Kyoto

Winding through torii gates, temples and bamboo
Kyōto-shi, Japan


I started the day with some oats, chia seeds and creme caramel soy milk! Literally amazing – the best one yet!

And at 7.30am we headed back to Hiroshima train station.

We’re catching the Shinkansen back to Osaka. It departed on time at 8.06am. And arrived in Osaka about an hour and a half later.

Here we had to swap onto a different train, to take us to Kyoto. This one literally took 15 minutes, so quick! And we arrived into Kyoto at 11.30am.

We were then given a totally unnecessary 1 hour ‘lunch’ break. What an utter waste of time. This was particularly annoying as I was really looking forward to exploring Kyoto – the place I most wanted to visit during this trip.

With 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, more than 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shintō shrines, Kyoto has a lot to see.

Train stations are essentially food shopping centres. So I went for a wander around looking at food. Kyoto is matcha central. And everything that could possible be matcha flavoured was here. Drinks, icecream, cakes, biscuits, mochi, Oreos and kit kats. I really want a pretty matcha cup – they are like a flat bottomed bowl. One store was selling nice ones, with cherry blossom patterns. But they were nearly £50…!

Of course I checked out the soy milk situation in all the shops and found a sweet potato one. It tasted just like sweet potato! Not unpleasant, but I won’t be getting that one again! Once we finally all reconvened, we got a Kyoto travel day pass (1,200, £7.50 which lets you travel on buses and metro) and headed off on the metro for a couple of stops, then onto a bus.

First stop – the Kinkaku-ji temple, which is also known as the Golden Pavilion. The original building was constructed in 1397 as a retirement villa for a shogun and was later converted into a temple. In 1950 a young monk ended up burning the temple to the ground. The temple was reconstructed in 1955 and again covered in gold leaf.

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As soon as we entered the grounds, you are met with the great view of the golden pavilion sitting over the reflective water. Surrounded by bright green trees. So pretty. But, as with everything here, there were so many people. So as you are looking at nice scene, you are being pushed from all angles by people wanting to get closer for a picture.

The gardens surrounding the pavilion were pretty small and took barely 10 minutes to wander around. But we had been given a whole hour here!! So a lot of hanging around by the exit. I had some mochi as a late lunch.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at our second stop, Daisen-in. This is a temple complex of 24 different temples. We wandered past a few and visited one, which is the headquarters of the Rinzai Daitoku-ji school of Zen Buddhism.

Here they have another zen rock garden. The various rocks are all laid out to represent an ocean, a river and a lake, which symbolises the Buddhist journey through life. The head monk took us around and explained the various rocks to us. After wandering around, we sat on the floor in a small room and had some matcha tea and a small traditional cake (filled with red beans). This is my first matcha tea of the trip.

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It was pretty bitter. I wouldn’t have usually made it this strong! Then we were back on the bus again. This time it was jam packed. So much that I couldn’t move. It was so uncomfortable.

Our final stop for the day – Nijo castle. This castle was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. We arrived at 4.10pm and they had stopped selling tickets at 4pm. So we couldn’t go in. Typical. If we hadn’t wasted all that time earlier today….

After faffing around for a while, we decided to go for a wander around the neighbourhood to look for food. Being a Sunday evening, most things were closed. And obviously nothing was vegan. I bought some bread from a supermarket. And everyone else went into some restaurants. So I had to wait quite a while for them…!

The castle does night viewings of cherry blossom. So at 7.30pm we headed back to the castle. And it was actually pretty cool. You could wander around the outside of the castle, through the gardens which were all lit up.

The cherry blossoms weren’t quite in full bloom yet – only some of them were flowering. But they were pretty. The water in the moat was all lit up different colours too. Towards the end of the gardens, there were some food stalls.

Obviously. I bought some local matcha mochi – called dango – they come as sticky balls on sticks and are a Kyoto specialty. They were unusual, but really good!

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After we left the castle, it started to rain. So we had a bit of a wet walk to the metro. It wasn’t too far to Kyoto, but we had to change metros.

Annoyingly we aren’t staying in Kyoto. As apparently hotels were full (cherry blossom season is very popular with foreign tourists and Japanese also have holiday time now, so all travel around too). Instead we are staying in the old capital city of Nara. This is a 1 hour train ride away from Kyoto. We caught the train at 9pm and arrived into Nara at 10pm. Luckily our hotel wasn’t too far away, just a short walk down the main street.

Japan has a luggage delivery service whereby you can post your luggage ahead of you so that you don’t need to carry it around. Two nights ago we had posted our luggage and here it was, waiting for us in our room. Great.

Monday 28 March 2016

We had breakfast included at the hotel this morning. A rather random selection of things. And a very disappointing fruit section. I had some salad; corn, tomato,cucumber, lotus root and spinach. Some fruit; apple and grapefruit (disgusting, but was desperate!) and some rice and jam! Weirdest breakfast ever.

Then we headed off back to Kyoto.

On the train which takes an hour. Annoying.

We had to change once, and it took until 10am to reach Inari station. Here is one of the most exciting places – fushimi inari.

Meandering rows of bright red torii gates heading 4km up the side of a mountain. Of course I had visions of it being quiet.

It wasn’t.

In most parts, we could barely move due to the numbers of people here.

Fushimi Inari was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century. Today this shrine is one of Japan’s most popular, and is the head shrine for the 40,000 Inari shrines scattered across the country. There were lots of stone foxes by each of the temples. Some had keys in their mouths (a key to the rice room), others were just plain.

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The fox is considered the messenger of Inari, the god of cereals. Despite all the people, it was fun wandering through the bending tunnels created by the arches. At one point we managed to create a blockade of people, so that we could get the perfect photo with no one there..! That was difficult. We wandered for a while, heading upwards and upwards through more and more tunnels. Before deciding that we had lots to do today! So had to leave.

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From inari, we caught the local train into Kyoto, which only took a couple of minutes. Kyoto station is massive. After buying another day pass (which we’ll need later), we made our way through the maze and onto another train headed to Arashiyama. This train was packed and standing room only – squished in. But luckily only took about 20 minutes.

This was a cute neighbourhood, small food stalls lining the streets and small houses. Until we hit the main touristy street. Which was then suddenly packed with people. We headed up some small alleyways and made our way to the bamboo garden.

This was several paths, completely surrounded by towering bamboo. The light shining through the trees appeared green. It was so pretty. But as with everything, comes with crowds and crowds of people.

The air was really cool and fresh, it felt like a whole world away from the city. As we were passing, we decided to nip into the temple – Tenryū-ji. We had a quick picnic lunch (more mochi…!).

The gardens were so pretty. Full of blossom and other blooming flowers.

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The temple sat around a large lake, full of koi and reflecting the surrounding trees and blossom. Behind the lake was the western mountain range which surrounds the city. We weren’t sure which side of the road to stand to catch the right bus. The information on the stops was confusing. So we stood on one side waiting until we saw the he number bus we wanted. It was coming on the other side of the road, so we quickly ran over and got on it.

If it was wrong, we would just have to get off and wait on the other side…!

But it was right. It was heading across to the other side of the city.

We were on the bus for nearly an hour. During which time it began to rain. Typical. And no I didn’t have an umbrella. When we got off the bus, we hid under someone’s front porch for a while until the rain was just a drizzle.

Just behind these houses was a canal, called the Philosophers walk.

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This canal gets its name from a 20th-century philosopher called Nishida Kitarō, who is said to have meandered lost in thought along the path. Today the canal is dotted with small shops and cafes. And the real reason people come along here – to watch the cherry blossoms which line the banks. Some of them were out in bloom and were pretty. But we were a few days too early to see the banks in full bloom, which would have been awesome.

It was nearly 3pm and I was hungry. Of course, there was a vegan cafe nearby that I wanted to visit. Called Cacao magic – and yes, lots of chocolate! I ordered a slice of chocolate tart (obviously). It was rather expensive (£6) but woah was it delicious!! Served with an almond cream. The best food I’ve eaten I days. It was over all too quickly.

We continued our adventures along the street and ended up in a long row of shops and food stalls headed up towards a temple. There were lots of icecream stalls selling Sakura (cherry blossom) and green tea icecreams. But none of them made with soy milk. Shame.

I bought a green tea steamed bun, which was filled with red beans and a mochi gel. So good! First time I’ve seen them being sold with no meat inside.

At the top of the road was the Ginkaku-ji temple, one of the most popular in Kyoto. The temple was originally constructed in 1482 as a retirement villa for the shogun. The name Ginkaku-ji literally translates as ‘Silver Pavilion’, however, it’s more brown. Apparently it was never covered in silver as intended. Here there was another rock garden – with some perfect cylindrical cones sculpted in gravel. Supposed to represent a lake and mountain. The pathway meandered up a small hill, though the pretty garden. The floor of the gardens were completely covered in moss.

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At the top of the hill, you could see back across the city of Kyoto – all the grey roofs. And at the end of the path, you return to the real lake (not a stone one), and have a great view of the pavilion reflecting in the water. Everything is so pretty here. After leaving, we went to find the bus. And there were huge queues. So went a bit further down the street to get a different bus, which was a much better plan as this one arrived completely empty. 20 minutes later, we jumped off the bus in the middle of the shopping district. Here were lots of western brands, but after nipping down a few side streets, we were into market areas.

The famous market here is the Nishiki food market. We were here a bit late and some stalls were closing. But most of them were open and the whole market was still jam packed with people. The market was full of food stalls selling everything – mostly dead fish. Fried fish. Dried fish. Pickled sea cucumbers in miso (which smelt disgusting), lots of pickled vegetables in every colour. They don’t seem to eat normal vegetables here. Only the pickled variety. Tea shops. A rice shop. And a few chemists. It was fun to wander along looking at all the weird foods.

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There was a vegan restaurant a couple of blocks away, so we ventured to it. And it awe closed. Rubbish. Not quite sure what to do next, we started to make our way towards the metro station. Then spotted some stairs heading down to a basement, with a cute looking handwritten menu at the top of the stairs. Feeling adventurous we decided to pop down and have a look.

We were met with such a cute little restaurant. We got our own little room, which was really pretty with Japanese trinkets dotted across the walls. One of the waitresses spoke a bit of English and explained some of the dishes to us. And even agreed to make me a vegetable, no milk, no egg, no fish, no meat dish. Amazing.

We were presented with a starter (which we hadn’t ordered), a small square of green vegetables, yuzu, stuck together with an agar jelly and drizzled in a tahini sauce. It was really good! Then our main courses came – mine was some vegetables (orange carrot, purple carrot, green beans) wrapped in a colourless crispy vegetable to make small rolls. They were pretty. And some plain rice (of course – because that’s what I’ve eaten for most meals so far this trip!) it was all so delicious! The best restaurant we have been to all trip.

We were just a couple of metro stops away from Kyoto station.

And then back onto the train to Nara. We arrived in Nara at 8pm and ventured into the huge supermarket which was underneath the station. It was fun (as always!). I bought some more soy milk – cherry (which tasted like lip balm), a random cream coloured one (ended up being plain, no sugar – bit yuck) and a brown one (coffee, which I don’t like. But this was surprisingly good!). Plus some other usual bits – bread, mochi, plum flavoured crisps! And some bananas. First fruit which has been reasonably priced!

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