This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

First Trip to Kyoto

I say “First Trip” because there is so much to Kyoto and my single day trip barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer, much less what I had written on my to-do list for my inaugural visit here. No doubt, I will go back, hopefully within the next few weeks.

Even before I knew I’d be teaching in Nagoya, I was planning to spend a weekend in Kyoto. But being transferred here for the term made my visit more convenient. It’s only 30 minutes by shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto. It’s less expensive by regular train but can take up to two hours with several transfers. So on this last Friday night, I purchased my ticket and was back at Nagoya Station at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, ready to zip down to the former capital of Japan. (Kyoto was the capital from 794 – 1868, at which time Tokyo became the capital.)

I had a nice long list of things I wanted to see and do and was armed and ready with my camera, guidebook, snacks and cash. I’m a fairly fast and efficient mover, and felt confident that I could make my rounds with time to contemplate and experience Kyoto. Ha! I was wrong.

To say one is going to see Kyoto in a day is like saying one is going to see Tokyo in a day. It isn’t done. And it’s really not done when one doesn’t know the train system, understand the city bus system, is given wrong information by a local who thinks they understand English, doesn’t have a good map or take into account that the map is not to scale. All of this came into play, and some of it delayed me, but as all ventures go, it worked out, I learned a lot, had a great time and went home exhausted and wanting to return as soon as possible.

Once I realized I’d planned more than what was possible for a day trip, I relaxed and decided to take it slow(ish), do what I could and enjoy the areas I visited. It was a beautiful fall day and was perfect for this visit.

My first problem was just getting out of Kyoto Station. It is a wonder in itself. The steel and glass architecture is amazing and I’d read about the 15 stories of open air escalators. So I had to see that…

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The escalators in the center at ground level continue down for two more floors. They lead to many shops and restaurants.

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I took the stairs all the way to the top.

Top of the station.

Top of the station.

Exiting the station - Kyoto Tower.

Exiting the station – Kyoto Tower.

Kyoto is famous for its numerous temples (over 1600), shrines (400) and World Heritage Sites (17). Some of the temples are situated next to each other, others are spread out and isolated in the hills that surround Kyoto. In my attempt to walk to the famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) I passed by this huge and fascinating temple a few blocks from Kyoto Station. Instead of continuing on, I stopped to explore for a while.

Nishi Hongwan-ji, built in 1591. One of the largest wooden structures in the world.

Nishi Hongwan-ji.

The temple, built in 1591, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world.

The temple, built in 1591, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world.

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I resumed my walk to the Golden Pavilion, but I really had no idea where I was in relation to the pavilion so I abandoned the slow route and decided to hail a cab.

I was denied on my first attempt. The guy’s cab was empty but he gave me the crossed arms sign, as in “No way am I letting you into my cab because you’re a foreigner and you probably don’t speak Japanese and it’ll be complicated.” At least that’s what I inferred by his sign language. I actually know enough Japanese to say where I needed to go. So I walked on, feeling a little embarrassed by my bold and brave attempt. I caught the next guy off guard as he was walking back to his cab. Although a little surprised, he was not daunted and understood my request to be taken to the Golden Pavilion. Off we went and I’m so glad I splurged on the ride because it was much further than I expected.

First solo cab ride in Japan. Hailed, secured and delivered.

First solo cab ride in Japan. Hailed and delivered. There’s no tipping in Japan, which makes payment easy.

Kinkaku-ji – the Golden Pavilion – is an icon of Japan, along with Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms and geisha. The entrance fee was only 400 yen and although the visit was short, it was worth it.

Entrance to the Golden Pavilion.

Entrance to the Golden Pavilion.

The Golden Pavilion.

The Golden Pavilion.

The temple was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but it was burned to the ground in 1950 by a monk. It was rebuilt in 1955 following the original design. My guidebook warned that this site can be packed any day of the week and this being a beautiful fall Saturday, I was sure it would be unbelievably crowded. There were many people but surprisingly, it was not overly packed.

Looking back on the crowds.

Looking back on the crowds.

After walking through the temple grounds, which were quite beautiful despite the crowds, I opted for the city bus instead of another cab. Misunderstanding a local student, I got off the bus too soon and spent an hour regrouping and taking another bus that eventually went back to the station. But along the way we passed several temples so it was a bit like a tour.

From Kyoto Station I took another bus that went to Arashiyama, the location of several more temples and a famous bamboo grove.

Walking from Arashiyama Station across the Togetsukyo Bridge toward Tenryu-ji.

Walking from Arashiyama Station across the Togetsukyo Bridge toward Tenryu-ji.

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The grounds of Tenryu-ji, built in 1339, although the present buildings date from 1900. The temple is associated with the Rinzai school of Zen.

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I took a less crowded path around some of the temple buildings; I turned a corner and suddenly was facing these lifelike statues. There were dozens of them, all with very realistic and individual expressions.

I felt like I'd walked in on someone's party.

I felt like I’d walked in on someone’s party.

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The Lonely Planet guidebook raves about this farmed bamboo grove as being “…high on the list of experiences to be had in Japan.” I think in a certain, mystical light, without all the people and asphalt path, and if the grove were natural, I might agree. It was nice, and I’m pleased with the pictures, but I think its appeal is somewhat overrated. Or maybe I set my expectations too high. Nonetheless, I enjoyed walking through the grove which led to other pristine temples scattered on the hillsides.

The bamboo grove.

The bamboo grove.

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Many girls wore their kimonos.

Many girls wore their kimono.

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There were several buildings on the grounds of the Jojakko-ji, connected by cobbled paths.

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Tahoto Pagoda.

Tahoto Pagoda.

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The residence of a haiku poet, Mukai Kyurai (1651-1704), who was a disciple of Basho, a very famous haiku poet.

The residence of a haiku poet, Mukai Kyurai (1651-1704), who was a disciple of Basho, a very famous haiku poet. Basho made several visits here.

After strolling through the temple site, I walked back to Arashiyama then took a local train to Kyoto Station. I wandered around some more and bought a few souvenirs, still not ready for the day to end. Finally, accepting that I’d seen all I could for this trip, I purchased my shinkansen ticket and returned to Nagoya. On the train I was already planning my next trip to Kyoto, now knowing better how to navigate my way through this ancient city. Still to see: Gion, the tunnel of torii gates, the Imperial Palace Park, Japanese gardens and so much more.

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14 responses to “First Trip to Kyoto

  1. Leah November 26, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Ah, this is the next place I want to go! Making me want to be there right now.

    • Robyn November 26, 2013 at 5:24 am

      Thanks Leah! I just went back for a second visit last weekend and will be writing that post soon. The fall colors were beautiful! The crowds…. not so much… ;)

  2. kari November 9, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Wow Robyn these pictures are beautiful! I love that you crashed the statues party. The women in kimonos look much better than I did in mine in my Sushi Zanmai restaurant days.

    • Robyn November 9, 2013 at 5:59 am

      This is unprecedented and an honor to see your comment! Most of these kimono are especially formal – not made for restaurant wear. :) Thanks for following! – R

  3. Uncle Dave November 5, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Thank you for your excellent photographs and narrative. They bring memories of my Marine Corps duty in the early 60’s.Most of my sight seeing was by bicycle.I love receiving your posts
    Uncle Dave

    • Robyn November 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      I’m sure Japan was a very different place in the early 60s. I keep thinking about getting a bike – it would make getting around more interesting and fun I think. Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. – R

  4. Jannele Mastin November 4, 2013 at 8:37 am

    So fun to take your well narrated photo tour this evening, Rob. Thanks for sharing these great trips!

  5. Uncle Dan November 4, 2013 at 1:12 am

    What a great adventure you are having. Reminds me of grandma Edwards traveling in Mexico and South America many, many years ago.

    • Robyn November 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you so much… Mom and I talked about Grandma Edwards when I went to Bolivia. I’m so interested in her life and what it took for her to travel so much as a single woman in the 1950s (or 60s?). She must have been an amazing person.

      • Mom November 5, 2013 at 2:42 am

        Grandma Edwards’ travels would have been in the mid 1940s and early 1950s. I can remember her returning from trips when I was three years old, thus 1945, and when I was in sixth grade. My teacher asked her to come and talk to my class. She also traveled in Alaska so from one end of the Western hemisphere to the other. There was a diary of her comments while flying over the Andes Mtns in Chile (brave soul). She would have been too old to travel in the 1960s and died in 1966 at age eighty-six. (To others, this dear lady was Robyn’s great-grandmother. )

        • Robyn November 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm

          She must have been such an interesting person! I’d love to know what it was like for her to make the decision to travel by herself back then. Her travels would be ambitious today as well. I still want to write a post about her. She is such a role model.

  6. Susan November 4, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Incredibly beautiful – the combo of your eye-candy photos and excellent commentary+history
    makes this a favorite site for me!! Thanks for taking the time to educate me on this wonderful country!

    • Robyn November 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      Thank you for reading! I thought you might be interested in this topic. There is so much ancient Buddhist history here…temples and schools of Zen that have been around for hundreds of years. Fascinating.

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