We got up at 8am, which felt like a late start. It really wasn't, but I was anxious to get started in Kyoto as I had quite a few things on my list, and we really only have a couple days in the country. We got ready and headed out to a place for some breakfast. I found a place via a combination of Googling and Yelp; we were able to walk there in about 5 minutes. It was a bakery that you could also order a few hot dishes from. I got a scrambled egg set with toast, a salad, and a drink. It was 650Y (~$6.50). I was very happy with the food, and felt like I would be able to make it to a late lunch without a problem.
After we finished there, we headed to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Thanks to my handy SIM card and Google Maps (a complete life-saver), we knew we needed to catch a bus, then walk. The bus we wanted showed up right as I looked at my phone, but we needed to buy a bus pass first. Instead of taking that bus, we walked down to a convenience store to get the pass. Then, rather than walk backwards, we kept walking on until the next bus stop. There was some construction going on, so that bus stop didn't currently exist. We kept walking and finally got to a bus stop about half a mile from where we originally could have caught it.
We took that bus 4 stops and then got off in order to walk up to the temple. The walk was pretty steep, and went through a neighborhood, but there were lots of other people walking in the same direction so I assumed we were going in the right direction. I saw the first of what would become many of Japanese "limousines" (as they were told to us by a driver). See photo. Literally a man running you around. We laughed and I tried to take a sneaky picture, but didn't do so well.
After a few minutes, we started to see more and more shops pop up along the street. Eventually we could tell we were in the right area, as it was getting quite touristy with all the shops and vendors selling every kind of Japanese trinket.
We decided not to pay the 500Y to go in the temple, but rather 100Y to go through the Tainai-meguri, a subterranean area right next to it. This area is called the womb of the temple, and it is quite an experience to go through it. First you take off your shoes and put them in a bag. You then hold a handrail to the left, and descend some stairs. The light dies quickly, as you turn at the bottom of the stairs. The handrail goes from being smooth metal, to smooth but wooden spheres. Almost immediately, you are completely blind. My eyes were wide open and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.
I tried to relax and enjoy the experience, but I couldn't help being a little claustrophobic. However, after a few minutes I did eventually start to feel more "zen", if you will. Without sight, you rely on your other senses more. The floor beneath my feet was bumpy and a little uncomfortable, like walking on large pebbles that have been smoothed into a single layer in grout. The handrail was made of spheres, and my hand followed the continuous crest and fall of the wood. I moved inches at a time, willing myself to not run into anything, or think of the fact that we were underneath an ancient temple that could fall through the earth at any moment. After maybe 5 minutes, I saw a small green light (like when a camera is on) to my right. I glanced at it, and reminded myself that while it was dark for me, someone at some point was down here with a light and knows what is down here!
Immediately after seeing that light, the handrail curved around and I saw a large spherical stone lit with pale green light. I think there may have been something in the center of the rock, but continued walking and couldn't get a good long look (there were others starting to come behind us; I could hear them approaching). It was strange to see, a little unearthly. Once we past this, we turned again and came onto a landing with a pale light and some stairs back up into the temple complex. We both agreed that we felt more relaxed and that it was an experience well worth the $1!
We turned and following some more streets towards Kodai-ji Temple and eventually Maruyama Park. On the way, we walked by many shops which were markedly less crowded than the ones outside the first temple. Jessica spied some cute little pieces of pottery, and we bought some hand-painted small plates (for jewelry, etc). I fell in love with two and bought them both.
When we were almost to the next temple, I saw a huge Buddha station rising over the streets and knew we had to check it out. It was part of Ryozen Gokoku Shrine (we later found out) and paid 200 each to enter the area. When we paid, we were each given an incense stick and the woman pointed to where we should put it. It was a memorial for soldiers who perished (on all sides) in WWII. I really liked the memorial and the pamphlet we were given had a nice poem in it as well.
We wandered around the rest of the complex and found a small shrine where visitors would pray for a good (romantic) partner. We both thought this was hilarious and went through the motions. Another area had a gold "coins" where you can write on it your hopes for the new year and hang them around a large gold ball. The coins had a sign "300Y" next to them, but no one was there, so I assume it was donation. I took one of the coins, but didn't hang it.
While we were wandering around, there were three other white people in the complex (literally the only other people there) and they kept following us (inadvertently? I don't know) to the areas we were checking out. We eventually got annoyed and wrapped things up in order to get out of there. We decided to skip the temple itself, as it also would have cost us 500Y and we didn't want to spend $5 to see another temple.
Instead, we walked around the temple through the streets towards the park. On the way, a man was selling dried fruits. While they were way too expensive, we did accept a sample of apple and strawberry, and they were delicious! We kept on going and eventually hit the park where we took a few minutes to relax and listen to "traditional Japanese flute". While not any music I would necessarily choose, it was very calming. Jessica commented that it sounded like they get their music from nature, and I thought that was very accurate.
After a bit, we decided it may be a good time for us to take a mid-day break at the hotel, mainly because my camera was almost dead and we were pretty tired ourselves. We took a bus back to our street and I found a dumpling place on Yelp. We walked to that, got a bit lost, and then happened upon the restaurant just after giving up on finding it. We each ordered a Gyoza set of 12 dumplings, rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles (whatever those are). We were famished by this point, having walked several miles already. We both ate all of our dumplings and most of our rice and soup. Jessica liked the Japanese pickles, but I wasn't a huge fan. We left there around 2pm and headed back to the hotel for a short rest.
We got to the hotel and I realized I left my water bottle at the restaurant. I was disappointed, but I decided to go back for it later, as they had just closed for the lunch hour anyway. We took an hour break and let my camera charge. We found out that the next two days might be very rainy, so we decided instead of going to the market and department store like we had planned, we would go to Arashiyama area we'd planned to go to tomorrow. It was about an hour away by bus, but we had our bus passes and figured it would make good use of them anyway.
We left about 3pm to catch the bus, but we got bad advice from the hotel desk and missed our bus. I will definitely say that if you are traveling by yourself (or at least, not with a tour group or guide), investing in a SIM card with data and using Google Maps is probably one of the best things you can do. We have saved SO MUCH TIME by knowing the correct bus to take, what stop to get off at, and the correct route to walk. We saw countless foreigners standing around looking confused with paper maps in their hands, and I'm once again thankful that we aren't those people!
We eventually caught it at 3:30pm and made it to Arashiyama at about 4:15. "Arashiyama" actually refers to the mountains to the northwest of Kyoto, but the surrounding neighborhood has adopted the term as well. Since the sun had already gone below the mountain line, we knew we should get moving if we wanted to catch everything before sun-down.
We crossed Togetsukyo bridge and headed north towards Tenryu-ji Temple. We chose to go to the Bamboo Forest first, due to the eminent setting sun and my desire to take photos. We walked through more touristy shops on the way, and then followed signs for the Bamboo Path.
The path was thick with people, but we hung about to take photos between groups of tourists. It was a beautiful area, but I think perhaps it would be more beautiful in the spring or fall. The path was not very long (I was a bit disappointed) and we came out on the other end. Walking back through the shops area, we popped into the Tenryu-ji temple complex to take some photos, but the temple itself had already closed (darn. 500Y we didn't get to spend!)
Around 6pm we hopped on a bus back into the main city area. I Yelped and Googled for dinner places, and we ended up going to an area called Nishiki market to a restaurant called Wakasaya. We want to return to the market tomorrow and shop, but by the time we got there, we were getting hangry and needed to eat stat! We found the restaurant, which was quite small, but we were seated immediately. This was the first place we went where there was literally NO English in the entire restaurant, let alone an English menu. I knew from Yelp the premise was a bowl of rice with fresh seafood on top. We looked at pictures and eventually both picked bowls that looked like they may have things we liked on them.
When the bowls came, we were both too hungry to remember to take a photo before digging in. Honestly, I don't know what kind my bowl had. I know I got at least some salmon, the other two things I'm not sure. One was a light pink and was almost like a tartar in the texture; the other was very dark pink - I think it was yellowfin tuna maybe? Anyway, we scarfed that down immediately. It was pretty cheap - around $8 each. So far for the day, all of our meals have been less than $10 each, which is great considering I had (accidentally) budgeted for $20 per meal. Glad we are going to be under-budget (I HOPE!).
I just want to comment here that I am so glad that I have become a more adventurous eater. I know I'm not the best, but I KNOW I wouldn't have been this open about food even 2 years ago. Korea really broadened my horizons (okay, completely shattered them and made new ones I wouldn't have even imagined!), and I haven't found one thing to complain about here. Everything from the stuffing in the dumplings to not knowing what kind of fish I was eating; I've really made strides and I'm very proud of myself! And the best part is: I'm enjoying EVERYTHING I'm eating!
After dinner, we decided to get some dessert and made a beeline for the Baskin Robbins as soon as we saw it. I had a cone called the Lucky Sheep (which I believe to have been strawberry ice cream with chocolate chips and marshmallows); Jessica had a dark chocolate and raspberry flavor. We sat and enjoyed our ice cream for a while then decided to get back to the hotel. We practically fell into our beds as soon as we got in, and it's taken every last bit of energy I have to write this blog!
Now, it's off to bed to rest up for tomorrow. It will probably rain, but we have some indoor places in mind to continue to make the most of our time. (And if all else fails, we can rent Memoirs of a Geisha on iTunes and buy strange Japanese snacks at the convenience store for an entertaining day at the hotel!)