Friday, May 5, 2017

japan 2017: kyoto

Day 3:
We arrived in Kyoto via bullet train early in the afternoon. Fortunately our lodging was less than a 10 minute walk from the train station, so walking around with all our luggage wasn't as painful as it could have been. We stayed at Sanjyotakakura Hibiki Guesthouse both nights we were in Kyoto, and really enjoyed our experience. It was spacious, clean, and we had our own bathroom. Best of all, it was pretty centrally located in terms of being around the things that we wanted to see/do while in Kyoto.

Right outside Sanjyotakakura Hibiki Guesthouse

By the time we dropped off our luggage at the guesthouse and had a second to catch our breath, it was already 3 pm. Since sunset was around 5:30, we had a few decent hours left if we wanted to see anything outside. Most of the indoor things we wanted to experience (mostly museums) closed around 5, so we had to move quick. We headed over to Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan (until the Meiji Restoration in 1869, after which the emperors have stayed in the Tokyo Imperial Palace). Before we went to see the buildings, we walked around Kyoto Gyoen Garden to find even more amazing cherry blossom trees than the ones we had seen in Tokyo. There's definitely a upward trajectory in terms of how amazing the cherry blossom trees were day-by-day on our trip, with the pinnacle being the last day of our trip in Tokyo. But more on that later. The garden here was filled with people picnicking with family and friends under the beautiful, blooming Sakura.

After about 30 minutes of gawking at the gorgeous blooms, we headed over to the palace. Most of the palace was for viewing exclusively from the outside. The palace ended up being a great way to spend the afternoon outdoors and checking one thing off our list.

After heading out of the Imperial Palace, we walked around looking for a coffee shop where we could grab a bite to eat, get some caffeine, and charge our phones. Along the way, we found two shrines, one of which was the Go'o Shrine (which I just now found out is on Atlas Obscura!). We ended the day really early (like in bed by 7pm kind of early) after eating at a cafe we found on our way to the train station. Our goal for the next day was to hit up as many things as we could fit on our list because it would be our last full day in Kyoto.

Day 4:
The next morning, we were up bright and early. Like, I was up at 4 am. We got ready and headed out the door for a full day of things to check off our list. The first stop of the day was our usual breakfast at whatever bakery we found on our way. Next, we hopped on a train and took a ride to one of the sights I was most excited to see and experience on our trip- the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. We walked along the main road in Arashiyama and over the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, which were filled with tourist shops and stalls. There was a small path off the main road that led to the breathtaking bamboo grove. The walk was incredibly crowded but so worth it. The bamboo towered around and over us, and it was incredible to see how tall the plants were. The photos below let this place speak for itself.

Togetsu-kyo bridge

Arashiyama bamboo grove

After walking out of the bamboo grove, we walked down the main street back to the station for the next part of our itinerary. On the way back, we got distracted over and over again by the small shops that lined the street. One of my favorite shops we found was what appeared to be a store exclusively selling handmade plush/stuffed things (I wish I could find this place on Google Maps so I could link it here). I was mesmerized by the hanging plush mobiles they had throughout an entire half of the store. It was incredible to think these were all handmade (and thus really expensive).

By the time we made it to our next stop, it was already after noon. The next place we visited was Sanjūsangen-dō, a Buddhist temple. This temple was first built in 1164, and rebuilt a century later because of a fire. The temple is known for it's 1000 Kannon statues which were constructed from Japanese cypress and covered in golden leaf. The statues are perfectly arranged in 10 rows and 50 columns, and in the middle is a huge statue of the main deity Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara or the Thousand Armed Kannon. There is absolutely no photography allowed once you are inside the temple out of respect to those praying (but a quick Google image search will reveal how vast this collection of statues is).

Outside a market near our Guesthouse

On our walk to Sanjūsangen-dō

After visiting Sanjūsangen-dō, we stopped at the Kyoto National Museum since it was almost just across the street. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for excavations (we never figured out what was being excavated), so we bought tickets to the small garden area where we could rest for a bit and  plan out the rest of the afternoon/evening. The gloomy clouds overhead eventually prompted us to start the 20 minute walk back to the train station, and had successfully convinced us it was time for a quick afternoon nap back at the Guesthouse. After taking a break at the Guesthouse, we awoke in time to meet up with one of my friends from medical school who happened to be in Japan (more specifically, Kyoto) at the same time as we were. To make things an even odder coincidence, we were staying in the same area of Kyoto and our hotels were hardly a 10 minute walk from each other. The three of us met up for dinner and wandered around Kyoto for a good part of the evening, taking in the sights and intermittently complaining about the woes of residency- a very therapeutic combination.

Day 5:
We packed up and checked out of our Guesthouse early the next morning, leaving our luggage at the front desk because we wanted to stop by one last place on our list before heading to Mount Koya. We spent the morning at Fushimi Inari Shrine (Inari is the Shinto god of rice) with the iconic tunnels of orange torii. After watching a prayer, we walked through some of the tunnels up the mountain. The walk in it's entirety reportedly takes 2-3 hours. While I wish we had the time to complete the hike, we made it through a few of the torii gate tunnels after having to turn around so we could make the next leg of our trip (which took about 4-5 hours). We stopped by our Guesthouse one last time to pick up our luggage, and hopped on another train to make it to Osaka and eventually Mount Koya later that evening.

Stay tuned for my next post covering our time in Mount Koya!

Visitors performing Temizu (hand washing)

Foxes can be found throughout Fushimi Inari

Prayers written on torii

Fresh flowers at a train station on our way to Osaka


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