I LOVE JAPAN. Love, in the truest sense of the word, is even an understatement in expressing how much I fell in love with Japan, all things Japanese, its extremely beautiful country, and of course, their kind people. I will go back to Japan in a heartbeat.
Japan has always been a dream destination for both Pao and I. And for summer, we found the perfect timing, perfect opportunity, and all the heavenly blessings to pursue this trip… and we found ourselves LIVING THE DREAM: 8 days in Japan, 7 cities, unlimited shinkansen (bullet train rides), and BEST VACATION SO FAR!
What better way to introduce us to the land of the rising sun but to visit Kyoto, in Central Japan, teeming with its rich culture marked by its imperial past, definitely making it reminiscent of Old Japan.
Upon arriving the previous night in Osaka, we commenced with a shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Osaka to Shin-Osaka to Kyoto. And from there, the adventure began! Yes, we got lost most of the time because of the language barrier and inability to read Japanese writings, but it was okay because it’s part of the fun! Japanese people is perhaps one of the most helpful beings in the planet! They would really stop what they are doing despite their constant on-the-go disposition just to help in directing seemingly aimless strangers get to their destination.
AND, commuting never felt so convenient. Just look at how efficient we were in covering all these destinations in a span of one day, this is a reflection of how efficient their train systems are! THANK YOU JR lines and JR pass!
And soooo… our adventure began!
1. FUSHIMI INARI
We started with Fushimi Inari Shrine, a Shinto shrine, famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates, in devotion to their god of rice, Inari. It is not just an ordinary Shinto shrine, but it is the most important Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari. The experience in itself was refreshing as I observed how they communed with their god and led me to reflect as to how tranquil and unhurried their prayers were, in a very cathartic way. Something we should all be doing with utmost mindfulness when we pray.
Getting there: Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan
After a Shinto temple, we visited a Zen Temple completely covered in gold, Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji basically means “the Golden Pavillion”. It is called as such as its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
Kinkakuji was built initially as a residence to show how extravagant the culture of the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto during the old times, especially that it formerly became a retirement villa of the shogun. Later on, it was converted into a zen temple. Upon admiring its luxurious elegance, the gold was so bright it was so hard to look at it as the sun reflected its magnificent splendor!
Getting there: (Option A)Take JR Sagano Line (local train) from Kyoto Station to Enmachi Station. From Enmachi Station, take bus 204 or 205 heading North to Kinkakuji. (Option B) Kinkakuji can be accessed from Kyoto Station by direct Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 220 yen to Kinkaku-ji Michi Bus Stop.
Address: 1 Kinkakuji-chō, Kita-ku, Kyōto, Kyoto Prefecture
Admission: 400 JPY
3. NIJO CASTLE
Next on our list was the Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle was built as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo period. It eventually became an imperial palace and was later on donated to the city and became a historical site. Japan Guide describes Nijo Castle, “Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.”
Upon exploring the castle, the floor was extremely squeaky making every footstep audible. Photography was not allowed inside, so we did not have any photos showing how the interiors of the castle looked like. I learned that the castle installed nightingale floors as a security measure to protect them from dangerous people like the ninjas from intruding. Pao and I had a grand time pretending to be like ninjas wanting to intrude. But in the end, the nightingale floors succeeded as every step we made could pretty much lead to our arrest (as fake ninjas who are incapable of having discreet movements).
Outside the Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle is the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden. And yes, in the lovely grounds of the Nijo Castle were the lovely cherry blossom trees–which encapsulates the pink perfection of a Japanese spring!!! And yes, I fell in love… with the trees and its beautiful blossoms, the Japanese sakura.
Getting there: (Option A) Subway: Kitaoji station then head to Karasumaoike station then head to Nijojo-mae station (subway)
(Option B) Bus: Kinkakuji-michi then alight in Nijojo-mae (city bus 12, 101)
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan
Admission: 600 JPY
4. PHILOSOPHER’S PATH
Walking a good 6 kilometers never felt so leisurely as we took a stroll down the Philosopher’s Path also known as Philosopher’s Walk, a path which was named after a Kyoto University philosophy professor, Nishida Kitaro, who used it for his daily meditation. Who can resist its beauty as it is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. “The Philosopher’s Path is a classic walk in Kyoto that connects several ancient temples via a meandering paved trail. It combines visits to three magnificent temples.”
What to see in Philosopher’s Path:
a. Ginkaku-ji Temple: Ginkaku (the Silver Pavilion) and Togu-do buildings are national treasures. The garden is designated as a national special landscape.
b. Eikan-Do: Eikan-do is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan’s Jodo shu (Pure land) Buddhist sect.
c. Nanzen-Ji Temple: a 5-10 minute walk north of the Nanzen-Ji temple buildings
Getting There: (Option A) Take bus 204 to Ginkakuji
(Option B): Take the subway to Keage and take a taxi
(Option C): Take the subway to Higashiyama and switch to the bus # 100 at the intersection of Higashiyama-Sanjo.
(Ginkakuji Temple ~ Nijo Castle (City Bus <102, 203>↔transfer at Horigawa Imadegawa↔<9, 12, 101>)
Later on, after finishing the whole stretch of the Philosopher’s Path, we found ourselves in Gion, Kyoto’s Geisha District. We’ve seen a handful of Geisha’s around this area, but I failed to take photos of them because they moved really quick intercepting anyone who would take their photos. Or maybe they were just late for work?
Because during the night, lots of guests filled the extremely expensive restaurants which was highlighted by the Geisha’s traditional performances and tea ceremonies. Of course, we did not dare to enter one because the restaurants offered a meal for a fee of 10,000 JPY at a minimum. Clearly, that’s out of our budget.
(Option A) 30 minute walk from Nanzen-Ji Temple
(Option B) Take Bus 46
(Option C) Take Tozai Subway and Keihan Main Line from Keage Station via Sanjo Station to Gion-Shijo Station located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka
6. MARUYAMA PARK
To cap off the amazing day 1 in Japan, we decided to enter Yasaka Shrine, which was loaded with lots of Japanese street food we did not resist to try!
We strolled around the Maruyama Park, characterized by its huge weeping cherry tree, as lots of Japanese set up their hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties) under the tree, drinking towards inebriation. We would’ve wanted to try, but we might not be able to head home in one piece if we did so! Hehe. But it looked really fun observing the Japanese youngsters celebrate hanami as we observed their genuine happiness!
Getting there: Walk from Gion
TO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Yes it was beyond true, beyond imaginable, beyond amazing. In a nutshell, what transpired during this day was what I had imagined it to be. It was amazing beyond words, and I will always recall beautiful memories of Japan and wait until I can come back again, and again, and again. I love you, Japan.