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[Japan 2015] Day 3 of 7 | Kyoto: Gilded Kinkakuji, the bamboos at Arashiyama, and geisha district Gion.

 

Previously: [JAPAN 2015] Day 2 of 7 | Kyoto + Nara: Exploring Kyoto Station, Fushimi Inari-taisha, and the most polite deers in the world.

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Another night, another experience staying at a ryokan 旅館 (see previous post). It’s already Day 3 of 7, and thankfully, we had a more relaxed downtime that night than our first 2 nights, because we didn’t move hotels until the next day (Day 4 of 7). This would be our last day in Kyoto … and yeap, so many could-have-beens still! There are more than 5 destinations we were planning to go, but we’ve miscalculated the time we would spent on each place … so we took this to mean we must plan the next Japan trip!

As with the previous posts of this series [Day 1 of 7Day 2 of 7], you’ll navigate through the post by clicking any place you want to see first on the list below, then click the upward-pointing arrow symbol (↑) to come back to this section of the post. By now I hope you’re used to the loading time of everything and the seemingly endless scrolling … which I’m not. heheh.

 
 

KYOTO 京都


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On our way to Kinkakuji Temple by bus

Kinkakuji Temple 

Known by the Western world as the Golden Pavilion (and officially referred to as Rokuon-ji鹿苑寺), UNESCO World Heritage site Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 and the whole complex started out as a retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Ashikaga shogunate during the Muromachi Period. This was a time when commercial, transportation, and urban developments flourished. More contact with China resulted in a major influence of Zen Buddhism on Japan, and the classic Zen ideals we now see manifesting on Japanese garden design? This was when the minimalistic landscaping style began. You’ll see how the pond the pavilion extended over had 10 small islands carefully arranged in a wabi-sabi 侘寂 manner. On his will, Yoshimitsu had stated that he wanted this villa to become a Zen temple after his death, and so it has been a sanctuary for over 6 centuries now.

Experts say that the best seasons to view the gilded pavilion is during the fall and winter, as it’ll stand out more against the changing landscape colors (gold against all crimson and orange, gold against full white). But it’s best you don’t fall on slippery paths in the cold if you want to take a stroll around the beautiful garden complex.

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Daimonji 大文字山 hill you can see when walking from the bus stop to the Kinkaku-ji entrance. Every year on August 16th, the Japanese light up 5 hills surrounding Kyoto to indicate that the spirits of the deceased are returning to the spiritual realm (as they’re believed to visit the world during the O-Bon お盆 festival). This is the first hill, inscribed the word 大, or “large”, to light up. Read more on the other 4 hills.

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Who knew moss gardens could be this beautiful?

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Entrance fee: JPY 400/person.

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Cause there’s no such thing as taking too many pictures of it …

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Note the Zen-structured islands on the pond I was mentioning earlier
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A small walkway on your left from the viewing area

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Yes, the top 2 storeys are entirely covered with pure gold leaf.
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Coin toss in the strolling garden

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Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺


Kitaku
金閣寺町1
Kyoto 〒603-8361
+81 (0)75 461 0013
www.shokoku-ji.jp/k_about.html

Operating hours:

M-S 09:00am – 05:00pm

Nearest JR station(s):

  •  北大路

Kyoto City Bus number(s):

  • 101
  • 102
  • 204
  • 205

(from Kyoto Station)

* * * * * * * * * *


 

Arashiyama district 

Arashiyama is a popular sightseeing district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. People from all over the world come here to see the temples Tenryuji 天龍寺, Daikakuji 大覚寺, the Togetsukyo Bridge 渡月橋, the bamboo grove 嵯峨野竹林, and white monkeys 嵐山モンキーパーク, among the many attractions in the area. Yet locals also come here a lot, especially during the colorful autumn and cherry blossom seasons, mainly to enjoy the natural setting. They love taking boat rides on Oi river 大堰川 too, although others come to the rural parts of the area to visit the small temples studded within the mountain woods. These rural areas are a further walk up north from the main street.

As soon as you get off from the train station, you’ll see that the main street of Arashiyama is nothing but a tourist town. There are lots of ice cream parlors, Japanese restaurants, souvenir shops, other novelty shops and even kimono-and-yukata shops lined along the street. There’s plenty to see (and spend on) if you’re not from the area. Naturally, we only got to visit Tenryuji Temple and the bamboo grove by dusk, although we wanted see Daikakuji Temple as well and to cross the Togetsukyo Bridge and see them 170-something monkeys. Just another one of the many reasons to come back to Japan~


 

Tenryuji Temple 

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Not only is it one of the 5 Great Temples of Kyoto (gozan 五山), Tenryu-ji is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site mainly for its cultural significance: It’s the main temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. You’ll see later on how the landscape design that became popular during the Muromachi Period was implemented here. Tenryu-ji was built during the beginning of the period (in 1339) by the first Ashikaga shogunate, Ashikaga Takauji, to mourn for the late Emperor Go-Daigo.

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Interior of Tenryu-ji’s hojo 方丈 (the living quarters of the head priest)
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Overlooking the garden and pond from the hojo – it’s the landscape design that would influence all the rock arranging and garden styling of Japan. This one was designed by Zen master Muso Soseki.

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Tenryu-ji 天龍寺


Ukyoku
嵯峨天龍寺
芒ノ馬場町68
Kyoto 〒616-8385
+81 (0)75 881 1235
www.tenryuji.com

Operating hours:

M-S 08:30am – 05:30pm
(until 05:00pm from late October to late March)

Nearest JR station(s):

  • Arashiyama 嵐山
  • Torokko Arashiyama トロッコ嵐山

* * * * * * * * * *


 

Sagano Bamboo Grove 

Now this is the star attraction of the entire district – listed repeatedly on many amazing-places-in-the-world listicles from around the web, this bamboo grove/forest has quickly became a bucket list item for the wanderlust and, probably also the most photographed site of Kyoto. It’s to the left from Tenryu-ji’s entrance, where you’ll first be enchanted by little gardens and then slowly introduced to sparse bamboo trees. There’s just one path (that stretches about 500m long), so if you keep walking further up, the bamboo trees become denser and denser. Like all other amazing wonders of the world, pictures don’t do justice as the real thing. The gentle winds swaying the sprawling bamboo trees made it all feel quite otherworldly. Definitely one of those views where you can still get a beautiful picture no matter which angle you take it from.

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And yes … I purposely wore a bamboo leaves print dress (by Miss Selfridge) that day.

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Obligatory selfie

#selfie of the summer 🐵🌸 #arashiyama #bamboogrove #natureporn

A photo posted by Not Stacie (@staciapriscilla) on

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Sagano Chikurin 嵯峨野 竹林


Ukyoku
嵐山元録山町
Kyoto 〒616-0007
+81 (0)75 222 4130
kyoto.travel

Nearest JR station(s):

  • Arashiyama 嵐山
  • Torokko Arashiyama トロッコ嵐山

* * * * * * * * * *


 

The larger Arashiyama area

Shops, shops, and shops everywhere! So after getting yukata 浴衣 sets for babe’s sisters, we didn’t take too much time strolling along the touristy Arashiyama main street, except for getting matcha desserts. Then we walked half of the Togetsukyo Bridge before getting on the bus to head back to downtown Kyoto.

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Arashiyama mountains view from the Togetsukyo Bridge 渡月橋

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Japanese women dressed in yukata 浴衣 taking selfies~
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Japanese wannabe pretending to inspect bamboo leaves
Man trying to stab himself
Man trying to stab himself

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Free umbrellas at the bus stop for when it rains! This small act of kindness is just one of the many charms of Japanese culture~

Arashiyama 嵐山


Ukyoku
嵐山元録山町
Kyoto 〒616-0007
+81 (0)75 222 4130
kyoto.travel

Nearest JR station(s):

  • Arashiyama 嵐山
  • Torokko Arashiyama トロッコ嵐山

* * * * * * * * * *


 

Gion district + downtown Kyoto 

Back at downtown Kyoto, we stopped at the Shijo area and walked eastward to Hanami-koji Street 花見小路, the most popular area of Gion 祇園. The whole district was initially built to accommodate visitors who are visiting the nearby Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社, but it soon evolved into one of the nation’s most exclusive geisha districts, or hanamachi 花街 (literally meaning “flower town”). It’s a subtler wording than the standard “red-light district” reference in other parts of the world, but in Japan, hanamachis are usually filled with okiyas 置屋 (geisha houses), ochayas お茶屋, kaiseki 懐石 restaurants, pachinko  パチンコ parlors, and bars and clubs. In this case, these shops are housed in traditional wooden machiya 町屋 townhouses dotting along the street and side alleys. The old charm is so well-preserved, it almost feels like you’re walking on the set of some 1850s Japanese movie. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot 1 or 2 geisha  芸者 or maiko  舞子 (geisha’s apprentice) walking down the street, usually followed by intrusive foreigners taking their pictures to their annoyance. This might be the cause of the stark decline of geishas in the last century, but generally when you do spot them, greet them respectfully and bask in the beauty. If you’re really into the geisha experience, hop into one of the many ochayas along the street to converse with and be entertained by them all night long.

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For the locals, the first thing that comes to mind with the mention of Gion is the Gion matsuri 祇園祭, otherwise known as the most popular festival in Japan.  Ironically, the highlight events of the annual festival (celebrated throughout the month of July) aren’t held in the district, but within the area on the opposite end of Kamo River 鴨川. The magnificent floats would each proceed along the route along Shijo, Kawaramachi, and Oike streets, which are normally lined with trendy fashion boutiques, department stores, movie theaters, large bookstores and top restaurants. But during the festival, there’ll be street food stalls selling traditional Japanese refreshments like yakitori 焼き鳥, taiyaki たいやき, takoyaki たこ焼き, okonomiyaki お好み焼き, and good old dango 団子. To learn more about the history behind Gion matsuri, see this guide.

By the time we crossed to the other side of Kamo River, we were famished. But the view along the long river (extends up to 31km) was priceless – decked along the banks were numerous restaurants with open balconies and wooden patios to look out to the waters. We walked through this little alley, known as the Pontocho Alley 先斗町, that was packed with delicious-looking eateries that locals seemed to love. Most of them are far more affordable than the haute cuisines you see along Hanami-koji, though naturally, the atmosphere is rowdier than the exclusive district as well. The super narrow alley runs just west of the river, stretching from main streets Shijo-dori 四条通 northward to Sanjo-dori 三条通.

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After looking through so many restaurants, we finally picked this yakitori bar that I did not identify … it’s a slight west from the main alley of Ponto-cho, and we sat at the bar to have the chefs prepare our meals directly in front of us. Them skewers were so delicious I didn’t think of taking their pictures until the cheese platter came. So yeah … just pictures of cheese and the softest tofu ever~

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The walk back to Oyado Ishicho on Kiyamachi Street 木屋町通, with the Takase River 高瀬川 on our left

Gion district/Shijo Kawara-machi area 祇園/四条河原町


Nakagyoku
Kyoto 〒604-8042

Nearest JR station(s):

  • Karasuma 烏丸
  • Kawaramachi 河原町
  • Gion Shijo 祇園四条
  • Sanjo 三条

Nearest subway station(s):

  • Shijo 四条

Kyoto City Bus number(s):

  • 4
  • 5
  • 17
  • 205

(from Kyoto Station)
 
 
 

That’s another wrap! There’s not much photo-editing done here as with the previous posts, ’cause all of Gion district and downtown Kyoto pictures are mobile media. Still! It took a lot of patience for me to wait for these pictures to load so I can write on the WordPress HTML editor. Don’t you just hate it when you have to have so many tabs open just to read the full story? So enough babbling now, next up: Day 4 of 7 | Tokyo: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Abura soba, and Hachiko’s tribute. Will keep you posted~

 
 

Of all Kyoto’s many, many attractions, which one would you like to visit (or revisit) the most? 

 
 
 
 
 


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