Kyoto is a lovely city, we actually spent 4 days in and around Kyoto but the first day was a write off. After climbing Mount Fuji and then catching a 9 hour night bus, we decided to chill out for the first day and recuperate. We awoke the following day, me, Joe and Holly and made our way to Toji Temple. Most of the main temples in Kyoto cost money to enter so it’s worth doing your research and picking and choosing the ones you wish to see, otherwise you will end up spending a fortune. Toji Temple was no exception and cost ¥500 to enter, it is a 5 storey pagoda and is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. From here we walked to Kyoto station and caught the Nara Line (brown line) to Inari. It is the second stop from Kyoto Station, leaving from platform 9 or 10 costing ¥140. When exiting Inari station you come face to face with the Torii Gates where the Fushimi Inari Shrine is located. This is free to enter and there are thousands of Torii Gates which straddle a network of trails up the sacred Mount Inari. This was one of my favourite things in Kyoto and there are restaurants and vending machines along the way if you need a quick sugar boost for the diabetes. You don’t have to go all the way to the top, we turned round after a while and headed back down, still knackered after climbing Mount Fuji. After leaving the Torii Gates there is a Family Mart opposite to stock up on provisions, then you can turn right and walk for 10 minutes until you arrive at Tofukji Temple. You can walk around the gardens for free and enjoy the amazing Japanese architecture of the temples. You can also pay ¥400 to walk down a boulevard of trees around the back of the temples, but this is probably only worth it in the spring when the blossom is blooming! From here you can catch a train to the Jishu-jinja shrine, leaving from Tobakaido Station to Kiyomizu station, 3 stops costing ¥150. There is a bit of a walk up a hill to view the shrine and again you can walk around the outside for free but have to pay ¥300 to go inside and get views of the city from atop the hill. After heading down the hill take a left down an old style Japanese street which will take you into Goin/Gion (I saw it spelt both ways) and the chance to catch a glimpse of some proper Geishas in the early evening. The streets of Goin are lovely and you feel like you’ve gone back hundreds of years in Japanese history. There are also many bars and restaurants around, a lot with half price drinks between 5pm-7pm.
On our second day of exploring we caught a train from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama for ¥240, leaving from platform 32 or 33. From here you can follow signs to the bamboo forest, it is clearly signposted, and spend some time admiring the thick green bamboo stalks, creating a dense forest which seems to go on forever. As we were over that side of town we caught a train from Randen Saga station to Ryonaji station, but had to change at Katabironotsuji to see the Ryonaji Sand Garden. This cost ¥500 to enter and the surrounding gardens and lake were lovely, but in all honesty the sand/rock garden looked like my driveway. There were some raked pebbles with 15 rocks. That was it. The one thing to note is that no matter where you sit you can only see 14 of the rocks at any one time… mental!! We left my driveway slightly disappointed but found a nice cafe to eat some lunch before our 20 minute walk to the golden temple, Kinkakuji. This cost ¥400 to enter but was by far the nicest temple I’d seen. It is all gold and the mirror image in the surrounding lake make for some truely spectacular photos. All of the temples have beautifully landscaped gardens where you can spend your time in the shade of the trees admiring the beauty of Japan. After leaving the golden temple we decided to head over to the silver temple, Ginkakuji. We caught bus number 102 for ¥230 to the other side of town. This temple costs ¥500 to enter, I didn’t go in but I was informed that it was beautiful with a proper rock garden, not one like my driveway. However this temple marks the start of Philosophers street, a few metres from the entrance, and this is a lovely walk quiet walk along a river, with wildlife buzzing around, flowers blooming and plenty of places to stop, relax and enjoy a nice cold cup of iced coffee or tea.
Buses 100, 101 and 102 can get you to most major places in the city, with no. 100 and 101 leaving from Kyoto main station. Bus no. 102 connects the golden and silver temples, plus a bit beyond. Each ticket costs ¥230 per journey but I imagine you can get an a day pass, it also may be included in the Japan Rail Pass which I chose not to buy. The buses have a big map, plus an electronic screen showing you where you are, along with announcements in Japanese and English telling you where you are, what there is to do and some useful information about that stop. You enter from the middle of the bus and exit from the front, where you pay the driver before getting off.
On day 3 we left Kyoto and headed to Nara, the same line that takes you to Inari, the Torii Gates. The ticket costs ¥710 and surprisingly is the last stop on the Nara Line, leaving from platform 9 or 10. We had our big bags with us as we were heading to Osaka that evening ready to fly out of Osaka airport in a couple of days. There’s a big visitor information office which can give you all the information you need on Nara and you can also store your bags there for ¥500 until 7pm. Nara is lovely, walk straight up the road out of the station and you come to a huge park with deer roaming everywhere. These deer are so used to people they come strolling up to you and you can buy some food for them for ¥150, but be warned, they then will not leave you alone. It does however make for some great photos. Nara is definitely well worth a half day trip and pretty much everything there is to see is situated in and around the park. There are signs everywhere to help you find your way which also state the distance in metres on how far you need to walk. We then headed to Osaka after picking up our bags. There are 2 train stations in Nara so be careful you go back to the right one to pick up your bags. We jumped on a JR train for ¥560 which took us straight to Shin Imamiya Station, a 5 minute walk from our hostel, Hotel Toyo. This is an ok area of Osaka, a little run down compared to everywhere else I’ve stayed but has great connections to the airport. Our accommodation is the cheapest I’ve found in Japan. £13 a night for your own room, albeit quite small, with a mattress on the floor. There is no air-conditioning, just a fan that stays on for 3 hours at a time but it is clean and comfortable and somewhat nearer our backpackers budget. Japan has been very expensive but I think well worth the visit. They have a fantastic culture, are polite and can understand you when trying to speak Japanese. Each word pretty much follows the rule consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel etc so you can quite easily try to say the word, is some cases totally butcher it, and the Japanese will still be able to work out what you are saying.