Tag Archives: Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Kyoto

June 3, 2017

Today, we wake up very early in the morning (~5 AM) for our second visit to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Honestly, I wasn’t too happy about waking up this early but what a difference timing makes. The shrine just felt like a different world without the crowds. It was peaceful and waking up early was well worth the visit.  Highly recommend that for anyone visiting the shrine. This time around, we manage to walk through part of the ~32000 torii gates that lay the path up to the main shrine. We don’t quite hike up all the way due to time constraints but do make it through 60-70% of the hike. We are sure to take advantage of the low crowds and take a thousand pictures (Well maybe not that many but you get the gist…).

 

After enjoying the shrine for couple of hours, we take the train back to the hotel. We grab breakfast at the hotel and head back to our room to shower and pack. We leave our luggage at the front desk, check out, and head back to the train station for a long ride to Arashiyama – the famed bamboo grove of Kyoto. The area is filled with temples, gardens, and shrines but the star attraction is the bamboo grove. The bamboo grove is rather expansive, soothing to the eyes and just magnificent. It also makes up for a different type of experience in Kyoto, which otherwise is very much visiting the temples and shrines.

 

Next, we decide to take a bus to the Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), one of Japan’s best known and popular zen temples. The temple is covered in gold leaf and shimmers in front of a pond, aptly named the Kyoto-Chi (Mirror Pond). The temple built in the late 1300s was burned down in 1950 by a disgruntled priest and was later rebuilt by 1955.

 

By the time we have enjoyed walking around the temple complex, we have built up an appetite and are ready for lunch. Having eaten mostly ramen for the last week or so, we are ready for some Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, we love ramen but just needed a break from it. We very conveniently find an Indian restaurant called Ganesha nearby. The food at the restaurant is amazing and probably the best Indian food we have had thus far on the trip. After the food coma, we take a bus to the Toji temple. The pagoda which literally means East Temple was founded at the beginning of the Heian period and is the highest pagoda in Japan. At the temple complex, we also see large buddha idols, which we hadn’t seen in many of the temples thus far.

 

After visiting the temple, we walk back to the hotel, pick up our luggage and head to the train station for our train to Osaka. I think it is safe to say that Kyoto was probably our favorite city in Japan and we were very much sad to be leaving it (Japan in general actually). Osaka is only a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto and there are several trains servicing Kyoto and Osaka. We therefore just buy our tickets at the station. After a quick ride, we walk to our hotel which is conveniently located close to the train station. We decide to stay at the Westin since this is our last night in Japan. Our platinum status with Starwood helps us get a swanky suite at the hotel. To put things into perspective, our room in Osaka is 10 times bigger than the one in Tokyo (no exaggeration). This also speaks to the space crunch in Tokyo. We are very excited with the change and decide to enjoy the hotel lounge since it is already quite late to explore the city. The lounge is amazing with great views of the Osaka skyline.

 

We enjoy few drinks (may be a little too many) and hors d’oeuvre before calling it a night. We initially had plans of dining in the city but since Akshita twisted her ankle (yet again lol), we just order dominos and call it a night. PS – ordering dominos in Japanese is not a fun experience but we somehow did manage to order the correct food.

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Exploring Kyoto – the city of temples and shrines

June 2, 2017

We wake up bright and early to explore the city of temples and shrines. While Akshita is getting ready, I finish some deliverables for work, delaying us by few minutes from our planned departure. We quickly grab free breakfast at the hotel and head towards the Kyoto train station across the street. Stop 1: Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – the head of shrine of the god Inari. The shrine sits at the base of mount Inari and includes trails of thousands of scarlet-colored shrine gates (torii) that lead 2.5 miles up the mountain to the main Inari shrine. Inari is the god of rice, but since merchants have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business, each Torii has been donated by a Japanese business. By the time we reach the shrine, it is super crowded and impossible to take pictures without people in the background. Akshita isn’t too happy about it and obviously I am blamed for the late departure in the morning. So typical haha…After enjoying the shrine for a little bit, we both agree that it would be best to visit the shrine again early tomorrow morning to enjoy it in its prime without the crowds. We take the train back to the hotel to quickly change as Akshita needs to change her shoes (diva :)).

 

Next, we head across the street to the bus terminal to take a Raku bus to Nanzenji Temple. The Raku bus is aimed towards tourists visiting Kyoto and has three loops that cover various sightseeing spots throughout the city. Note: this is NOT the hop on hop off bus. The Nanzenji Temple is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. The temple comprises of many sub-temples and spans across a large area. The history of the temple dates back to the 13th century when Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa at the temple’s current location and later converted it into a Zen temple. The temple has a lot to offer from impressive gates to gardens and expansive halls to walkways. The San-mon Gate in particular offers a great view of the temple complex and parts of the city from an elevated viewing area. After spending some time at the temple, we walk around the neighborhood and explore local shops and vendors. We stumble upon a little shop and buy a traditional sake set.

Nanzenji Temple_2
Nanzenji Temple Entrance

 

Next, we travel to the Ginkakuji-Mae Temple (Silver Pavilion), the brother temple to the famous Kinkaji-Temple (Golden Pavilion). The temple, situated in the Higashiyama’s mountain range was originally constructed as a mountain villa for military commanders. Despite the name, the temple is not actually decorated with silver. It is believed that the name arose as a nickname to contrast it with the Golden Pavilion. When visiting the temple, you are greeted by elegant gardens and come across many ponds, trees, sand sculptures, and ponds that truly display the essence of a Japanese garden. You can also enjoy views of the city from the elevated sections of the temple. The temple is truly majestic and serene to say the least.

 

By the time we have explored the temple, we are ready for some lunch and decide to try out one of the restaurants close to the temple. Akshita chooses the wild vegetable sansei ramen whereas I get the fried tofu ramen. The ramen was average for our liking but the lunch did make up for an interesting experience. Mid-way through the lunch, Akshita complains about a tingly sensation in her mouth and lips, something she has never experienced before. It was almost uneasy and she couldn’t eat her meal any more. I try her dish as well and experience the same sensation. After some research we find out that the sensation is a result of the sansho pepper that Akshita added to introduce flavor to her rather bland ramen. I guess that didn’t quite work out as expected but we did get to try a new type of pepper. To make up for the average lunch, we try some green tea and vanilla ice-cream right after.

 

After having enjoyed some ice cream, we take another Raku bus to the Heian Shrine, a shrine that was built to mark the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto. A giant Torii gate marks the approach to the shrine and we make sure to take a lot of pictures with the giant structure. Having walked a lot today, we decide to head back to the hotel for a quick siesta.

 

Now recharged, we head back to the bus station and hop on to a bus heading towards Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district and home to a high concentration of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Geishas are traditionally entertainers who are trained in art, music, and dancing. The young maiko follows her mentor and “older sister” geiko to appointments, shadowing her movements and observing the skill of repartee and reserve with the clients. As a professional entertainer, the geiko’s role is not only to play music and dance, but also to make the customers feel at ease with witty conversation and even join in drinking games as the night progresses. As an amateur, the maiko is not expected to be as charming and amusing, and instead relies on ornate jewelry, rich kimono and young looks to speak for her (source: insidejapantours). We walk around the streets for more than 45 minutes in hopes of catching a glimpse of a geisha but in vain. To be honest, we weren’t expecting to see any based on what we had heard from our friends who had visited recently. Just as we decide to grab dinner at a nearby restaurant around 8:45 PM, we notice a geisha in a cab. At first, we are unsure but are soon convinced once the geisha steps out of the cab with her guest. Though we think of a geisha as an elegant figure with white make-up, red lips, an elaborate hairstyle and even more elaborate kimono, this popular image is actually more typical of a maiko, or trainee geisha. Fully qualified geisha are more likely to dress in subdued colors and wear natural make-up, relying on skill rather than appearance to entertain their clients. Suddenly, we see geishas all around the streets. Though hard to spot, we are lucky to see 8-10 geishas during our visit. Not sure what our fascination with geishas is but we were super excited to see them. Perhaps it was the feeling of acting like paparazzi and running around streets to catch a glimpse of them?

 

After taking several pictures of the geishas from a distance (to respect their privacy), we grab some amazing Indian food at the Maharaja restaurant in Gion, take the bus back to the hotel and call it a night.

Hakone – A Pleasant Surprise

June 1, 2017

We wake up early to walk around and take in the streets of Hakone in the early morning light. After we are back at the Ryokan, we decide to soak in the onsen one last time before heading over to the Hakone-Yumoto station. Given that we have the whole day to explore Hakone, we drop our luggage in lockers at the station. Next, we grab a quick bite at one of the close by pastry shops and catch the bus to Lake Ashi. Since we bought the Hakone free pass the night before, this made everything easier and faster. After a 45 minute bus ride through the lush forests of Hakone, we arrive at Lake Ashi. We are greeted by several Inari shrines and a beautiful lake.

On the lake we see a traditional Japanese boat that looks like a pirate ship to us. We jump aboard the ship and the entire ride we are in search of Mt. Fuji, which can supposedly be seen on a clear day. We however are not so lucky. Fortunately, we have the beautiful Lake Ashi. From there we took another bus to get to the top of the mountain in the Owakudani area, an active volcanic valley. There is an option for a ropeway up, however it is out of service.

Once we get to the top, we have worked up an appetite. Lucky for us there is a nearby shop that is attracting crowds of people. The shop is selling black eggs, commonly known as Kuro-Tamago by locals. The eggs acquire their color from the water they are boiled in which contains sulfur and iron. The locals believe that the eggs add years to your life span and bestow luck on the person eating them. Although the eggs look very exotic, they taste like normal hard boiled eggs. Still the novelty is enough and it makes for a great snack. We also have some ice cream before we head on the ropeway to Sounzan. Sadly we still are not able to grab a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, probably our last hope to do so. From there we take a cable car to Kowakidani and hike to the Chisuji Falls.

After a nice walk we head back to the main center of Hakone and walk around the town for a bit. We grab a nice warm bowl of Ramen and feel content with our short but relaxing trip to Hakone. We make our way back to the Hakone- Yumoto station, grab our bags and buy tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Sanchit is charged up and acting like a little enthusiastic kid as he watches the bullet trains go by. Apparently, he had always wanted to travel in the Shinkansen and he just can’t curb his enthusiasm. The train ride is smooth and speaks to the engineering wonders mankind has achieved. After a 3 hour ride, we arrive in Kyoto.

We walk over to our hotel, the Ibis Styles Kyoto Station, which is conveniently located right across from the station. After our long day, we kick back, order some Dominos and watch TV to end our day.

East Asia Adventures

April 15, 2017

The last time I had 2 weeks off for vacation was back in 2014 when I traveled with my friends Chirag, Nav, and Nikhil to South America for the 2014 football world cup. It was about time for another one of those. Luckily, both Akshita and I managed to get 2 weeks off this year. The next obvious question – where do we go?? Given the proximity to the west coast, we both agreed that somewhere in Asia would be a great option. After a lot of discussion, we decided on Japan and South Korea.

We will start our trip in Tokyo, Japan. After spending few days in the capital city, we will make our way by train to the mountainous town of Hakone. After a brief stay in Hakone, we will travel to Kyoto and Osaka, our last stops in Japan. Next, we will take a short flight from Osaka and cross international waters to arrive in Busan, South Korea. We will spend 2 nights in Busan before traveling to Jeju Island, commonly termed as “Hawaii of South Korea”. We will end our 2 week trip in South Korea’s vibrant capital city of Seoul.

Japan / South Korea 2017 Itinerary