So, this was my third time in Japan now and this time (considering it could be the last for a long time) I wanted to see some new cities. Getting some useful tips from my friend Berna ( she visited the city like a month before I did), I prepared my trip.
So first to know: If you will travel intercity in Japan get a -> JR Pass. This is like the first order from any holy book. This JR Pass is not sold in Japan, you can only pre-order it from internet, they ship a temporary ticket to you by post and then you change it with the original train ticket in Japan. Do it in the airport not to wait long queues in train stations! Depending on your journey you can get regional tickets but in my case Tokyo, Nara and Kyoto were not in the same region so I bought the pass which is valid for all Japanese territories. This pass has several options: 7 days, 14,days, 21 days. The train cost of a round trip Tokyo – Kyoto is the same as a 7 day JR Pass! ( may be even more) The only thing you should be careful when planning your trip is you cannot use the fastest shinkansen ( the fast trains of Japan) with this pass. There is a trip finder website which is very useful called HyperDia there you can make a search without these trains (these Shinkansens are called: NOZOMI / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA ):
I had a very limited time so I made a perfect plan to see both Nara and Kyoto in 2,5 days. Travelling alone helps of course to move quickly. I arrived to Kyoto from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo with HIKARI Shinkansen in 155 minutes. I picked a hotel close to Kyoto Main Train Station and immediately started my city-journey. I pinned some restaurants and must-see places on Google Maps.
Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社
Free entrance, Hours: 7:00-18:30
This is the most famous temple in Kyoto I guess, here makes you associate Kyoto with the orange colour forever really. Here is the head Inari shrine of Japan among 40.000 Inari Shrines and there are more than 10.000 vibrant orange torii gates, each of them is a donation from Japanese companies. Fushimi Inari was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake by the Hata family in the 8th century. If you are a person that likes hiking a lot, you can climb up the mountain but it would take sometime. I personally began climbing but then I changed my mind as I did not have much time. It is a steep way up.
Entrance: 400 yen, Hours: 6:00 to 18:00 (until 18:30 on weekends and holidays from mid April through July and everyday in August and September
This ancient temple was first built in 798 but it had many reconstructions afterwards. The main hall has a huge verandah supported by pillars and below you can see the Otowa-no-taki where visitors are drinking from sacred waters. The three seperate streams are dedicated to Health, Love and Success. There is a shire up Jishu-jinhja the steps above the main hall where you can ensure sucess in love by walking eyes closed about 19m between a pair of stones.
The three-storied Koyasu Pagoda is said to bring aobut an easy and safe childbirth.
Gion-Shijo 祇園 (so called Geisha Area)
So I was thrilled to visit this area of the city however the first time I was there it was about to be 22:00 and it was not very live. Then I learned that the most popular street of Gion is Hanami-koji Street. It is a nice and expensive place to dine, you see many ochoya (teahouses) where Geiko ( Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko ( geiko apprentices) entertain the guests. This street was also very empty so I decided to check again later on. I watched some videos about Geishas at the hotel and I was very impressed. There are only very few geishas left and in order to have an entertainment session with them you need to pay thousands of dollars. It is more likely to see them around 17:30 before dinner time when they come to this street by Taxis where they dine together with their guests. I tried but I could not catch one :)
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) 金閣寺
Entrance: 400 Yen, Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
This one is a wonderful Zen temple in northern Kyoto. It has two floors which are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was built as a retirement villa of the shogun but became a Zen temple after his death in 1408.
Entrance: 600 Yen, Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 from November 16 to March 31), admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.
This one was close to my hotel and a very impressive one. There are 1001 statues of Kannon which is the goddess of mercy. Sadly, it is not allowed to take photos there. The temple was founded in 1164 and nearing 120 meters it is Japan’s longest wooden structure. In the center of the main hall there is a large wooden statue of a 1000-armed Kannon which is WOW. 1000 armed Kannon have 11 heads to better witness the suffering of humans and 1000 arms to help them better fight the suffering.
This area is one of Kyoto’s most atmoshperhic dining areas. It is a very narrow alley near the Kamo river. The alley is packed with restaurants. I have not dined there myself but you can still check out the street.
Nishiki Market 錦市場
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00
This market area is a narrow shopping street with more than 100 shops and restaurants. There are many small markets which specialize in fresh seafood, pickles, Japanese sweets etc. It reminded my of our Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. The market has a history of several centuries and many stores have been operated by the same families for generations.
Again a touristic district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. It is especially popular during the cherry clossom and fall color seasons. The land mark of this area is the Togetsukyo Bridge. The famous bamboo groves, Tenryuji temple are around here. There is also a very nice steak house here so when I made my plan I first went to this restaurant and then visited the bamboo forest. The bamboo area is not very big and you cannot really touch the trees so it could be a bit disappointing but apart from that it is still a unique experience.
Monkey Park Iwatayama
Entrance: 550 Yen, Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (until 16:30 from November to March 14. Entry until 30 minutes before close)
You find this park when you cross the Togetsukyo Bridge, just let me warn you, you have to hike again and it takes like half an hour to reach top. So do it if you really want to see the monkeys :) By the way, monkeys are in nature and free, the people are in cage :) You can feed them with the appropriate food they sell in this small building. There are about 120 Japanese macaques here.
Akiko was an exchange student in Bogazici University around 2008, so we met again after 9 years! Meanwhile she got married and have three children :D We met in a Starbucks close to the Kamo river, I guess this one has a very nice view just like the one we have in Bebek/Istanbul :)
Steak Otsuka おおつか
So this restaurant offers a unique experience. You can try the famous wagyu beef here much more cheaper than Tokyo. The only obstacle is the place is open for a couple of hours and it is always the best to make a reservation. I was too late to reserve a place so I came there early like 10:30 and wrote my name in the waiting list. I was the second name after a group of 5. As soon as the restaurant was open, I was also invited so I did not really wait. I have picked Murasawa Sirloin Steak (Grade：A5）and it was a very good choice, I have never tasted anything like that in my life. Somehow the beef had a creamy soft taste. You can check their whole menu here.
It is a very recommended Ramen place so I gave it a try. I am not very used to earing pork, the ramen had some pork in it however it did not disturb me at all. I ordered a red one and I really liked it ( Akamaru Modern) I picked the level 3 however I could have picked even 4 or 5. It was not very spicy for my taste. It comes with an egg ( cold one!)
For Nara, I made also a separate Google Maps, just to summarize everything that is worth to see is more or less in the same huge park. You walk quite a lot though. If you come here early in the morning, you could go back to Kyoto afternoon. I also used my JR Pass for this trip Kyoto – Nara and it takes about 45 minutes.
Entrance: 500 Yen, Hours: 7:30 to 17:30 (April to September)
WOW WOW WOW! After seeing this, I told to myself it was worth every penny coming here really. It is a MUST SEE. This is one of the Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was built in 752 as a Buddhist temple. The main hall is called: Daibutsuden and it is the world’s largest wooden building. The Buddha sitting in the middle is 15 meters tall and represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattva
Nigatsudo Hall 二月堂
This hall is hosting very special events called Omizutori in March. This is collection of Buddhist repentance rituals that have been held every year for over 1250 years! A visual memory that you would not forget: giant torches ranging in length six to eight meters. I came across a high school student group there, they wanted to practice some English with me and afterwards gave me this origami as a gift :)
Horyuji Temple 法隆寺
Entrance: 1500 Yen, Hours:c8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from early November to late February)
This temple was founded in 607, so it is one of the country’s oldest temples. Around this temple you see many gazelles & deers walking around as well. You can feed them, they have special crackers that you can buy, they are not very domestic though so you should be careful. As I realized I love pagodas, I also liked the five-story-pagoda here.
Kasuga Taisha 春日大社
Entrance: 500 yen, Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from December to February); admission ends 30 minutes before closing)
This one is Nara’s most celebrated shrine. When you get into the inner paid area, you can have a closer look at the shrine’s inner buildings. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns which have been donated by worshipers. You can find hundereds of bronze latterns hanging from the buildings.