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Archive for the 'Kinki' Category

6/5/2007

Tō-ji Buddhist Temple, Kyoto

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Tō-ji (東寺, Tō-ji?) is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto, Japan. Its name means East Temple, and it once had a partner, Saiji (West Temple). They stood alongside the Rashomon, the gate to the Heian capital. It is formally known as Kyō-ō-gokoku-ji (教王護国寺, Kyō-ō-gokoku-ji?) which indicates that it previously functioned as a temple providing protection for the nation. Tō-ji is located in Minami-ku near the intersection of Ōmiya Street and Kujō Street, southwest of Kyoto Station.

Although often associated with the famous priest Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai), Tō-ji was established in 796 A.D., two years after the capital moved to Heian-kyō. Kūkai was put in charge of Tō-ji in 823 A.D. by order of Emperor Saga. Its principal image is of Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha.

The pagoda of Tō-ji stands 57 m high, and is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. It dates from the Edo period, when it was rebuilt by order of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. The pagoda has been, and continues to be, a symbol of Kyoto. Entrance into the pagoda itself is permitted only a few days a year.

The buildings at Tō-ji house a variety of ancient Buddhist sculpture. The grounds feature a garden and pond, in which turtles and koi swim. The grounds also house an academically rigorous private school, Rakunan, from which many students are sent to elite universities.

Recognizing the historical and spiritual significance of Tō-ji, UNESCO designated it, along with several other treasures in Kyoto Prefecture, as part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” World Heritage Site.

On the 21st of each month, a lively flea market that boasts of wares from far and old is held around the Tō-ji. It’s packed with people every month and the wares you can expect are clothes, sculptures, tablewares, decoration items, food and plants.

How to get there?
Tō-ji is located on the south of Kyoto Station, which is a 10=15 minutes walk away.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kansai, Kinki, Kyoto, Travelling in Japan | No Comments »

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5/31/2007

About Kinki/Kansai region

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Kansai/Kinki region – shaded

The Kansai region (関西地方, Kansai-chihō?) of Japan, also known as the Kinki region (近畿地方, Kinki-chihō?), lies in the Southern-Central region of Japan’s main island, Honshū. The region includes the prefectures of Nara, Wakayama, Mie, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga.

The Kinki Plain, containing the cities of Osaka and Kyoto forms the core of the region. From there, the Kansai area streches west along the Seto Inland Sea towards Himeji and Kobe and east encompassing Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. The region is bordered in the north by the Sea of Japan and at the Kii Peninsula meets the Pacific Ocean in the south. Four of Japan’s national parks lie within its borders, in whole or in part. The area also contains six of the seven top prefectures in terms of national treasures. Other geographical highlights include Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture and Awaji Island in Hyogo.

The Kansai region is often compared (yet more often contrasted) with the Kantō region, which lies to its east and is comprised primarily of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Whereas the Kanto region is symbolic of standardization throughout Japan (from government to economics to language), the Kansai region displays many more idiosyncrasies: the culture in Kyoto, the mercantilism of Osaka, the history of Nara, or the cosmopolitanism of Kobe, and could be said to represent the focus of counterculture in Japan. This East-West rivalry has deep historical roots, particularly from the Edo period. Having a samurai population of less than 1%, the culture of the merchant city of Osaka stood in sharp contrast to that of Edo, the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate.

Many characteristic traits of Kansai people descend from Osaka merchant culture. As Catherine Maxwell, an editor for the newsletter Omusubi, writes: “Kansai residents are seen as being pragmatic, entrepreneurial, down-to-earth and possessing a strong sense of humour. Kanto people on the other hand are perceived as more sophisticated, reserved and formal, in keeping with Tokyo’s history and modern status as the nation’s capital and largest metropolis.”[3][4]

Popular regional foods include takoyaki, okonomiyaki and kitsune udon. Hyogo Prefecture is well known for its beef and other dairy products (see Kobe beef). Sake is another specialty of the region, the areas of Nada and Fushimi producing 45% of all the sake in Japan.[5] As opposed to food from Eastern Japan, food in the Kansai area tends to be sweeter, and foods such as nattō tend to be less popular.

The dialects (弁, -ben) of the people of the Kansai region have their own variations of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar which are unique to the region. Kansai-ben is a term referring to the group of dialects spoken in the Kansai area, but is often treated as a dialect in its own right. Kansai-ben is especially strong in cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe.

The terms Kansai (関西), Kinki (近畿) and Kinai (畿内) have a very deep history, dating back almost as far as the nation of Japan itself. As a part of the Ritsuryō reforms of the 6th century, the Gokishichidō system established the provinces of Yamato, Yamashiro, Kawachi, Settsu and Izumi. Kinai and Kinki, both roughly meaning “the neighbourhood of the capital”, referred to these provinces. In common usage, Kinai now refers to the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto (Keihanshin) area, the center of the Kansai region.

Kansai (literally “west of the border”) in its original usage refers to the land west of the Ousaka Checkpoint (逢坂の関), the border between Yamashiro Province and Ōmi Province (present-day Kyoto and Shiga prefectures). During the Kamakura period, this border was redefined to include Ōmi and Iga Provinces.It is not until the Edo period that Kansai came to acquire its current form.(see Kamigata) Like all regions of Japan, the Kansai region is not an administrative unit, but rather a cultural and historical one.

To read more about Kansai region….

I have reached the end of Kinki/Kansai region. I will be moving to Chugoku next! :)

As for now, visit these links to Kansai on information about travelling, where to go and what to do.

Kansai/Kinki 1
Kansai Kinki 2

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kansai, Kinki, Travelling in Japan | No Comments »

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5/28/2007

Suzuka Circuit, Mie Perfecture

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Suzuka International Racing Course (Suzuka Circuit for short) was a host of the Formula One Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix, and is one of the oldest and most-famous motorsport race tracks in Japan. It is located in Suzuka City in Mie Prefecture and is owned by Honda Motor Co., Ltd..

Designed as a Honda test track in 1962 by John Hugenholtz, Suzuka is a unique circuit, being one of the very few in the world to have a figure 8 layout. Obviously, due the danger of an intersecting track, the track doesn’t actually intersect with itself; instead, the back straight passes over the front section by means of an overpass. Due to its unique layout, Suzuka is a massive test of driver skill and is easily one of the most difficult racing circuits in the world. Nevertheless, the track is loved by drivers and spectators alike for its challenging design and many opportunities for overtaking.

Suzuka is one of the oldest remaining tracks on the Grand Prix circuit, and so has a long history of exciting races. Japan’s traditional role as the penultimate or final Grand Prix of the season means numerous World Championships have been decided at the track.

Safety has been a concern at the circuit’s 130R, a 130-meter radius turn starting past the Crossover, following two tremendous accidents in 2002 and 2003. In 2002, Toyota driver Allan McNish suffered a high-speed crash through the bump, which sent him through a metal fence; fortunately, he was not seriously injured.

Track officials revised the 130R, which has been compared to Spa’s Eau Rouge, redesigning it as a double-apex section, one with an 85 meter radius, and then a second featuring a 340-meter radius, leading to a much closer Casio Triangle (chicane), with the chicane becoming a “bus stop” type for motorcycles.

However, the problem continued for the new revised section. During the track’s first major event since the revisions during the 2003 MotoGP Grand Prix of Japan, MotoGP rider Daijiro Kato was killed when he crashed in the new section headed to the braking zone for the Casio Triangle. MotoGP has not returned to Suzuka since the incident.

Other than the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix Suzuka also hosts the Suzuka 1000km endurance race. Previously a part of multiple GT racing series including the now defunct Group C class of the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, the Suzuka 1000km as of 2006 is now a points round of the Super GT series, and is the only race of such length in that series.

Another major motorsport event is the Suzuka 8 Hours for motorcycles, which has been run since 1978. This event usually attracts big name riders and with the exception of 2005, due to the importance of the big name manufacturers involvement, the FIM ensures that no motorcycle races clash on the date.

Apparent this year, Japan Grand Prix will be moved from Suzuka back to the Fuji Speedway circuit. It has not been decided yet whether Suzuka will continue to host a formula one race in 2007 or not.

How to get there?

Check out this link for more information on how to get there when the next Grand Prix is finally decided.

Source: wikipedia

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kinki, Tourist Attractions, Travelling in Japan | No Comments »

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5/26/2007

Iga Ueno

Iga (伊賀市 -shi) is a city located in Mie, Japan. It became a city on November 1, 2004 as a result of the merger of the city of Ueno; the towns of Iga, Ayama, Shimagahara and the village of Ōyamada (which were in Ayama District); and the town of Aoyama (which was in Naga District). The former towns, villages, and districts were abolished at the time of the merger.

Before the merger, Iga was the name of a town, which now lies within the new city. Earlier, it was the name of the province surrounding the present-day city. Iga is known as the birth place of the haiku poet Matsuo Bashō and the home of ninja Hattori Hanzo.

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Ueno Castle

Two of their main attractions are the Ueno Castle and the Ninja musuem. The museum has an impressive collection of historical ninja artifacts. All you ninja enthusiast should consider giving this place a visit as it will definitely satisfy all your dreams and aspirations about ninjahood.

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The Ueno Castle is a castle that has been rebuilt in the 20th century. But the reconstruction was done with wood only so the castle looks very authentic in its finish both inside and out. Very picturesque view and definitely a place to visit if you’re near this city.

How to get there?
Check out this transportation guide.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kinki, Tourist Attractions, Travelling in Japan | No Comments »

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5/25/2007

Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, Kinki

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Kobe (神戸市, Kōbe-shi) is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture and a prominent port city in Japan with a population of about 1.5 million. The city is located in the Kansai region of Japan to the west of Osaka. Kobe is classified as one of Japan’s fifteen designated cities and is a part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan sprawl.

It was one of the first cities to open for trade with the West, in 1868, and as such it is known as a cosmopolitan port city. Consistent with this reputation, Kobe has a population of 45,000 foreign residents from more than 100 countries. The city hosts the Asian or Japan headquarters of a number of companies including Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, and is the point of origin and namesake of Kobe beef.

The city was severely affected by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, in which over 6000 residents lost their lives. Kobe has largely recovered from the damage.

Kobe is situation in between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, which makes it one of the most attractive city in Japan. It is a city that filled with arts and fashion and is widely associated with the cosmopolitan of fashion. Which is why a saying goes, “If you can’t go to Paris, got to Kobe”. Twice a year, a fashion even called Kobe Collection is held in the city while the Kobe Jazz Street is held every October in Jazz clubs and hotels since 1981.

Some of the interesting attractions of this city is the earthquake museum build to commemorate the lives that was lost in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. You can also visit the world’s longest suspension bridge, Akashi Kaikyo, if you’re not afraid of heights and then drop of the Arima Onsen, which is a hot spring that is located within the city.

Of course, not to forget Kobe beef, it is one of the main attractions here – so eat some where you’re in Kobe City :)

How to get there?
Visit this page for more details.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kinki, Kobe, Travelling in Japan | 3 Comments »

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5/22/2007

Amanohashidate, Kyoto Perfecture, Kinki

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The Amanohasidate Bay

Amanohashidate is one of Japan’s three scenic views otherwise, also know as Nihon Sankei. The word “Amanohashidate” technically translates to bridge in the heaven in Japanese. A thin strip of land connects two opposing sides of Miyazu Bay. This sand bar is 3.3km long and is covered with about 7000 pine trees. This strip is the bridge in heaven.

To view the “bridge in the heaven” you just need to turn your back from the bay and look in between your legs. Tourists have been doing this for a millenia.

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A glimpse of heaven

It can be viewed from mountains on either side of the bay or it can be traversed on foot. Visitors are recommended to view the “heaven’s bridge” by turning their back to it, then bending over and looking at it upside down from between their legs.

Near the southern end is Chion-ji, a Buddhist temple. The temple has a small tahoto, a kind of pagoda which still resembles the Indian stupa more than the more common three and five storied Japanese pagoda.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Kinki, Kyoto, Tourist Attractions, Travelling in Japan | No Comments »

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10/26/2006

K’s House

K’s House is a chain of backpacker hostels in Japan. They started out in November, 2003 in Kyoto (which has perhaps the highest concentration of backpacker hostels anywhere in Japan) and have since opened hostels in Nagano prefecture and Tokyo.

The prices are cheap (starting at 2500 yen for a dorm bed in Kyoto, 2800 in Tokyo and Nagano) and the entire hostel has a very modern and welcoming atmosphere. Features in all hostels include:

  • Communal living and dining room
  • A well-equipped communal kitchen
  • Internet, laundry and bicycle hire
  • Separate bathrooms and toilets
  • No curfew, English speaking staff and air conditioning in all rooms
  • No YHA membership required

After staying at the Kyoto hostel numerous times, I can tell you that the place is clean, airy, modern, comfortable and best of all – cheap! The staff are all very friendly and will always try to be helpful. They all speak English reasonably well.

One thing that I found very useful was how the hostel has a room availablity chart online for three months in advance. This is updated daily, and bookings can be made via email.

I highly recommend this place. While I haven’t been to the Tokyo hostel, if it’s anything like Kyoto’s (which was, by the way, voted best hostel in Asia by Hostelworld, an online booking service) then you won’t be disappointed. Besides, 2800 yen for a bed is probably unheard of in Tokyo.

K's House Kyoto

Link:
K’s House – in English


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8/2/2006

Bizarre Japan Tourist Attraction #463

This is bizarre but I love it. Off the coast of a small town in Wakayama prefecture, you can find an underwater mailbox – and it’s really in operation! This mailbox is really considered part of Susami’s postal system and mail is collected every day. Apparently there can be up to 200 pieces of mail to collect in peak times.

Underwater Mailbox

Susami is over a hundred kilometres away from Osaka in a not very densely populated but highly mountainous part of Kinki. This attraction is obviously like Small Town America’s or Small Town Australia’s attempts at getting tourist dollars. But while Small Town Australia can’t seem to do anything more creative than taking a model of whatever the local product is and making it really big – Susami here is onto a winner, as it also attracts the diver-types.

If you have a lot of spare time in the Kyoto/Osaka region, this might be worth some of it, just to say “I did that”.

Link:
Pink Tentacle

Posted by Chidade in Kansai, Kinki | 2 Comments »

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12/30/2004

Travel Japan – Visit Osaka

If Tokyo is Japan’s capital, Ōsaka (大阪) might be called its anti-capital. Osaka is the main metropolis of the Kansai region, and its inhabitants exhibit a strong rivalry towards the Kanto region, from baseball, food, popular culture, even to which side they ride escalators (on the left in Tokyo, but on the right in Osaka).

Districts

Like Tokyo, Osaka is best thought of as a group of cities that have grown together.

History

Back in the days of the Tokugawa shogunate, Edo (now Tokyo) was the austere seat of military power and Kyoto was the home to the Imperial court and its effete courties, but Osaka was where the merchants made and lost their fortunes. To this day, while unappealing and gruff on the surface, Osaka remains Japan’s best place to eat, drink and party, and Osakans still greet each other with mōkarimakka?, “are you making money?”.

Getting there

  • By plane

    The main international gateway to Osaka is Kansai International Airport, covered in a separate article. Domestic flights, however, mostly arrive at Osaka’s northern Itami Airport (ITM), connected to the city by the Osaka Monorail.

  • By train

    Shinkansen trains arrive at Shin-Osaka station to the north of the city center. Connect to the center with the Midosuji subway line.

    Local trains from Kobe, Kyoto and Nara arrive mostly at the Umeda and Namba stations.

  • By bus

    Overnight highway buses from Tokyo and other areas can get you to Osaka for significantly less than a Shinkansen ticket.

Get around

The convenient Kansai Thru Card can be used on just about anything that moves in Osaka (as well as the rest of the Kansai region), with the notable exception of JR trains.

  • By subway

    Osaka has Japan’s second-most extensive subway network after Tokyo, which makes the underground the natural way to get around. The Midosuji Line is Osaka’s main artery, linking up the massive train stations and shopping complexes of Shin-Osaka, Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba and Tennoji.

  • By train

    True to its name, the JR Osaka Loop Line (環状線 Kanjō-sen) runs in a loop around Osaka. It’s not quite as convenient or heavily-used as Tokyo’s Yamanote line though.

See

Osaka Castle is Osaka’s best known sight, although it’s a concrete reconstruction that pales in comparison with, say, Himeji. Still, it’s pretty enough from the outside, especially in the cherry blossom season when Osakans flock to the castle park to picnic and make merry. Open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, adult admission ¥600. The park can be accessed on a number of lines, but the castle is closest to Osaka-jo Koen station on the JR Osaka Loop Line.

Eat

In a nation of obsessive gourmands Osaka is known as an excellent place to eat, exemplified by the Osakan maxim kuidaore, “eat until you burst”. The best place for this is Dōtonbori (道頓堀), a street that contains nearly nothing but one restaurant after another. Some of the more famous establishments here include:

  • Kuidaore (食い倒れ), featuring a mechanical clown beating a drum, is one of the contenders for the title of the largest restaurant in the world. Each floor specializes in a type of food. Affordable, but more fun in a group.
  • Kani Dōraku (かに道楽), easily identifiable by the giant mechanical crab waving its pincers about, specializes in crab. Good but moderately expensive.

Sleep

The cheapest option is capsule hotels, found near the major train stations .

Capsule Inn Osaka. 9-5 Doyamamachi, Kita-ku (in the Higashi-Hankyu shopping arcade off Namba station). Tel. 06-6314-2100, Fax 06-6314-1281. Japan’s first capsule hotel (opened 1977) is still open for business, happy to accommodate foreigners with some semblance of a clue and a steal at ¥1600 for a night.

Typical Japanese business hotels are step up from a capsule and can be found everywhere. Examples include:

Hotel Nankai Namba, 17-11 Namba-naka 1-chome, Naniwa-ku (Exit 5 from the Midosuji subway line, walk south, and turn right at the McDonald’s), TEL 06-6649-1521 (namba@hotel-nankai.co.jp, FAX 06-6632-5061). This is a clean and well-run hotel convenient to transport: 20 minutes from Shin-Osaka, good access to Nara on the Kintetsu Line. Rooms have LAN access at no additional cost- some rooms with WiFi, so ask when making a reservation or checking in. 8,400 JPY-18,375 JPY (single-triple).

Stay safe

The base for Japan’s yakuza gangsters, Osaka has a dangerous reputation (by Japanese standards), but is still remarkably safe for a city of its size. Unless you’re dealing drugs you’re unlikely to get involved with the local mafia, but some districts, particularly Shinsekai, may be a little dodgy at night.

Get out

The temples and lush greenery of Mount Koya, 90 minutes away by train, are an entirely different world and the perfect getaway when all the concrete starts to get to you.

(Source: Wikitravel)

Posted by Yves in Kansai, Kinki, Osaka | No Comments »

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12/24/2004

Travel Japan – Visit Kyoto

Nestled among mountains in Western Honshu, Kyoto (京都) has a reputation worldwide as Japan’s most beautiful city, boasting more World Heritage Sites per square inch than any other city. However, visitors will be surprised how much work they will have to do to see its beautiful side. Most visitors’ first impressions will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station.

Nonetheless, the persistent tourist will soon discover Kyoto’s hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city center, and find that the city has even more than meets the eye.

Generalities

Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the Emperor from 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. During its millennium at the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion, it accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. Almost alone among Japanese cities, Kyoto escaped the Allied bombings of World War II, although it could be argued that the concrete redevelopment that turned 95% of Kyoto into an ordinary Japanese city did just as thorough a job.

Getting there

  • By plane

    Kyoto does not have its own airport. The nearest international gateway is Kansai International Airport, 73 minutes away by the fastest train. Most domestic flights land at Osaka’s Itami Airport, one hour away by bus.

  • By train

    Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo, 2 hours and 14 minutes away. For connections to nearby cities, you can also take the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka, or the Kintetsu line to Nara.

  • By bus

    The cheapest way of traveling from Tokyo or other distant points to Kyoto is by night bus, which terminate at Kyoto station.

Get around

The sheer size of the city of Kyoto, and the distribution of tourist attractions around the periphery of the city, make the city’s public transport system invaluable.

The Kansai Thru Pass (Surutto Kansai) stored-value card can be used on all means of transportation in Kyoto (and the rest of the Kansai region), with the notable exception of JR trains. You can purchase the cards in denominations starting at ¥1000 at any train or subway station.

  • By train

    The Keihan train line can be useful for traveling in eastern Kyoto, while the two Keifuku tram lines are an attractive way of traveling in the northwest.

  • By subway

    Kyoto’s subway network has two subway lines, the north-south Karasuma Line and the west-east Tozai Line. Both are useful for travel in the city center but not really suitable for temple-hopping.

  • By bus

    The bus network is the only practical way of reaching many attractions. City buses have a fixed fare of ¥220.

See

Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.

  • North-western Kyoto

    Visiting the vast temple complexes of north-western Kyoto can take the better part of a day. A suggested itinerary is to take the subway (Karasuma line) to Kitaoji station, and walk west along Kitaoji-dori. Daitokuji, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji Temples are all on Kitaoji-dori, and about 15-30 minutes’ walk apart. En route, you will see the giant “dai” (大) symbol burned on the hill overlooking the city. Hirano Shrine is a short walk south along Nishioji-dori from Kinkakuji. If you still have time left at the end of the day, take the pleasant electric railway (Keifuku Kitano line) from Omuro to Katabiranotsuji, then take the JR Sagano line from nearby Uzumasa station back to central Kyoto.

    • Daitokuji Temple is a small and understated temple complex, boasting several small, secluded subtemples. Daitokuji is the quietest of the temples in north-western Kyoto, and if you visit it at the start of the day, you could virtually have it to yourself. Eight of the twenty-four subtemples open to the public (most days 9am-5pm), and each charges an admission fee (around ¥400). The highlight of the subtemples is Daisen-in, located on the northern side of the temple complex, which has a beautiful Zen garden without the crowds of Ryoanji Temple. Koto-in is particularly noted for its maple trees, which are beautiful in autumn. Nearest bus stop: Daitokuji-mae.
    • Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion) is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto, and the crowds that constantly surround it reflect this. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 12th century, and converted into a temple by his son. However, the pavilion was burnt down in 1950, by a young monk who had become obsessed with it. The pavilion was rebuilt in the Fifties to look even more tacky than before – extending the gold leaf covering it to the lower floor. Visitors follow a path through the moss garden surrounding the pavilion, before emerging into a square crowded with gift shops. Open daily 9am-5pm, admission ¥400. Nearest bus stop: Kinkakuji-michi.
    • Hirano Shrine is a small shrine, which goes into overdrive during the cherry blossom viewing season, setting up amusement and food stalls. A small park of cherry trees next to the shrine is hung with lanterns and drawings by local schoolchildren. Sufficiently far off the tourist trail to be worth a look. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Waratenjin-mae.
    • Ryoanji Temple is notable for its large Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the “dry-landscape” style. The raked gravel is permanently surrounded by vast numbers of tourists contemplating their existence. The rest of the grounds are worth a look too – particularly the large pond. Open daily 8am-5pm (Mar-Nov), 8.30am-4.30pm (Dec-Feb). Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ryoanji-mae.
    • Ninnaji Temple is another large temple complex which is often overlooked by tourists. Admission to the grounds is free, allowing visitors to view the 17th century five-storey pagoda, and the plantation of dwarf cherry trees (which are always the last to bloom in Kyoto, in early-mid April). However, visitors shouldn’t miss the temple itself, which demands an admission fee of ¥500, and features some beautifully painted screen walls, and a beautiful walled garden. In the hills behind the temple, there is a delightful miniature version of the renowned 88-temple walk in Shikoku, which takes an hour or two (rather than a month or two). This can provide a delightful end to a day of looking at tourist attractions. Open daily 9am-4.30pm. Nearest bus stop: Omuro Ninnaji.
  • Western Kyoto

    The Arashiyama area to the west of the city is dismissed in most Western guidebooks in a brief paragraph suggesting “other attractions”. However, the area is rightfully very popular with Japanese tourists, and is well worth a visit. To get here, take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama.

    • The walk through a forest of bamboo to Nonomiya Shrine and Okochi Sanso (a traditional house, previously occupied by a Japanese silent screen legend), is a real highlight of a visit to Kyoto. No admission fee for the shrine, ¥1000 for Okochi Sanso (price includes a cup of matcha (traditional Japanese tea, in the tea garden).
    • Feeding the macaque monkeys atop the mountain in Iwatayama Monkey Park, to the south of the river, is worth the entrance fee (and the demanding climb!). ¥500 admission fee to enter the park.
    • Just outside Saga Arashiyama station is the 19th Century Hall – a museum covering the unlikely combination of steam locomotives and pianos. Probably best to look at it from the outside, and listen to the amusing tinny music it blasts out.
  • Central Kyoto
    • Nijo Castle is certainly one of the highlights of Kyoto. The series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru complex is particularly impressive, and known for its “nightingale floors” – wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on. From the donjon of the inner castle, you can get good views over the castle layout, and the rest of the city. Open daily, 8.45am-5pm, with last admission at 4pm. Admission ¥600. Nearest bus stop: Nijojo-mae. Nearest subway station: Nijojo-mae.
    • The Imperial Park is a large, peaceful area in the centre of Kyoto, centred around the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is only open to visitors on pre-booked guided tours – English tours take place at 10am and 2pm Monday-Friday, and bookings must be made at the Imperial Household Agency, located to the west of the palace complex. The park is home to 50,000 trees, including cherry, plum and peach tree orchards.
    • The Museum of Kyoto is particularly worthwhile if you have a burning interest in ancient pottery, otherwise not really worth a visit. Open daily 10am-8.30pm. Admission ¥500. Located on Takakura-dori. Nearest bus stop: Shijo Karasuma. Nearest subway station: Karasuma Oike.
    • Nishi Honganji Temple
    • Toji Temple, an oasis of calm near central Kyoto, its pagoda is the tallest wooden structure in Japan.
    • Kyoto Tower
    • Pontocho Alley
  • Eastern Kyoto

    Some of the most picturesque parts of Kyoto, and the older areas of the city, are located in the eastern region of the city, across the Kamo River. Visiting the main tourist attractions of eastern Kyoto will fill a full day – a suggested itinerary is to work north from Kiyomizu Temple to Ginkakuji Temple, passing through Gion, and visiting Yasaka Shrine and Nanzenji Temple before following the Philosopher’s Walk to Ginkakuji.

    • Kiyomizu Temple. This temple complex, built overlooking the city is a deservedly popular attraction in the city, approached by either of two tourist-filled souvenir-shop-lined streets, Kiyomizu-zaka or Chawan-zaka. Admission ¥300. Open daily, 6am-6pm. Nearest bus stop: Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka. Highlights of the temple complex include;
      • The main hall’s wooden veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars and offering incredible views over the city,
      • Jishu-jinja, the love-themed shrine selling countless charms to help you snag the one you love, and featuring two “love stones” positioned around 18m apart which the lovelorn must walk between with eyes closed to confirm their loved one’s affection, and
      • Otowa-no-taki the temple’s waterfall, which gives it its name (Kiyomizu literally means ‘pure water’). Visitors stand beneath the waterfall, and collect water to drink by holding out little tin cups.
    • Gion district. The flagstone-paved streets and traditional buildings of the Gion district, located to the north-west of Kiyomizu Temple, are where you’re most likely to see geisha in Kyoto, scurrying between buildings. The area just to the north of Shijo-dori, to the west of Yasaka Shrine, is particularly photogenic – particularly around Shinbashi-dori and Hanami-koji. Sannen-zaka (”three-year-slope”) and Ninen-zaka (”two-year-slope”), two stepped streets leading off from Kiyomizu-zaka, are also very picturesque – but watch your step, slipping over on these streets brings three or two years’ bad luck respectively. At the northern end of Ninen-zaka is Ryozen Kannon, a memorial to the unknown Japanese soldiers who died in World War II, with a 24-meter-tall statue of Kannon. Admission is ¥200, including a lit incense stick to place in front of the shrine.
    • Yasaka Shrine at the eastern end of Shijo-dori, at the edge of Gion, is the shrine responsible for Kyoto’s main festival – the Gion Matsuri, which takes place in July. The shrine is small, in comparison with many in Kyoto, but it boasts an impressive display of lanterns. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Gion.
    • Maruyama Park is the main center for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto, and can get extremely crowded at that time of year. The park’s star attraction is a weeping cherry tree (shidarezakura). Main entrance to the park is through Yasaka Shrine. Admission is free.
    • Nanzenji Temple, with its distinctive two-storey entrance gate (sanmon) and aqueduct, is another popular temple in Kyoto, but its larger size means that it doesn’t seem as crowded as many of the others. Nearest bus stop: Nanzenji, Eikando-michi. Nearest subway station: Keage. Open daily, 8.30am-5pm. Walking around the temple complex and along the aqueduct is free, but there are three regions of Nanzenji that you can pay to enter;
      • Sanmon – the two-storey main gate to Nanzenji Temple charges ¥500 for admission, and offers pleasant views over the surrounding area of the city.
      • Nanzen-in Zen Temple – a small, but relaxing temple and moss garden behind the aqueduct, dating back to the 13th century, charges ¥300 for admission, and is probably only worth it if you have a particular interest in Zen buddhism.
      • Hojo – the abbot’s quarters, is a more interesting building, with a small raked gravel garden and some impressive paintings on the sliding doors of the buildings. Admission is ¥500.
    • The Philosopher’s Walk is the name given to a 2km-long path through north-eastern Kyoto, along which a philosophy professor, Kitaro Nishida, used to frequently walk. It is a surprisingly pleasant and relaxing walk even today, though you will undoubtedly share it with more tourists than Kitaro did. The walk runs south from Ginkakuji Temple beside a river to Nyakuoji Shrine, many guidebooks suggest that the walk continues further south from there to Nanzenji Temple, but this southerly section of the walk is less insistently signposted. The route passes several temples en route, notably Honen-in, a beautiful secluded temple with a thatched gate.
    • Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion), at the northern end of the Philosopher’s Walk, is approached along a street lined with shops selling tacky souvenirs. Much like its golden counterpart, the Silver Pavilion is often choked with tourists, shuffling past a scrupulously-maintained dry landscape Zen garden and the surrounding moss garden, before viewing the Pavilion across a pond. Be sure not to miss the display of Very Important Mosses! Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ginkakuji-michi.
  • Southern Kyoto

    About twenty-minutes to the south of Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Shrine, another of Kyoto’s often-overlooked jewels. Dedicated to the fox spirit, Inari, this Shinto temple has miles of red torii (gates) stretching up onto the hill behind it. A visitor could easily spend several hours walking up the hillside, taking in the beautiful views of the city of Kyoto and walking through the thousands of gates. Admission is free. Be warned, the shrine is located close to Fushimi Inari and Inari stations, but is nowhere near Fushimi station! The easiest way to get here is to take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station to Inari station, which exits immediately opposite the entrance to the shrine.

Buy

Currently, Kyoto is enjoying even more popularity than usual with Japanese tourists due to the success of Japanese TV broadcaster NHK’s series ‘Shinsengumi!’ (新選組!), a historic drama following a group of samurai who kept peace in the city in the 1860s. Consequently, among the most popular souvenirs from the city at the moment are the distinctive blue and white happi (shirts) worn by this group.

There is a nice selection of reassuringly non-tacky traditional souvenir shops around Arashiyama station in Western Kyoto, selling fans and traditional sweets. More tacky stores can be found in Gion and the approach to Kiyomizu Temple, selling keyrings, cuddly toys, and garish ornaments. Other traditional souvenirs from Kyoto include parasols and carved wooden dolls.

A more unconventional but colorful (and relatively cheap) souvenir are the wooden votive tablets produced by temples, which bear an image relevant to the temple on the reverse. Visitors to the temples write their prayers on the tablets, and hang them up within the temple.

Manga and anime enthusiasts should visit Teramachi Street, a covered shopping street off the main Shijo-dori, which boasts a large manga store on two floors, as well as a two-storey branch of Gamers (a chain of anime stores), and a small two-storey anime and collectables store.

Eat

Pontochō (先斗町) is a narrow lane running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River. One of Kyoto’s most traditional nightlife districts, the restaurants here run the gamut for super-exclusive geisha houses to common yakitori bars. Many have pleasant open-air riverside terraces. Rule of thumb is, any establishment with a menu and prices outside is OK, but others are best skipped.

Sleep

Kyoto has a wide range of accommodation, much of it geared towards foreign visitors.

Ryokan Hiraiwa (旅館平岩). Tel. 075-351-6748. A self-proclaimed ryokan (really a minshuku) catering almost entirely to the foreign market, in an old Japanese house plastered with English signs, warnings and tips. All rooms Japanese style. But it’s cheap (¥4200 for a single, ¥8400 for a double, breakfast not included) and reasonably friendly. Slightly inconveniently located halfway between the station and the center of town (it’s bit of a hike to either), take bus #17 or #205* from Kyoto Station pier A2 to Kawaramachi-Shomen (the third stop).

Get out

  • Mount Hiei – an ancient hilltop temple complex that traditionally guarded (and occasionally raided) Kyoto.
  • Nara – less than an hour’s journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, this former capital has several temples and tame deer.
  • Osaka – about half an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.
  • Himeji – about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.

(Source: Wikitravel)

Posted by Yves in Kansai, Kinki, Kyoto | 1 Comment »

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