Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 7 (24 May 18) – Creating Instant Noodles and Shopping Around Osaka Station

 

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View of Osaka City from HEP5 Ferries Wheel

We spent the last 2 days of our Kansai trip in Osaka. Unlike my previous trips where I did not cater time for shopping, we dedicated 2 days to shop around in Osaka. There are 2 main shopping areas in Osaka, 1 at Osaka Station and another at Namba area. Today we shopped around in Osaka Station Area.

Cup Noodles Museum

Our first stop today is the Cup Noodles Museum. There are 2 Cup Noodles Museum in Japan, one of which is located in Osaka. To get to the museum, we took the train to Ikeda station (this station is not covered under the 2 day Osaka Amazing Pass) and walked for about 5 mins. The Cup Noodle Museum is relatively empty at the time of our visit. Entrance to the museum is free. Once inside the museum, there are exhibits on the origins of cup noodles and cup noodles were prepared and sold in the early days. There is even a mock-up shed where the world’s first instant noodles were created and how it was created. Down the hall, there is a tunnel display of the instant noodles that was sold in Japan throughout the decades.

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Nissin Cup Noodle Museum in Ikeda

The highlight of this place is that we get to make our own cup noodles. My friend and I each bought an empty cup (at ¥300 each) and was escorted to a table where we start doodling on the cups. After we were done drawing our cup, we approached the end of the room where we customised our cup noodles with ingredients and flavouring. Our customised cup noodles were sealed right before our eyes before they were given to us as a souvenir for us to bring back. We headed to the 2nd floor of the museum where there is a class for visitors to make the ramen noodles from kneading the dough to the finished product of the noodles. My friend and I did not participate in this activity. It took us about 1 hour to finish visiting the Cup Noodle Museum.

Shopping in Osaka Station

We headed for shopping at Osaka Station. There are a number of shopping malls in the vicinity of Osaka JR Station. We headed for the HEP5 Shopping Mall, which is across the road from Osaka Station. The HEP5 Shopping Mall has 6 levels and sells mainly clothing and shoes. We saw the ferries wheel on top of this building and will be back later in the evening after the shops are closed. After shopping around in HEP5, we headed to the departmental stores right on top of Osaka station. The Daimaru store occupies 15 storeys while the Lucca occupies 10 storeys. There is another Hankyu Departmental Store across Osaka Station. We did not go into this store as the product offerings are the same in all these departmental stores.

HEP5 Ferries Wheel

One good thing about getting the Osaka Amazing Pass is that other than allowing us to take the subway for free, we can also visit 36 spots for free. Some of these include riverboat ride, entering the Osaka Castle and taking a ride on HEP5 Ferries Wheel. My friend and I returned to HEP5 at about 8pm, after most of the shopping malls have closed to ride on the Ferries Wheel. The HEP5 Ferries Wheel is located on the 7th floor of the building. The ride on the ferries wheel takes about 15 mins, with the highest point being 106m from the ground. The views on the ferries wheel aren’t that great as the glass looks blurry and we did not have a good view of Osaka city. I would not have ridden on it if it is not covered under the Osaka Amazing Pass. After taking the ferries wheel, we headed back to our accommodation to rest.

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HEP5 Ferries wheel is located on top of a shopping mall

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On the streets of Osaka at night

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 6 (23 May 18) – The Temples of Kyoto: Wandering Through the Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari-Taishi, to the Zen Gardens of Ginkakuji, to the Majestic Water Temple of Kiyomizu-Dera

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Torii gates of Fushimi Inari-Taishi

Fumishi Inari-Taishi (伏見稲荷大社)

Visitors to Kyoto will bound to make a visit to Fushimi Inari-Taishi, a shrine that is dedicated to The God of Rice, Inari. The shrine was built in 711, just celebrated its 1300th anniversary recently. Our journey to Kansai today brought us to Eastern Kyoto, our first stop is The Temple of Thousand Torii Gates – Fumishi Inari-Taishi. We were hoping to get to the shrine early to avoid bumping into huge crowds, after all, Fushimi Inari-Taishi is one of the visited and photographed spots in Kyoto. I figured it would be boring (not mentioning mainstream) if we just visited the main shrine and walking through the very busy Senbon Torii, other than these sites, we planned to hike up to the top shrine in Mt Inari, hoping to get a good view of the surroundings from the top. The 4km hike up Mt Inari would take about 2 hours. Despite the drizzle, Fushimi Inari-Taishi is still packed with crowds. At Romon (樓門), the main gate of Fushimi Inari-Taishi, we spotted a single storey structure that is decked in bright red pillars and beams with white coloured walls, as the centre part built slightly higher than the side structures.  A little further from Romon sits Honden (本殿), the main shrine of Fushimi Inari-Taishi. Visitors are only allowed to pay their respects to the 5 deities enshrined here at the entrance of the shrine, where 5 bells are installed for prayers to ring prior to their prayers.

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We were greeted with hordes of visitors at Romon, the main entrance to Fushimi Inari-Taishi

After paying our respects at Honden, we started our hike up Mt Inari through the first stretch Torii Gates, know as Senbon Torii (千本鳥居). Senbon Torii has the highest concentration of torii gates, estimated to be thousands. The torii gates are lined up almost back to back with very little gaps. Walking through these bright red torii gates gives me an almost magical feeling. I have been seeing pictures of Senbon Torii, and now that I am here, it just feels so surreal. Owing to its fame, the number of visitors here is also the highest. It is very difficult to take pictures of the torii gates at Senbon Torii without capturing someone in the shot. My friend and I ended up walking through the torii gates, taking very few pictures. At one point under these torii gates, we came to a split path. The right side leads upwards towards the inner shrine, whereas the left path is for visitors to descend from the inner shrine. Moments later we arrived at the inner shrine of Okusha (奥社奉拝所). There are 3 buildings at Okusha, 2 for temple administrations and 1 is where the deity is enshrined. We also spotted a queue where people seem to be touching some stone. As the queue was rather long, plus we have to cater time to hike up Mt Inari, we did not join the queue.

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The torii gates at Senbon Torii Gates

Fushimi Inari-Taishi consists of many smaller shrines spreading on Mt Inari, which we spotted on the hike up to Mt Inari. The torii gates pass Okusha are much larger than those we have seen so far. This part of Fushimi Inari-Taishi is where the crowd started to thin out. From here onwards, we were able to take more pictures with no people in it. Along the way, we saw Kumatakasha (熊鷹社) shrine with a large lake behind it. Along the way, we also came to a rest area. There is a small tea house looking shop that sells food and drinks. I highly recommend people making a trip to Fushimi Inari-Taishi to make a hike up here. It is here we saw Kyoto city from a higher ground. We continued our way up the peak, along the way seeing more smaller shrines. Some shrines are bigger while others seem to be a cluster of smaller shrines. At some points of the path, it felt that the shrines have merged with nature. The forest air is crisp and fresh, possibly due to the rain. We finally reached the top of Mt Inari where the shrine Inchinomine (一ノ峰) is located. We were a tad disappointed that there are no viewpoints at the peak of Mt Inari. From Inchinomine, the path turns downhill. The shrines here are more spread out. We also spotted some torii gates that seem to be newly installed. We see more nature on our way down. Once at the base of Mt Inari, we headed to Kyoto JR Station for our next destination.

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View of Southeastern Kyoto from Mt Inari

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The Shrine on the top of Mt Inari

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

We originally planned to visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace after we are done with Fushimi Inari-Taishi. However, due to the downpour, we spent additional time at Fushimi Inari Taishi, which caused us to miss the English guided tour timing. We decided to change our destination and wanted to visit Kiyomizu-Dera. While queuing for the bus, we realised bus number 100 goes to both Kiyomizu-Dera and Ginkakuji. We decided to make a trip to Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is a short walk from the bus stop we alighted. Along the way, we walked past the famed Philosopher’s walk. I told my friend we would take a look at Philosopher’s walk if we have the time after visiting Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is built in 1482 and served as the retirement villa for the owner, mirroring the Kinkakuji which was built by the owner’s grandfather. Ginkakuji was converted to a temple after the owner’s death in 1490. The named Ginkaku was given when the owner wanted to cover the pavilion with silver foil, however, this did not materialise till the day the owner passed on. Entering Ginkakuji, there is a short walk from the main gate before we reach the inner gate. Passing the inner gate, the highlight of Ginkakuji, Kannon-den (観音殿)or Ginkaku (銀閣) was on the right of the entrance. Ginkaku is a 2 storey wooden structure sitting by a small pond. The silver pavilion is much simpler and smaller than Kinkakuji, perhaps due to the owner does not want to dwarf the works of his grandfather. Ginkaku still retains its original look (and colour) the day it was built. Similar to Kinkakuji, a silver phoenix taking flight stands on the roof of Ginkaku. Having visited Kinkakuji the day before, looking at Ginkakuji feels like a knockoff from its golden version. Afterall it is modelled after its famous golden version.

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Ginkaku, the Silver Pavilion

Next to Ginkakuji is where Kogetsudai (向月台) is located. The Kogetsudai is a large open space with a volcano structure made of white sand, which represents waves and Mt Fuji. Next to Kogetsudai sits the Hondo (本堂) and Togudo(東求堂) side by side. Built of wood, the Hondo is out of bounds and is one of the largest buildings in Ginkakuji. Similarly, the Togudo is also made of wood, this is the oldest Shoin style building that has survived earthquakes and fires throughout the centuries.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of Ginkakuji is its zen gardens. Almost half the area is dedicated to the zen gardens. There are 4 ponds in Ginkakuji in total, of which 3 are visible to visitors. Passing the Toguko, a path that leads to the moss gardens in Ginkakuji, which leads to a viewpoint up a small hill. Walking around the gardens feels therapeutic and peaceful. From the viewpoint up in the hills, we can see the whole of Ginkakuji and the town in Northeastern Kyoto. Ginkakuji is rather small, it took us 30 mins to finish walking around the grounds of Ginkakuji. Unless one is interested in zen gardens or happens to have spare time (like us), Ginkakuji is hardly worth the time to travel to this part of Kyoto. We originally wanted to take a walk down Philosopher’s Path, however, after walking past, it felt like walking behind someone’s backyard. We gave up the idea of walking down Philosopher’s Path and headed for our next destination in Kyoto.

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View of Ginkakuji and northeastern Kyoto from the hill in Ginkakuji

Kiyomizu-Dera (清水寺)

We took the same bus that brought us to Ginkakuji to Kiyomizu-Dera, which is one of the more iconic temples in Kyoto. It took us 7 mins to walk from the bus stop to Kiyomizu-Dera, passing by some wooden buildings along the way. Walking on this street feels as if we are being taken back in time. The street is now filled with shops selling souvenirs. Kiyomizu-Dera is at the end of this street, the first indication of arriving at the temple is the bright red 2 stories main gate. The 14m tall Nio-mon (仁王門) is the main gate that welcomes visitors daily. Sitting on top of a flight of stairs, Nio-mon looks commanding. Walking past Nio-mon, just right behind it, is where the Sai-mon (西門) is located. We were not particularly impressed with the Sai-mon, but are more captivated by the 3 stories red pagoda behind it. From Sai-mon, we spotted another pagoda across on the other side of Kiyomizu-Dera.

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Nio-mon, the main gate to  Kiyomizu-Dera

As it was approaching closing time (we only had 45 mins at the time we arrived at Kiyomizu-Dera). My friend and I wasted no time and headed into the main hall – Hondo (本堂). The Stage in Hondo is the most iconic feature in Kiyomizu-Dera, thanks to the location it is built on. The Stage is essentially a veranda, protruding out of the Hondo, built on the steep cliff, supported by 18 pillars that measure 13m tall. However we were a tad disappointed to learn that Kiyomizu-Dera is undergoing preservations works, most the iconic Kiyomizu Stage is covered in canvas and scaffolds, except for a small section that allowed us to take a peek down from the veranda. After offering our respects to the god in Hondo, my friend and I proceeded to the other parts of Kiyomizu-Dera.

From Hondo, there is a path that splits into lower and upper path in Kiyomizu-Dera. We took the upper path as this is where we can get a good view of Hondo. There are a couple of buildings on this side of Kiyomizu-Dera, the Okuno-in Hall (奧の院) resembles Hondo, but at a smaller scale. Similar to Hondo, there is a veranda at Okuno-in Hall where we got great shots of Hondo (if not for the hideous canvas). We continued on the path leading to the pagoda located opposite Hondo. From Hondo, this pagoda seems far, but the distance between the 2 structures is not as far as it seems. Arriving at this pagoda, it looks the same as the first pagoda next to Nio-mon. As Kiyomizu-Dera is closing soon (announcements were being made on its closing time), we headed for the waterfalls in the temple grounds.

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The veranda at Okuno-in Hall is a great picture spot of Hondo

Coming from the pagoda, we took the lower path that leads to the waterfall. Otowa no taki (音羽の瀧) is one the iconic features in Kiyomizu-Dera. It is the pure waters from the mountains here that gives the temple its name. Otowa no taki is a pavilion that has 3 streams of water flowing down from the mountains. It is believed that each of these streams grants different wishes, but drinking from all 3 streams will bring bad luck. I tried drinking from one of the streams, the water tasted like tap water and is very refreshing. One of the good thing about coming to Kiyomizu-Dera when it is about to close is the absence of large crowds, my friend and I did not have to queue for the spring water nor are there crowds that obscure us from taking pictures. If one were to come here when it is about to close (the temple closes at 6pm), do come at least 1½ hours before it closes.

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Taking the last wefie before we leave Kiyomizu-Dera

We hurried out Kiyomizu-Dera as it was about to close.  As it was dinner time, my friend and I had dinner in one of the small bento eateries (they were delicious and not pricey at all). We spent the rest of the night shopping in Kyoto before heading back to Osaka.

 

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On a double-decker train heading back to Osaka

 

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 5 (22 May 18) – The Nature and the Ancients of Kyoto: From Arashiyama to Kinkakuji

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Kinkakuji in Kyoto

For the next 2 days, our travels in Kansai region will be spent visiting the sites in Kyoto. There are a lot of historic places to visit in Kyoto and it would not possible to see everything given the time we will be spending in Kyoto. Numerous guides online provide guides for visitors to Kyoto. I was initially planned on following one of these guides. After some planning, I was telling myself why settle for some guides with places that I am not interested in? A few iterations later, I finally settled on the places I wanted to visit in Kyoto, the beauty of a free and easy trip. We spent our 1st day visiting the sights northwest Kyoto and 2nd day in the southeast Kyoto.

Arashiyama (嵐山)

We started our Kyoto travels with Arashiyama, which is famed for its scenic views of the river and the Bamboo Grove. There are 3 train stations that serve Arashiyama area namely Hankyu-Arashiyama Station (阪急嵐山駅), Randen-Arashiyama Station (嵐電嵐山駅), and JR Saga-Arashiyama (嵯峨嵐山駅) located at the south, central and north of Arashiyama, respective. We opted to take the train to the southeast of Arashiyama so that our journey will start from the south and end up in the north of Arashiyama where we will catch the Sangano Scenic Railway.

Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋)

Leaving Hankyu-Arashiyama Station, we headed towards the Katsura River (桂川), where the famed Togetsukyo Bridge is located. We reached Katsura River within minutes and there lies the 155m Togetsukyo Bridge in a distance. The view from the riverside was beautiful. With Togetsukyo Bridge in the foreground and the spring green trees on the hills behind the bridge, no wonder visitors flog here for a picture on the bridge. We walked towards the bridge and was treated to more scenic views of a small raised dam, which looked like a waterfall on the river bed. There are sightseeing boats that dock in the nearby pier. Crossing Togetsukyo Bridge, we came to the built-up area of Arashiyama. The view of the bridge from this side of the river presents a different view, however, I prefer the view from the side near the Hankyu-Arashiyama Station, mainly due to a lesser crowd there.

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Panoramic Shot of Katsura River from Togetsu Bridge

Arashiyama Rickshaw Ride (京都人力車)

The buildings in this part of Kyoto looks rustic and as though they are from a page out of a history book. As we were waiting to cross the road, we saw rickshaws with visitors on them. Though not in part of our plan, nonetheless we tried a 30mins ride on the rickshaw. Despite being touristy, riding the rickshaw through Arashiyama is a good way of orienting ourselves around Arashiyama. It is also a good way of seeing the sights around this town for those who have little time in this area. Our rickshaw driver introduced us to the various sights along the way. Everywhere in Arashiyama town is crowded with visitors, our rickshaw driver is very skilful in manoeuvring the rickshaw through the hordes of visitors, especially when he was turning into the Bamboo Grove. The main highlight of the ride is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. As the rickshaw driver pulled us through the Bamboo Grove, he suddenly turned into a small road that is free from visitors. The rickshaw driver explained this is a road that is reserved for rickshaws. On this road, we can feel the peacefulness in the Bamboo Grove. The Bamboo Grove is split into 2 parts, the area before the train track is crowded with visitors. as compared to the area after the train track. There is a small Shinto shrine near the train track. Somehow this is where all the visitors turned back and headed back to the town. We made mental notes of where to go to after we are done with the rickshaw ride. The driver pulled us pass the train tracks to the part where there are lesser people. It is here that the rickshaw driver made a brief stop and took pictures of us on the rickshaw. We made a u-turn and head back to Katsura River where we boarded the rickshaw. As we thought that our ride will be ending soon, the rickshaw driver made a turn into a side road. On this road, we felt the peacefulness of Arashiyama once again. There are some rustic buildings on this road. Soon we were on the side of the road that we boarded the rickshaw. This marks the end of our rickshaw ride. After a few pictures with the driver, we headed back to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

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Map and rate of the Rickshaw that we rode in Arashiyama

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My friend with the rickshaw driver

Tenryuji (天龍寺)

As we were walking towards the Bamboo Grove, we came to Tenryuji, one of the temples on the main road in Arashiyama that we have passed by on the rickshaw just now. My friend and I headed into the compound of this temple. There are quite a number of visitors to Tenryuji. The attraction of this temple is its zen gardens. After walking for another 5 mins, we came to the Kuri (庫裏).  Entering the compounds of the temple is free, however, there are different charges on the admission to various buildings and gardens. Kuri is a relatively small white building triangular roof and is built in 1899. The Kuri is considered one of the 7 major buildings according to the principles of Zen. We felt this place is a little touristy and did not enter Kuri. As we were rushing for time, we exited Tenryuji and headed for the Bamboo Grove.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (竹林の小径)

Minutes later, we arrived at the entrance to the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Having been here moments earlier, we know exactly which spot to go to where there are lesser people. In the area before the train tracks, we couldn’t really appreciate the bamboo grove. Most of the time we were squeezing with other visitors and this area is very bad for photos. As we were making our way past the train tracks, we made a brief stop at the Shinto Shrine in the midst of the Bamboo Grove. Nonomiya Shrine (野宮神社) is a small shrine that the locals come to pray for marriage. There are several small structures in Nonomiya Shrine, consisting of the main prayer shelter and several boards for visitors to hang this wishes. As the shrine is rather small, we exited the shrine after taking some pictures.

The train tracks that cut the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove into 2 parts is right next to Nonomiya Shrine. We continued our walk in the Bamboo Grove past the train tracks. This is where we felt peace in the Bamboo Grove. There are significantly lesser visitors to this part of the grove, making strolling in this part of the grove a relaxing one. It is here we can hear the rustling of the bamboo leaves as they dance to the rhythm of the wind. My friend and I turned into a small area where we stopped by on the rickshaw earlier to have our photo taken on the rickshaw. This is a perfect spot for pictures with the Bamboos and lesser people. It is recommended for those visiting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove to walk past the train tracks and come here to get away from the crowds.

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On the rickshaw in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野トロッコ列車)

Leaving Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, our next stop is the Saga Torkko Station where we planned to board the Sagano Scenic Railway towards Kameoka. The station about 7 mins walk from the rear exit of the Bamboo Grove. The 25 mins Sagano Scenic Railway runs along Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka, after which it will turn around and return to Arashiyama. There are 5 carriages on the Sagano Scenic Railway, 1 of which is open air. We originally wanted to take the open air carriage but was told all seats in this carriage are taken. Our plan of taking the train up to Kameoka was also changed on the spot as the next train available is some 2 hours later. We did not want to wait and opted for the return train ride from Kameoka instead. As our JR pass is still valid, we took the JR towards Umahori Station and waited for our train to come by. Arriving at Umahori Station, we took a 5 mins walk from the JR station to the Scenic Railway station. Along the way, we saw some farmlands in rural Kyoto.

Our train ride arrived on time and we boarded the train as soon as passengers alighted. The cabin of the train is made of wood, giving the train a rustic feel to it. As the train left the station and started on its 25 mins journey towards Arashiyama, we were treated to views of the wilderness in Kyoto. The dramatic scenery saw Hozugawa River turns from being peaceful to angry with rapids in certain areas. The river also widens and narrows as the train runs alongside the river. We saw the hills on the opposite side of the river donning on their spring green coats and at some point of the journey, the hills gave way to the river as Hozugawa River snakes through the mountain ranges. We even saw boats at some point of the river, where visitors chose to brave through the rapids of Hozugawa River as their return option towards Arashiyama. Initially, we were worried that the seats we were assigned will not give us much of the river view as one side of the train tracks will be facing the mountains. We were lucky to have assigned seats on the left side of the train as we realised on the return trip the left side has more time with the sceneries of the wilderness of Arashiyama.

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Bridge over Hozugawa River

Nijo Castle(二条城)

We headed back to Kyoto after alighting from Sagano Scenic Railway. As we were riding on the JR towards Kyoto, I realised there is a JR station near Nijo Castle, which is our next stop in Kyoto. We alighted at the station and headed towards Nijo Castle. The walk from Nijo Station to the castle takes around 15 mins. Soon we found ourselves at the entrance of Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle is built in 1626 as a residence for the Shogun who was tasked to protect the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Unlike Himeji Castle, Nijo Castle is rather flat. We passed through the main gate – Higashiote-mon (東大手門). Higashiote-mon has a rather simple design, the bottom half of the gate and this walls surrounding Nijo Castle are built with stones and the top part is painted in white. The main gate looks rather modest in size with traces of gold plating and looks very well preserved.

Passing Higashiote-mon, we came to another gate. The Kara-mon (唐門) is more elaborate in its designs. Though not as tall and big as the Higashiote-mon, Kara-mon is work of art. There are more traces of gold plating on this gate, making it look more royalty. The beams are engraved with vibrantly coloured flowers, with a couple of Japanese Cranes in flight from the front of the gate. The second beam has carvings of dragon and tiger.

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Kara-mon in Nijo Castle

Passing Kara-mon, the first building that we saw is the Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿).  Ninomaru Palace consists of 6 connecting buildings, which we were made to walk in a pre-determined fashion through these 6 buildings. Photography is strictly not allowed in the palace and there are staffs stationed around in the palace to enforce this rule. Walking through the buildings, we saw lots of empty rooms, most of which with elaborate paintings on the walls. Some of these rooms are larger than others. These larger rooms tend to be near the entrance to Ninomaru Palace, which served as audience rooms. There are some statues placed in the audience room give visitors a glimpse of what it looked like when Nijo Castle was functional. The rest of the rooms are empty with paintings on it. We walked around the 6 rooms in Ninomaru Palace like zombies as everyone visiting the palace felt like going through the motion of passing through these rooms, and the no photography rule baffles me. Finally, we exited Ninomaru Palace and headed to other parts of Nijo Castle. We followed the pre-determined path round Ninomaru Palace to the gardens behind the palace. As I am not a garden person, I find this a tad boring.

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Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle

The path leads us to a small bridge crossing a moat inside Nijo Castle. Crossing the bridge, we came to Honmaru Yaguramon (本丸櫓門), which functions as a defensive gate for the main keep inside. The path took us to another garden inside the moat. Little that we realised we can only see the main keep from outside, there are no indications or openings that allow visitors to enter into the main keep. The flat structure of the main keep (本丸御殿), make this main keep feels more like some old Japanese houses rather than a palace. We wandered through this garden in the pre-determined path and headed out Nijo Castle. Personally, I find Nijo Castle not worth visiting with most parts of the palace being out of bounds and the restrictive photography rule inside the only building that is open to visitors. Unless one is an avid garden lover, visiting Nijo Castle is a waste of time.

Kinkaku Rokuonji (金閣鹿苑寺)

Leaving Nijo Castle, we headed to Kinkaku Rokuonji. The temple is famous for its Kinkaku (Golden Pavilion) hence people usually refer to this temple as Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple). When planning for this trip, I read that Kinkakuji is very crowded most of the time. The best time for visiting this temple would be either early morning when it first open or 1 hour before it closes, where the crowd would usually thin out. We chose to visit Kinkakuji 1 hour before it closes hoping to see the golden pavilion at the time when crowds are lesser. After paying for our tickets, we entered the grounds of Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion sitting on the side of a lake is immediately in our sight. Kinkakuji is a 3 storey building, with the ground floor of Kinkakuji being semi-open. From the front of Kinkakuji, we can see into the rather empty ground floor with its walls painted with some flower mural. The entire 2nd and 3rd floor are enclosed. It is these levels where the walls are covered in gold foil, giving Kinkakuji its name. A phoenix statue stands right at top of the Kinkakuji with its wings spread out, as though it is ready to take flight. It is said that a Buddha relic is stored on the top floor of Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji looks especially charming with the rays of the setting sun shining onto it, making the top 2 floors of Kinkakuji glow like a gem. Indeed there are lesser people at the time we entered Kinkakuji. We can easily take pictures of Kinkakuji with no people in the background.

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Kinkaku up close

My friend and I followed the designated footpath making our way out of the temple grounds. Along the way, we came across Fudo-do (不動堂), a small shrine dedicated to the Buddist deity Fudo-myo-o (不動明王). We paid our respects to the deity enshrined here before making our way out of Kinkakuji.

Strolling in Downtown Kyoto

We left Kinkakuji on a local bus bound for Kyoto JR Station. As we were near our destination, we realised there is a shopping strip where the bus was plying through. We hit the buzzer and alighted on the next stop the bus calls on. There are numerous shops and departmental stores along this main road. As we were walking, we saw this small alley that seems to be crowded and turned in to check it out. Little that we realised that we are in the Kamo River (鴨川) dining district. One of the things to do in Kyoto is to dine at one of the restaurants that have an outdoor terrace that faces the Kamo River. This dining experience is only available from May to September each year and has existed for over 400 years in Kyoto. People would flock here to enjoy the cool river breeze while dining during the hotter months of the year. I have wanted to experience this before I came to Kyoto and by chance, we stumbled into this area. We walked along the alley from restaurant to restaurant searching for the food that we like. Dining here is a tad pricey. As we were walking along the alley, I spotted a Geisha walking discreetly to her next place of work. I read that Geishas are a rare sight in Kyoto these days, I must be lucky to have spotted one on my very first time (and first day) in Kyoto. We settled in a restaurant for dinner, dining here is indeed a unique experience.

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Geisha spotted rushing to her workplace

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Dining in one of the open terraces along Kamo River

Gion District (祇園)

After dinner, we headed across the Kamo River to check out if there are any other shops there. We stumbled in a quiet Gion District, where most of the old wooden buildings are located. Tourists flog here partly for the feel of olden days in Kyoto, partly hoping to catch a glimpse of Geishas as they usually ply through here for work in some of the restaurants here in Gion District. Walking in the streets of Gion District is as though we have been transported back in time. Most of the buildings here are restaurants and have ceased operations at the time we were there. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the peacefulness of the street, which makes strolling in Gion District pleasant. We headed back to Osaka to rest of the night after we believe that we have covered most of Gion District.

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 4 (21 May 18) – Oh Deer Oh Deer: Feeding the Deers in Nara Park and the Majestic Todaiji Temple

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The majestic Todaiji

Nara (奈良) was established as the first permanent capital of Japan from 710 to 794 (also known as the Nara period) before Kyoto was. Nara was chosen as the capital of Japan owing to its location being right in the centre of Japan. Today the only remanent of the imperial palace used during the Nara Period is an open space where the former Palace sat, located north-west of Nara JR station. Nara remains an important historical centre for Buddhism in Japan and is home to the largest wooden structure in the world. Our trip today mainly focuses on the temples East of Nara JR station. Visitors can either take the JR or the Kintetsu line to Nara. As my friend and I wanted to maximise the use of our Kansai-Wide JR Pass, we opted to take the JR to Nara. The way to visit the major sights in Nara is not difficult to locate, I was telling my friend “just follow the crowd, they will bring us to the places we wanted to visit”. The Kintetsu railway is much closer to the major sights and Nara Park.