Trip Report: 4 days in Kyoto (long)

May 2nd, 2019, 09:37 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 370
Trip Report: 4 days in Kyoto (long)

I just returned from my first trip to Japan – had a great time and definitely want to go back next year! As always, the Fodorites were very helpful so I’m posting a trip report in case other folks find it interesting (or useful). My trip was 6 days by myself in Tokyo and Kyoto and 9 days on a cruise around Japan, so I’ll create two separate trip reports – this one is on Tokyo and Kyoto.

Some background info:

I’m a Type A person so researched this trip using various guidebooks and web sites. As recommended by Fodorities, and were invaluable, as was the guidance provided by Fodorites. Once I knew what I wanted to see, I created a daily list of things to do. I usually plan to visit two sites a day, since I like to wander, absorb and people watch. I focused on gardens and temples, plus a few museums (I’m not a foodie or shopper).

April 14/15: Flight & Arrival in Tokyo
I was able to use a combination of points & cash to fly JAL non-stop from JFK to Narita in premium economy. The airport was busy but not crazy and it only took 20 mins to get through immigration, luggage retrieval and through customs. As part of my research, I found various blogs and you tubes about Narita airport and what’s located where. These were actually helpful since I knew to look for the big info desk and they pointed me to luggage forwarding, ATM, Suica and Nex tickets.

At the last minute I decided to use a baggage forwarding service to send my big suitcase to my Kyoto hotel and boy, was I glad I did! (I know people recommend traveling light but with a 9 day cruise on the Queen Elizabeth, I needed evening clothes, shoes, etc.) The luggage forwarding was easy even though the 4 people at the counter didn’t speak much English, I showed them the name, address and tel of the Kyoto hotel. That was all it took - he looked it up on line to get the Japanese spelling, they put the suitcase in a big plastic bag with a hole for the handle and it will be at my hotel around noon tomorrow for $20. What a deal! (I put some toiletries and change of clothing in my little daypack.)

The next stop was the 7-11 ATMs (which you couldn’t) and got 25000 yen, including cash for my smart Suica card. The Suica machine was fairly easy to find and simple to use – key hint, look for the word English in the upper right corner. (I had watched a you tube of buying a Suica card which was helpful.)

The line for the JR service center was a mile long so a very helpful staff person suggested I buy my Narita Express ticket (NEX) from the machines where there was no wait. She took me over and walked me through it – it was so easy using the English instructions that I apologized for not doing it myself. (Note: I didn’t buy a JR Pass since it wouldn’t have paid for itself according to the calculator on their site nor could I benefit from a roundtrip NEX price since my return trip was beyond 14 days.)

I love the Japanese trains, especially those with reserved seats since the ticket tells you what car you’re in, plus the seat #. The train platforms have very clear signage, digital updates about which train is arriving and marked positions on the platform itself showing where to stand (and line up) for each car. My NEX was leaving in 7 mins so zipped down to the tracks, looked for the car marker on the platform and found my reserved window seat. I have to say that I left the airport feeling good that I got so much accomplished - luggage; cash; Suica and tickets.

The Tokyo station was a madhouse but unencumbered with luggage, I decided to buy my train tix for the rest of my trip. Two of the service centers only sell tickets for the current day but eventually i found my way to the service center near Kitchen Street which sells them in advance. Line moves fairly quickly; kudos to the person on Fodor’s who suggested printing out the dates, times to/from for each train since I just handed that to the clerk. On his own, he tried to get me window seats – thoughtful!

Since I wasn’t sure how tired or dis-oriented I was going to be, I had planned one night in Tokyo prior to an early train to Kyoto the next day. I knew I didn’t want to navigate around Tokyo for my hotel, so I stayed at the Metropolitan Marunouchi Hotel, which is in the Sapia Tower next to the station. Again, you tube came to the rescue (it’s amazing what you can find) since someone had posted a video of themselves “how to get to the Marunouchi Hotel from the Tokyo station” – I watched it and made notes which came in handy. Turn right at Kitchen Street, follow the yellow floor tiles until you see signs for the hotel, go outside and walk 10 feet into the Sapia Tower. I didn’t like the room they gave me since it was a low floor and no view so went back to reception and asked for a different room which they gave me – on the 35th floor overlooking the bullet train tracks and lots of tall buildings.

I wanted something light for dinner so went back to the station for an even more eye-widening mob scene - multiple levels, various nice stores, dept store and food options. I was overwhelmed so went into Daimerau basement food hall and bought a yakitori skewer and a ham baguette from Paul. Going back to the hotel, I got myself all turned around and had to ask two people if I was heading to my hotel.

April 16 Sunny and mid-60s.
Woke up very early so I decided to wander around the train station since I figured it wouldn’t be busy at 7 AM and I could figure out where my bullet train to Kyoto leaves from. Well, it was busy but I found a McDonald’s and had an Egg McMuffin and soda which I took outside and sat on a planter to eat, since it’s frowned on to walk and eat. (This was info from another useful You Tube about etiquette in Japan; also watched several you tubes about how to use the multi-button toilets.)

Checked out and boarded the 9:11 bullet train, which is pretty nifty looking since the front of it looks like a streamlined snake. Because you know what car you’re in, what seat you have reserved and the train stops on the platform at the exact spot for each car, it’s easy to board quickly. I reserved a standard seat which was comfortable - plenty of room; clean bathrooms and food service. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t much scenic along the way; two hours+ later, we arrived in Kyoto station. It is also a very big station but I thought the stores and food options were more interesting than Tokyo station.

My hotel was the Royal Park Hotel Shijo which was ended up being a great location – just two subway stops north from the station to Shijo. As suggested by a Fodorite, exit 6 was closest to the hotel – literally 30 feet away and since I wasn’t carrying luggage, the steps weren’t a problem. Was pleased to see that my suitcase was there - that was money well spent since all the walking around I did around in both stations would’ve been unpleaseant with a heavy suitcase. I checked in and got a very nice decent sized room on the seventh floor (a deluxe twin). Huge bathroom, big window, two beds, refrigerator, safe, sofa (rock hard) and TV. Happy to be here for the next four nights.

It was about noon so I walked over to Nishiki Market. It was much bigger than I expected but super crowded so not enjoyable for me. Found a drugstore so I bought some of the items I had researched (e.g. eye drops, tongue scraper, face masks – odd things that are on google lists of “what to buy in Japanese drugstores”). It was then that I remembered this is my typical travel behavior - I get obsessed with whatever little shopping missions I have and I can’t rest until I’ve bought them; I think I got almost everything on my list today so the pressure was off! At some point, I realized my feet were killing me in my snazzy purple Adidas so I ended up buying a pair of black canvas Merrill’s just like I have at home….

I found myself at a triangular park with a temple on one side, so stopped in. This was Seiganji Temple - what a great find! 12th c temple that is now the head temple of the Jodo Seizan-Fukakusa school. I heard chanting, so went up the stairs, took my shoes off and slid the doors open - wow it was an amazing ceremony! I think it was a memorial service because there were three civilians sitting in place of honor on the dais; the older high priest and about five other monks were chanting, music was a drum, gong and something else. After the ceremony, a junior priest gave the tall narrow wooden slats with Japanese kanji on the front to the family members. This was my first temple experience in Japan and it was impressive. A pleasant surprise since it was just pure luck that I was there.

I walked past a small temple right in the midst of the shopping street, Yata-dera, so enjoyed looking at the shrine and the prayer plaques. A lot of locals stopped by while I was there – nice to see the daily use. Somewhere along the way, I found another temple which was closed but behind it was a cemetery which I wandered through. Now I understood that the tall wooden slats are part of a funeral process because all of the headstones had metal arms for holding these tall pickets. Some were fresh wood and others aged and bowed. Even though I couldn’t read the headstones, the carvings and shapes were interesting.

At this point I was tired and on sensory overload, so walked back to the hotel (picked up a camembert baguette at the Paul bakery on the way).


vickiebypass is offline  
May 2nd, 2019, 11:02 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Don't you just love the luggage forwarding service? I wish that was available in the US.

Looking forward to the next installment, as Arashiyama was my favorite place in Kyoto.
Kathie is offline  
May 3rd, 2019, 12:54 PM
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April 17 Blazing sunshine and mid 70s

Still waking up early so I took the subway to Kyoto station & had a really good pastry called a melon cake (like a brioche with a sugar crusted top) for breakfast. Took the JR Sagano line train with lots of school children in their uniforms to Arashiyama. The station is small and they have signs & maps to the bamboo groves and other attractions. I started following a steady flow of people to the bamboo grove - so much for getting there early and having it to myself! The crowds taking pictures, selfies, groupies, hanging over the fences, were a distraction. As were the initials and graffiti that had been carved into the tree trunks near the fence. As I reached the top of the path, I crossed the train tracks and had to wait for a train to pass! Visited a shrine on the left where Shogun princesses were sent to be safe years ago.

In my research, I found the Okochi-Sanso Villa and gardens, built by a former Japanese movie star with wonderful views of Kyoto which are just off the bamboo grove path. It was not very crowded, probably because I was there relatively soon after they opened and I think a lot of the grove people didn’t know what it was and weren’t interested in paying the admission fee. Although the house isn’t open to the public, the gardens were very pleasant. There’s a path that takes you on a circuit through the gardens which are totally unlike English or French gardens; they appear natural but are actually designed & maintained. The path takes you through various landscapes of moss, pine trees, azaleas, flowering trees, and of course, provides vistas over the city. Since the peak of cherry trees was over, there a just a few in bloom. However, the azaleas were in full blossom and these are not little shrubs like we have at home – they’re tall, in vivid shades of purples, pinks and white and are dramatic on the garden hillsides. When you’re in the house, you’ve got the garden in front of you (which is rather spare) but you look over Kyoto and when all the bushes and trees are in bloom it would look like you’re floating on a cloud of blossoms. It was very peaceful with no noise except for birds. The admission ticket entitles you to a cup of green tea and a green tea sweet in the teahouse; I tried both but was not a fan, so headed back down the hill.

I spotted a group of women in kimonos who I thought must be a class, so I started following them (this was before I realized that so many people rent kimonos, especially for touring historic areas) and I ended up all the way down at the river and Togetsukyo bridge. The closer I got to the bridge the more crowded it was; it’s a 20th c bridge and not particularly attractive. I decided since it was crowded and hot and my feet were tired that I would take the bus up to the Adashino Nenbutsuji temple. The streets were mobbed but I found the bus stop and queried a bus driver who took me and two other men as far as his bus went and we got out to wait for the next bus. One of the men was about 45 and the other man must have been 65 or 70; we waited 20+ minutes and the bus never came so the two men decided they were going to walk to the temple – the younger man said “it’s close - it’s only 2 km!” Ha, said I, it’s hot and that’s a long walk and I’d wait for a bus so they took off. 15 mins later the bus hadn’t arrived, so I flagged down a cab and for ¥450 (about $5) I got there quickly. This was my first experience with Japanese cabs that have sparkling white fabric seat covers, the drivers wear white gloves and the doors open/close automatically.

The first temple I visited was Adashino Nenbutsuji. This is a Buddhist temple whose grounds contain 8,000 stones of Buddha that were originally grave stones used in this area from 793 to 1868; somebody in the past found and gathered all of the statues and lined them up near a great big statue of the Buddha so they can “listen to the Buddha’s speech in paradise”. It’s a modern cemetery plus a whole walled section of these rows upon rows of mini Buddhas along with a temple and the Buddha. The site also has a bamboo walk that looked a whole lot nicer and more peaceful than the one I went on but it’s closed for reforestation; it might not be a very long path but from what I could see, it looks peaceful and natural. (Plus the admission charge to the temple provides natural crowd control.) I spent about 30 minutes here.

I also wanted to go to Otagi Nenbutsuji, which is about a 15-20 minute walk up the hill from where I was. Nice walk along a narrow street through a lot of preserved homes from the ninth century, wooden and some had very thick thatched roofs. You could look up to the left and see the bamboo forest up above and at times it was so quiet that I could hear the wind blowing through the bamboo leaves. Walking up the road, I saw an old wooden building with a sign saying “no admission charge! free toilet!” - I didn’t need a free toilet but I was curious and it turns out that it’s a historic preservation center. The woman who worked there was pleased to show me around and explained various highlights such as the stove and chimney system. Her English wasn’t great and my Japanese is non-existent, but we figured it all out. I was very interested to see an old home from the inside since they the exterior looks rather forbidding & austere but inside they’re brighter and the back garden lightens it up too.

I kept walking and I could see that this little road was going to meet up with the main road and I wasn’t sure if I’d passed the temple or not but finally at the very top, you turn left into another temple – Otagi Nenbutsuji. This was the highlight of the entire day! Entering through the big gate, you see about several small temples but the highlight are the 1200 statues that are carved stone figures of raken (the disciples of Buddha). These were carved by local sculptors between 1981-1991 who gave their support to help the restoration of this temple. The temple was built in 766 but it suffered from many floods and natural disasters over the years. In 1955, a Buddhist sculptor who was also a monk was named chief of this temple and he started re-constructing it, so from 1981 to 1991 reconstruction was going full steam ahead.

The statues are absolutely fascinating – each one is unique, with different expressions and poses. They’re not reverent or religious but are very realistic men, women, & children who are laughing, grumpy, shouting, one holding a tennis racket, two others boxing, one with a puppy, another holding a necklace. They also have different amounts of moss on them - some of it is soft, bright green, some of it is scratchy Brillo pad and some is a thin layer of lichen, so the moss really adds to the look of these statues. They’re spread out over the temple area, either in rows, or small groupings where you have 10 and other areas you have 120 of them. These were a lot of fun to walk around and imagine the local sculptors who put their own interpretations onto these. The site had a stream, a large temple with a bell that visitors can ring, paths up the hill with more sculptures (and, of course, clean and free toilets).

I really enjoyed this and spent over an hour here. When I was done, I was all set to take the bus because the stop is literally across the road however the bus only comes once an hour and I would have had to wait 40 minutes. Luckily a taxi was just dropping off, so I flagged him down and to go to the big Tenryuji temple - a UNESCO site. Well, this taxi ride was ¥1010 so double what I paid before but it was a longer distance and still worth it (about $10).

The temple area was a mob scene - I can’t stand crowds like this plus I was hot. People all over, milling around, getting in the way, not moving …it makes me crazy. It was about 1:40 and I was starving so I start looking for restaurants. They were all filled with wait lists but after walking up and down the street twice, I finally saw a 2nd floor restaurant whose menu out included a tomato pasta bowl (basically spaghetti). I sat outside under an umbrella enjoying a nice breeze & lots of cold water and it was actually pretty darn good pasta.

Fortified and rested a bit, I braved the crowds at Tenryuji and opted to just explore the gardens ¥500. I think this garden was supposed to replicate the five types of landscape in Japan and I’m not sure I saw all of them but it was a nice garden. I like seeing the names of all the plants and strolling around but there were so many people that it was hard to enjoy. I called it quits and I walked back to the train station & got a seat on the express to Kyoto station. Once there, I bought a fried pork sandwich for my dinner and back to the hotel.

Since the luggage forwarding worked so well, I decided to have them send my luggage to Yokohama for my cruise. The hotel staff has really gone above and beyond to locate a convenience store or depot where my luggage can be delivered and held one day for me. They’ve made all the arrangements so all I have to do is give them my suitcase tomorrow (Wednesday) and it will arrive at a Shin-Yokohama station on Thursday and I can pick it up on Friday to board the ship. What a great service in general and noteworthy customer service by the hotel!

Tomorrow…Ryoan-ji, Kinkakuji, Daitoku-ji Temples and Daiso
vickiebypass is offline  
May 3rd, 2019, 09:45 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
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vickiebypass, thank you for the great reports and I'm really, really pleased to hear that you're finding your way around and enjoying yourself, despite the crowds ....
tt7 is online now  
May 4th, 2019, 03:56 AM
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Tt7 - I realize that I omitted the most important information from the beginning of my trip report - this trip was one of the best that I’ve had in years, probably on par with my Tanzanian safari. I’ve only been home for a week and I’m still decompressing but everything about Japan was such a new And positive experience that I know I’m going to go back next year, probably for three weeks.

Even though I’ve traveled extensively, this was my first time in a country where the culture, history, literature, arts and religions were so unfamiliar to me - in fact, downright unknown ( excluding Africa). It was a totally new experience to be in a place where I had so little frame of reference but it was also refreshing because everything was new to me. I didn’t arrive with many preconceptions so was totally open to everything. Now I want to get a “dummy’s guide to Japan” in terms of history, religions and culture so that I can have a better appreciation of this ancient country.

I know I mentioned crowds a fair amount in my first two days and that’s because I was in “top sights” areas and I’ll probably mention crowds again when posting about subsequent days, but that’s not unique to Japan! I know that crowds annoy me so I adapt and typically structure my days to avoid them which I think was successful for the rest of my trip. The first two days were sensory overload combined with jet lag so I think my notes (and subsequent report) didn’t reflect my wonder.
vickiebypass is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 10:45 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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First time visitors naturally will want to see the top sites, I know that’s what I do at a new place. As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, in a place like Kyoto, many secondary sites are just as beautiful and historic, some going back hundreds if not a thousand years.

Many of these places are much less crowded and tranquil, where you can actually sit, enjoy and absorb what’s special about the place rather than jostle with huge numbers of people. But it’s important to know about how crowded the top sites can be so one will know what to expect and be prepared.

Great report so far, looking forward to more.
curiousgeo is offline  
May 4th, 2019, 04:36 PM
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Curiousgeo - I remembered your post in which you mentioned visiting secondary sites and I followed that advice for The majority of my trip. I was pleasantly surprised at how serene those spots were so thank you for putting it so well. I’ll post more on Monday!
vickiebypass is offline  
May 6th, 2019, 03:11 PM
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April 17 (Wed.) Partly sunny mid-60s
Dropped off my suitcase at the front desk which they sent off to one of the Yokohama train stations for about $20.

Today was a great day! Took bus 12 which stops around the corner from the hotel and arrived at Ryoan-ji temple by 9:00. I really liked this temple because of their attention to detail, varied plantings, and happy birds. Tour buses came and went fairly quickly so I was able to either wait them out or ignore them. As I walked in, there’s an interesting group of shops before the ticket booth, a restaurant and of course, toilets. This was the first time I saw many Japanese ladies with twig brooms sweeping the gravel and sieving it to remove stray leaves, petals etc. They moved briskly but the place was spotless, including the gutters.

Passed a pond with an island, a small shrine on the island and a bridge. Kept going to the main building. Shoes off (amazing how taking shoes off surprises so many tour groups and causes such a kerfuffle). I wasn’t surprised that the Rock garden was loud since there were multiple groups there, so I walked around the building on the deck and perused the back and side gardens. More and more groups were arriving, so I took my chances with the rock garden and found a place to sit in the far corner and watched cherry petals falling, studied the pebbles (which look special - very round, white but with shades of black imperfections). Sat there for about 15 mins but wasn’t feeling it. Allowed myself to get too frustrated by the several men who were very loud and making jokes about stepping in the gravel and golf. They have no sense of perspective or that other people might be trying to appreciate the environment.

Then, I walked along the circuit path that takes you past and through several different types of gardens. (Most of the tour people skipped this.) Lots of moss and rocks; areas with cherry trees in bloom - they really are spectacular and I didn’t realize there were different types- a weeping willow kind, sort of gnarled type and then another with boughs heavily & thickly laden with blooms. Other sections with interesting pine trees - look like the Sneetch trees since they’re full at the bottom, then an empty street trunk, ending with a shaggy point at the top. Looked very Seussian. Overall, it’s not a huge garden but there were different landscape styles, variety of plants; and the birds were in full singing mode. I enjoyed this very much.

The bus stop is just below the exit on the main road and it arrived as i did, so went to the next spot - Kinkakuji (with gold leaf pagoda). Yowza - what a nightmare. Tour groups as far as the eye can see and every person is trying to take a picture of the pagoda with their friends, without their friends with the family, by themselves etc. The groups moved so slowly that I couldn’t take it so I went against the tide of people to get out of there!

Back on the bus to the Daitoku-ju temple complex which was wonderful and the total opposite of Kinkakuji. It must not be considered a major tourist site since even on maps it’s not highlighted the way the other ones are. That was great for me because it was practically empty! Unlike some of the other sites, it’s an entire complex with sub temples inside; not all the temples are open to the public; some temples are only open certain times of year and you pay at each temple. I was lucky that 2 temples normally closed to the public were open: Oubai-in and Kohrin-in plus I went to Zuiho-in and Ryogen-in. There were more temples that were open but after 2 ½ hours, I was zoning out. One of the guidebooks mentioned that there’s so much to see at this particular complex, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and they suggested just focusing on two temples during a visit but I didn’t have the luxury of doing that. The buildings in each sub-temple seemed similar to me and I was interested in walking through them; tatami mats; the painted wall screens were different themes; carved wooden transoms between rooms to facilitate air flow; one had a kitchen with a huge rice cooker that looked like an alien time machine. The buildings were more interesting than I would’ve thought because of their layout and the planning to have garden views from various angles. It was a warm day but it was chilly inside, also dark since they have a very long roof overhang so the eave blocks the sun; keeps it cool in the summer but it seemed dim. (Although if you’re a monk I guess you don’t need a lot of light to meditate.)

Each of the temples had a room for worshiping w/statues; they all smelled like sandalwood (incense) but what was more interesting were some of the sleeping chambers and they all had a wooden porch around all four sides of the building that you could walk around and see the garden. (If you were a monk, I guess you could walk in the garden? Not sure, maybe for looking only; aside from the people who raked the gravel and removed leaves.)

In terms of the gardens, it’s hard for me to grasp the peace of the rock gardens with the raked pebbles but there were a couple that did appeal to me. Zuiho-in dry/gravel garden had very deep furrows that were wavy which represented ocean waves and there was a rock that was an island in the middle of the ocean - I understood that one! The deep, rounded waves were clear. I particularly liked Oubai-in’s garden – it had a corner that was circular and then more rows that represented the ocean; another garden was set up so that you looked through a window to see rocks that represent a waterfall, leading to raked pebbles with a big rock which represents a boat on the river and all the pebbles lead to the ocean… as in, the river flows into the ocean. I liked that and it was at t that temple that I realized the temple is surrounded by a width of pebbles - a moat – maybe, it was the river again!

That was an interesting temple because they also had a kitchen with the rice cooker and a room for the chef monk - I thought the guide was saying chief monk but then I realized she meant chef. This whole complex was unusual in that they had helpful guides in most of the temples who were very eager to talk; they explained they don’t really know much English so the other Japanese guests got long conversations and I got a photocopied hand out which was absolutely fine.

(I know I saw more gardens there, but they’ve blurred a bit in my mind.) By this time it was about 2 o’clock and I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat all day except a protein bar and I was hungry and tired. My guidebook mentioned two restaurants that serve special fried rice balls right near Inmari shrine - which is a shrine against pestilence. So I walked eight minutes or so to this place, long story short, the restaurants were closed up tight. There was a big red gate entrance and the shrine against pestilence was rather eerie because they’re very small little buildings (almost hutches) with prayers there and the blowing wind with gray clouds - a good spot for pestilence.

I decided to go to the Aon mall to Uniglo since I needed to buy for some clothing for hotter temperatures and also Daiso - instead of a dollar store it’s a ¥100 store. Took bus 205 this time the 205 which wends a very very long path from Northern Kyoto all the way east and then south to Kyoto station. Lots of kids on board coming home from school.

Once at Kyoto train station, I got all turned around but finally found the mall. Bought a t-shirt and a very lightweight nylon zip jacket because my micro-fleece is be too hot. I was looking for Daiso and I asked for directions in another store – got a laugh, because they must get asked this question all the time since they had a piece of cardboard that had hand written directions on how to get to Daiso. I laughed and so did the clerk. So I went to Daiso but was not impressed; I liked the regular drug stores much better..

I trudged back to the far end of the train station for the subway but stopped at McDonald’s and got a bacon cheeseburger; a teriyaki chicken sandwich and a Diet Coke for dinner. The teriyaki chicken sandwich was too gloppy with teriyaki sauce but the bacon cheeseburger and soda hit the spot!

Tomorrow…Tofukuji, Sanjusangendo, and Miyako Odori
vickiebypass is offline  
May 6th, 2019, 05:57 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
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Glad to hear you enjoyed Ryoan-ji and Daitoku-ji. I guess we didn't warn you about Kinkaku-ji?!

On the downside, disappointed to see "McDonalds" mentioned again. Did you try any of the ramen places on the 10th floor of Kyoto Station or any of the restaurants on the 11th floor? Department store food halls and conbini stores (7-11, Family Mart, Lawson) are also great places to find stuff for a 'do-it-yourself' dinner if you don't want to sit in a restaurant.
tt7 is online now  
May 7th, 2019, 01:03 PM
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April 18 (Thu) Blazing sun blue skies about 65°

Today was a fantastic day! Decided to avoid crowds by visiting more out of the way temples, so took bus 207 from the hotel to the Tofuku-ji Temple stop, near the First Red Cross Hospital (I should mention that I bought a very useful book, Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital, by Judith Clancy, pub April 2018 and her book provides very great directions for all sites, plus history, key things to look for, etc.). On the path to the temple, which is actually a zigzagging street off the main drag, I saw a notice board with a small, aged poster from the Kyoto fire department, not sure what it said but it had a great drawing of a dragon and I thought to myself “I should add to my collection of purloined public signs with that on the way out”. Long story, poster from Venice vaporetto stop in 2004; art galleries in Stockholm and Paris…..

At Tofuku-ji, I paid the additional 400 yen fee to cross the Tsuten-kyo covered bridge and access the Kaisan-do Hall. The hall was built in the 1600s but as I approached I heard a drum and chanting so I scurried quickly to get to the main hall (didn’t even look at the fancy gardens on either side of me). A very large wooden screen prevents you from entering the hall but it’s easy to peer through and there was a monk on the left-hand side seated at a table chanting; he had a bowl that he would hit (sort of deep bong sound) and something else that he’d hit with a sharper clacky noise. I didn’t think it was appropriate to photograph him so I turned around and videoed what I now saw are spectacular gardens (there actually famous gardens that are one of the reasons you come here - who knew?) with his chanting and the music as background.

I sat on a nice cedar bench in the shade looking across the checkerboard sand garden at the adjacent garden with rounded shrubs, stones, brook and pines with the blue sky behind them - very peaceful. The checkerboard sand was an attractive pattern and set off the lush green shrubs, carefully shaped and tended, and the rocks across the courtyard & up the hill.

I meandered along a path down by the river and back up again which right now is full of Japanese maple trees that are green leaved but in the fall I can imagine the oranges & the reds must be amazing.

I walked around the other buildings in the complex which are generally very large scale, heavy, dark buildings; sometimes a gable hip roof; tall and wide, white stone or stucco with heavy dark beams and tile roofs. They struck me as being overall bigger and more solid appearing than any other temple buildings I’ve seen. Went past a pagoda and up some stairs to the Den-shoro belfry. There were two bell systems – one with the standard rope that believers can pull which rings two large bells at the top as part of their devotions which occurred often. There was also a huge bell with a rope that moves what looks like a battering ram into the bell ringing it. There was a sign saying please don’t ring the bell in two languages. Small plantings, rocks and moss, plus stone lanterns. This complex seems to be a short cut for local people and a number of them stopped at the belfry.

Then I went over to Hondo hall, the main temple. Huge building in the center of the complex and this seems to be central focus. The main altar and the Buddha are there; dark lacquered floor; dark wood walls, dark lattice screens. Again I seem to have a sense for when something’s going on and I noticed a family with a young baby talking to a monk inside the temple which is closed to the public. Then the husband left in his car but the wife and the baby were still hanging around outside and more monks kept arriving. I watched this for about 45 minutes, observing the various ages of monks in different colored robes and sashes; they either wear wooden sandals which look very uncomfortable or regular sandals to get to the hall but then outside the hall, they take those off and put on these very fancy big felt elf shoes with a curled up toe in the front. There were about four different colors which I’m sure depends on the seniority of the monks; in fact the very youngest monks didn’t get felt slippers at all and just wore house slippers. Once there were about 20 monks, they were all seated except for the chief monk and there was a lot of chanting, drum and gong banging. At some point, it was the signal for them all to stand up and they stood chanting and doing various responses-bowing their heads & raising their palms. Then at some other signal, they chief monk started walking followed by the other ones - probably in seniority order - and they walked a looping S shape still chanting until all the monks were walking & chanting in these tight S loops. There must’ve been a significant number of these loops that were accomplished but after another 20 mins I left to see more of the complex. (Never saw the husband return, so there was no mystery there.) Walked across the courtyard to the Hojo, the abbot’s hall which has, as the brochure says, five dynamic exciting gardens. And they were pretty darn dynamic and exciting.

The Southern garden had raked sand which was supposed to represent the oceans and then there were circle and oval patterns raked in the sand. On the left side of this huge sand rectangle were groupings of stones that represented the Elysian islands and on the right corner were five moss covered humps that represented mountains. For a raked sand garden, this was very interesting to me and appealing; maybe it was the various rock formations and groupings that struck me, maybe it was all of the raked circles and the patterns of the circles as they joined each other that intrigued me. As in the other buildings that I’ve seen in the past three days, this one also had a very wide deck area with wooden steps or a wooden step down which was a pleasant way to walk around the building and see all of the gardens and the landscape beyond the gardens.

I particularly liked the Western garden which was a partial checker board. The left side was moss with a sculpted irregular edge, then you got some sand or pebbles and then azaleas cut in very large squares. So, there was much contrast of moss with sand and then squares of trimmed azaleas interspersed with more sand or gravel. Definitely dynamic. That led into the Northern garden in the back which was squares of moss and squares of stone rock, all flush to the ground, in an irregular patterns. Seas of maples trees beyond and below. The Eastern garden was small, again an irregular shape filled with gravel and seven 1 foot high concrete or stone pillars - the pillars were part of one of the gates or another building on site that have been re-purposed. To me, this looked like a glade in the forest with different height tree trunks, but it was all stone. I would say exciting and dynamic.

So I had spent almost 3 hours there and decided to go to the national museum for an art exhibit. Took bus 207 and was surprised that the admission fee to the exhibit was almost $15 and the rest of the collection is closed. I wasn’t all that excited about the exhibition anyway, and my feet were tired and I was hungry, and coincidentally the Hyatt Regency Kyoto was right across the street. They had three restaurants- Italian, Japanese and steak - I looked at all the menus and went with the grill. I had forgotten how nice it is to eat in a big fancy hotel restaurant sometimes. Nice dining room, garden view, good service and overall just what I needed to relax. They had a set lunch with an appetizer & salad bar which made me smile because I feel like salad bars are so outdated but was really good. The salad section had all kinds of nuts plus the standard lettuces and vegs but the unusual thing was that they had lotus root. I’ve certainly never eaten it - probably never seen it but it was good so I went back for seconds. The texture was firm and it was slightly sweet and kind of nutty; it’s an interesting looking thing veg so that was a treat. The appetizer bar had some pate & duck terrine but they had a roasted pumpkin cubes with quinoa that was quite tasty and endive, blue cheese and walnut salad which was also yummy. I could’ve made a meal just with the salad and appetizer bar!

I forgot that my set lunch also included green pea cream soup which was not like split pea soup, which after all are green peas. This tasted like actual spring peas and was light, a little frothy and was very good. Then my Australian beefsteak arrived, which was a perfect size palm size portion and it had to be the best steak I’ve had in recent memory! It was cooked perfectly, was tender and had flavor. The sides were spring asparagus and roasted potatoes and I was full so I left the potatoes but enjoyed the asparagus. The other guests were a blend of families with young kids, women wearing kimonos, business people and me. It was a very nice lunch which I think cost me almost $40 but that’s OK. (I remembered that on a Milan trip a few years ago, I had made a point of having nice lunches each day but I’ve gotten away from that approach and this reminded me of how nice it is).

I was going to a Miyako Odori performance at 4:30 in which the geisha of the Gion Kobu geisha community perform the annual spring song & dance. I still had a couple of hours before the performance and conveniently right around the corner from the Hyatt was another place I was planning on visiting – Sanjusangen-do. It’s an odd place - a large 133 meter long building that contains 1001 Buddhist deities and 28 disciples and a great big Buddha. The statues are made of cypress and very ornate, including gilt and some have red glass eyes. This is another one of those buildings with the huge, heavy dark beams, white walls & gabled roof. I thought it would be boring and when I saw all the tour groups I was worried but I was able to go ahead or behind the groups at my own pace. There was signage explaining each of the 28 deities (who were very expressive). Midway through, there were desks where monks were doing calligraphy for prayers, amulets, etc. and were stamping books. I liked watching people getting their booklet stamped - the monks have an actual stamp for their temple and they also do calligraphy with the name of the temple, the date, and maybe good wishes. Seems customary to make a relatively small donation in exchange for them doing this. Next trip I’ll bring a booklet for stamps - each page is artwork and a good memory to page through. Another option is to buy a wooden slat for ¥300 and you write your hopes/prayers on the slat; they’re kept in the temple for a week and burned once a week to release the wishes to heaven. I decided to do one for my niece & nephew and picked up one and took a pencil when I finally realized that I had picked the slat from a pile that people had already written their wishes on. As I was just realizing this, a Japanese lady was trying to explain to me that what I done was wrong - there was a crowd around so it was quite a faux pas. I smiled, put the used slat back and took a new one and said arigato a lot.

I had to pick up my ticket for the geika spring dance and song performance at 4 o’clock so it was time to leave. Bus 207 again. The theater area was crowded but it was easy to get my ticket; I also rented a English audio version for ¥500 which was wonderful because they explain what’s going on, what the songs are saying and provide some background & history. The show is only an hour which is enough but I have to say I really enjoyed it - it might even be a highlight of my time in Kyoto. It’s such a traditional, cultural event and while I didn’t think I liked Japanese music and singing, I enjoyed an hour of it. I do find the music and singing a little atonal but I think it was done well and I enjoyed it. The musicians are senior Geikas who in essence are too old to dance so they’ve moved into this role. I bought a standard ticket from their web site and picked my own seat (I didn’t buy the higher priced ticket that included the tea ceremony). My seat was on the 2nd floor, a normal theater seat, on the aisle. Good line of vision and comfortable.

So it was a very full day. I took bus 207 again and walking back to the hotel I passed a building that had restaurants in the basement one of which was a Tonkatsu place - the local specialty of crisply breaded pork cutlet. I got a take-out meal in a cardboard bento box; it wasn’t a hit with me – either the pork was soggy or juicy but it tweren’t crispy. The sticky rice was good though.

Tomorrow…Nijo Castle and train to Yokohama
vickiebypass is offline  
May 7th, 2019, 01:08 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 370
Regarding dinners...I loved the food halls in the train stations and department stores! So many options and all so clean and well presented. And, I think i went into every convenience store I passed - always love seeing what they're selling and trying something. My problem is that i guess I'm a little picky since I don't like seafood, fish, raw onion or garlic. Since the food halls were always crowded at the end of the day, I couldn't face trying to ask about the ingredients in various dishes. I did get yakitori skewers one time; another time I got dumplings; and I also tried a tonkatsu sandwich. I didn't go the restaurants on the department store upper floors, although I read about each one. At the end of a long sight-seeing day, I'm ready to grab something quick and relax back at the hotel...that's why McDonald's can be a great solution at times! (And soda with ice is always good.)
vickiebypass is offline  
May 7th, 2019, 01:18 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 370
April 19 (Fri) Mid 70s and sunny.

Decide to go to Nijo castle in the morning and then get to Kyoto Station early for my 12:30 bullet train so I can go to ISETAN Department store and buy something to wear since it’s been hotter than I expected and is forecast to continue. Since my suitcase was shipped to Yokohama yesterday, my backpack is stuffed with the clothing I’ve been wearing and various purchases, so I left that at the hotel for the morning.

Take the bus to Nijo castle and decide that instead of going into the castle, I’ll walk around the grounds because the many tour groups are doing the castle. And I only have two hours. The grounds are OK but nothing great; the castle actually looks like it would’ve been interesting so maybe another time. Bus back to the hotel, get my backpack, check out; for some reason they only charged me for three nights which I questioned but they assured me was correct; maybe I paid for a night in advance when I made my reservation.

Subway to Kyoto station; in Isetan, I went to the large size department which is where a lot of Western women have to shop due to height and overall body size. Nice things but very expensive. I didn’t have a lot of time so I ended up buying a stylish jumper (you wear a T-shirt underneath) with a back pleat and angled seam/flap in the front - $130 wow.

On the way to the train I stopped in their basement floor at a bakery called Anderson and got a sandwich and some really excellent pastries for the train.

Since the next 9 days were on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise, stopping in 6 ports, I’ll write those up in a separate trip report – join me!
vickiebypass is offline  
May 7th, 2019, 01:48 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,851
For what it’s worth, friends of ours swear by the shrimp burgers at McDonalds in Japan though we’ve never tried them. Perhaps someday lol!

Great report and love the details.
curiousgeo is offline  
May 7th, 2019, 02:22 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,851
And the cinnamon rolls at Starbucks in Japan are delicious, light and not too sweet.
curiousgeo is offline  
May 8th, 2019, 07:22 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 12,886
“So I had spent almost 3 hours there and decided to go to the national museum for an art exhibit. Took bus 207 and was surprised that the admission fee to the exhibit was almost $15 and the rest of the collection is closed. I wasn’t all that excited about the exhibition anyway, and my feet were tired and I was hungry, and coincidentally the Hyatt Regency Kyoto was right across the street. They had three restaurants- Italian, Japanese and steak - I looked at all the menus and went with the grill. I had forgotten how nice it is to eat in a big fancy hotel restaurant sometimes. Nice dining room, garden view, good service and overall just what I needed to relax. They had a set lunch with an appetizer & salad bar which made me smile because I feel like salad bars are so outdated but was really good. The salad section had all kinds of nuts plus the standard lettuces and vegs but the unusual thing was that they had lotus root. I’ve certainly never eaten it - probably never seen it but it was good so I went back for seconds. The texture was firm and it was slightly sweet and kind of nutty; it’s an interesting looking thing veg so that was a treat. The appetizer bar had some pate & duck terrine but they had a roasted pumpkin cubes with quinoa that was quite tasty and endive, blue cheese and walnut salad which was also yummy. I could’ve made a meal just with the salad and appetizer bar!
I forgot that my set lunch also included green pea cream soup which was not like split pea soup, which after all are green peas. This tasted like actual spring peas and was light, a little frothy and was very good. Then my Australian beefsteak arrived, which was a perfect size palm size portion and it had to be the best steak I’ve had in recent memory! It was cooked perfectly, was tender and had flavor. The sides were spring asparagus and roasted potatoes and I was full so I left the potatoes but enjoyed the asparagus. The other guests were a blend of families with young kids, women wearing kimonos, business people and me. It was a very nice lunch which I think cost me almost $40…”

****The food at the Hyatt Regency is very good. I spend most of my Kyoto stays at both the Four Seasons, a block up the street, and the Hyatt Regency. As for hotel restaurants, I eat the most at the Hyatt Regency. And in summer, they have the weekend barbecue/grill buffet dinners that are really good. There’s one price for residents of the hotel and another price for non-residents and it’s usually sold out. I’ll need to contact them before leaving home and put in my weekend dinner reservation for this summer.

At the weekend barbecue/grill dinners, there’s also a lot of food variety and I’m glad that I can get fish and lots of vegetables and salad since I don’t eat meat/poultry. I like a variety of food and don’t only eat Japanese food in Japan. I’ve been eating Japanese food quite regularly, here in L.A., since I was a child. Plus, I’ve been around Japanese culture regularly since I was a child and we had Japanese food at my elementary school during school events back in the 60s. Even at home, I don’t always eat the same style food daily as I like variety.

Also at the Hyatt Regency, they have the maiko perform in the evening and on the lower level across from the chapel as the hotel also has a beautiful chapel inside. The maiko used to perform in the lobby area, but now performs on the lower level which is much better as there’s more space down there.

Now to get back to reading the rest of your report. I think you mentioned something about shrimp burgers at Mc Donalds. LOL! I don’t eat at McDonalds here at home, but overseas a lot of times fast food menus have different items than what we have at home. And if I’m hungry, I will grab a bite wherever it’s most convenient. I don’t obsess over having to eat only in restaurants or having to eat at set times. I usually eat around whatever I’m out doing during the day/evening.

Glad you’re having such a great time.

Happy Travels!

Last edited by Guenmai; May 8th, 2019 at 07:34 AM.
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