yen where you pee on the strange things they have, like chair socks… I swear.
We took the limited express thunderbird line at 7:23 p.m. to Kyoto, where we took another little walk and went to rest early.
We got up early to take advantage of the last day in Kyoto. We go directly to Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets, traditional streets of Kyoto.
We arrive at the Yasaka Pagoda (八坂の塔), located in the Hōkanji temple (法観寺). Built in 589, it was completely destroyed in 1436. The current building is a reproduction of 1440.
Nearby is the Yasaka Kōshin-dō Temple (八坂庚申堂), a small temple dedicated to Kōshin-san, a nickname of his main object of worship, Shōmen Kongō, a blue guardian warrior, and to the “three wise monkeys”. Kōshin-san is believed to help all those who strive to live, with all their efforts to be good people. It is also thought that he punishes the bad guys. Kukurizaru is a round, ball-shaped talisman made of cloth, representing bona fide monkeys. The temple is tiny but very colorful.
From here we went to visit the Ginkaku-ji Temple (銀閣寺) or silver pavilion. To get there we take bus 100 to the Ginkakuji mae stop.
Ginkaku-ji Temple (銀閣寺) is a Zen Buddhist temple built in 1474 as a retreat for the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. It is said that the shōgun wanted to imitate the Kinkakuji (golden pavilion) temple built by his grandfather by covering it with silver sheets but could not for economic reasons but even so, the name endured. After his death in 1490 it became a Buddhist temple.
Undoubtedly the best known and most spectacular is the dry sand garden next to the Kannonden, the main building, which is very similar to the Kinkakuji temple but made of wood.
The moss garden is also spectacular, with many ponds and small bridges. If we climb to the top of the garden, we can enjoy wonderful views of the enclosure.
The ticket price is 500 yen (€3.88-$4.69).
Leaving the temple we follow the Tetsugaku no michi (哲学の道) or path of the philosopher. This road, about two kilometers long, connects the Gingakuji and Eikan-do temples and runs parallel to the Shishigatani canal. It is very popular during hanami and momiji. The day we were there, the truth is that we didn’t run into anyone, although we really only did a small part of the way.
On the way to the hotel to collect our things, we approached the Otani Hombyo Shrine (大谷本廟) which was right in front of the hotel. Built in 1272, it stands out for the immense cemetery it houses. While there, several people in executive suits approached the main room where a kind of ritual was officiated at them.
We went back for our things to return to Tokyo for the last night.
We bought some bentos to eat on the train and got on the Hikari shinkansen at 13:33. A little less than three hours later we arrived at Tokyo Central Station where we transferred to the Komachi Shinkansen to Ueno Station, a journey of only 5 minutes.
Here we have the map with the points we visited in Kyoto on those days:
We went straight to the hotel. That last night we took the Ueno Touganeya hotel, very close to the station. It was quite expensive for us since we couldn’t find anything cheaper that was decent near the shinkansen station, €91 ($110). It was, as usual, a room that could only fit the bed against the three walls, but it was very clean and well laid out. And we even had yukatas.
We left our things and went for a walk around Ueno and then we went to Akihabara to say goodbye to the Japanese night.
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Last day in Japan and we had to take advantage of it. We got up early and went to post some postcards at a post office near the hotel.
From here we took the Yamanote line and went to Shidome. We go to the nearby headquarters of the television network NTV to see the Ghibli clock.
The Ghibli clock is a must-see for all fans of the world of anime from studios Ghibli. Its author is Hayao Miyazaki and it was installed in 2006. The clock is beautiful and if you can go to the show that it does several times a day you will freak out, especially at night.
From Shiodome Station we take the subway Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station to visit Tsukiji Market, the largest fish market in the world.
In 2016 the visit to the fish auction had been very restricted to visitors so getting in early (starts at 5.30 in the morning) for nothing, of course not.
We were walking through the narrow alleys of the outer market, full, above all, of food stalls and utensils. In 2018 it closed for good and moved to the nearby Toyosu Market although the outdoor market stalls and restaurants are still in Tsukiji.
After the walk we approach the nearby Tsukiji Hongwan-ji temple (築地本願寺).
Tsukiji Hongwan-ji Buddhist Temple (築地本願寺) is a branch temple of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha denomination, commonly known as Nishi Hongwanji, of which the Mother Temple, or Honzan, is located in Kyoto.
Its construction dates back to the year 1617 when Junnyo Shonin established a temple in Yokoyama-cho near Asakusa in Edo. In the year 1657 a fire destroyed the temple but the feudal lord Edo Bakufu denied permission to rebuild it on the same site but he gave the land where it is currently located.
During the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 the temple was again destroyed. It was rebuilt in stone between 1931 and 1934, this time in an Indian style.
In the main hall there is a standing image of Amida Buddha signifying that the Buddha is actively at work in all of us. The golden altar is really spectacular and, in addition, there is air conditioning in the hall, so we took the opportunity to rest a bit in the cool.
After the well-deserved rest, we walked along a large avenue towards the Kabuki-za theater (歌舞伎座). Along the way we came across a small but saturated craft shop that made woodenware and we took the opportunity to buy some handmade chopsticks (which I still use) for ourselves and to give away.
The Kabuki-za Theater (歌舞伎座) was built in 1889 by Genichiro Fukuchi and is the main kabuki theater in Japan. Kabuki theater is the traditional Japanese theater dating back to the Edo Era. In 1921 it was destroyed by fire. In 1922 the reconstruction began but it could not be finished because the great earthquake of 1923 once again destroyed what had already been done. In 1924 it was rebuilt again but, again, it was destroyed during the bombings of the Second World War. In 1950 it was raised again with the same design of 1924 to be demolished once more in 2010 to be raised again as it is today in 2013 with the new anti-seismic measures. Nice story.
We return to the market area to find a place to eat good fresh sushi. Those around it seemed to us to be too touristy. Walking down an alley we saw several guys who looked like workers go through a small door. We decided to investigate. The small door opened onto some narrow and somewhat seedy stairs that led down to a small, quite simple place where there were many Japanese eating. We decided to stay. The menu was only in Japanese but it had photos so we pointed out what we thought was appetizing.
What to say about the food… I think it’s the best sushi I’ve ever eaten and even today I think it still is. And also relatively cheap, around 900 yen a plate (7€-8.45$).
By the way, it’s called Totobe and it doesn’t appear on google maps but I have it well kept in my head. If you want to get there… ask me.
We leave extremely happy and go to Tokyo Central Station to reserve seats on the Narita Express. We took advantage and ate dessert, a kind of bun filled (very filled) with cream that was brutal. In 2018 we went back looking for him, but unfortunately, he was no longer there.
We returned to Ueno where we took one last walk and went to the hotel to get our things.
At 18:33 we took the Narita Express and an hour later we got off at Terminal 1 of the airport. The flight took off for Dubai on time at 10:00 p.m., arriving in Madrid on July 29 at around 1:35 p.m.
Review of the trip.
What to say about the trip. A dream come true and it does not disappoint. The people and their incredible kindness, their culture, a mixture of the traditional and the modern, the landscapes, the gastronomy… all spectacular. The only downside, the heat and humidity of summer. My partner was not convinced at all and came back totally in love and wanting to return. We will be back (we did in 2018) and not just one more time.