7:10 – Shinkansen
I got up pretty early, around 5:30, so I would have time to shower and get all of my things together. I left for the subway at 6:15 and managed to arrive at Nagoya Station around 6:45. I probably should’ve taken some pictures at Nagoya Station but I forgot to. Apparently Nagoya Station is one of the biggest stations in Japan. I was surprised to learn that buying Shinkansen tickets is almost as simple as buying subway tickets. You can buy them from a machine just like for the subway – I had figured I’d have to buy them at a counter. Also, unlike trains in America, you don’t buy for a specific time – you simple buy a ticket to a particular destination, single or round-trip (I bought round-trip of course), and then once you have the ticket you can get on any Shinkansen heading to your destination whenever you want, just like the subway. Well, within the restraints of your ticket (they’re only good for a few days after purchase). It’s too bad you can’t buy plane tickets like that. So I got on a Shinkansen on route through Kyoto at about 7:10. It was a nice, smooth ride. At first I had a window seat and could watch the scenery roll by, but then I realized I had been able to get a window seat because I was in a smoking car. I moved back into a non-smoking car, where, predictably, there were no window seats open, but the smoke had been bothering me too much.
8:10 – Arrival
I’m sorta wondering if Nagoya Station really is supposed to be one of the biggest in Japan, ‘cause Kyoto Station felt HUGE. There were department stores connected to it everywhere and a big front ticket terminal with pathways leading to the bus routes and JR lines. The first thing I did was head to a ticket station and buy a one day bus/subway card. Basically I pay 1,200 yen and for one day I can ride the buses and subway as much as I want. In the end, I actually only ended up probably just going over what would’ve cost 1,200 with the card, but that made it useful enough, and I received a tourist map with the card, which was very useful. After that, I put some sunscreen on and headed off. I was considering at first going to Kyoto Tower because that was right in front of Kyoto Station, but I decided I wanted to see some temples first.
8:40 – Higashi Honganji
Because I had read that they were open from really early in the morning, the first place I went to was the Honganji temples. (actually, the “ji” at the end of the name means “temple”, so if you see a name with a “ji” at the end of it, I’m talking about a temple) The closest was Higashi Honganji (“higashi” means “east”), about 10 minutes away. It took me a little longer at first because I was trying to make sense of the map and get my sense of direction straight, but I figured it out. I’ll say this about the temples; they have a very quiet feel to them. All the ground is plain gravel, and you suddenly feel very distant staring at the shrines. The main shrine at Higashi was the Amida Hall, where they have an image of Buddha. Naturally I had to take my shoes off to go in, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures at all inside. There were a few people there, all of them kneeling before the altar and praying; one old man even started chanting some really old prayer in a form of Japanese I couldn’t even begin to understand. I didn’t kneel down though – I’m not Japanese, after all, so I would’ve felt weird doing so. But it was a very strange yet cool feeling walking around the hall. This was the only place I was able to visit here, as the other main building, the Founder’s Hall, is apparently closed for reservations. Before I left, I did check out the main temple gate, which is one of the biggest in Japan. You can see my picture of that later on.
9:15 – Nishi Honganji
Next up, a 15 minute walk to the west to arrive at Nishi Honganji. (if you can’t guess, “nishi” means “west”) The area I was able to visit was much like Higashi Honganji, except the whole of this temple was bigger. Actually, when seeing how much of the temple is open to tourists, there’s really a whole lot you don’t get to see. But I guess that’s expected. The shrine was very much like the one at Higashi, except there were a couple of tour groups walking close to the alters and kneeling down by some small tables. I think they were being shown some kind of method of prayer? I’m not sure. Here I stopped off at a gift shop and looked around, but didn’t find anything of note. Before I left, I went into a rest area to get a drink, and I was sitting down when I realized something. I couldn’t find my sunglasses. Of course, I had brought my sunglasses with me ‘cause I knew the sun would be out. Back at Higashi Honganji, when I was in Amida Hall, I had my shades resting over my head, but not over my eyes. But I still thought that might’ve been disrespectful, so I took them off and put them in my pocket. Well, after that, I forgot about them. And just when I’m all the way at Nishi, I couldn’t find them. Somehow, when I was walking, they must’ve fallen out of my pocket without me noticing. So yeah, that’s the one downside of my trip – I lost my sunglasses. I backtracked around the immediate area, but I didn’t find anything, and if I backtracked all the way back to Higashi, I would lose time on my schedule, so……..oh well. I hardly used them here anyway, so I’ll probably wait and buy another pair back in the states.
11:20 – Museum of Kyoto
I know what you’re thinking. “How could it have taken you so long to get to this museum after Nishi?” Well, I’ll tell you why. After I had given up on my sunglasses, I decided to take the bus back to Kyoto Station and take the subway there up to a stop that, according to my map, was close to the Museum of Kyoto. First of all, the bus was VERY crowded. Which makes sense, since I was on a bus headed back to Kyoto Station, but it was way worse than any subway ride I’ve taken so far. Anyway, I got to the subway and got off, but of course, here I started to have problems. The problem with subway exits is that it shows you on the map where you’re getting off, but at that actual location, you don’t know for certain which direction you are facing when you walk out of the subway station. So I started wandering down the street in a direction I THOUGHT was South, since the map claimed the museum was slightly South from the subway exit. Eventually, I asked some janitor cleaning up some trash by a building if he knew where the museum was. I pointed at the subway exit on the map, and then at the location of the museum on the map (while asking him in the best Japanese I could), but he for some reason took a long time to understand what I wanted to know. Anyway, he eventually told me something like, “go down that way past those certain buildings and turn right” or something. Looking back, I understand now perfectly what he meant, but at the time I was totally confused. But I just said thank you and continued walking down the street. Eventually I thought I had found a lead because I found a landmark that was in the same grid as the museum on the map, “Zest Kyoto”. It was like……an underground plaza of classy arts and literature themed shops and restaurants. I would’ve taken a picture, but I was getting kinda peeved about finding the museum. I stumbled around the place, thinking I’d find an exit that led near the museum, but no sign said so, so I went back up. Eventually I had worked my way in a circle around Zest Kyoto, and I came to a tiny shrine that led into a domed walkway with lots of shops and small places to eat adorning every inch of it. It was very cool, but at the same time I was getting pissed off about the museum. Then, finally, I reached a slight clearing in the shopping path, and I happened to look up, and I saw a sign pointing to a backstreet out of the area with the words “Museum of Kyoto”. FINALLY, I had physical evidence that this place actually existed! By this time it was about 11:10, and it took about 10 minutes of walking down this street before I came on the museum. The funny thing is, after all that, I didn’t actually get to see a ton of the museum. The ticket I got, which was the most convenient one, was for a portion of the 3rd floor, and all of the 2nd floor. On the third floor was some stuff about movies (according to the brochure I got, Kyoto was the birthplace of the Japanese film industry), and the 2nd floor was History and Culture of Kyoto. There was a lot of cool models and visual displays and antiques describing the history of Kyoto. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures, because I had to turn the flash off and only like, one picture came out even remotely well. So, yeah, after all that wandering, the Museum of Kyoto wasn’t super awesome, but it was still a nice visit.
12:00 – Kyoto International Manga Museum
I had planned to skip this at first. But since I didn’t spend as long in the Museum of Kyoto as I’d thought, I decided to check it out. The funny thing is, this museum was also close to that particular subway shop, but this time when I started searching, I managed to find it in like two minutes. Because it actually was RIGHT there by the subway, instead of shoved off in some back alley. Anyway, the first thing I saw was this big courtyard. Now, I thought this was simply a museum to look at manga, nothing more. So imagine my surprise when in the courtyard I see tons of Japanese teenagers cosplaying as anime characters. I started to get a little excited fit and was getting anxious to see what the museum was like. The museum inside was pretty much what you’d expect out of a manga museum. Walls and walls of manga. Literally, they had thousands of series, in like, every language you can think of from around the world. It was a pretty cool sight. After skimming through a couple from the shelves (that’s what everyone was doing, reading straight off the shelf), I went out into the courtyard for a bit and watched the cosplayers for a little while. It was a cool feeling because I felt like I was at an anime convention again. Then I explored the other floors of the museum. There were more walls of manga, some designated reading areas, an exhibit on manga throughout the years, exhibits on manga for the future……it was all pretty cool. Definitely it was my favorite stop of the trip thus far. I almost bought a One Piece T-shirt in the gift shop, but I decided it was a little more than I wanted to spend. By this point in the day, I was really hungry, and fortunately there was a small café connected to the museum, so I ate lunch there. I had a chicken sandwich with……what I think was barbeque sauce on it, and lettuce.
1:45 – Zoo
After I ate lunch it was about 1:00, and I decided I wanted to go see the Kyoto Zoo in the Higashiyama Area. ‘Cause, after all, I really like zoos. So I took the subway to a close location, ended up wandering aimlessly for a little bit, and eventually found the Heian Shrine. This was good because there’s a whole bunch of stuff in the vicinity of the shrine, including the zoo. So fortunately in that area there were a lot of signs pointing me in the right direction. I must say, that zoo was certainly not as impressive as, say, the North Carolina State Zoo, but I didn’t really expect that. A zoo as large and spread out as the NC Zoo would take you all day to traverse. There were a lot of interesting animals, some I’ve never seen back at my state’s zoo, but everything felt a little….jumbled. Like, there was no separation of animals. For example, I could come up to a pen with a polar bear, and like five feet away from it in the next area there’d be……a giraffe. This is only a minor gripe, I thought overall the zoo was a good stop. I spent about an hour in there looking at everything and taking pictures.
3:00 – Heian Shrine
Before I headed a little up north, I wanted to check out the Heian Shrine while I was in the area. It’s a really famous shrine after all. And I noticed this immediately, because compared to the Honganji, there were a LOT more people inside. I mean, it was also later in the day, but mainly I noticed a lot more tourists and foreigners. The main gate to the shrine is pretty impressive; I got a few pictures of that. In the back areas of the shrine, there was a garden that looked really beautiful from where I could see, but it cost money to go back there, PLUS it would throw off my planned schedule since the area looked kind of big. (most of the temples in Kyoto close by 5:00-5:30)
3:50 – Ginkakuji
It took a little while to get here because I had to wait a bit for a bus going that way to show up (there is no subway route that comes close to it). This area was quite interesting. From the bus stop, I headed north for a bit and got to a big hill on the street. This was one of those areas covered from head to toe with souvenir shops and stands and restaurants, like a bazaar. It was pretty cool. At the very top of the hill was the entrance to Ginkakuji. This temple is more of a nature-surrounded temple than urban-surrounded. Most of the straight-through tour involved traveling around outside the back of the main building. There was a slight bit of hiking involved (but only like, a few meters worth). At the apex of the path there was a really nice view of the temple below and the surrounding streets in the distance.
4:30 – Path of Philosophy
On the way back down from Ginkakuji, I spent awhile meandering around the various souvenir shops. I almost bought something a few times, but I couldn’t actually find some that I REALLY wanted to buy. Near the bottom of the hill there was a fork in the road that I had noticed on my way up. To the right, the path that I didn’t take, was the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku no Michi). This is one of the official walking areas designated by the city. It didn’t feel like, totally philosophical, despite the fact that it was a calm walk. Basically it was a walkway by a thin stream near the woods in the back area of the back areas of the main streets. The main purpose of the path is to give people a calm, non-congested path to walk down, and a pathway to lots of other temples. Constantly on the walk, which in total took about 35 minutes, I saw signs pointing in all other directions showing where other shrines and temples were. My goal was to traverse the entire path and make my way to Nanzenji, a temple to the south where this walking area officially ended. By the time I got there, I didn’t spend too much time, because it was almost 5:30 and I knew it would close soon. But it was a very nice area – very woodsy.
5:50 – Maruyama Park
From there I made my way to the nearby Maruyama Park to rest. By this time I was getting very tired since I had been walking along the Path of Philosophy for so long. There were lots of tourist maps along the road in this area; so I was able to affirm the right direction to Maruyama easily. From where I exited Nanzenji, it was a pretty straight shot to the park. By the time I got there, there was something interesting going on. In a sort of central square in the park where there was a big tree; there was a performer doing a juggling act. She was doing the fire routine when I showed up, so I stopped and watched for a bit. It was pretty amusing. I would’ve taken a picture, but I didn’t know if it was okay so I didn’t. After that, I sat on a bench in the park and rested for about twenty minutes. I would’ve gotten up afterward and explored more of the park, but I was getting hungry and wanted to go find dinner.
6:15 – Gion
For those who don’t know, Gion is the area of Kyoto where you can usually find Geisha. Everyone I talked to said that Gion was a must-see, so I knew I wanted to go. On the way out of Maruyama Park I passed through the Yasaka Shrine, which had a bit more of a festive, yet compact feel to it than the other shrines I had seen. The main entrance to Yasaka lead right out into the Gion area. More specifically, the Gion Shopping District, which is exactly what I wanted to find. I started off walking along by all the shops, in a very big crowd, seeing what kind of stuff there was while also looking for a restaurant. It seemed like most of the restaurants just happened to be on the opposite side of the street, though. Once I got to the end of the shopping section, I crossed over to the other side of the street and checked out that side. In time I realized that there weren’t a lot of convenient eating places along the strip, so I started exploring the side streets. There were several nice walkways and very historical tree-laden paths (which I would’ve taken a picture of but I wasn’t thinking of pictures at the time).
7:00 – Dinner
Finally, just before 7:00, and after examining several places and keeping some in mind, I found a place called Anhe near the entrance to the main street that looked doable. There had been several other places that seemed good to go to as well, but by now I was tired of looking and went into Anhe. One interesting thing I learned when I sat down in Anhe – when I got tea from the waitress, I started to notice how I’m getting used to tea, and actually kind of like it now. I used to think tea tasted weird, but I’m adjusting to the taste of it. The waitress was nice enough to notice I was foreign and gave me an English menu, though I would’ve been fine without it. What I eventually decided on was Zaru Soba. This is a dish I’ve seen before and was curious to try. Technically, it’s a cold dish, but the presentation is interesting. The soba is served on a tray made out of, like, bamboo, I think, with some dried seaweed on the top. It also came with a sauce that made the soba REALLY good. It was a little weird eating it cold, but the sauce made it much better. I don’t think it’s a dish I’ll have the often, but it wasn’t that bad.
7:55 – Heading Back
I spent about 30 minutes eating dinner and then headed out. By this time, though I was satisfied with food, I was very tired. I had no idea what would be open at this time of the day, and I didn’t want to end up wandering around aimlessly in the night, so I decided to head back for Nagoya Station. The trip back was pretty smooth, but I had a bit of confusion getting through the turnstiles back to the Shinkansen platforms. When you buy round-trip Shinkansen tickets, you get four tickets. The express ticket for the going trip, fare tickets for both the going and the return, and a receipt. I was unaware at first that I had to purchase the final express ticket at the time of return, so I spent awhile talking with a station attendant trying to figure out what to do. Once I finally got it, I felt really stupid, went and bought the last ticket, and went about my way. (it also explained why, when I bought the first set of tickets, I paid a little less than I had initially calculated; with this purchase the price came to what I had expected) The Shinkansen ride back wasn’t quite as smooth this time because there were lots of people heading back, so by the time I got on, there were no seats left. So I had to stand in the area in-between cars the whole trip. It wasn’t as comfortable, but there was still a small window, so I could watch stuff go by, despite the fact that I couldn’t see a lot due to it being dark out. From there…..well, there isn’t much else to say, other than I got back to Nagoya, took the subway back to the university, trudged up to the International Residence, and pretty much collapsed in my room. Tired, but satisfied.
Well, that’s it; that was the gist of my trip to Kyoto. Hope you all enjoyed reading (if you read the whole thing and didn’t get impatient half-way through and just skipped down here). Here is the link to my photobucket sub-album with all the pictures I took, if you would like to see them. So, I hope that wasn't too long for anyone. Look forward to my next update, everyone! =)