It was a race against time when visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Although there’s no official closing time, the light of the sun is crucial for taking pictures! Being in such a rush I ended up leading us onto the rapid train, taking us three stations past our desired stop. We got there as the sun was setting, sprinting past the other late comers in our haste to get a good photo (i.e. no one in the background). It’s amazing, not only the sheer amount of gates, but also the sizes! Starting off small enough to touch the top, you don’t feel that sense of amazement until you delve deeper into the maze of the gates. In fact, following the lines of torii gates, it wasn’t until halfway through that we realised we had started on the hike up Mt. Inari. Never one to back down from a challenge, I was determined to make it to the top, much to the chagrin of my friend. It was dark when we reached the top, but there was a great view of Kyoto from its peak. While I think it would have been fun to visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha in the day, going outside of peak times proved for a memorable experience!
The climb back down was easy and quick (surprisingly well-lit too), partly driven by hunger and the need to pee. But we made it back to the station and found a restaurant serving Wesley’s food of choice, omurice. A Japanese dish that doesn’t really appeal to me much, so I got the rice and burger instead (not that great either). This pretty much ends our first day in Kyoto, one packed full of events, but a perfect way to tour Kyoto’s landscape on a time limit!
After spending the morning in Arashiyama, we caught a bus back into the city centre for Nijo Castle. It’s 500 yen to go in and despite the beauty of it all, practically everything inside was a replica. However, there is a museum on the grounds filled with the actual pieces, but it’s an extra 100 yen to go in and view them. Of course, it’s probably easier to conserve the artefacts in more controlled and modern environments and to be honest, £5 overall to view everything is a fair enough price. (Visiting places in Europe are harder on your wallet, 19 euros to visit Doge’s Palace in Venice, wtf bruh). Being pushed for time, we didn’t end up going in but would advocate doing so if you did have longer in the city!
Racing to Nishiki market, we managed to get there around 4.45pm leaving us with a good amount of time to amble through (opening times are 9.30-5.30pm, quite a bit to get used to if you’ve been spoiled by Taiwan)! It’s basically one narrow street filled with stalls selling an assortment of food and souvenirs. The best thing about it? It’s under cover! We ate a lot of things here, but the standouts were the following:
- Soy milk doughnuts – if you love fresh doughnuts (the kind you can get from fairs); you’ll fall in love with these! They’re warm and melt in the mouth, especially with the chocolate sauce drizzled on top! 5/5
- Tiny octopi – I was on the hunt for these after seeing it on my friend’s Instagram and they’re delicious as well as novel! Marinated in a sweet/savoury sauce, there’s also a quail’s egg waiting inside. 4/5
- Water buns – you’d think I’d be sick of the water with all the rain, but these looked too interesting to pass up. In fact, I had walked past them before finally deciding to double back and buy them. As a lover of all things tea, I got the roasted tea flavour! It’s essentially a type of mochi with red bean (I think?) paste inside. 4/5
- Something you must buy here is the green tea! I got the iced-green tea and it was amazing. Literally the best green tea I’ve ever tasted and I even bought a box to take home. Since my hostel’s nearby, I stopped by again on the last day for a final drink!
I feel I mention the rain a lot in my posts. On any normal day it wouldn’t be noteworthy, but when you’re travelling it can be very influential in shaping your experience of a place. So as you can guess, it rained on our first day in Kyoto. Coordination issues seem to be a problem plaguing the trip, as Wesley and I ended up at two different stations in Arashiyama that morning. You can do as Wesley did and get the train, although you then have to walk 10 minutes to get to the central part of the district, which is why I would recommend my method of taking the tram as it’s more conveniently located for sights and shops!
First visiting Tenryū-ji Temple, we paid 600 yen to enter, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’re budget conscious or have little interest in Japanese temples/gardens. It’s very picturesque inside, but you might have to fight with some Chinese tourists to get that perfect shot. Walking through the gardens takes you to the famous Bamboo Grove (don’t worry, you can get to it by taking the longer/less scenic route around Tenryū-ji). I was a little scared of being underwhelmed as my friend, Sandy, was unimpressed on her visit. But I loved it! The density of bamboo was amazing to see, but it is quite a busy area so you might not get the best photograph here.
Instead, do visit Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple! I came here wanting to see the thousands of Buddist statues, which are incredible themselves, but there’s also a bamboo path here that was deserted when we visited (in fact, there was only one other couple there). It makes a far better location for photographs, and you won’t have the risk of anyone photobombing your new profile picture, heh. Each day in Japan is incomplete without green tea ice-cream and today I mixed it up a little with a green-tea and hojicha (roasted green-tea) swirl. Can someone teleport me back already?
A quick entry today to let you know about my final day in Osaka (sad times). The morning was spent at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, on the recommendation of my friend Sandy. It was really great, except I spent the whole time thinking (I’m not even sure why) that there was going to be one huge magical tank. It turned out that the whole aquarium was sort of one giant tank that we walked around, which sounds much more impressive in retrospect, but I couldn’t shake off the disappointment from thinking that there was going to be something better round the corner. My favourite part of the aquarium though, was the replica of the dentist’s fish tank in Finding Nemo!
After spending an inordinate amount of time at the aquarium gift shop, we made our way to Osaka Castle. Here, there’s two options, wait in the queue for the elevator to take you to the eighth floor, or climb. Guess what we did. It was a tough one (for unfit individuals like myself), but we made it and the view from the top was our reward. Going down is like a time machine into the past as you make your way through the museum exhibitions, covering everything from the history of the castle, weaponry and art.
With my friend on a mission to visit every Pokémon centre in Japan, we had to stop by the branch in Osaka. I picked up a couple of souvenirs to give to friends (the Pikachu cup ramen was a novelty item I couldn’t resist), whilst Wesley tried to restrain himself from buying the whole store. Spotting the toy capsule machines, he set his sights on a particular badge, but ended up getting the SAME one 5 times. Admittedly, he did make the mistake of swapping machines halfway through and I’m pretty sure I saw another couple walk away with the one he wanted. For me, it was pretty hilarious to watch, turning into a cringe-worthy encounter when he started to complain to the staff who had a strict policy about exchanging prizes.
We had dinner to soothe the pain of failure and then parted ways, to meet again in Kyoto. Wesley forgot to buy the Japan Rail Pass, so had to take the cheaper options via local trains. Once there, it turned out the hostel we booked (Piece Hostel) had different branches, so we ended up at a different hostel again. Piece Hostel Sanjo definitely marked an upward projection of positive hostel experience though. The beds were so comfy, not to mention designed as a proper enclosed booth! A minor annoyance was that the showers were located in the basement, but with the modern facilities, this can be overlooked.
P.S. Apologies for the lack of photographs in this post!