Niki and Hamed’s trip to Japan – Part 1

*A belated post about my friends Niki and Hamed’s trip to Japan*

It’s already April, can you believe it! The weather is not exactly spring like at all. I suppose the days are getting warmer but there is certainly a significant drop in the temperature after sunset.

I am lucky to have had a steady stream of visitors coming to visit me in Japan. My friends Niki and Hamed came for a couple of weeks (partly for the cherry blossoms I think!) and for the first week of their stay, we followed the blooming cherry blossoms around central Japan. Unfortunately due to the unseasonably cold weather, they hadn’t exactly started blooming yet!

All the travel I have been doing lately has put a little strain on the old pockets. So, in attempts to save a bit of money, I flew down to Kyoto (京都) – our first stop – rather than catching the shinkansen (新幹線). As Kyoto’s nearest airport is the Kansai airport (関西空港) which is well outside of Osaka (大阪), it is certainly a trek and a half into Kyoto city. It was door to door 7 hours (which would have normally taken 3 hours at most on the train). It was a train to Tokyo station, a bus to Narita airport (成田空港), the flight (1 hour) and three trains to Kyoto’s main station and then the underground to the hotel.

After I finally made it to the hotel, I met Niki and Hamed at Keage Incline (蹴上インクライン), which is an ideal spot for cherry blossom viewing (maybe in a week or so though). It was an old railway track which used to connect the canals that ran through the city, We then made our way through to the pier where we caught a boat along with river before heading to a lovely udon place, specialising in vegetarian udon – Mimikou.

The next day we headed to Saga Arashiyama station (嵯峨嵐山駅) and walked through the famous bamboo grove. It was, as expected, packed with people but we took another route that led us to a lovely clearing where we stopped for a break. The weather by this time was warm and bright, much warmer than the day before and an older gentleman approached us, asking us where we were from and the like. He then proceeded to tell us about the mountains in the area and pointed the way to a lookout.

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The lookout was amazing, much less packed and overlooking the mountains and the river below. We saw some people riding boats along the river so we decided to go have a gander and it was absolutely beautiful by the water.

The place we stopped for lunch was run by an older couple whose entire restaurant was animal free! The older gentleman took our order then proceeded to have a nice long chat with us, asking us where were going next. He then explained that the temple next to his restaurant was worth going to as it was the oldest in all of the Arashiyama area. It was also particularly unique because it was dedicated to the god of electricity and had figures of Hertz and Edison in it! He then said he would take us there so we went with him and sure enough there were the monuments out the front!

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After lunch (which was delicious by the way – it is so rare to get traditional Japanese food and to be able to eat it all without worry, was a real treat!) we went back to the temple and the view was spectacular! It was a much less touristy place with it being visited by mainly Japanese families who looked like they were praying for a successful new school year. It was an absolutely beautiful temple and especially seeing as it had a blossoming cherry blossom tree.

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We then headed back into town to the Tennryuji temple gardens (天龍寺). I had been there once before when Eleanor came to visit but that was in the winter. It was nice to see this beautifully manicured garden in the spring especially as some of the flowers had started to bloom.

We then jumped back on the train back to Kyoto (京都) and then onwards to Inari (稲荷)to visit the Fushimi-Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷神社). It is always breathtaking and one of the many popular tourist destinations. We made the lovely brisk walk up the mountain just in time for the sunset on the way down. The lookout over the city was amazing, especially at the time of day that we were there.

The next day started off nice and relaxed. We slowly made our way over to Nijo Castle (二条城). It was packed, as was to be expected. The castle had a lot of history behind it, much of which I must admit went over my head. The inside was beautiful and well kept considering it was possibly hundreds of years old.

Being a cheesy tourist in the grounds of the castle!

Our whole day basically revolved around this Miyako dance show we had booked previously so we stopped off for a quick lunch at Mos Burger and made our way to Kyoto University of Art and Design, where the show was being held, only to be told that we had mixed up the days and turned up a day early!

After re-evaluating our plans, we headed to the Gion (祇園) area and happened across a canal where the sakura (桜) had started blooming. It was lovely and peaceful; the sun was shining so it was warm, bright and calm with few other people around.

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We made our way into the main part of Gion where the blossoms were blooming and it was little chaotic, with everyone vying for that perfect cherry blossom picture. We then walked over to Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) for the sunset. The sunset at the top of the temple was breathtaking, if not a little overshadowed by the bustling crowds. But the beauty of the blossoms, the sunset and the city view was exquisite; the colours of the sun coupled with the lone blooming cherry blossom tree was fantastic.  It made me appreciate how lucky I am to live in a country, full of natural beauty.

This bottom picture was taken at night outside of the temple, with the light of the moon peeking through

20170405_141832Our last day in Kyoto, we started off slow with a spot of shopping before heading to lunch at a vegan restaurant overlooking the river. We then made our way to the Miyako performance (都をどり) which was amazing! The sets, lights, costumes, music and dancing was all just perfect. Such talent and sophistication….it was such a professional show and we were all left in awe. It was not only filled with tourists, but the general public too.

From there we headed to Nishiki market (錦市場) which had a knife store, full of knives and other cooking implements hand made by the descendants of those who made swords for the samurai (侍)! After heading down a beautiful and slightly hipster alleyway we came to Maruyama Park (円山公園) in which there was a French tea house where we stopped for a spot of tea and some scones.

Tea and scones in Kyoto – how typically Japanese! Haha.

We then walked through the park to Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社); the park was filled with people enjoying hanami (花見). It was so nice to see people enjoying the warmer weather outside.

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Although I have been to Kyoto many a time since coming to Japan, there is always something new and interesting to discover everytime I go. It is also a good thing that I love visiting temples, as there are so many to see, spread across the city.

*Part 2 coming soon (Mount Koya 高野山 and Osaka 大阪)*

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