We headed off pretty early to start our journey towards Kyoto for our day trip. Wasting no time, we decided to track down a famous tonkatsu restaurant near Kyoto station based on Trip Advisor. Unfortunately, maps on Trip Advisor do not always lead you to the place intended. After walking around the Kyoto station area, Stan and I decided it was not worth wasting our time so we just settled on a random tonkatsu restaurant inside the station. The servings were enough to hit the spot and as far as we know, when it comes to food, you can never go wrong with fried food.
We took a tourist bus to our first destination, which was the Kiyomizudera Temple. Tourist buses are stationed around the train station, allowing easier access to the various tourist spots around Kyoto, that include many temples and gardens. The fare is a standard price of around 120 yen.
While on our way to the temple, Stan told me an embarrassing situation that one of his travel companions had during their second trip to Japan. Apparently, that friend of his got scolded by the bus driver as he put the coins into the wrong slot whilst dropping all the coins from his coin pouch onto the floor and held up a line behind him.
I got nervous hearing that story and counted my coins several times to make sure that I put in the right amount. I’m the type of person who dislike getting into embarrassing situations as the scenarios will keep playing in my mind for hours. Unfortunately, history decided to repeat itself and I put the coins into the change slot but Stan was quick enough to point it out and the bus driver was very patient.
Kiyomizudera Temple is famous for not having a single nail used in its entire structure. Due to gloomy weather, the photos do not do much justice for the beautiful view of the autumn leaves surrounding the area. Despite noisy tour groups and school children, the view of the temple was something to behold. Women in their kimonos also added an old school flair.
As we walked further into the temple, we realized something was a little off. We noticed a few group of women were dressed in the same kimono. At first I thought, ‘eh, they could be really good friends,’ until a tourist walked up to them and asked for a photo. Alas, to the quiet dismay of the fellow tourist, those women turned out to be tourists themselves as well! We saw the same scenario repeating itself as our tour around the temple progressed and it was pretty entertaining.
The women dressed in maroon kimonos on the right of the picture above are tourists whereas the left are locals. I could not help looking at the blue kimono. The lady wearing it looked very fashionable.
There were quite a number of both primary and secondary school students visiting the temple. We noticed some tourists ‘harassed’ school kids in photos, especially parents with daughters. However, some of the school kids did ‘harass’ other tourists for photos too. It’s a vicious cycle.
And here lie the famous love stones. Two love stones are placed directly opposite one another and it is believed that if a person can walk from one end of the stone to the other blindfolded, the person’s wish for a true love will be fulfilled. We did see a guy following that step but was led by a group of his friends, which was cheating.
This is the famous view of the temple with its massive verandas and main halls, which were built to accommodate large number of pilgrims. During the Edo period, there were records of pilgrims jumping from the verandas, believing that their wish would be granted if they survived. Of course, this practice is prohibited.
The verandas were very crowded, so Stan snapped a few more pictures as we made our way to Higashiyama district for some snacks and exploring before heading off to view the ‘Night Illumination’ at Kodaiji Temple.
Our first snack of the day was this giant green tea cream puff for 400 yen, if I remembered correctly. In Perth, supermarkets and bakeries sell the chocolate drizzled variety, called profiteroles. As much as I love my choux pastry, I prefer cream puffs as the chocolate drizzle makes them soggy. The pastry was light and fluffy and the serving of the green tea cream was generous. Kyoto is well-known for its green tea products and anyone planning to buy green tea Kit Kats, it is best to get them here. It was surprisingly hard to get our hands on green tea Kit Kats on other regions of Japan.
The sun set pretty quickly as we headed down along the district. It was quite a walk and with the chilly winter weather, we worked up an appetite and yes, instead of something warm, we bought a green tea soft serve cone to share. The soft serve was garnished with a simple cinnamon stick. One thing I regretted not trying was the traditional green tea sweets that some of the shops have to offer.
As the sun finally set, the district became less crowded and we enjoyed our relatively quiet walk. Some of the souvenir and omiyage shops were still opened for visitors and potential customers.
With its traditional shop houses, soft dim lights, and the lack of noisy tourists and school kids around the early evening hours, Higashimaya district retains a serene and romantic atmosphere to it.
The souvenirs we came across ranged from mochi (glutinous rice cakes) with various fillings; tsukemono (pickled vegetables); and quirky handmade craft items. Stan and I splurged a little during our visits to these shops. Stan bought 2 packs of spicy curry rice crackers, and green tea creamed cookies whereas I bought an iPhone case, adorned with cute design of cartoonish frogs from this shop, shown below. I also bought a fortune cat and reindeer shaped butter cookies from one of the stores. Japan does have its fair share of generic souvenir items but I do appreciate that for each prefecture and region, manufacturers do put in a lot of effort in creating their own unique souvenir merchandise.
Our biggest splurge went to this souvenir shop that sells Studio Ghibli items, which consisted mainly of My Neighbour Totoro merchandises, followed by Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo. Besides a set of Totoro soft toys, Stan wanted a huge puzzle set to frame in our rented house. I knew I should have consulted his mother as after the trip, she told me that he once bought himself a puzzle set but never got around putting the pieces together, let alone completing it.
While browsing the puzzle designs, Stan overheard an obnoxious tourist loudly proclaiming to her travel companion all the facts she knew about Studio Ghibli like a non-stop trivia churning machine. When her friend finally picked out several designs, she got picky and said,’ They’re nice… but why do they have to be so… blocky?’ Erm… cause’ they’re puzzle pieces?
Our last stop was Kodaiji Temple. At night, the temple and its surrounding gardens are creatively lit. Before entering the main hall, we first stopped by the tsukiyama styled garden that featured maple and pine trees reflected by the pond; man-made hills and decorative rocks. The view was amazing and one of the local tourists could not stop proclaiming how breathtaking the view was while snapping pictures with his iPad.
Compared to our visit of the Kiyomizudera Temple in the daytime, the Night Illumination show for that night was not as busy. We later found out where most of the crowds went- the main halls. We could not take a good look inside the interiors as a lot of visitors were crammed up in the hall. Pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the halls too. According to the travel guide, the interiors used to be covered with exquisite lacquer work set in powdered gold and silver
Stan and I proceeded to the rock garden to continue viewing the light display. The rock garden had light displays of various designs projected onto the raked gravel and it was pretty impressive.
As we walked, we came across 2 tea houses dimly lit along the path. We finished our tour of the temple through the brightly lit bamboo groves on the return path to the temple grounds. It was a nice leisurely stroll and we got very hungry after walking for the entire day.
Since we were not really on the main roads, we could not take any public transport to Gion to have dinner. Armed with a GPS, Stan and I navigated our way out through narrow alleyways and small streets.
After roughly 40 minutes of walking, we finally reached Gion district and proceeded to find our way to this sushi restaurant called, Chojiro, recommended by Trip Advisor. Unlike the temple grounds, the district was bustling. Before entering the restaurant, Stan and I checked out the signs and menu outside to see what it has to offer.
A foreign tourist suddenly approached me and started asking me a question in Japanese. For a moment, I stood there in awkward silence, trying to decipher what just happened. A few seconds later, I responded,’ I can speak English… and I’m not a local here.’ The tourist’s friends burst out in laughter; realizing his mistake, he apologized. It was a rather funny and embarrassing moment for both parties.
Stan and I were seated on the counter. The restaurant was split into two parts- a counter with conveyor belt displaying the sushi and menu on individual plates and another area for guests who have made bookings. Instead of helping yourself to the sushi, guests are given an iPad to lodge in the sushi of their choice, which will be handed over to the waitress.
We ordered two set of salmon sushi, tuna and fatty tuna sushi, mackerel (?), seared scallop and unagi (grilled eel) sushi. Unlike its western counterpart, raw seafood is the most common topping or filling for sushi in Japan. A small amount of wasabi paste is usually spread between the topping and rice rather than left as an optional condiment. After my first and second trip to Japan, I have started to acquire and appreciate wasabi as it does bring out the taste of sushi and sashimi. Price wise, it was rather reasonable given the quality of the seafood toppings.
After our dinner, we headed back to Osaka and ended our day snacking on interesting convenient store food while channel surfing to find any weird television show to watch.