Sunday, 5 July 2015

Day 5: Nozomi Train to Kyoto, Arayashima Bamboo Groves, Kinkakuji & Kiyomizu (Golden Pavilion) Temple

I woke up at 5am on the 5th day.

It was the day to check out from Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku to visit Kyoto.

By then, I was quite weary of the constant search for directions. I didn't want to put myself, my mother and Baby through another round of great stress at Kyoto, a whole new world to explore. I looked up 'Kyoto day tour' and found Chizuko who replied to my last-minute email, saying that she would do a private tour with us. I paid US$165 via paypal for it. It was cheap and the itinerary looked fantastic. It promised to cover what I wanted to see:

Arayashima area, Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyomizu Temple, Nijo Castle and Gion.

However, Chizuko stated that she conducted the tour on foot and by public transport as she didn't drive. I thought it was fine as long as we could cover those areas in the itinerary.
We woke up bright and early to board the train at Tokyo Station at 6.45am as I had read that it would be difficult to sit together if we had boarded at Shinagawa Station, the second station, for our Nozomi train. However, we still didn't get to sit together as all the rows in Cars 1 to 3 (non-reserved seats) had at least one person sitting in them.

The grandmother-child pair soon fell asleep on the train. It was to be a  2 h 15 min journey.

I bought a bento at Tokyo Station's platform in case my mother was hungry. I had read that the Japanese station bentos were delicious and unique at every station so I had always wanted to give them a try .

It looked great but tasted disappointingly ordinary.

A lady was selling food and drinks on the train.

When we reached Kyoto Station, the Visitor Centre was the first place I went, as advised by everybody on the internet.

I was supposed to get a bus map but I totally forgot about it. I didn't know what to get except a one-day subway pass for the next day (we already had a one-day bus and subway pass from the Kyoto E-ticket) and 3 kimono passports for discounts which I didn't have any use for!

After that, we took a subway to Gojo Station, just one station down, to our ryokan, Nagomi Ryokan Yuu.

By then, there was no network on my mobile phone. 
I followed my hard copy of Google Map that I had printed out and managed to find the place!

The 'red umbrella' the ryokan's website had asked its visitors to look out for had turned into a white lantern.

On arrival, the receptionist saw that I had Baby with me and requested for 1000 yen for her one-night stay. I was not surprised by it since it was stated on Agoda that I might have to pay for an extra person's stay. I also paid for two persons' breakfast at about 1100 yen each and another 1000 for the deposit.

All three of us were shocked when the yukata-clad young lady led us to a room that required us to climb this ladder to get to our tatamis! I seriously doubted I could climb that ladder that perched so precariously on a ledge, much less my mother and Baby!
I am sorry, but my first thought was "You don't use common sense ah? You actually needed me to tell you that we would not be able to climb that thing just to get to our beds?!!"
So the lady agreed to change our room to one that didn't need us to risk our lives to exchange for a one-night's sleep. And we were eternally grateful for that!

I enquired about the kimono dress-up the ryokan had advertised on its website. It stated that with a fee, you could wear a kimono out for a day in Kyoto. That was part of the reason I picked the ryokan. However, the lady replied that the sessions were 'fully booked' for the day.

I was quite disappointed. I consoled myself that most people do not wear a kimono when they come to Kyoto anyway.

We began our wait for Chizuko, our local tour guide, to come and pick us up at the reception.

However, I only realised that the lady I saw earlier sitting at the other side of the ryokan was Chizuko when she called the ryokan to tell them that she was waiting for us at 11.30am, half an hour after our agreed time to meet.

Chizuko did not want to tell me her age but she appeared to be in her fifties.
She was very helpful and spoke good English. She was able to understand most of the things I said and her English was comprehensible to me. She tried her best to accommodate what I wanted to see although I later realised that she could have forgotten the itinerary she had listed on her website, so if you want to use her service, you should jot down the day trip and the itinerary you had paid for just to remind her the places you want to see. However, to be frank, you get what you pay for. US$165 is not a high price to pay for a guided trip in Kyoto so I am not complaining.

We took a subway before changing to a JR train (which our day passes did not cover) to get to Saga-Arashiyama Station and walked about 10 to 15 minutes to the Tenryuji Temple.

According to Chizuko, there are 8 small temples within the Tenryuji Temple.

Three-legged = Tripod
One-legged = Monopod

Lots of lotus in the pond

We paid to enter the garden.
This is a typical zen garden - without water, just sand and trees.
The lines on the sand depict waves in the sea.

A pretty pond to behold

So we took a picture here

There were quite a few species of flowers in the garden. Among them were irises ...

and hydrangeas ...

more hydrangeas ...
still hydrangeas
After the garden, we continued on the path that led to the Arayashima Bamboo Forest.

Very beautiful, but very crowded, like any other tourist attraction.

See the crowd behind us?

Chizuko helped to photograph us at an angle so that we were the only people captured in the picture.
Isn't she a genius?
The Bamboo Forest was a mere 400 m (?) walk.
It looked like a long walk on the Internet pictures but it really was a rather short one and many people were taking pictures of themselves and their families or friends. We had to wait for our chance to take it and jump at the window that fleeted past us when it was available. Chizuko said that you would have to be there at 7am or 8am to have a nice photo without other people in it. Well, we were not likely to return that soon.
She walked us to a Moon-crossing Bridge. Besides the Bamboo Forest, the Moon-crossing Bridge was another representation of Arayashima to the older generation. The bridge looked just like another modern metal-made bridge to me and I forgot to take a picture of it!

This forestry mountain would turn into a colourful mountain in autumn, somewhere in mid November. The Japanese maple leaf trees would dress it yellow, orange and red. Unless I quit my job, I would never be able to see such a beautiful sight.

The river is a special river, having three names at three different points.

I asked Chizuko if it was common for construction areas to have such cute barriers.
She said yes.

We had a peek at the colour of autumn.

The locals would hold parties on the sheltered boats during autumn.

This is where the river has its second name.
"Hydroelectric power," Chizuko mentioned.
That's not the name of the river, of course.
After the Arayashima tour, Chizuko took us to take a foot train for a 20-minute ride to Kinkakuji Temple.

It's a flat rate of 210 yen and 110 yen for adults and children respectively.

The final station, and our station.
It was very crowded at Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, Temple.
It looks deceivingly quiet and calm in the picture but we had to fight with other tourists for a spot to take a quick picture with the Temple!

The pond is also known as the mirror pond as it supposedly reflects the Kinkakuji Temple beautifully.

On looking closely at the Temple, we could see the squarish slabs on the body of the Temple. Those were the golden leaves that part of the Temple's construction.
That was as close as we could get to the Temple. No commoner could get into the Temple in case of thefts of the golden leaves.
Near the Temple was a 'bonsai', planted by the founder.
The entire plant is a bonsai.

Pictures of the interior of Kinkakuji

Do you see the crowd? We were there when we took our picture.
And Chizuko said it was not very crowded as it was not the peak season.
My goodness!

We left Kinkakuji quite hastily as the crowd was getting to be too much to bear and I was worried that we might not be able to cover much if we continued to spend too much time there.
So we moved on.
On to Kiyomizu Temple.
We took a bus there and walked uphill for a good 20 minutes!
Finally, we reached the place!

It is the most visited temple in Kyoto

The students were drinking the spring water.
The first stream from the right was for Health, the middle stream was for Studies and the last stream was for Love and Beauty.

Kiyomizu Temple is also known as the 'Take the Plunge' Temple.
This platform is 30m high.
More than 150 years ago, it was a practice for people to take a plunge from the platform to pray for the fulfilment of their wish.
About 50% of the jumpers died.
The practice was banned 150 years ago, but 'to take a plunge at Kiyomizu Temple' has become a phrase synonymous with courage eg. I took a plunge at Kiyomizu Temple to buy this million-dollar bag!

A tiny view of the platform

Another cute barrier!

By the time we came down, it was nearly 5pm and the people drinking the spring water were not as many, so we joined the queue to drink from the Health stream.

You have to hand it to the Japanese. They even have a steriliser for this!

Pond skaters in the pond at Kiyomizu Temple

At about 6pm, Chizuko took us to a bus stop near Kiyomizu Temple to take this bus back to Kyoto Station. She only bade us goodbye after the bus arrived.
It was extremely crowded on the bus as there were hordes of tourists on the bus as well. We had to squeeze ourselves up the bus and remain squashed for the next 20 minutes or so until we reached the bus terminal just outside Kyoto Station.
Chizuko recommended us to remain around Kyoto Station to have our dinner before going back to our ryokan.
My mother's udon with beef, which she said was good.

Baby's chicken katsu don (left) that came with my udon (right)
The meal totalled up to 2410 yen.

We chanced upon the Kyoto Tower from within the Kyoto Station as we walked to the subway.
Tourism is the main industry in Kyoto and a law stipulating the height restriction of buildings constructed had been passed (can't remember how long ago it was) to protect the industry. However, Kyoto Tower was built before the law was passed so it continues to stand as the tallest building in Kyoto.

After we exited the Gojo Station, we had to navigate the dark and quiet neighbourhood streets to return to our ryokan. My mother kept asking us to keep very quiet so that we would not attract robbers and thieves. At first, I dismissed it,"Japan is very safe. There is no robber." but after she repeatedly mentioned about robbers, I became paranoid as well and we quickened our steps to get back to our room.

I was relieved to see the white lantern.

We bought a Melody-shaped Japanese sweet for about 560 yen at Daimaru supermarket at Tokyo Station before we came to Kyoto. I urged Baby to eat it before it turned bad. For the hefty price I paid for a sweet, she said it was awful and refused to eat more. The shape was really cute though.

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