Japan 2018: Kyoto – Miyajima – Okayama – Osaka

We continue with our second trip to Japan.

July 19th

Early morning and the train station. We take the shinkansen back to Kyoto at 9:08 in the morning. At 9.45 we arrive and we go directly to the hotel to see if we could leave our things. The chosen one was the Orient Gojozaka, where we stayed for a week in 2016. It is very well priced and is a small apartment with a kitchen, a desktop PC in the room with internet connection and, most importantly, a washer and dryer.

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Upon arrival at the accommodation, at reception they told us that there was already a room ready that if we wanted to check-in now. Marvelous! We settled in and went to Kodai-ji Temple (高台寺).

The Kodai-ji Temple (高台寺 ) is located in Higashiyama next to the Ryozen Kannon temple and is one of the essential temples in Kyoto. It was founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro as a memory of her husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Despite the heat, a very pleasant walk through its gardens is made, visiting the many pavilions of the temple and its small bamboo forest.

As soon as we leave the temple we find the Kodai-ji Sho museum (高台寺掌美術館), a small museum with old items and paintings. It is very curious and with air conditioning.

At the exit we went for a walk through the neighborhood until we reached a bus stop where we took one to the Heian Shrine (平安神宮). This sanctuary is another of the essentials of Kyoto, especially for the well-known and gigantic entrance Torii.

Despite the heat, a very pleasant walk through its gardens is made, visiting the many pavilions of the temple and its small bamboo forest.

As soon as we leave the temple we find the Kodai-ji Sho museum (高台寺掌美術館), a small museum with old items and paintings. It is very curious and with air conditioning.

At the exit we went for a walk through the neighborhood until we reached a bus stop where we took one to the Heian Shrine (平安神宮). This sanctuary is another of the essentials of Kyoto, especially for the well-known and gigantic entrance Torii.

The Shinto shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the city of Heiankyō, to honor Emperor Kammu as the kami, or god of the city. There was a part under construction but you could see most of it (from shadow to shadow).

After the hot walk we went straight to eat at Ramen Miyako restaurant, which, as its name suggests, is a ramen restaurant. We discovered it in 2016 by chance and it’s possibly the best ramen I’ve ever had, so we have no hesitation in going back. You may have to queue but it’s worth it.

On the way out we ate some kakigori, traditional ice creams at the Cha-Cha ice cream parlor very close to the hotel.

After the refreshing break, we took the JR San-in Line from Kyoto Station to Sagano-Arashiyama Station. We wanted to see the Arashiyama Monkey Park which in 2016 we had to discard due to lack of time. Bad luck was upon us and it closed at 4:30 p.m. and there was barely half an hour left, so we have to leave it for a future trip.

We dedicated ourselves to walking through the area contemplating the Togetsu-Kyo Bridge (渡月橋), built in the Jowa period (834-848) is the most famous bridge in Arashiyama, which crosses the Katsura River. From it you can perfectly contemplate the change of seasons during the year, from the momiji to the cherry blossoms.

We continue the pleasant walk through the area until we end up at the Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺), one of the essentials of Kyoto. Built in 1339, it is one of the 5 most important Rinzai in Kyoto. It is next to the Arashiyama bamboo forest and is perfect to combine both visits. We arrived after hours and the pavilions were closed but access to the temple grounds was open. The enclosure is wonderful and has spectacular views of the mountains.

Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺)

After the visit we took the train back. We went up to the roof of Kyoto station, which has truly spectacular views.

Kyoto Tower

It was starting to be dinner time so we took a bus to Pontocho. There we ate some noodles in a place that we discovered in 2016. A place that, despite being in the heart of tourism, is very cheap and quite shabby and we discovered it because there were only workers eating inside. I couldn’t say the name since the sign is in Japanese and it’s not on google maps. On maps you can locate it because it is next to a bar called “moon walk Shijo Kiyamachi”. Here I leave a photo of the restaurant entrance.

The place is very small, barely 7 or 8 people can fit in, but it is worth waiting a bit because they are delicious.

After filling our stomachs, we took a walk through Pontocho and Gion and took the opportunity to see the Yasaka Sanctuary at night, which is spectacular. From there to the accommodation taking a walk to go to bed early because the next day we had to get up early and a hard day awaited us.

Along the way we discovered a large supermarket called Fresco. It was very cheap and open 24 hours. As it was very late, I already had many discounted products. We took the opportunity to buy breakfast for the next day, several sweets that were greatly reduced because they expired the next day.

July 20th

Today is hiking. We do the route that connects the villages of Kibune with Kurama, in the mountains of northern Kyoto.

We got up very early and went to the Kiyomizu-Gojō station, which is the closest to the accommodation. There we took the private Keihan Main Line to Demachiyanagi station where we changed to the Eizan Main Line (also private) to Kibuneguchi station. In total about 45 min of travel and 700 yen (€5.63). As good foreigners, we are wrong about the price. As soon as we got off at the station, a company employee asked us for our ticket and sent another man to pay the difference. As it was basically a halt, there was no price adjustment machine like in other stations.

From the station we took a walk (you can get there by bus) to the Kifune-jinja Shrine (貴船神社). It’s about 2 km but the walk through the forest is very pleasant and at that time it wasn’t (yet) too hot, although it wasn’t too good vibes to see signs warning of bears along the way.

The Kifune-jinja Shrine (貴船神社), founded in the year 1055 and is dedicated to Takaokami no Kami, god of water.

In summer, in the surroundings of the temple along the river, numerous restaurants are installed on its shore. We couldn’t take advantage of them because it was too early to eat.

The temple is nestled in a truly spectacular wooded environment and it is 100% recommended to visit it, in addition, admission is free. There we bought some omikuji or fortune papers that became visible with the water, you had to put the paper on the water of the stream that passed through the temple and the message appeared in Japanese, but, very modern, it had a QR code on it. the one who gave you the English translation.

After visiting the shrine, we set off towards Kurama. To do it we have to go to the red bridge and when we cross it we find the Nishi no mon (西の門) entrance gate, where you have to pay 300 yen (€2.41) to enter the route.

From there begins a good set of stairs through the lush forest, which becomes hard with the heat and humidity but is spectacular.

After a long time climbing the stairs, we arrive at a landing where the Oku-no-in Mao-den (奥の院魔王殿) temple is located. There are some benches where we sit down to rest a bit. While they were sitting down I took out a small fan that connects to the mobile and on the next bench there were two gentlemen (quite old) who began to laugh at me. And it only occurs to me to tell them in Spanish: “what you have is envy.” I think they imagined what I told them because the four of us began to laugh out loud.

Oku-no-in Mao-den (奥の院魔王殿)

We continue up a bit more and arrive at the small temple Sōjō-ga-dani Fudō-dō (僧正ガ谷不動堂) dedicated to Fudo, one of the Buddhist gods of light. There we rest a little bit to continue climbing a little more.

We pass through the famous walk of the cedar roots (Kinone-michi (木の根道)) and begin the descent passing through the Jizo-do temple (地蔵堂), with beautiful views, and the natural water source Ushiwakamaru no chikaramizu (牛 若丸の力水) which was very fresh. And leaving behind some warnings to watch out for bears, snakes and giant hornets.

Going down a little more, we arrive at the Kurama-dera Temple (鞍馬寺), the main visit on the route. The temple was founded by one of the disciples of the Chinese monk Ganjin. During the Heian period it was a very popular temple. It belonged to Tendai Buddhism for a long time, but in 1949 it was established as an independent temple of the Kurama Buddhist school.

The visit must be taken with time because the temple is beautiful and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. From its viewpoint you can see the wooded sea that surrounds the temple.

There we made a good stop on the way. We bought some cookies and soft drinks and rested taking advantage of the haven of peace that was the complex (at least that day).

Kurama-dera Temple (鞍馬寺)
Views from the temple

We continued descending calmly towards Kurama although already a little lighter since it was almost 4 in the afternoon and my stomach was beginning to complain.

We arrived at Kurama and we found a big problem: the few places to eat were closed and there were no combins or anything. And now that? Well, hold on until you get to Kyoto, because before you had a bath in the open-air onsen of Kurama.

Kurama Tengu

To get to the onsen you can walk about 15 minutes, or take a free shuttle bus from the train station parking lot that runs every 10 minutes. We chose the second option since with the heat and an empty stomach things were complicated.

In the Onsen you can use the entire bath for 2,500 yen (€20.11) or just the outdoor bath (rotenburo) for 1,000 yen (€8). If you stay at the ryokan, admission is free. We choose the rotenburo.

Before entering there is a booth where you pay 1,000 yen (€8). Right there you can take some towels so there is no need to carry them from home. The small face towels are 300 yen (€2.41) and you can keep them, and the big ones are 400 yen (€3.20) and those are rented, you have to return them.

The bathrooms are spectacular. In the middle of the forest with stunning views of the surrounding forest. In winter with the snow it has to be a real blast. The only “downside” is that it is very touristy and there were too many western tourists (like us hahaha).

Entrance to the rotenburo

About an hour and a half later we decided to go back to Kyoto for an early dinner that we still hadn’t eaten.

A little shower and a walk along Shijo-dori street and through its shotengai and a dinner based on grilled eel in a Sukiya. And soon to bed you had to get up early again.

July 21st

Today we played a destination that we already visited in 2016 but that we lacked things to see. It’s so impressive that you had to go back: Miyajima.

It is an island south of Hiroshima in the Seto Inland Sea. Known for its impressive floating Torii at Itsukushima Shrine.

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We got up very early and took the shinkansen at 8 in the morning. At 9:56 we arrived in Hiroshima and changed to the Sanyo line (via Iwakuni) which left at 10:15 and arrived at Miyajimaguchi station at 10:43. We passed a combini on the way to the ferry and got on the JR ferry (included in the JR Pass) at 10:55. At certain times of the day, the outward journey of the ferry is lengthened a bit and passes by the great Torii to be able to admire and photograph it.

As we got off the ferry we went directly to the ryokan where we were going to sleep that night. The chosen one was the Sakuraya hotel, very close to the ferry station. Very comfortable and with a very simple onsen but, like all, it is a great pleasure.

We left our things and ran towards the Daishō-in temple (大聖院). One of the most important temples of the Shingon Buddhist sect. The temple area is very large and with many stairs, but you can walk very well under the shade of the trees, visiting the different buildings. I would say that it is a must visit in Miyajima.

After visiting the temple, it was time for the main visit for which we had returned to Miyajima two years later: climbing Mount Misen.

We headed for the cable car but, instead of going through the town, we went through the Momijidani park enjoying the scenery. The price of the cable car is 1,000 yen (€8) one way and 1,800 yen (€14.40) round trip.

Already along the way we anticipated that the excursion was going to be surprising. We first got on a tiny four-seater cable car in which only the two of us were going. The views from this first cable car were truly wonderful, through the lush forest of the island.

Halfway there we changed to a larger cable car and in which we were going at least 10 people from which part of the Seto Inland Sea could be seen and they were giving information in Japanese through a loudspeaker. A real past.

The cable car leaves us at an information center where there are drink machines (of course) and a restaurant (not expensive) with incredible views.

Outside the center, there are several viewpoints to admire the very very cool views of the Seto Sea.

From here, we begin the climb on foot to the top of Mount Misen. The path is almost all a path with quite irregular steps but relatively simple and very beautiful. On google it says that it takes about 20 minutes but, I don’t know if because of the heat, it took us about an hour.

On the way we pass by the Misen Hondo Hall, where Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, stayed for 100 days to meditate. During those days, through an ascetic ceremony, he lit a fire by burning goma-gi. That flame lives on to this day 1,200 years later in the Reikado hall. With that same flame the flame of peace in Hiroshima was lit.

The hall is also known as the sanctuary of lovers because of the eternal flame that symbolizes eternal love.

Misen Hondo Hall

After a little rest in the shade and a bottle of cold water, we continue up to the top passing through the Sankido hall, dedicated to three ogres with wisdom, fortune and exorcism; but also to home security and business prosperity.

On the way we pass through the Kannondo and Monjudo halls. The first to promote easy childbirth and the second to succeed in studies.

A little further up we pass the Fudo-iwa rock, where there is a statue of Fudo Myoo, protector of the Shingon Buddhist sect, and the Kuguri-iwa rock, which forms an arch through which you have to go through to continue the path.

A little further up we finally reached the top of the mountain. There is a viewpoint from which there are truly spectacular 360º views. You can see the Seto Inland Sea, the coast of Honsu and even the city of Hiroshima. In addition, in the viewpoint there are bathrooms, wifi and a small information desk. It was really worth going up.

We rested for a while in the viewpoint to the shade and we got ready to go down. For this we decided to do the whole tour on foot. Despite being down, it is quite hard, since there are about 3 kilometers in which almost all the time is going down stairs. We ended up with busted knees. But the trail is wonderful, you come across a temple and some charming little corners with a bench so you can rest admiring the views.

Throughout the trail, as in other hiking trails we had done in Japan, there were signs warning that there were poisonous snakes, deadly poisonous Mamushi vipers. Rigorous photo and walk. It’s all laughter and joy until you come across one and shit yourself, and instead of standing still and waiting for it to happen as they tell you, you jump up and run.

With the scare in the body you keep going down. When you start to calm down after a while PAM! Other. On this occasion, already psyched up, if we stay still to wait for him to leave. So as advice, pay attention and be careful.

Approximately after an hour and a half we reach the town. It was almost 4 in the afternoon and we still hadn’t eaten. It was difficult to find an open place to eat at that time but after trying several restaurants, we finally managed to eat a katsudon and a tonkatsu chicken.

After eating we checked in at the ryokan and took our first relaxing bath in the onsen. Very quiet since at that time it was empty.

After the bath we went for a walk and to watch the sunset with the great Torii. This time we coincided with high tide, unlike when we were in 2016.

It is a truly spectacular sunset. It is said that it is one of the most beautiful in the world and, for the moment, it is the most beautiful that I have seen.

After dark, we took the ferry to buy some dinner in a combini next to the station and on the way we went back.

We ate quietly and went for a night walk. At night the town breathes absolute tranquility. Without cars and only with some tourists who spent the night on the island like us. What a pity that the night ended because it was a magical walk, but you had to get up early. After the night walk, a last bath in the onsen of the ryokan, and to rest.

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July 22nd

It was time to get up early again. We took the 8.40 ferry and at 9.09 the JR Sanyo line to Hiroshima. There we changed to the shinkansen at 9.54. It was going to burst and we had to sit separately in different carriages, but since the destination was Okayama 40 minutes away, it wasn’t much of a problem either.

At 10:34 we arrived in Okayama. We left our bags in a locker at the station that cost us 700 yen (€5.60) and we got on the tram to the crow, the black castle of Okayama (岡山城). Then we found out that we could have saved a few yen and walked since it was so close.

We got off the tram and took a nice walk along the banks of the Asahi River to the castle complex.

Okayama Castle, called the crow because of the black color of the building, was built in 1597 by order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Over the years it deteriorated and some of its 35 towers fell due to lack of maintenance.

During the bombings of the Second World War, almost everything that was left standing burned. Of the original building, only the foundations, parts of the wall and the observation tower of the moon remain. The main tower that can be visited today was rebuilt in 1966.

After visiting the castle, we went back (this time on foot) to the train station. We got on the shinkansen at 12:35. We reached shin-Osaka 49 minutes later and went directly to the hotel. It was difficult for us to find it since the wrong address came in booking and without data on the mobile … After about half an hour walking around we found it. It is the APA Hotel Higashi Umeda Minami Morimachi Ekimae. Recently inaugurated and, in addition, with breakfast included. Like almost all the hotels in which we have stayed in Japan on the two trips, the room is small but very clean and even elegant.

We left our things and rested a bit while I searched the internet for a place to eat. The chosen one was a small okonomiyaki restaurant called Yukari tensan in a shotengai near the hotel. As soon as you enter, you have to take off your shoes and leave your shoes at the entrance. The okonomiyaki was really spectacular, it was quite a discovery. The meal cost us 2,420 yen (€19.38) for two okonomiyakis and a beer.

After eating we walked through the shotengai towards the Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine (大阪天満宮) shrine. A famous (and touristy) Shinto shrine dedicated to Sugawara Michizane built in 1845. We coincided with the Tenjin festival, one of the most famous in Japan that is celebrated from the end of June to July 25. In fact, we were able to see a small female “procession” carrying a small throne through the shotengai the next day.

Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine (大阪天満宮)

We took a short walk around the shrine and took the subway to Ebisuchō station for a night walk through the Shinsekai (新世界) neighborhood. Osaka’s entertainment district par excellence, with the Tsutenkaku tower (通天閣) as its flag, with its 103 meters is one of the symbols of the city.

The Tsutenkaku Tower (通天閣), was built in 1912 as part of an amusement park. In 1943 a serious fire left it badly damaged and it was dismantled and rebuilt in 1956 by the Hitachi company.

After World War II, Shinsekai gradually deteriorated to become the most dangerous and poorest area in all of Japan. It seems that it is still considered dangerous but we did not think so, at least the area of the tower and the restaurants. It is very curious to walk through its lively streets full of restaurants with impressive ornate facades to attract the attention of passers-by.

After an exhausting walk among so many people, we decided to go to the Dotonbori area for a night walk in the area and have dinner at a restaurant that we had booked online.

We had dinner at a small teppanyaki restaurant that serves Kobe beef. It’s called Wanomiya and I can’t say the price since it was a birthday gift they gave me. We took two menus and the meat was to cry. What a delicious thing. The cook was giving us advice on how to eat it, it was spectacular even the vegetables. Will have to go back.

After dinner we took another little walk around Dotonbori and went back to sleep.

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July 23rd

Today is excursion. We got up very early and as we had breakfast included in the hotel, we took a good look at the buffet and left for the station.

At 8.25 we got on the train to Shin-Osaka and there we changed to the shinkansen at 8.39 to Himeji, where we arrived at 9.15 in the morning. At the station there was a small exhibition about the Nada No Kenka Matsuri (held in October). In it you can see some photographs and one of the thrones that they take out during the festival.

We left the station and walked along the avenue that leads to Himeji Castle (姫路城). It is a small walk of 1 km. and it can be done quietly on foot.

Himeji Castle (姫路城), was the first place in all of Japan to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site. It is one of the 12 original castles that remain in Japan and is one of the most spectacular in the country. It is worth dedicating a morning to explore it.

After spending the morning visiting Himeji castle we went back to Osaka to take the train to Kii-Katsuura.

That day the heat was really unbearable, waiting for the train to Kii-Katsuura we were on the verge of collapse, infernal heat on the platform and the station hall had no air conditioning. Later, when we hooked up Wi-Fi, whatsapp messages began to arrive from Spain that if we were okay, that they had seen that we were in Japan in the middle of a heat wave and that on that particular day, the highest temperatures in the history of Japan had been recorded, and it was in Osaka as well. It really was hell. To make matters worse, the train that had to leave at 5:23 p.m. was almost half an hour late.

The train finally arrived and, what a thing, it was a panda bear! The train was almost empty and air conditioned. As soon as we get on and before sitting down, to change our clothes and clean up a bit to travel as comfortable as possible. We had 4 hours of rest in the cool until our destination. Although we were somewhat worried when we saw the instructions on what to do in the event of a tsunami in the seat pocket. Of course, explained by a panda bear.

Around 9:30 p.m. we arrived at Kii-Katsuura. It is a small coastal town, which is the tuna mecca in Japan and, in addition, it is one of the gateways to the Kumano Kodo route, the most important pilgrimage route in Japan. Although the Kumano Kodo is really a network of roads through Japan of about 1,200 km.

As soon as we left the small station we went to the hotel. It’s the Charmant Hotel, a small independent hotel run by a fairly elderly lady who was really lovely. Despite only speaking Japanese, she managed to explain everything to us about the Kumano Kodo route. Where to catch the bus and the line, where to get off, what to visit, where to catch the bus back… She also recommended where to eat the next day. In the fridge she leaves you some juices and water for free and some sweets. In addition, in the afternoon he invites you to a sweet bean soup very typical of the area.

We left our things in the room and went to a nearby familymart to buy some dinner, since everything was closed in the town at that time. The truth is that it seemed like a ghost town and it was not 10 at night.

On the way back, have dinner and go to sleep, it was going to be a hard day.

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