Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kyoto


Yes, almost 3 months have elapsed since this trip. If this surprises you, then you must be a new reader. If so, welcome. :)

My friend Stori and I went to the magical land of Kyoto, Japan, over Lunar New Year. After a relatively painless flight, we made our way to a small guesthouse on the outskirts of Osaka. The highlight of this guesthouse? Kimonos, samurai swords, and the elderly owner who insists that the guests model them.

Please also note the sandals. Samurai training is intense.
Off we went. As we arrived at the train station, we looked at our directions, looked at the subway map, looked back at the directions...mostly, we looked confused. Thankfully, this nice man from New Zealand noticed our plight and gave us some helpful guidance. Off we went.

Beautiful day. Beautiful architecture.
It took three (maybe two? I can't remember) transfers and over two hours, but we finally made it to Kyoto. After lunch, we dropped our things off at J-Hoppers Guesthouse (affordable, comfortable, close to the train station. I'd recommend it).

Maybe it's just the novelty factor, but I love this. Use the vending machine to order your meal. You get a ticket, go to the counter, and give the ticket to the worker. No employee takes money or worries about whether the change is exact or not.

Udon

Kyoto Station

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Kyoto Tower

This mask, and other costume pieces, were at the guesthouse. Hopefully this convinces you to go.
Kyoto is known for its historic shrines and temples (and for good reason...they're everywhere) scattered around the city. We opted to buy a bus pass for the day. It did take a bit longer to get around than the subway, but the subway was, from the reviews we heard, more complex and expensive. The bus pass, on the other hand, was only 500 yen ($5 USD) per day, and you could use a bus within the city limits as many times as you wanted during a given day. Pretty sweet deal!

We wasted no time.

Matsunoo-Taisha






Rainbow sighting

Arashiyama


There were detours. Like that one time we blew right past the Monkey Forest and came back just in time for it to be closed...oh well. It was a pretty nice detour; see for yourself!

Second rainbow sighting




The guy who stayed up here charged us 1000 yen to get to the top. There was no monkey forest (we thought that's what the money was for), but there was a shrine.

Alright, the view wasn't so bad, especially with rainbow sighting number 3.

Random bits and bobs inside the shrine

Back on track, we continued the adventure.

Bamboo Forest



Loved the architecture.



Arashiyama Station

Yasaka Shrine


After a long day, good food, and great sightseeing, we were pretty much beat.

When we woke up, we hightailed it to one of my bucket list destinations: Fushimi Inari.

Picture barrage commencing in 5...4...3...2...1...





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There were certainly hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, of these torii gates. It was truly an inspiring sight.


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I didn't realize it, but the Fushimi Inari is spread over a mountain side. It covers about 4 kilometers of ground, and I certainly didn't mind (I don't think Stori did either).




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Lake break




Apparently they're real pests...the only thing you can do, per this sign, is throw rocks at them. Sadly, we didn't see any.



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Another lake break at the base
It was time for lunch...with a ninja.

Okay, so it was a lunch buffet and a ninja came and did some magic tricks. The lunch was alright, but the magic tricks were awesome.



We reconvened the tour with a trip to the beautiful Kinkakuji Temple.







Getting there took a long time, and we were an hungered.


This, friends, is the rice bowl.
Not pictured: We went to an onsen (bathhouse) to relax for a bit. Definitely recommended, especially if your dogs were as tired as mine were. After a nice visit, we headed back to the guesthouse for the night.

The next morning was our last morning in Japan, and we started with a visit to Toji Temple, which was a short distance from our guesthouse.

Well...kind of started. Quick celebrity sighting detour:

Interdigitating with the Colonel isn't weird in Japan.
Anyway, the temple:


Turned out that there was a huge flea market there. We hung around for about 10 minutes before heading to calmer spaces.





This was one of my favorite moments of the trip.

This man, Masao, approached us and struck up a conversation. He talked about many of the places he'd visited in the world, including the US. He also talked about his childhood in Kyoto and how he played hide-and-seek in the nearby 5-story pagoda. He gave us his contact info, and we've been in contact since then, Just cool!

Time for lunch. Takoyaki, anyone?

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Last stop in Kyoto: The Imperial Palace. Specifically, the palace grounds...apparently you need a reservation to get into the palace. No matter, the grounds were really peaceful.









Sadly, this was our last stop in Kyoto. Friends, I wholeheartedly recommend this place. It's brimming with history and hospitality. You've seen examples of the history, now I'll present Exhibit A of the case for hospitality:

Sadly, we didn't see this until the last moments at the guesthouse, but this guy is basically offering to drive people anywhere around Kyoto for 1000 yen per day to cover gas. My favorite part: "I'm just a regular Japanese guy who likes to meet people from other countries." Okay, yes, this could be a loon, but I doubt it. I think this is an awesome concept.

On to Osaka. The train ride was, thankfully, pretty straightforward. We stopped for our final dinner in Japan and took in the sights (as well as we could).

...Waiter? It's still alive...

Osaka by night

Reconnecting with some childhood friends


And also...THIS:

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We eventually made it back to the same place we stayed on the first night, which, by the way, offers some interesting roommates.

Thanks for being here, Muffy.
4:00am. We arose and departed. I got hot cocoa and didn't apologize.


One thing that I was hoping to do was get a bit of the crazy Kit Kat flavors I'd seen during my first trip to Japan. It wasn't looking good...until we got to the airport.


Thank heaven.


Japan, this is long overdue, but it was a great time. Let's meet up again real soon.