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mistybleu Kyoto - A travel report by Amanda
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Kyoto,  Japan - flag Japan -  Kyðto
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mistybleu's travel reports

Exploring the land of the Rising Sun

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What do you do when you wake up at 4am because you are still on Tokyo time? The answer is - you share your experiences with other! I think the aim here is to get a sense of the popular parts Japan as opposed to exploring just one city.


The Golden Pavilion
The Golden Pavilion
I found a list of 10 things that were a must when visiting Japan:

1. Go to a Karaoke bar, 2. See a sumo fight, 3. Stay in a traditional Ryokan inn or a Capsule hotel, 4. Travel on the bullet train, 5. Eat sushi, 6. Enjoy the cherry blossom, 7. Visit a pachinko (fruit machine) game room, 8. Visit a temple/shrine, 9. Watch a traditional Japanese ‘Kabuki’ play, 10. Go to an Onsen - a public bath house.

I’ve done 7 of these but after my trip I’ve came up with 10 things that are a must for being Japanese:

1. Cross the road only when the little man turns green – even if the road is clear no local would dear put their foot on the zebra crossing when the man is red. 2. Stand only on the left side of the escalators – if you get this wrong people will queue behind you instead of asking you to step aside. 3. When boarding a train, first find the car number that is on the platform then form an orderly queue as indicated by the painted lines on the floor. 4. ‘Here comes the men in black’ - always wear a black suit with a white shirt – nearly every day of the week (I think mostly in Tokyo?) you see men in suits. 5. Always be texting on your mobile – when travelling it seems no one talks anymore, everyone is so engrossed with their ‘flip’ mobile phones. 6. Accept a glass of ice water with your meal – fizzy drinks aren’t too popular mostly teas, but as you order your meal they always bring some tap water. 7. Check your calorie count – the Japanese seem to be focused on their ‘growing’ nation and some restaurants also include a calorie count of each meal including butter at 78 or syrup at 42 cals etc. 8. Discover the weirdness of Japanese youth fashion. 9. Become an infamous tourist and see all the major sights with camera in hand taking photos of everything. 10. Learn some Japanese words – it always helps to converse, ‘domo arigata’ (aka thank you).

Favourite spots:
Golden Pavilion  or Kinkaku
Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku
Of my 2 favourite experiences, the first was exploring the Rokuon-ji Temple complex. The temple is also known as the Golden Pavilion (or Kinkaku) and sits on a mirrored pond (Kyoko-chi) that is completely serene. In 1394 the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga abducted the throne and wanted an imposing building built upon his death, the result is this wonderful gold leafed structure that has a golden phoenix on top.

Secondly was exploring Miyajima Island; it takes about 30 minutes from Hiroshima to the island which is home to the world heritage sites of Itsukushima Shrine and O-tori Gate and is a popular icon of Japan. The island is sacred no one is allowed to die there, if death is imminent they are taken to the mainland.

It is a wonderful place to explore and spending the entire day is time well spent. Other sights include the 5 storey pagoda - Gojunoto and the huge wooden Senjokaku (or Toyokuni Shrine), an enjoyable cable car ride up to the top of Mt Misen.

What's really great:
Shinkansen
Shinkansen
My little research suggested that I get a Japan Rail (JR) Pass before departing; it costs around £151, which seems like a lot but this really is value for money as just one journey from Tokyo would have cost just as much.

JR is an intricate railway network that covers all of Japan and offers both the Shinkansen (high speed train lines) and local train lines that link up with other Shinkansen station. Their trains run at speeds of up to 300km per hour and are very punctual. I feel I should be employed by JR as I’ve been giving them so much valuable word of mouth advertising.

The best way to use the service is to reserve your seat before travel (this can be done up to 10 minutes prior) and this ensures you have a comfortable ride as some times the unreserved carriages can be really overcrowded. The JR Pass doesn’t allow travel on the Nozomi, which are the really fast trains so my journeys always took an additional 20 minutes or so.

Sights:
Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle
Some of my favourite places while exploring the Japan are:

Kyoto, the former capital of Japan and a part of the country that you can still get a traditional feel even through it still is a big city. There are many, many temples and shrines dotted around that give an incredible insight to the local culture. My personal favourite was going to the Golden Pavilion – Kinkakuji Temple, a bit opulent but set in a wonderful garden; Nijo Castle –has an exhibition that depicts the life of the shogun. Other places of interest were: Kyoto Imperial Palace, Daitokuji Temple, Kyoto Tower, and Higashi-Honganji Temple.

Sensoji Temple - the biggest in Tokyo, before entering there are many souvenir and food stalls; it is very busy on a Sunday with so much to see. There is the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, Shinjuku area or Ginza shopping areas and Tsukji fish market of interest. Also 1 hour outside Tokyo is Fuji City and the famous volcano - Mount Fuji.

Accommodations:
Capsule Inn in Tokyo
Capsule Inn in Tokyo
Two types of accommodation that I wanted to try both very indigenous – a capsule hotel and a traditional Ryokan inn.

I stayed in the Akihabara district which is famous for electronics, cameras, games and comic shops etc; last year a man stabbed 7 people to death, right there, I digress.

They are predominately for men and costs ¥4,000 per night, check-in is at 5pm, but I was able to leave my luggage. Once there I was given 3 towels, a Yukata (Japanese dressing gown for sleeping in) plus 2 toothbrushes and comb. The capsule was quite comfortable if not a little claustrophobic but it had a TV and radio (with only Japanese stations) alarm clock and the pillows were stuffed of either shells or beans I could quite phantom it out.

Ryokan inns can be quite expensive, but they give an example of bygone days in Japan. The rooms are minimalist with usually just a futon on the floor, but for tourists some now have TV, fridge and tea facilities plus some en suite facilities.

Nightlife:
Tokyo Tower at night
Tokyo Tower at night
I’m definitely getting old, because after a full day of sightseeing I’m usually too tired to go out in the evening and quite fancy having dinner and then going to bed. But I did muscle up to the energy to see neon lights of Ginza and done a bit of late night shopping, crossing the famous 6-way crossing in the heart of Tokyo.

Friday night on the trains is no different then in any other major city. During the day everyone is polite and there is order. During the evening when all the city workers come out of the various bars the sights, sounds and smells are the same; with some poor bloke so drunk he cannot stand or as a group pass by and you get drunk just by the fumes or even the one who hangs on to the column for dear life as he hurls his noodle dinner up laced with sake.

But then there always Karaoke, the true Japanese experiences; I saw one major chain the Big Echo – a bit expensive (no not in Japan!) but worthwhile in this huge city.

Restaurants:
My little restaurant in Kyoto
My little restaurant in Kyoto
There seems to be a push for controlling diets and some restaurants not only have the dishes pictorially shown with price but also include the calorie count on the menu.

There are so many types to local restaurants to try and if you go to the formal one it can be quite expensive, setting you back ¥6,000 or more (FX 1 local currency equals - £ = ¥168, € = ¥135, $ = ¥101). But I wanted to try some of the local bars that you sit act the counter and they serve you (around ¥1,500). This was a nice experience watching the food being cooked in front of me, but it was a little intimidating not really understanding what I was ordering.

I also had to enjoy ‘pot’ noodles and a Bento (take away lunch box) for my train journey; now I thought I loved sushi but I know now that we enjoy a western version as I found it really difficult to find things that appealed to me, but nonetheless it is all experience.

Check out my tips for some of the restaurants I tried.

Other recommendations:
Atomic Dome in Hiroshima
Atomic Dome in Hiroshima
Another 2 hours from Kyoto is Hiroshima, a city that will be in our memories as the site where the first atom bomb was dropped. On 6th August 1945 the bomb was detonated over the city in a mushroom cloud burst that when it hit killed around 70,000 people with another 200,000 after. At the epicentre site is the Peace Memorial Museum and one of the only buildings that was left standing now called the Atomic Dome. Of interest are the Hiroshima Castle rebuilt in 1957 and now the centre of the sporting area.

If I had more time, I would have liked to continue south and visited Nagasaki, the site where the second atom bomb was dropped or stopped in Kobe for more than 20 minutes or even to have explored Osaka – a very vibrant city that is home to the airport for Kyoto.

It would have been appealing to explore some of the other islands and enjoyed more of the natural beauty of Japan but I had to return to Tokyo to catch my flight.

Published on Tuesday October 21th, 2008


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Tue, Jan 11 2011 - 09:04 PM rating by trekkerman

Really good report. Although it seems you missed out on the fantastic city walking tour of Kyoto? Which takes in many landmarks and buildings, also local history and traditions; including the location and building where Nintendo started out.
Great read though Amanda.

Wed, Nov 26 2008 - 12:42 PM rating by bineba

Entertaining and imformative - as ever. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 06:39 AM rating by rangutan

Goal orientated travel :-) Great!

Mon, Oct 27 2008 - 04:00 PM rating by magsalex

Informative and entertaining report. If I get there I will be sure to do the top 10!

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 10:36 AM rating by gloriajames

Loved every bit of your report! Some great pics too! Enjoyed the 10 things to do list! 5*

Thu, Oct 23 2008 - 06:37 PM rating by robynallen

This report was well written and informative. Good tips for the first time explorer. I plan to go back to Japan in 2010 with my son to show him all the amazing things Japan has to offer. Such a completley different way of life to our home!
Thanks for sharing your experience.

Thu, Oct 23 2008 - 02:59 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Beautiful report combined with perfect pictures

Wed, Oct 22 2008 - 11:46 AM rating by marianne

Very informative and a perfect read. I love your photos, Tokyo tower looks very much like the Eiffel Tower

Wed, Oct 22 2008 - 03:56 AM rating by louis

I really enjoyed reading your report. Spepiaclly I like the first part of it with 10 things not to be missed. Thanks for sharing.

Tue, Oct 21 2008 - 08:50 PM rating by aufgehts

Amanda,

Another very informative report. The capsule hotel sounds really cool (I've only seen them on TV). Sounds like you had a really great time!

Take care,
Jill

Tue, Oct 21 2008 - 03:44 PM rating by bootlegga

Very interesting take on Japanese culture Amanda!

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