Relaxing at the lounge of K House Hostel, Kyoto...one of the few places Winnie can read something written in English
Our first stop that day is to visit the Golden Pavilion. When we arrived there by bus in the morning, the place was already pretty full.
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) is literally covered in gold. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The ticket to the Golden Pavilion looks like it was designed over 100 years ago.
Many tried, but few succeeded to hit the "jackpot".
On the 20-minute walk from Kinkakuji Temple to Ryoan-ji Temple, shops and restaurants on both sides of the road greet us.
Ryoan-ji is translated into the "Temple of the Peaceful Dragon", and was built in the late 1400's. Inside the temple, everyone needs to walk around bare-footed. Your shoes are not even supposed to touch the mat at the changing area.
The temple displays a poem by the famous Chinese poet Tao Yuan Ming (陶渊明), who was a hermit and would probably enjoy this minimalistic setting.
Ryoan-ji Temple is a Japanese Zen garden. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style.
Winnie stares at the rock garden and ponders some deep philosophical questions in life, for instance, why she paid $5 to visit a yard of gravel.
After wind, rain, and unauthorized "bird visits", the gravel needs to be plowed until the parallel lines form a visible, perfectly aligned pattern again for everyone's enjoyment. All the simple tools appear to be placed in this little open utility room.
A prestine corridor inside the Ryoan-ji Temple.
The next stop is the Nijo Castle in central Kyoto. The castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by buildings.
Nijo Castle is huge, complete with moat, lakes, gardens.
More beautiful Japanese landscaping inside the castle
Being a culinary enthusiast, Winnie cannot miss the Nishiki Food Market (Nishikiichiba). Said to be started about 400 years ago and became a prosperous market street of fish wholesalers during the Edo Period (1603-1867), the street extends over 400 meters east to west between Teramachi St. and Takakura St. with over 130 shops.
These are chestnuts naturally wrapped in its protective coat.
$380 for five mushrooms - any takers?
These are candies that are made to look like sushi, not the other way round.
A little shop on in Nishiki that offers passers-by delicious fried snacks with awesome dipping sauce
Nishiki as one of Kyoto's major food market streets offers everything from fresh food especially fresh fish processed food and some indigenous ingredients for Kyo (Kyoto)-cuisine.
Tofu store in Pontocho
Pontocho is one of Kyoto's traditional nightlife districts where you might be able to spot a geisha apprentice at night. It is a narrow street running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River.
It's hard to tell whether the display is real or plastic...
A geiko or maiko walking down the street in the Gion area of Kyoto.
Geisha running from the curious tourists (including us), who tailgate them like paparazzi.
Traditional tea ceremony at Gion Corner, a montage of traditional Japanese evening show in Kyoto.
The show cost about $32 per person and last for an hour, but it's worth it
Koto harp music
Imperial court music
Bunraku puppet play - three men covered in black costume from top to bottom actually manipulate this puppet
Grilled salman at Yoshinoya in Kyoto
Believe it or not, these are plastic
More plastic seafood
Plastic food decor at restaurant display windows at Kyoto railway station
The diagonal pedestrian crossing outside the Kyoto train station. When the green lights are on, all vehicles stop.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine - known for its long stretch of torri gates
Wash your hands and take a sip before entering the temple
People write their wishes and prayers and hang them on the bulletin board next to the offering box
Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. Therefore, many fox statues can be found at Inari shrines.
Winnie showing off her balancing skills in front of two rows of countless torii gates
The single row of tall torri gates lead to two rows of short torii gates...we wanted to complete the course but ran out of time. These gates are worshippers' offerings that cover the hiking trails of Inarisan, the wooded mountain behind the shrine's main buildings. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail
On our way to Himeji City, we stop by a self-service restaurant where orders are paid and taken by a vending machine. The machine takes your money and prints out a ticket noting the order, which the customer hands to the wait staff.
One of the best valued meals we had in Japan - the food is healthy and tasty, and it comes with free unlimited iced tea in huge jugs!
The impressive Himeji Castle from a distance, sometimes used as a landmark for Japan
Unlike many other Japanese castles, Himeji Castle was never destroyed in wars, earthquakes or fires and survives in its original form. In the 14th century, a fort was first built on the current castle site. Over the centuries, the various clans, who ruled over the region, gradually enlarged it. The castle complex, as it survives today, was completed in 1609.
This pose can be considered as a Japanese version of the happy ending in Cinderella.
The foundation appears to be made from stacked stones.
A balanced diet dinner, Japanese style
The sanjusangen-do, a temple that houses 1,001 buddha statues, literally means Hall with thirty three spaces between columns, describing the architecture of the long main hall of the temple.
Taira no Kiyomori completed the temple under order of Emperor Go-Shirakawa in 1164. The temple complex suffered a fire in 1249 and only the main hall was rebuilt in 1266. In January, the temple has an event known as the Rite of the Willow (柳枝のお加持), where worshippers are touched on the head with a sacred willow branch to cure and prevent headaches. A popular archery tournament known as Tōshiya (通し矢) is also held here on the same grounds since the Edo period.
The main deity of the temple is Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara or the Thousand Armed Kannon. The statue of the main deity was created by the Kamakura sculptor Tankei and is a National Treasure of Japan.
The temple also contains one thousand life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon which stand on both the right and left sides of the main statue in 10 rows and 50 columns. Of these, 124 statues are from the original temple, rescued from the fire of 1249, while the remaining 876 statues were constructed in the 13th century. The statues are made of Japanese cypress.
Around the 1000 Kannon statues stand 28 statues of guardian deities. There are also two famous statues of Fujin and Raijin.
We took a bus to the Kiyomizu Temple. Kyoto has a highly developed metro bus system but no subway. The bus station has a signal board to tell you how soon the bus is coming from the previous stops in its route.
Uphill to the Kiyomizu temple
Vendors line the sides of the pilgrim path to provide visitors with refreshments
May this "stupid" wish be fulfilled
Water fountain commonly found outside any temple. Wash your hands and take a sip of the supposedly "holy water".
Kiyomizu temple dates back to 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.
This place is getting quite crowded and touristy...
The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage site.
In Japan, Ksitigarbha, known as Jizō, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, the tendency developed in which he was worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.
The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō's features are also commonly made more babylike in order to resemble the children he protects.
The temple complex includes several other shrines (not featured here), among them the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and "good matches". Jishu Shrine possesses a pair of "love stones" placed 18 meters apart, which lonely visitors attempt to walk between with their eyes closed. Success in reaching the other stone with their eyes closed implies that the pilgrim will find true love. One can be assisted in the crossing, but this is taken to mean that a go-between will be needed. As we have already found our true love :), we skipped these shrines. ;)
The main hall has a veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. The popular expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge".
If one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now prohibited.
View of Kyoto from the temple
Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water drop into a pond. Visitors to the temple collect the water, which is believed to have therapeutic properties, from the waterfall. It is said that drinking the water of the three streams confers wisdom, health, and longevity. However, some Japanese believe that you must choose only two — if you are greedy and drink from all three, you invite misfortune upon yourself.
A teahouse next to the Kiyomizu temple that is out of our budget
The automatic tart-making machine, or whatever it is called
A McDonald's near Kyoto train station that provided some relief to our wallets...their fried shrimp burger is awesome! I wanted to order the quadro-patty Big Mac, but Winnie refused. Seen the movie "Supersize Me"?
Winnie enjoying a decent meal in a Japanese restaurant in the Kyoto train station, except for the old chap smoking away next to our table
The sushi's and rolls are not bad.
Welcome to Nara, where the Sika deers roam freely!
The street of Nara makes you want to break into a song..."Doe, a deer, a female deer..."
This little one feels cozy in the gutter
This one wants to guard the store
This one likes it on the bridge
The Sika (deer in Japanese), regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
We visited Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple) in Nara, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Its Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), reputedly the largest wooden building in the world, houses a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism.
If you are not careful while feeding, you may get more attention than you want.
The front gate to Todai-ji temple
To-daiji Temple in Nara
Gigantic wooden structure - just compare it to the people entering it!
Eddie following the temple custom...
Remember him from Kiyomizu Temple?
The large Budda statue inside Todaiji Temple
Eddie having some fun with the sika. He actually had to run away to avoid getting swamped after throwing the bread.
Beautiful park to chill in Nara. Would have been perfect for a picnic lunch!
How high can you go?
Female-only waiting line at the metro station
The manga museum in Kyoto...not worth the visit unless you are a hard-core reader
Doraemon! Too bad they are all in Japanese
Artistic sign for WC
Superman from all ages
Last day in Kyoto...
Kyoto Station, located in the Shimogyo Shichijo district, accommodates the JR and Kintetsu Lines, the Kyoto Municipal Subway Line, and Kyoto City Buses. The building, designed by artist Hiroshi Hara, was completed in 1997. It has a large shopping mall, including hotels, theaters, specialty shops, restaurants and event venues. There is great view of Kyoto from the sky plaza on the 15th floor.
Amazing design that features an open-air staircase/escalator with shops lining both sides on each floor
The Kyoto tower facing the train station
The station is enormous and very crowded during rush hours.
We took the expensive Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Tokyo once and for all - it got there in less than 3 hours.
Super-slick bullet trains at Tokyo station
Here we are - the capital of Japan!