Day 4 – Kyōto, Japan

Since we went to sleep pretty early, we both woke up pretty early. Unable to go back to sleep, we went to the gym for about 30 minutes to get in a quick workout. I just stayed on the treadmill while T was in the weights room. Of course this trip to the gym was our only trip to the gym our whole trip. What a waste of luggage space. After, we got ready for the day and decided on eating at Lavarock, the restaurant in our hotel’s lobby. They offered a breakfast buffet for ¥2,600 per person, which included a variety of pastries, a charcuterie and cheese plate, miso soup, congee (rice porridge) and an array of toppings, a waffle and french toast station, egg station, fruit, cereal and yogurt bar, dim sum, and a selection of breakfast meats. If we had known about the breakfast buffet, we would’ve done this than order room service the day prior.

A picture of me that T took during breakfast

After breakfast, we paid and walked to Shin-Osaka to take on the day’s adventure in Kyōto! Fun Fact: Kyōto once served as Japan’s capital.

We took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Hikari 518 towards Tokyo. It was our first bullet train and it got us to Kyoto in 15 minutes, which is impressive since Osaka and Kyoto is 56km (34 miles) apart!

Us in the Shinkansen on the way to Kyōto

When we got to Kyōto, we decided to walk to our first destination: Nijō Castle! I really wanted to see Nijō Castle considering there’s a teppinyaki and sushi restaurant in Newark called Nijō Castle, so seeing the real one would be nice. From the train station to Nijō Castle was a long 4.2 km (2.6 mile) walk down Aburanokoji Dori. For the most part, it was very quiet. There were not many people on the street or anywhere being that it was about 9 something in the morning. When we got to Nijō Castle, we paid the ¥600 admission fee per person. We found ourselves at Karamon Gate, which is the entrance to the Ninomaru Palace.

Karamon Gate at Nijō Castle
Ninomaru Palace

The night before, T was reading about the nightingale floors, which were squeaky floors used for security measures. So, to actually see and hear it was pretty neat. In order to enter the Ninomaru Palace, we had to remove our shoes. There were cubies that we could’ve left our shoes in, but they also give you plastic bags so that you can carry your shoes. After touring the interior of Ninomaru Palace, we went out to the Ninomaru garden and took in the beautiful pond and cherry blossoms.

Ninomaru Garden

Just past the garden was the Honmaru Palace, which was not open to the public.

Honmaru Palace

We then climbed up the stone foundation of what was once known as the former castle keep and took on the views of the castle grounds.

View of the castle grounds
The view of the castle grounds from on top of the Castle Keep

Since it was Sakura Season, we walked down a path lined with cherry blossoms, which was so beautiful.

Fun Fact: Cherry Blossoms were my first tattoo. We spent a little over an hour at Nijō Castle, which wasn’t too bad considering the map said it typically takes 2-3 hours to tour the grounds. After Nijō, we walked across the street to Ana Crowne Plaza Hotel to get a taxi to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, because we didn’t want to walk another 4.8km.

Kinkaku-ji, is a beautiful Zen temple overlooking a beautiful pond. The top 2 stories of the temple are covered in gold leaf. To see the garden and temple, we paid the ¥400 admission fee per person.

Our ticket to go see Kinkaku-ji

When you first enter the grounds, you are able to view Kinkaku-ji from across the pond.

T and I
Kinkaku-ji aka The Golden Pavilion

Then you are able to walk closer to the temple. However, the temple itself is not open to the public. Past the temple we start to go uphill where we see more beautiful gardens and another pond. At the top, there are small vendors selling various items and souvenirs. Also, there is a small temple hall called Fudo Hall where people were given the opportunity to ring the gong – which T did.

T ringing the gong at Fudo Hall

After Kinkaku-ji, we decided to take a taxi and head over to Fushimi Inari Taisha. During the 30 minute car ride, our taxi driver, who spoke very little English, was kind enough to point out the different types of sakura. We followed the Kamo River for a while and it was nice to see the different types of trees along the river.

Fushimi Inari Taisha consists of thousands of orange torii gates that line a path uphill. Before the trail starts, there is the Romon Gate, the Chouzuya, shops, and other buildings. The Chouzuya, or purification pavilion, is a basin covered by a roof with typically a bamboo pipe sprouting out water. The water is used to “purify” yourself before entering the temple. We didn’t know what that purpose was for the water (as we saw it multiple times throughout our trip in Japan), but thanks to Google, I found the answer:

  1. Use a ladle to first clean your right hand with a little water, making sure the water falls on the ground and not in the basin.
  2. Change hand and clean the left one.
  3. You then cup your right hand and pour a little water in it to rinse your mouth. Do not drink from the ladle.
  4. Spit the water discreetly on the ground, not the basin, covering your mouth with your hand.
  5. Finally, hold the ladle vertically to let the rest of the content pour down the handle to purify it for the next person and place it back on the stand in the basin.

The “purification pavilion” or the Chouzuya
A large torii gate with another in the background and Romon Gate in the distance

The hike takes several hours, but we decided to go about 30 minutes up. There were many people making the trek up, but just like us, turned around during the 2nd stop.

We took a side path down where we encountered a small shop selling steamed pork buns and drinks. We decided to grab a beer and relax under the shade of trees. Also on our way down, we ran into a patch of bamboo, which was nice considering we were going to miss out on the Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama.

Also, we found this serene pond with a crane and it looked like a scene out of a movie.

We decided to head back to the Kyoto station, so we walked through the Fukakusa Inarionmaecho to get to the Inari Station. The station was jam packed. We waited for the 2nd train to come to avoid the mad rush of people. We then hopped onto the Nara Line and took it up to the Kyoto Station, where we decided to eat.

My cousin, Karl, and his wife, Rhian, went to Japan for their honeymoon a couple of years ago and he raved about having the best ramen he’s had at the Kyoto Station, so we were off to find such wonders. After asking someone, we made our way to the Kyoto Ramen Koji on the 10th floor. The Kyoto Ramen Koji offers 8 different styles of ramen from different regions. We decided to order the Touyoko ramen from the Niigata region. It is a miso ramen with chashu (slices of marinated pork belly), bamboo shoots, and an egg. Also, the ramen can be diluted with wari soup (which was in a kettle at the table). We also, had Asahi beer to accompany our ramen.

The ramen was OK. It was a bit salty for my liking. I’ve definitely had better… and I’ve had worse. Would I go back? No. Would I recommend it? Also, no. After lunch, we took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Hikari 475 train and found ourselves back at Shin-Osaka Station in 15 minutes.

Later that evening, we went to the Bar 19, which was the bar on the 19th floor of our hotel. The bar offered great city views of Osaka. T ordered a screwdriver and I had a saltydog. Seeing the views made us think of going to Umeda Sky Building. We decided to take the train down to check it out. From Shin-Osaka, we took the Tokaido-Sanyo Line Aboshi and got off at the Osaka Station.

T by the fountain at the Osaka Station

The Umeda Sky Building consists of two towers that has an observation deck about 170m high. To get to the observation deck, we took a couple of escalators up to the 5th floor and then an elevator to the 35th floor. The elevator had glass walls we so got to see the city while ascending. When we got to the 35th floor, we then took an escalator up. The escalator was encased in a glass tube that connected one building to another, which scared the crap out of me.

Ground level looking up to the floating observatory and the two escalators connecting the two buildings

Fun Fact: I have a huge fear of falling so the escalators were not my favorite. Once we got off the escalator, there was a gift shop and a queue to purchase tickets to go up onto the sky deck. We paid the ¥1000 admission fee per person and made our way up. Once we got onto the deck, we noticed that there was neon pain splattered across the path and black lights illuminating the path. It took T a while to get over his fear of heights and walk along the path with me.

It wasn’t too bad considering we were able to see the roof of the building below us so if we were to fall over the railing, we’d only fall a few feet. At one point of the deck, they had several engraved padlocks locked onto the railing. I did notice that people were purchasing the locks at one of the lower levels, having it engraved, and bringing it up to the observation deck. I had a lock made for when we go to Seoul, but since that part of the trip was cancelled, I had the lock in my purse and decided to lock it on the railing.

After we journeyed the complete 360 of the observation deck, we decided to head back down and find a bar.

T found a bar on yelp called Bar Nellie and we decided to check it out. It was a bit odd walking through some backstreets with no one walking around. But after a few blocks, we found ourselves at a bar with a speakeasy feel. They were playing an old movie on the screen and playing some jazz music. We were given a table, some nuts, and a menu. Of course, the entire menu is in Japanese. We used Google Translate and settled on a whiskey and beer. We stayed at the bar for about an hour just sipping on our drinks before heading back to Shin-Osaka.

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