Day 5: Kyoto

Kyoto is one of those cities with too much to see in a single day, but I did the best I could. Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, and some of the most famous sights in Japan. Before I got to my traveling for the day I went out looking for breakfast, but my hotel this time was right in the downtown area of a very large sprawling city, its like trying to find someplace to eat in downtown Long Beach or San Diego. At first it looked like McDonalds was the only option other than spending $25 for the incredibly over priced hotel meals. I then found a place that had the most unusual(for me) way of ordering your food. You enter the place and buy your meal ticket with a vending machine that has little pictures, then sit down, the waitress takes your ticket and brings you your food when its ready. I then like the day before, packed, checked out, and left my things with the front desk. In Kyoto the JR trains are not really useful like they were in Tokyo and the main source of transportation is instead subways and buses, which sadly aren’t covered by my JR rail pass. Luckily when I went to the tourist information desk the night before on my way to my hotel, one of the pamphlets I grabbed regarding bus routes had a little note saying you could buy a day pass for about $10 that could be used all day on the subway and buses, so I bought one of those, and took the subway to Kyoto station before getting on a bus bound for one of the “must see” attractions of Kyoto, Ginkaku-ji the “Silver Pavilion” one of Kyoto’s famous world heritage sites.

Gikaku-jin is apparently always very crowded and today was no exception, the place was filled with throngs of tourists. For being billed as one of the must see, I must say it was a bit of a let down. The pavilion i knew was not really covered in silver, though that was the goal of the Shojun who built it. The pavilion was rather small, and un-impressive, though the grounds were very well kept, and the Zen Buddhists did an excellent job with the immaculately raked sand.

My next stop was Kinkaku-jin the “Golden Pavilion”. This one really did live up to its billing. The original pavilion had been burned down in 1950, and in 1955 its reconstruction was completed to the original design. I’ve seen pictures before, but really it is quite amazing looking, especially when the sun hits the gold covered top two floors. Sadly the sun wasn’t playing particularly nice for me, and only shone when I was too far away from the pavilion to get a good picture for everyone, but the ones I did get turned out fairly well anyway. Both this, and Ginkaku-jin are really bad tourist traps though, and I felt like I was being steered towards souvenir stands. I participated in some of the Buddhist traditions there, including tossing pennys into a small stone bowl for good luck (I got one in on my 4th try =o) as well as giving an offering and ringing a bell, which is a tradition for the new year (though I’m a bit early still). After visiting this spectacular temple I was feeling fairly warn out and was debating whether I should go see Fushimi-Inari Taisha or not, and eventually decided I should make the most of my time in Kyoto and go for it.

I hoped the next bus headed to a local terminal with a subway station, and took the subway back to Kyoto Station where I changed over to the JR Nara line to head to Inari, but because I can’t read the train schedules, I wasn’t able to tell the train I was about to get on was going to skip Inari station and a few others, but once we passed Inari station I knew I made a mistake and got off to catch a local train back to Kyoto and Inari. I realize now the train I had gotten on was a an express train (and thus the different seats) and I know to look for subway style train cars when on a local train. Anyway so I found my way to Inari with a bit of a detour, and I’m very glad I didn’t give up on the idea either when I got on the wrong train, or when deciding to go or not. The Shinto shrine was really quite amazing, not just for the shrine itself, but because of the pathways densely lined with tori gates winding up and down a small mountain for 3 miles. I walked pretty much all of the path, and found it quite entrancing. At places along the path there were little shrines. There are many stone foxes through out the shrine, and are of importance to Inari traditionally apparently. When I was leaving there was some kind of Shinto ceremony going on, though I wasn’t able to find out what it was, and after taking a picture was told “no pictures, go home”, so I only have one.

After Fushimi-Inari, I returned to my hotel for my things and got on the train to Osaka, about an hour away by limited express. I found that all of the local restaurants were closed because of new years eve, and my hotel isn’t in the most commercial of areas, so I was forced to pay $20 for a small portioned, poorly prepared meal. I now know why Japanese people are stereotypical small and thin compared to the big fat american, all of the portions are just a lot smaller. For instance if you buy a soda in the states its usually 20oz, in Japan you’re lucky to get 6oz if its not water, and the food portions follow the same formula. First thing back in the states I want to go to claim jumper! lol

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