Sunday, October 22, 2023

Japan 2023 ✈ Kyoto

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

19 Apr 2023 (Wed): Fushimi Inari Shrine - Nintendo - Kinkakuji - Arashiyama
11 years ago, I visited Kyoto with my family for the first time. I usually avoid visiting places I've been before but this was an exception as hubby and I only visit Tokyo in 2017, so this was his first visit to the Kansai region. Since I had reference from the previous trip, it was much easier planning out the Kyoto portion of our trip this time around.

Instead of staying in different cities throughout our trip and having to pack and unpack, we decided to stay in Osaka for all 6 nights. As such, for the 2 days which we had to travel 1-hour to Kyoto, we decided to start our day early at 7am. The hotel breakfast started at 7am and we were able to pack some pastries to-go with the hotel's grab and go bags. 

For both days of travel to Kyoto, we used day 2 & 3 of our Kansai Thru Pass, which made the transportation cost cheaper than buying individual tickets. We took the Midosuji line from Hommachi station to Yodoyabashi station (1 stop), then switched to the 7.38am Keihan train to Ryukokudai-mae-fukakusa Station. We were glad we boarded the train at the first stop and was able to secure seats easily for this 53min train ride. The train got crowded shortly after with locals commuting to school and work during rush hour.

Arrived Ryukokudai-mae-fukakusa Station at 8.33am and walked about 10 minutes through a quiet residential alley to our first stop for the day...Fushimi Inari Shrine.

We knew this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto so we made it a point to make this our first stop. Even though 8.45am is not really considered early, we were fine with our timing as we already have an expectation that there will be crowd here.

Fortunately, the crowd wasn't too bad yet and we were still able to get some photos without people in the background.

Well...some people. There were actually few tour groups there already.

These torii gates are the main reason why most tourists visit this shrine. As you can see on the top left photo, that was the crowd situation at the beginning of the torii gates.

Now here's our trick for getting the instagram photos without people in the background, and we didn't even need to hike far at all. We only spent 5 minutes walking through these torii gates and managed to snap all these photos. What we did was quickly walk through the entry direction, and at the first opening point, turn around to the exit direction and you'd get a few empty spots coz most people would hike further and would have taken enough photos by the time they walk back to the exit. =)

We don't like crowded places so we were in and out of the torii gates quick and efficiently. We then walked around the shrine and took some photos.

The shrine started getting a lot busier when we left at 9.15am. We were glad we arrived just slightly earlier before more tourist groups arrived. 

After spending 30 minutes at Fushimi Inari Shrine, we walked 25 minutes (2.2km) to...

...the Nintendo HQ building. We couldn't enter the building so we only took photos from the outside. This stop was obviously for the game boy. We've visited the Nintendo America's HQ in Seattle, now we've also visited Nintendo Japan's HQ in Kyoto. Hubby is a definitely a big fan of Nintendo...which started his love for video games 30+ years ago.

After a quick photo stop at Nintendo, we walked 10 minutes at Jujo station and took the Karasuma line for 17 minutes to Kita-Oji station.

Our Japan public transport adventure continues with public bus, which is also included in the Kansai Thru Pass. Took bus 204 for 10 min from Kitaoji Bus Terminal to Kinkakuji. This bus route is definitely for the tourists as other passengers were mostly! The bus also showed each stop in both Japanese and English, which was very helpful.

Arrived Kinkakuji at 10.50am. Entrance ticket was ¥1,000/pax ($6.70) only. The entrance ticket (white paper) is still exactly the same as how it was 11 years ago.

This is another popular tourist attraction in Kyoto, and I remember from my last visit that there weren't much to see apart from seeing the golden temple from far. 

Was it worth the hassle of taking a train and bus, and paying ¥1,000 to visit this temple? Personally, I wouldn't recommend it. This is more of a check-the-box attraction in Kyoto.

 There were a few tour groups visiting at the same time so it was quite crowded.

We spent only 15 min visiting the temple, and spent more time shopping for souvenirs before hopping back on the bus at 11.55am for 5 min to Kitano Hakubaicho station.

One of the more memorable train lines I remember from my last visit was the Randen line to Arashiyama. These old school trams are the last remaining trams in Kyoto. They don't go as fast and our journey took 40 min with a tram switch at Katabiranotsuji station.

We arrived Arashiyama station at 12.45pm, then walked 8 min to the bamboo forest.

This is another popular tourist attraction in Kyoto and unsurprisingly, it was busy when we got here at 1pm.

Had to use some camera trick to 'hide' the people in the background.

The bamboo forest was too crowded for our liking so we didn't stay long. Walked about 30 minutes across Togetsu-kyo Bridge to the quieter side of Arashiyama to the Arashiyama Hankyu train station. Saw some cute Japanese shops along our way.

Wrapped up our sightseeing of Kyoto for the day at 1.40pm and took the Hankyu train from Arashiyama station to Kobe.

The journey took about 1.5 hours with a train switch at Juso station. Took this photo of the gaijin being stuck in between the locals on the!

20 Apr 2023 (Thurs): Gion - Yasaka Shrine - Ninenzaka - Kiyomizu Dera - Heian Shrine

Our 2nd day of sightseeing in Kyoto started early as well but instead of Grab and Go, we decided to eat quickly at the hotel before heading out. Much prefer my 'oriental' buffet breakfast over pastries. =P We left the hotel at 7.35am and took the same train route as the day before. We managed to secure seats again by boarding at the beginning of the line coz the train was even more crowded than the day before. We arrived Shichijo station at 8.50am and walked about 5 minutes to our first stop for the day...

The old Nintendo HQ building, which has now been turned into Marufukuro Hotel. I guess hubby has successfully completed his Nintendo HQ visits by visiting the US, Japan, and old Japan!

After a quick 5 min photo stop at Nintendo, we walked 20 minutes to Gion.

Most people visit Gion at night when the are lights up, wich ancient-looking streets glow with lanterns along the river. Gion is also Kyoto's famed Geisha destrict. We don't like crowds so we decided to visit in the morning, which was great as it was very peaceful and quiet at 9.20am. The only few locals we saw was a Japanese uncle sweeping the streets...

...and two couples having their wedding photoshoots.

Tatsumi Bridge and the clean Shirawa was nice having the place all to ourselves.

The streets were quiet as the shops, bars and restaurants were not opened yet. 

Walked 10 minutes from Gion to Yasaka Shrine.

 There was a school group there when we arrived at 9.45am but it wasn't crowded at all.

This is another attraction that look prettier at night with the lanterns but we weren't planning to stay late in Kyoto so all our sightseeing were planned for the day time.

Walked another 10 minutes to Ishibe-Koji alley...a small traditional beautiful alley between Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka Shrine. Also walked by the Starbucks in Ninenzaka (bottom right), which is built in historic Japanese wooden building.

Another famous tourist photo spot in Kyoto...Hōkan-ji Temple (pagoda). As you can see in the bottom left photo, the alley was pretty crowded at 10.20am. 

...but we were surprised to be able to get a photo of the empty alley with the pagoda in the background.

As we continued walking along the alley from Ninenzaka to Sannenzaka which were filled with shops and restaurants on both sides, the streets got more and more crowded. There we soooo many student groups, which made me wonder if it was field trip!

Arrived Kiyomizu Dera at 10.40am...another popular tourist attraction and unsurprisingly, this place was crowded. The student groups whom we saw on our way here were all heading towards this same place as well.

We lost interest in sightseeing after seeing the crowd, and it was getting hot so we decided not to go up to the temple and just took a few photos around before leaving.

We walked 10 minutes to the bus stop to take the bus to Heian Shrine.

At this point, we were templed-out. At least this one didn't have many tourists.

Stumbled upon a Japanese wedding at the shrine.

We had originally planned a few more stops for the afternoon but decided to call it a day. Took bus #46 from Heian Shrine to Kyoto-Kawaramachi station then took the Hankyu train back to Osaka Umeda. That's a wrap for our 2-days sightseeing in Kyoto.