Reasons why people make a big deal about going to Kyoto

Posted by in Mike's blog

When we talk about Japan to people who know a little bit about Japan, they know three cities:  Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.  Kyoto is the one with all of the cultural heritage sites.  There are over 2000 (yes, really) temples and shrines dispersed throughout the city.  It gets swarmed with both foreign and Japanese tourists at every point in the year.  Guidebooks tend to focus heavily on Kyoto visits because there’s so much to see packed into a city that really isn’t that big (at least compared with the other major cities).  Aside from Tokyo, Kyoto’s attractions get a LOT of hype.

Fukui prefecture happens to be directly above Kyoto prefecture.  We share a border.  It’s close enough that we don’t have a good excuse for not having spent much time travelling around Kyoto so far, at least we didn’t until last weekend when we DID spend time travelling around Kyoto.  Mary gets a fall vacation every year, so we spent 4 days and 3 nights seeing the most touristy places that Japan has to offer.

Day 1: Travel

We drove to Kita-komatsu station in Shiga prefecture (free parking!) in the mid-afternoon and left our car behind.  The Bunny was so excited to be at a train station that she decided to pee on the platform.  Fortunately we were the only people at the station and the mess was taken care of just as our local train arrived.  We only had to pay ¥650 each (plus gas) to get to Kyoto!

Upon arrival we picked up some bus passes and we checked in at the guest house that we would call home for the next three nights.  We stayed at Guest House BOLA-BOLA near Katabiranotsuji station.  It’s small, nice, clean, and most importantly – affordable.

Day 2:  Kinkakuji & Ryoanji

The day started with what’s arguably the most popular attraction in Kyoto:  Kinkakuji temple.  It’s historical significance is dwarfed by the fact that it’s COVERED IN GOLD.  The photo at the top of this page was taken there.

For lunch we went to Café Frosch to try their weekly homemade international meal, which was Italian when we went.  We chose this place because it’s kid friendly: it has a little playground right beside the tables.  The Bunny enjoyed being able to play freely and we got a much needed break and meal.

We spent too much time chasing the Bunny to count the rocks.

After lunch we went to Ryoanji temple to see a rock garden.  The garden has 15 rocks, but only 14 are visible at any time.  Before we went I thought that the designers of the garden would have achieved this effect with incredible math skills, but upon arrival I realized that there’s a restricted viewing angle!  We can only see the garden from ONE side.  Unfair.

Ryoanji was one of the places on our “list” that we want to travel to in our lifetimes, so we’re very happy that we went.

We finished the day by making curry at the guest house for supper, this was part of our plan to make Kyoto affordable.  It’s an expensive city, and a visit could have easily set us back ¥20000 per day if we weren’t watching our budget very carefully.  On our way home we stopped at a supermarket for curry supplies and PEANUT BUTTER CUPS, which we haven’t had since they were last imported for us in May.

Day 3:  Kiyomizu-dera and Ginkakuji

In the morning we went to Kiyomizu-dera, which may be the biggest of the important temples & shrines in Kyoto.  It sits on a mountain and we were able to see the city from a balcony on the grounds.

The weather was fantastic for our entire trip. Not a drop of rain, and no need for sweaters past 9am.

We planned to eat at restaurants for lunch every day so that we could rest in between sightseeing visits.  Lots of walking and lots of Bunnying can make us tired.  This was our first vacation with no stroller, so there was a fair bit of chasing going on.

The first part of our afternoon was spent at Ginkakuji, not to be confused with Kinkakuji.  Ginkakuji is also called the “silver temple”.  When we arrived we discovered that it’s not silver at ALL!  Let’s call it lack of research.  We found out that there were plans to cover the temple in silver foil like the gold foil at Kinkakuji, but it was never finished.  Still, the temple was very nice and the garden was fantastic.

This is the “silver temple”. Where’s the silver?

After we left Ginkakuji, we tried to walk along the “philosopher’s path”, because that’s something else that tourists do in Kyoto, but the Bunny had other plans.  She got cranky around the early afternoon hours every day because that’s her naptime.  We abandoned the path and sought shelter from her screaming in a bus.  She fell asleep right away, and we rode the 100 for as long as we could while she napped.  Mary also napped for a while.

Day 4: Otagi nenbutsuji & Iwatayama monkey park

We organized our days by location:  Day 2 was north-northwest, day 3 was east, and day 4 was west.  Here’s a map that I made before we left during the planning stage of this trip.  We went to Arashiyama for Otagi nenbutsuji.  So far we haven’t come across many people who have heard of this place.  Since it’s relatively unknown, there were only two other couples who visited at the same time as us.  We had a discussion with one of their tour guides – he said that he was the only taxi driver that goes there, and the only people who visit are the ones with tour guides.  I told him that we had no guide, and he was in complete disbelief.  He didn’t understand how we heard about the temple (internet), and how we got there (bus).  So what’s the big deal?  These guys:

Some of the statues were quite fun. We found a tennis player, someone sleeping, a yelling one, and one in a corner standing on his head.

There are 1200 of them, and no two are alike.  They were made between 1981 and 1991 by people throughout the country, and they are all over a small temple area in northern Arashiyama that has no train access.  After 2 full days of constant templ-ing, it was very nice to see something different!

We saved the Bunny’s favourite activity for last.  We went to a park.  The park was full of Japanese macaques.  We had to climb a mountain minutes away from Randen Arashiyama station to reach Iwatayama monkey park.  The monkeys live freely in their natural habitat on this mountain.  We were able to feed them from an indoor caged area.

These monkeys were very friendly. The Bunny fed them apples and peanuts.

As opposed to the zoo, on this mountain the tourists are caged while the monkeys roam free.  I appreciated the role reversal.  These monkeys were the third group of animals we visited who weren’t in captivity – seeing them play and have fun was a wonderful experience for the Bunny.  She’s been talking about them since we left!

In the morning we arranged for our one big bag to be sent to Kyoto station so that we could pick it up on our way out of the city.  This “baggage carry” service cost us ¥750, and without it we would have had to take the bag to the station ourselves and pay ¥450 for it to be stored there before starting our day.  When we did arrive at the station the bag was waiting for us, but our train wasn’t, so we went exploring.

We discovered that Kyoto station is cool enough to be considered a tourist attraction!  It’s a very tall station building, and we can ride long escalators up 9 stories to the top.  We left some of the station experience to explore for next time, because there’s no way that we won’t be going back to Kyoto.  All of the great things we saw last weekend are just ONE prefecture away from Fukui!

Want to see more pictures?  We have lots in the photos section.