4 days in & near Kyoto, Japan
Highlights: Hiroshima (importance of peace), culture
Day 1 — We took the high speed train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The shinkanzen itself is a great experience. We particularly loved how the snack seller as well as the conductors bowed down to the entire compartment when leaving the compartment even though we were facing the other way. So basically they bow to our backs. It was hilarious! We would turn to see it each time the snack seller or conductor exited. We never got bored of it.
Picking what temples to see in Kyoto is difficult. You need to spend at least 10 days to explore the area. With 2 days, here are some of the our temple picks that we visited based on Fodor’s advice and checking out many forums. I am really sad that I didn’t to go to the the Bamboo forest. It was a bit far from town and I would have to do it alone with Raaga so I chickened out.
It was afternoon on the first day when we got to Kyoto so we decided to head to Nanzen-ji temple and a garden close by. When we got there, we decided to look for food. A vegetarian temple we wanted to try on the premises was closed for a month!! No update online was available.
The temple area is big and we found another place that had some vegetarian options in the menu but was a traditional Japanese restaurant called Junsei. The vegetarian items ALL turned out to be tofu and rice. We have never had so much tofu and such a big bill. The lunch cost us $52. I was mad for being stuck in that complex with no other option to eat.
The surrounding gardens were very pretty. All temples close at 5pm so we had time for only one. We took the metro back home. I refused to eat outside and decided to cook dinner myself. I got some cabbage from the 7/11 opposite to our house and cooked a cabbage dal and rice.
The rice cooker in the apartment was brand new and all the signs on it where in Japanese. Thanks to Youtube, I was able to figure out which button to press to make the rice!!
Day 2 — The next day in Kyoto we decided to take the buses as Kyoto is not well connected by metro. First we went to Sanjusangendo (Fodor’s choice) which was a small temple complex with 1001 buddhas. A lot of Hindu Gods were inside which was fun to see how they are spelled in Japan. By the time they came to Japan, their names were slightly modified which was cute.
Next we went to the Fushimi-Inari shrine. The bus transfer was a bit complicated and while waiting for the bus, Venkat found a small shop selling vegetarian sushi which was very tasty. There a lot of food vendors on the way to this shrine since it is a very popular place for tourists. I didn’t find anything appetizing and a guy wanted $4 for literally 10 fresh potato chips. Out of principle, I refused to buy. I had packed some yogurt rice from home which I fed Raaga and ate the reminder myself.
We started climbing the steps and Raaga got very tired but there were some promising views of Kyoto if we climbed. I begged Raaga to go and she agreed! The views were OK from the top. We rushed down as Raaga really needed to go potty and there are no toilets on the mountain since it is holy.
After the lunch disaster, the day before Venkat didn’t want to take a chance. We found a Vegans Cafe and Restaurant which didn’t require a bus transfer. We got there for a late lunch and the food was terrific and totally lived up to the reviews. The Ramen Vegan noodle bowl was amazing!
All the temples close at 5pm so we didn’t have time for another temple and so we headed home. On the way we saw a street filled with beautiful lanterns on ontomocho street. We got some fruits and veggies to cook dinner. I made a slightly more elaborate dinner than the night before. We ate and Raaga was too tired and went to bed.
Venkat went back to town to see the Geishas. I wanted to as well but was too tired. He came back and said that he could only see 2 of them from very far and all tourists were snapping their pictures. Poor Geishas!
Day 3 — We only had part of the morning as Venkat was headed to give an afternoon talk at the Kyoto University and work over dinner with colleagues. I wanted to see some of the gardens listed as must on Fodors. We made some mistakes with the buses again this morning. We wanted to go to Ginkakuji (Silver pavilion) but instead ended up at Kinkakuji (Golden pavilion). Raaga had a melt down here probably as she was still hungry from breakfast. It started to rain so the whole visit was a bit unpleasant. Luckily the temple was small so we got out quickly.
The Daisen-in garden was one of the 5 gardens to see on Fodor’s. I am really glad we went as it was lovely and not many tourists came to see it. It is a rock garden and the lone Salt tree there blooms only in late June so we saw the flower (nothing fancy!). The garden had a small shrine which had a poem about life which was so inspiring. I loved how calm the whole place was and I was totally inspired to make some Japanese rock garden out of our yard when I got back to Pittsburgh. The poor man’s rock garden!
It was lunch time and we started looking for vegetarian restaurants but couldn’t find any full vegetarian places. Finally Venkat found something and we took a LONG walk to that place since there were no buses and it was too short for a taxi ride. The place is closed every last Wednesday of the month! Could we be more unlucky? We were all hungry and tired and started to bicker with each other. We stopped by a small shop but everything smelled like fish and the old lady running the place didn’t speak any English. One of the noodles didn’t smell so I gave it to Raaga but threw away the other one that smelled like fish even though visibly we couldn’t see anything. I almost wanted to deviate from our vegetarian principle and offer it to Raaga but Venkat disagreed. In the end, I am glad we stuck to our principles!
After a long walk, a bus ride and another long walk, we ended up at the Vegan place called Choice that Venkat had been wanting to try from Day 1. The food was very good, portions seemed small especially given how hungry we were. After lunch, I told Venkat that I could no longer walk even to the bus stop especially carrying Raaga. So we took the taxi to Kiyomizu-dera temple. Venkat dropped us there and took the bus to the university which was close by.
Raaga and I walked the large complex of Kiyomizu-dera. Since we took a picture with the people in Kimono at Tokyo, Raaga calls them the “Kimono people”. Every time she seems someone wearing it which is very many especially in temples, she wants to take a picture with them. This was beginning to get boring. I caved in and told her that this was the last time I would ask anyone. She was also in a kimono on this day so it made for a cute pic.
Raaga and I got an ice cream since we walked a lot inside this temple especially since it was on a hill. Luckily we had to walk down the steep hilly street since we took the taxi coming up. I took the bus back home alone with Raaga and got the direction right. If I had taken the bus the other way we would have ended up somewhere! The bus ride was long and the bus quite crowded but Raaga got seat next to an old guy who gave her a mint. I saw this sign from the bus and couldn’t resist taking this picture. I didn’t realize that the Japanese view Mr. Trump as an obese person!
Day 4 - Venkat wanted to make the most out of our 7-day Japan rail pass which was set to expire the next day so he wanted to take a trip to Hiroshima. I thought it was a bit far 360 KM but only a mere 1.5 hours by the bullet train so I caved in. I knew it would be a long day for Raaga but I also wanted to see Hiroshima.
We got to Hiroshima and I teared up. 200,000 people killed within the 2km area all within minutes by the first bomb! I don’t understand wars, will probably never do. Every one wants to live and every one wants to enjoy life.
I had packed lunch of yogurt rice and dal from the left over dinner which I fed her by the river while Venkat went to see the museum. The museum would be too much for me. Next we took the bus, train and the ferry (all included from our japan pass) to Miyajima island and Itsukushima shrine. The Miyajima island was the 2nd most scenic place in Japan so I wondered which was the first one. The torii gate which looks like it is floating, it is not turned out to be a disappointment. The islands was pretty from the ferry, I will give it that. The shrine was nice and different since it is built on the sea.
We did the whole thing back — ferry, train to Hiroshima station and train to Kyoto. We had to change in Osaka so decided to get dinner there. There was an Indian restaurant close to the Osaka train station which turned out to be a hole in the wall place. The food was OK and we got some standard sag paneer, dal, roti. We took the train and metro back to Kyoto to our apartment.
Day 5 — Today will be all wasted in making our way back to Tokyo Narita airport for our flight to Singapore at 5pm. It was raining so instead of taking the metro to Kyoto station, we took the taxi and paid $10 for like 2 kms but it was well worth it with the bags and the rain. We had luckily gotten seat reservations the day before as the train was full since it was a Friday.
I am so glad that I married a guy who is so good with maps and directions. We had to change trains for Narita airport but not at Tokyo but some station before, just followed my husband and he got us there!
To summarize my feelings for Kyoto and Japan in general, I found nothing that was jaw dropping except probably the trains and the recovery since the bombing. The temples were good but I wouldn’t call it the most amazing place. I think the serenity of the place is calming as is their culture. I found the really old people working everywhere — cleaning toilets, stations, streets really sad and shocking. The trip was more of an interesting experience but I couldn’t rate it as a top trip. So the journey was interesting but to me wasn’t really a must see or bucket list destination!