Day 5: Intro to Kyoto (京都)
Although Shinjuku station is so massive and seems to be the central transportation hub, the shinkansens (bullet trains) do not stop there. Just when I thought there could not be a crazier place than Shinjuku station, here comes Tokyo station. If you want to feel like a bee who lost its way and ended up deep in another hive during honey season, then visit this station. I didn’t take photos because I had to struggle with luggage, dodge people from all directions, and use all of my brain to locate my train (signs aren’t always straightforward) with little time. But once you arrive at the right platform (Tokaido line [東海道 新幹線] bound to Shin-Osaka station [(新大阪 駅]) and see your bullet train arrive, its smooth sailing from there. Just 2 hours and 40 minutes to Kyoto; the old capital city of Japan. Make sure to get a seat on the right side to get that Mt Fuji (富士山) view.
After a high-speed ride with views of several cities and towns, you’ll arrive at Kyoto station; a monster train station with a 14 floor mall and a maze of platforms. It took me 2 days to get familiar with the layout of the station. I recommend staying at the Sakura Terrace Gallery hotel since isnt so expensive and just 2 blocks away from Kyoto station. It’s ideal to use as home base and serves great food for breakfast or dinner. So just like Tokyo, it’s not hard to lose your way when walking around. Kyoto tower (I realize my photo of it is quite blurry, sorry) dominates the sky since there aren’t high buildings in Kyoto, so it can be used as a reference point for Kyoto station. After a quick check-in, it was time to explore.
Since there weren’t any trains that led to our first destination, we just cabbed it (2-3 miles) to the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺); a buddhist temple that is located on a hill. By the way, a bit of Japanese will help greatly when requesting something or asking for something, like directions in a taxi.
I couldn’t tell you much about the history of Kiyomizu-dera but it definitely was the place to be during that Saturday. So many people (both locals and foreigners) walking up the shopping streets and on the temple grounds. It was a bad place for selfies but ideal for photo-bombing. Once you get through the paths of shops, you pass the Niomon (仁王門) gate.
After the Asakusa pagoda fail (covered in scaffolding) during the day before, it was good to finally be up close with a huge pagoda; Sanjunoto (三重塔) 3-story pagoda.
And since the path eventually leads to the peak of the hill, you get great views of Kyoto. It is here when you realize that Kyoto is surrounded by mountains.
Once at the top, you simply work your way back toward the entrance of Kiyomizu.
From Kiyomizu-dera’s entrance, it’s about a 20 minute walk through Higashiyama (東山) to Kodaiji temple. You’ll immediately notice that the streets are narrow and barely enough space for cars. You have to be mindful of cars at all times. The cab driver told us that Kyoto’s roads were designed a long time ago, when horses were the cars, which explains the street width. It has a totally different feel than Tokyo.
Kodaiji (高台寺) temple grounds has nice gardens and a huge buddha statue (even a nice little bamboo tree walkway). Well, we couldn’t get in because it closed by the time we got there. Keep in mind that some places close 5pm sharp. But no worries, Kyoto is full of temples. Just a few blocks away, and boom, the 5-story Hokanji (法観寺) pagoda.
A few blocks west bound via Yasaka Dori will lead you to the Kenninji (建仁寺) temple grounds. Sakura (cherry blossoms) are already starting to bloom and its only February.
Walking north through Kenninji will eventually lead you to Gion; the geisha district. Many restaurants are right around Shijo Dori. Once you cross the bridge, the scene will start to resemble Tokyo somewhat with crowds, lights, and shopping. And right by the water is a strip of restaurants called Pontocho (先斗町).
We were in the mood for sushi again and came across the Chojiro restaurant just 2 blocks away from the bridge. The sushi was very oishii (tasty). Similar to Genki sushi, you just click which sushi you want on an Ipad and the food gets sent to your table quickly. I miss it already.
The Kyoto subway system is a bit simpler than Tokyo’s subway system. It’s fortunate that the Suica cards (just like a NYC metro card) can be used in Kyoto as well. Just a few stops to Kyoto station from Kawaramachi station.