Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 4: Kyoto, Nara

Map of trip to Japan

28.10: KL -> Tokyo
29.10: Tokyo
30.10: Tokyo
31.10: Tokyo
1.11: Tokyo
2.11: Tokyo -> Nikko -> Tokyo
3.11: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo
4.11: Tokyo -> Kyoto
5.11: Kyoto
6.11: Kyoto -> Nara -> Kyoto
7.11: Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima
8.11: Hiroshima -> Osaka
9.11: Osaka
10.11: Osaka -> KL

4.11: Tokyo -> Kyoto
Hotel Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower, two minutes walk from the train station. 8925 yen for a room with everything: LCD TV, fridge, telephone, DSL Internet line through powerline modem, table with chair, even a small cupboard despite the small size, hairdryer, radio, alarm clock, torchlight, A/C. No breakfast. The room is small, but bigger than the previous places where I stayed.
Weather: sunny, spotless blue sky in Tokyo. Not cold. In Kyoto, sunny, blue sky with partly thin clouds layer. After 2pm the sky essentially closes and becomes overcast, then opens up again towards 4pm. No rain. Fresh, I have to wear a long sleeves shirt.

I wake up shortly before 8am and get ready. At 9am I have a breakfast, then at 9:30am I take a taxi for the short trip to the train station (1000 yen). I'm at the Shinkansen track at 9:45am. The train has just arrived and is being cleaned.

At 10:13am the Shinkansen leaves on time and arrives in Kyoto on time around 12:30pm. Before 1pm I'm checked in in the hotel. I briefly unpack some things, check the Internet connection and at 1:20pm leave the hotel.

I have a brief look at the area, then go to the tourist information counter inside the train station and ask for information about how to get to the major places, which bus to take, which tickets there are etc.

Then I go to the bus ticketing centre in the square in front of the train station. I could take a Kansai Thru pass (5000 yen for three days, 3800 yen for two), but I end up only taking a day pass for the Kyoto buses for 500 yen. A single ticket would have cost 220 yen and would actually have been cheaper, since today I will ride the bus only once.

Then I queue up at the bus stop. Huge queue of people waiting for the bus Nr. 100. The first bus is too full, so we have to wait for the next one. Finally at 2:05pm we leave by bus towards the Kiyomizu temple.

At 2:25pm the bus stops at the Gojozaka station. From there it's a 10 minutes walk up the hill to the Kiyomizu temple. Impressive temple. Not a single building, but a series of buildings, arches, pavilions etc. spread over the hill. Japanese worshippers of all ages doing the holy things, praying for the gods, taking pictures, donating money etc. Some western tourists, but relatively few.

I stay in the temple complex until after sunset, because I finish visiting the temple at 4pm and there is no time to get to another temple. At 5:30pm I finally leave the Kiyomizu temple and walk down the hill. On the way back to the hotel I briefly stop in a place for dinner (a Teppanyaki style restaurant, but the food is so-so; Teppanyaki restaurants in Malaysia are much better). I'm back in the hotel at 8pm.

5.11: Kyoto
Hotel Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower. I still haven't found out how to heat this quite cold room, as there is no heater, only an A/C unit.
Weather: sunny and blue sky in the morning, which becomes overcast starting from 11am. Rain in the late afternoon after 4pm. It's getting fresh - too cold to walk around in a T-shirt.

I get up at 8:30am, then get ready, check my emails and leave the hotel around 10am. The plan would be to go to Nara today, but when I ask at the JR counter in the railway station it seems that the next train is only at 10:50am, arriving in Nara at 11:34am, too late in my opinion to see all temples I'm planning to see. So I change my plans, get a 500 yen day pass for the Kyoto buses and start sightseeing Kyoto instead.

The first stop is at the Sanjiusangendo temple (ticket: 600 yen) where I spend half an hour between 10:53am and 11:23am. This is a nice temple with a big inner court with a garden, red pillar row along the outer walls, couple of pavilions and the long main central hall.

Then I take the bus to the Heian shrine. Today I don't have to wait long for the bus, and at 11:50am I'm already there, after some walking and searching. The Heian shrine is a large, beautiful temple with some great architecture, impressive gate, buildings with elaborate roofs, very photogenic. There are several Japanese (couple, groups) who go there dressed in kimono for photo shoots. The garden (entry ticket expesive at 600 yen) is very nice. The entrance to the temple itself is free of charge.

After one hour at the Heian shrine, at 12:53pm, I leave for the next place, the Nijo castle. Including walking, waiting and bus transfer time it takes 40 minutes to get there. If I took a taxi I would have saved perhaps half an hour, but taxis are expensive in Japan.

The Nijo castle is again very nice, with some interesting architecture and decorations. Today it is full of classes of schoolchildren doing guided tours. I spend 20 minutes at the castle, from 1:33pm to 1:54pm.

Then I get to the next place, the Kinkakuji temple, also known as "Golden Pavilion". The bus connection is good, as there is a bus station opposite the Nijo castle with two bus lines going straight to the Kinkakuji temple. Still it takes 50 minutes to get there.

The Kinkakuji temple is a beautiful temple, with a pavilion covered in gold surrounded by a lake. Looks good under an overcast sky, would likely look even better with a sunny blue sky. I spend half an hour at the Kinkakuji temple, from 2:43pm to 3:15pm.

Then I take a bus to the Gion district, hoping to spot a geisha and see something of the old Kyoto. It takes 40 minutes (walking, waiting and bus drive time) to get to the Shijo Kawaramachi bus stop - quite a long drive.

Then I start walking towards the Gion district. The area is the commercial and shopping centre of Kyoto, full of shops, restaurants, buildings with neon lights. Quite an interesting place. Lots of people, but no geishas. The Gion area is an area with old traditional style houses, with many expensive, upmarket restaurants.

After the Gion area I have a dinner in one of those Japanese "fast food" restaurants where you buy a coupon from a vending  machine. For 680 yen I get a meal consisting of a bowl of rice, fried beef, a salad and a soup. That's approximately 4 Euro and dirt cheap for such a meal. The taste is excellent, but you have to remove the fat from the beef meat slices.

Then I stroll around the area, have a Japanese banana pancake, and slowly walk back to the hotel. I pass through covered passages full of shops, then through a fresh food market which (it's 6pm) is about to close. They sell mostly fish, but also some vegetables.

At 7:15pm I'm finally at the train station which now has a big illuminated Xmas tree. I spend 20 minutes exploring the train station. Highly interesting building, integrated in an Isetan department store. You can walk to the roof for some nice views of the skyline of Kyoto. The entire train station complex is an interesting area.

After that I enquire about trains to Nara with the Kinketsu line. The trip takes 45 minutes, the ticket costs 610 yen. Shortly before 8pm I'm back in the hotel. There I spend three hours downloading the 320 photos of today and sorting out the bad ones. I speak with Skype for 20 minutes with Shirley in Malaysia. Finally, I book an AirAsia flight to Macao for the period 11-14 November.

6.11: Kyoto -> Nara -> Kyoto
Hotel Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower. I find out that you can heat the room by switching on the A/C.
Weather: overcast the whole day, no rain. Fresh, I have to wear a light jacket.

I get up at 9:30am, get ready and take the 10:40am train to Nara. It's  the Kinketsu line, at 610 yen cheaper than JR. The wagons are arranged inside like a subway, i.e. this is like a commuter train with only some of the passengers sitting.

At 11:25am the train is in Nara. I get out of the station and see that the Nara park with all the temples is nearby, perhaps only 500m away. In less than 10 minutes I arrive at the park. Quite interesting, there are many deer around not afraid of humans. In fact you can touch them, play with them, and feed them. They even eat from your hand.

The first stop is at the Kofuku-ji temple, where I spend half an hour (11:45am - 12:15pm). There is actually not too much to see, but I have a brief meal there (sandwiches I bought in Kyoto) and I have a look at the deer. There is also a temple museum, but it does not look too interesting and the ticket costs 1000 yen.

Then I continue walking eastwards in the Nara park, exploring the area. There are more deer around, and lots of tourists are feeding them. I walk past the Nara museum deciding to skip it for the moment (will perhaps visit it later).

A bit further there is a pedestrian area where there are lots of deer. Tourists are feeding them, so I try it too. Deer food costs 150 yen and it consists of some kind of cookies. As soon I have the cookies in my hand the deers notice that and surround me. Lots of hungry mouths begging for some food. I feed them, trying to give each deer a cookie, but there is a very pushy male deer who wants more and even hits me in the legs with his head.
This must be the alpha male. Luckily this fellow has no horns. Looks like the horns have been cut, perhaps to protect the tourists. In any case, athis is a bit scary, as the deers surround you and kick and push you. After feeding the deers my trousers are dirty.

I then walk towards the Kasuga shrine. After several photo stops in between I arrive there half an hour later at 1:30pm. Kasuga is an interesting shrine on hill surrounded by the forest, consisting of a main complex with several adjacent buildings and lots other buildings spread around.

This is supposed to be one of the major Shinto shrines in Japan. It is very photogenic and female shrine servants are even more photogenic, with their carefully styled hairstyle, white shirts and long, orange skirts. The ticket for the internal part of the shrine costs 500 yen.

Around 2:30pm I'm done with the Kasuga shrine and head towards the Todai-ji temple, arriving there 20 minutes later. This is a different type of temple, with a huge central building containing huge statues of Buddha, while the Kasuga shrine was a more decentralised structure. The shrine is overrun by groups of schoolchildren doing guided tours. It's a pretty impressive sight.

After almost an hour at the Todai-ji temple, I leave the Nara park at 3:50pm. On the way back to the train station I visit the Nara museum. It's not so interesting and at 1000 yen the ticket is way overpriced. My impression is that most museums in Japan are not so interesting. Also in terms of historic sights Japan does not have too much to offer, compared for instance with the countries of the Mediterranean area. Japan is a country with perhaps 1500 years or less of high level civilisation.

It's almost 5pm when, after getting out of the museum, I reach the train station and still have had no real lunch. So I get into a restaurant near the train station and order some delicious food. Big bowl of noodle soup and after that dish with fried fish fillet and rice. All this for 1400 yen, very good value.

At 6:16pm I take the Kinketsu train back to Kyoto (610 yen), arriving in Kyoto at 7:02pm. Then I briefly check what time there are Shinkansen trains to Hideji and Hiroshima tomorrow. Tomorrow morning there are apparently several Shinkansens each hour.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon