For those of you who are planning a trip to Kyoto, my advice is to plan out all routes and make note of train lines, bus numbers, etc. If I had done my last trip in a 'fly by the seat of my pants' fashion, I would have gotten lost. I'd also have wasted an enormous amount of time. If you know what temples or other sites you want to visit, look them up on Google. A lot of them have English sites now with "access" maps that show you what train lines and stations you need to go to.
It turned out that the line I had to take (Nara line) wasn't even in the same station as the shinkansen line. I had to go outside the station and walk for a few minutes. Luckily I'd researched that ahead of time. It was really close and not hard to find once I got the right exit from the station. Kyoto has a lot of signs up to direct you to trains and subways, so it's not a big problem. Here's a map to my first stop:
As you can see, it wasn't that long of a ride, and it only cost me 140 yen.
Once I got off at the station, I had to walk a fair distance. At first I got a little lost, because the station is a small one inside a town. I got turned around several times trying to get out of the town and onto the path that leads you to the temples. Thank goodness for GPS!
The rest of this post is very picture intensive, so I've added a break. Click on to continue.
Once you get off the main roads, you walk down a road that is heavily forested with trees. It's a lovely area, and there are temples galore for you to look at. I was curious about a few places, but I had a strict timetable to work with, so I kept going. Here's a map of the area you have to walk on foot. I accidentally cut off part of the station name. That's Tofukuji station, and the blue line shows where you have to walk.
I got caught in a short shower about 5 minutes from Tofukuji Temple and I had a little panic attack, because one of the main things I wanted to see at the temple was the sand gardens. I was worried that the rain might have ruined the patterns. I'm very lucky that the rain cleared up within a few minutes. The deluge was to come later (spoiler alert!).
I was beginning to wonder if I'd missed a turn off to Tofukuji, because I'd been walking so long. Some temples are pretty far off the main road, and the signs aren't always well posted. Luckily I knew what I was looking for, and as I was crossing a bridge, I saw the famous view of Tofukuji that has been immortalized in a lot of paintings.
I think the view must be spectacular in the fall. There's a print by a hanga artist I like called Teruhide Katou. He did a fall print that I intend to own eventually.
I crossed the bridge and made my way around to the main gates. It cost me 1000 yen to get in, which gave me entrance to 3 of the temples on the grounds. I made my way straight to the Honbo gardens, which are the famous moss and sand gardens of the temple.
I heaved a sigh of relief once I'd entered the gardens, because the rain hadn't damaged the designs in the sand too badly. It was still really overcast, so my pictures turned out a bit dark, but you can still see the careful designs.
After taking a few shots, I hurried on to my next location, because I only had one day to fit in everything I wanted to see.
Next up on my list was Fushimi Inari Taisha, which is famous for its thousands of torii gates. Torii are those big gates you see outside temples. They can be any colour and made from any material, but Inari's are all that gorgeous red/orange. It's a famous view that I always wanted to see, and only a short walk (roughly 20 minutes) from Tofukuji. Here's a map:
There is a train stop really close to Fushimi Inari, so you can go there directly from the Kyoto station stop if you want.
You know you're getting close to the temple when you start seeing torii gates cropping up. You'll also find a million souvenir shops. This is by far one of the busiest tourist traps in Japan. You are forewarned. I'd put this on par with Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavillion) or Kiyomizudera. It's also more visually impressive, in my opinion.
The biggest downside to its popularity is how hard it'll be for you to get any pictures without a million people in them. If I had gone here first thing in the morning, I'd probably have been better off. It was around 11 a.m. when I arrived, and PACKED with people.
I did manage to get a few good shots in, so I'll add those here:
Above in an ema, which is a type of prayer board. You write your wish on it and hang it up at the shrine. It's a fox, which is the symbol of the goddess Inari. I thought they were super cute. I ended up buying another charm for studies in school and general good health, because Inari has such unique designs!
Now, you may be wondering, how did the temple get so many torii gates? Is the temple loaded with money? The answer is no, it's not rich, but companies who donate the gates are! How much does it cost to donate a gate to the shrine (and get advertising out of it)? Glad you asked!
Depending on the size of the gate, the princes go up significantly. They start at around $1750 and go up to $13,020. Well, the exchange rate is probably more now, because the Canadian dollar is so low. =P
If you go back and look at the torii pictures I posted, you'll see writing in black down both sides of the pillars. Those are the names of the companies that donated a gate to the temple. So, it looks like they are being charitable, but they basically get advertising out of it.
Last up on my list of places to go for the day was Shimogamo Shrine. I caught the train at Fushimiinari station, and took the Keihan main line to Demachiyanagi station. It cost me 270 yen, and took about 30 minutes.
From the station I then had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the main gate of the forest where the shrine is located. This is where I hit a snag, because I got turned around twice, and then the heavens opened up and dumped water on me.
The problem was that the train station exit was kind of in the middle of nowhere. I got out near the Kamo river, but from there I couldn't see the entrance to the forest. Good ol' GPS came into play again, as I had to cross the bridge, walk around a large corner of the forest, and go down what looked like an ordinary street to find the gates. Every time the GPS brought me to that ordinary street, it said I should be at the entrance, but I couldn't see it. Turns out it was a few minutes down the street. I kept doubling back to look for another way in, and wandered into different paths of the forest, only to end up back on the main road again.
When I finally made my way in, I had a long walk to go through the forest. It was beautiful, and very old, but I was wearing a maxi dress and flip flops, so walking on pine cones, pine needs, fallen branches, etc. was a bit difficult. I have no one to blame but myself, because I should have researched the temple more before going. All I could think of was the history and super cute omamori (good luck charms) they had.
I wish now (hindsight being 50/50) that I had dressed better for the weather. The rain was coming down so hard that there wasn't time for it to drain off the streets. I was wading up to my ankles in water (wearing flip flops), and thanks to my thin maxi dress I was soaked to the skin from the waist down and had trouble walking. Also, a lot of the pamphlets and gifts I'd bought were soaked in my non-waterproof bag. I had known they were calling for some rain in Kyoto, but I didn't know it was going to be so severe. The lesson here is always prepare for the worst weather when you travel!
Even though it was only 4 p.m. by the time I got back to Demachiyanagi station, I was so exhausted from not getting any sleep in the last two days that I decided to go home. There is no direct link between Demachiyanagi station and Kyoto station, so I took the Keihan main line as far as Shichijo station, and then a bus to Kyoto station. The train from Demachiyanagi to Shichijo took about 9 minutes and cost 270 yen. The bus cost around 270 yen and took 14 minutes. My only other choice would have been to go back down the Nara line to Tofukuji, and then back up to Kyoto station.
Before I got on the bus, I bought myself a really beautiful fan from Maisendo, which is a really famous fan shop in Kyoto. I wanted a really fancy one made of paper, because I'd received several cloth ones as gifts over the years. I picked out a purple one that would match my new yukata.
Once I got back to Kyoto station I stumbled around for a bit looking for souvenirs for my coworkers, and then made my way back to the shinkansen. It was around 14,110 yen by the Tokaido/Sanyo shinkansen to get back to Tokyo, and it took about 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Speaking of souvenirs, if you're in Kyoto, they came out with a new flavour of Kit-Kat that I'm crazy about. Its flavour is based on Yatsuhashi, which are a famous sweet in Kyoto. I don't like the soft ones, but they make a cinnamon flavoured rice cracker out of it as well 井筒八ツ橋. So basically, it's a cinnamon flavour Kit-Kat. SO delicious! I highly recommend them. They beat the soy sauce flavoured ones from Tokyo hands down!
I didn't eat anything between 7:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. because of my busy schedule, so while waiting on the platform to go home I treated myself to a very luxurious sandwich. The shop, called Matsusaka Gyuu, is fairly famous down south for the quality of its beef. They only have shops in the JR stations of Kyoto and Shin Osaka, so I figured I'd better grab my chance to eat something from the shop. Japanese sandwiches are notorious for being skimpy on the meat, so I felt quite happy eating this! I was super hungry, so I splurged and bought the whole sandwich, instead of a half. It cost me 1210 yen!
I'm glad I went back to Kyoto for a farewell visit, but I was really disappointed in the weather. Can't have everything, I guess. I'll be doing another post about my earlier trips to Kyoto, which include Maiko sightings, so stay tuned!