After a few days in each of Takayama and Hiroshima, we are at the final destination of our two weeks in Japan. Another fast train got us to the old Japanese capital of Kyoto in an hour from Himeji.

We had chosen a hotel near the station for convenience, only a three-minute walk they said, but more like 10 minutes when you have a few bags and a couple of kids to drag along. We returned to the train station for dinner, as it was a huge modern building with a couple of department stores and scores of restaurants. We are looking forward to starting of exploration of Kyoto tomorrow as we have only heard good things about it.

Mixing With The Locals

We decided to take it easy today as we have nearly a week here in Kyoto, though there is a lot to see. First Rob went and got some maps and travel info so we were prepared for the week. Today is the day of the monthly market held at the nearby Toji Temple, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to experience it. It was a 15-minute walk, and as we approached the temple the crowds were getting bigger. The market was similar to many in Australia, except the setting was very different, and the food and items for sale were Japanese.

Gion, Kyoto

We stopped for a bit to eat once we found some food that was familiar, and there were some nice artworks but not cheap enough for us to buy. We escaped the crowds and paid to enter the temple area. Nice relaxing garden and pond, with a large five-story pagoda (the largest in Japan), and two interesting large wooden halls with statues of Buddha inside. On the walk back we stopped at a park for the kids to play, and ended up staying for a couple of hours at a cool spot by a creek for olive to splash around mixed with the local Japanese families having their weekend picnic. Olive happily joined in and played with the other kids.

Back at our hostel, Rob ducked off for some groceries, including some sushi for entrée. Sushi has been a great snack for us, particularly for Olive as it is her favourite food. The supermarkets have great plates of all varieties of sushi ready to take home. After this starter, we walked around the corner to a Japanese take away joint and had a couple of cheap bowls of chicken/beef and rice. It was a cheap meal, a few dollars per dish. We are getting frustrated about having to buy every meal, though the prices are probably less than we would pay at home.

Japanese Restaurant

On the way back we helped a couple of lost Americans who had been abandoned by their teacher. They were obviously not seasoned travellers, but they were able to find some to help them out. We tried to get an early night as the days have been long with lots of walking, though it is a little hard to convince the kids to go off to sleep.

Temples in the Rain

We picked out a couple of temples to visit today in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. We caught a local bus, which was a simple process – the only difference to home was that you pay as you get off, a flat rate for anywhere around town. In the rush to get off through the crowd with the pram and kids Clare neglected to pay.

Just as we started up the hill to Kiyomizu Temple, the first and most important temple of the day it started to rain quite heavily. We had an umbrella and a couple of ponchos, but it wasn’t enough, we had to buy another umbrella.

The temple was pretty busy, particularly in the undercover areas. The temple was in a beautiful setting on the side of a hill amongst the trees, though it was hard to appreciate its beauty with the rain. At the first shrine, we took turns to enter the underground room – following the path in total darkness. It looked like the rain was going to last all day, but fortunately, it started to ease after an hour out so. We had to answer some questions from some young Japanese students studying English, we were happy to help them with their language skills (though we would later get overwhelmed with these requests!).

We walked through the old area of Gion beautiful traditional streets. Very impressed with the chirimen crafts, particularly the beautiful mobiles with hand made dolls and other objects. We even saw a few geisha walking around, though they are probably not the real thing. As our recommended restaurant for lunch was too crowded, we were forced to find an alternative, and what a great find it was. They specialised in a unique noodle dish that was a bit like spaghetti bolognese.

Japanese Garden

After lunch, the rain had cleared and the rest of the day was fine. We had enough time for another couple of temples and Maruyama Park. We saw the Kaiken Yasaka shrine and The Chion-in, the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism, which required climbing a large staircase, which Rob had to do a couple of times was he volunteered to walk back to collect the umbrella we left behind at the restaurant.

Bus back to the train station. We each bought some takeaway food including a subway roll which was not too different from home and took it up to the rooftop to eat. It was a great view of Kyoto but was getting a bit chilly.

Exploring Around Kyoto

It is a rainy day today, so we have had to modify our plans a little. We got ourselves more prepared for the rain compared to yesterday. We walked to a huge Buddhist temple nearby. There was some celebration going on, and thousands of people were there for the morning service – as well as too many security guards. We also visited the garden nearby. As we had to pay to enter, expected something spectacular. It was a nice garden in parts though the constant rain did not help. 

From there we walked to a local train stop, took a while to decipher the payment machine and rode the two stops to our lunch place. We finally made it to a sushi train restaurant, it was very interesting. Kappa Sushi. There were a few familiar things, but many we were not sure about. We tried a few unusual things. The special orders (which you could order through a touch screen) arrived via a fast train straight to our booth on a separate track.

Sushi Train

From the restaurant it was a short walk to a famous shopping area, fortunately, it was all undercover as it was still sprinkling rain. The markets were not as great as we expected. We caught a subway train back to the main station, had a coffee from Maccas and did some shopping at the Kyoto tower for souvenirs. Dinner back at the hotel of quick cup-a-noodles, easy to do when all we have is a kettle. It is forecast to rain until at least tomorrow noon.

Torii Arches of Fushimi Inari

As it was forecast to rain in the morning, we decided a train south to Fushimi Inari was the best bet. It was only a short trip away. The famous red Torii arches were as spectacular as the photos you see. We only walked part of the way, before returning to the main train station. It was a challenge with the pram in parts. Back in Kyoto, we had a great Okonomiyaki meal for lunch at the train station.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

While we at the station we got some advice from the tourist information about how best to tackle the rest of our wish list. We could not do it all and opted to just start with the “philosopher’s walk”, which was a lovely stroll along an old canal with a few shops and small temples along the way. At one shop we bought some woodcut prints. One temple that we just stopped in to go to the toilet was very pleasant, although they seemed to be worshipping mice. It was the mouse at Otoyo-jinja Shrine. We bought a souvenir of some temple plaques, the discovered that the left mouse holds a drop of water (=sake) which means long life, and the right mouse holds a scroll that represents study. At the last temple we saw, Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavillion), there was a lush green garden, as well as a simple zen sand garden.

Olive went crazy on the bus trip back, she was tired and grumpy (as we all were after this tantrum, as well as very embarrassed). We could not get off quick enough. As we have travelled around we have noticed a lot of Australian animals incorporated into the Japanese culture. Right from the first day we saw a platypus as part of the logo for train company logo, and today a kangaroo image passed us on a truck.

We returned to the train station Porta shopping centre to treat ourselves to a Japanese buffet meal. We are glad there was lots of food to choose from, not all of the food looked appealing but there were a few surprises and a great sampling of Japanese cuisine.

It was another exhausting day, but still, a challenge getting everyone to sleep when we are all sharing the same room.

Our knees and backs are getting a hammering. In our room and common room, there is a distinct lack of furniture, or if there is any it is a very low table or stool. At some of the traditional restaurants, you kneel or sit at a low table, but not the places we normally go to. Having to bend down or squat, good for leg strength – not good for pregnant ladies.

Nara, the old Japanese capital

Our destination for today was Nara, the old Japanese capital an hour away by train. We were a little slow to get going in the morning. Rob first went on a mission to find some more cereal for breakfast and some nappies for Jetson, not an easy task in a foreign land. By the time we got to Nara, it was nearly time for lunch. We caught a bus to the start of the Lonely Planet walking tour to save our legs a little, then stopped at a rest stop for a rest stop, where Rob tried an earthquake simulator (and dampener). They advised us of a cheap place to eat just up the road, where we tried their speciality of green cold noodles – it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

Nara, Japan

Clare tried feeding the deer that roam most of the town, but was bitten on the bum instead. Jetson did not like them either. It was a short walk to the huge Todaiji Temple, which was needed to house a massive statue of Buddha. The large wooden statues at the entrance were impressive too. Olive joined many other small Japanese and gained eternal happiness by crawling through a small tunnel through one of the wooden columns inside. Rob was tempted to have a go, but was put off by the possible embarrassment of getting stuck.

Clare was feeling tired, and we had only just begun our tour of Nara Park. Out was also tiring having to stop and answer questions to every group of young Japanese students to help them learn to speak English. We walked along to another temple or two, then turned for home – it was getting late and we still had to get the train back to Kyoto.

Temple in Japan 2011
Todaiji Temple in Nara is the world’s largest wooden building 

We decided to have something to eat before we got back to our hotel, expecting the kids to fall sleep on the way, but we all stayed awake on the train on the way back. Back at the hotel, we did a lot of our packing as we needed to leave for home early in the morning.

Sayonara Japan.

We woke before our alarm – we are anxious to go back home. It has been a tiring and busy two weeks, very enjoyable but we are looking forward to getting home. We had given ourselves plenty of time to finish packing and to get to our 7.15 am train to Kansai Airport. We bought some breakfast for the hour and a half long train trip.

Again there were two flights to get us home, 6 hours to KL, a couple of hours at the airport in transit, then another 5 hours to Perth. A taxi home and into bed by 1 am. It is going to take us a few days to recover, but I am sure we will look back fondly at our two weeks in Japan.

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