Visiting Japan has always been a lifelong ambition of mine and one that needed to be crossed off the bucket list long ago. I’m not sure what it is that has given me the tingles when it comes to this amazing country with proud tradition and culture, whether it has been watching a few movies based in Japan, admiring the beautiful pictures on a website or studying about ancient Japan in school. Whatever the fascination I have finally made it.
As soon as I stepped foot off the Singapore Airline aeroplane, I can add to ever increasing the list of countries that I have been to, when in June 2018, I had my first chance of visiting Japan for the very first time. I did take full advantage to make the trip, and even in these early days, with weary eyes from a long flight, I was not going to waste a minute.
As tempting as I was to see Tokyo, on this occasion I couldn’t fit the capital city on the itinerary. Instead, I had to settle for the former capital city in Kyoto and Osaka as the chosen destinations and explore as much as possible two vastly different cities on the Japanese island of Honshu in the Kansai Region.
Let’s get stuck into it, the first edition of Osaka – Kyoto Diaries, days one and two and it was straight to Kyoto, a region of great beauty and culture. I couldn’t have imagined a better location to kick off my debut trip to Japan in the next edition of travel diaries.
Highlights of Osaka-Kyoto Diaries – Days 1-2 – Visiting Japan for the very first time
Getting to Osaka and Onwards to Kyoto
I flew into Osaka’s Kansai International Airport flying Singapore Airlines for the first time and I must admit in the build-up to the flight, I was excited to be flying with a significant airline over the budget airlines I usually travel with, where on this occasion I didn’t have to worry about luggage, seats and in-flight meals.
The eagerly awaited flight lived up to Singapore Airlines proud standards and while it was a long journey travelling from Perth, Australia, to Singapore for a five-hour transit and followed by a six-hour overnight flight to Osaka, Japan, the long hours were worth it as I took my first steps in Japan.
I didn’t have time to check out Osaka, with my prepared itinerary, I headed straight to Kyoto by train, which in total, including any wait times, took around 90-minutes from the Kansai International Airport. The trip to Japan had well and truly begun.
Let’s get the adventure started. I’m excited.
Accommodation in Kyoto – Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo
I found this boutique accommodation through the Booking.com website with mostly positive reviews coming from the previous guests.
The Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo is a boutique hotel situated in a central location and is close by to a handful of attractions in Kyoto such as Nijo Castle and Nishiki Markets. Mitsui was the perfect stay for a solo traveller in a single room; it’s clean, affordable enough for a 3-star hotel in Japan and a comfortable bed with a warm shower. It’s all I needed for time in Kyoto and good night sleep. Let’s face it; I won’t spend too much time in my small room during the day.
It Begins at Nishiki Market
The Nishiki Market is the only major attraction I saw on my first evening in Kyoto, besides taking a stroll around parts of the city. Although I was eager to get out further in Kyoto, I am only human, and I needed a good night’s rest ahead of a busy few days. Spoiler alert, I walk many kilometres in the three days full days I spend in Kyoto.
Nishiki Market has a friendly upbeat vibe about it, in areas of the markets, many people are moving in all directions who are out in the unique street market and having a good time. Inside Nishiki Markets is a range of Japanese food of either grilled meats, sushi, crepes, ramen and plenty of other tasty eats with lots of green tea ice-cream in many locations.
As well as great food available at a reasonable price, Japan is not cheap; there are many Japanese style souvenirs shops that sell stylish chopsticks, Japanese style arts and many other goods that you may be tempted to take home with you for the memory of your holiday in Kyoto. For the first night in Kyoto, I was impressed with the atmosphere in a small part of Kyoto that I saw.
The Delightful Heian Shrine
Up and out of bed early on day-two visiting Japan, on this day and in the next few days I had a lot of sightseeing to do and places to go in Kyoto. The first whole day in Kyoto was on the eastern side of the city where many gorgeous temples and shrines awaited, as well as the mountains that overlooked the surrounding area; it’s all very picturesque.
A solid thirty-minute walk away from the hotel, maybe more, I started with the Heian Jingu Shrine, breathtaking can’t even begin to explain how gorgeous this shrine looked and getting there beautiful and early meant the crowds hadn’t gathered in too much. That’s the key to most attractions in Kyoto, get in soon if you can get out of bed early enough because the crowds do come.
The primary shrine area is a decorated Japanese building that is great in its texture and colour, was built a relatively short time ago, regarding history, in 1895. The Shrine had been built in dedication to the emperor’s who reined in Kyoto, and there are four main buildings which are separated and sit horizontally to each other, with white limestone type flooring outside the grounds of the shrine.
For me, the best part is the gardens around the back and sides, while entering the shrine is free of charge. The gardens have a small entrance fee of 600 yen, and it’s certainly worth the admission fee to view the stunning gardens and wander through beautifully landscaped gardens, lakes and well-designed Japanese structures that are worth the admission price alone.
Visiting the Yasaka Shrine
The crowds had indeed gone up a notch by the time I had reached The Yasaka Shrine, and it was undoubtedly a more buoyant atmosphere by the time I reached this particular shrine with many tourists, locals and quite a few Japanese women dressed very nicely and appropriately in the Geisha dress.
The Yasaka shrine, which is free to enter, is undoubtedly another fabulous Japanese building that is worth the time in Kyoto, it’s a shrine full of colour, unusual structures and plenty of Japanese culture on display. In my own opinion, it didn’t quite reach the heights of the Heian Shrine. However, it’s still worth the visit as is most attractions in Kyoto.
Also to note, in the same vicinity of the ofthe Yasaka Shrine, is the Maruyama Park and Chion-in Temple which will undoubtedly help occupy a few hours of your time for a pleasant stroll in the outdoors, before heading to the next attraction only a little down the road, and it is breathtaking.
The Picturesque Kodaiji Temple
More tradition, more history, I felt spoilt on day two in Japan with another fabulous historical attraction to feast my eyes on in Kyoto. This time I entered was the Kodai-Ji Temple. The temple is a mesmerising Japanese building with many different beautiful and unique structures; it’s blended in beautifully with the mountains in the backdrop and naturally very well landscaped gardens, the admission price is undoubtedly worth the fee for the picturesque temple and its surroundings.
Established in 1606, in memory of a man named Toyotomi Hideyoshi, there is a lot of history inside Kodai-Ji, and it’s a pleasure and privilege to be in the grounds of something so beautiful and ancient. I know I will treasure this place for a long time to come with many of my photos taken to be stored away for future memories.
Of all the temples that I have seen in Kyoto during my brief stay, Kodai-Ji was my favourite, make sure you put it on your list whenever visiting the region.
The traditional Ninenzaka
Another busy tourist attraction and this time it’s in the form of a street market set-up that is buzzing with tourist, geishas and other locals that make moving down the street near on impossible.
Ninenzaka is a long stretch of road with many shops and food outlets that are surrounded by amazing Japanese style housing which in term leads to the next major tourist attraction in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-Dera.
The Stunning Kiyomizu-Dera
The crowds went to another level at Kiyomizu-Dera and a lot of that had to do with the school students who were out and about on a field trip and the students even enjoyed approaching me to be included in a photo or two. My humble self certainly felt like a celebrity for all but a minute, I was certainly flattered.
Kiyomizu-Dera temple which means “pure water” is said to be the most attended temple in Kyoto and judging by the crowds in presence, I would say that’s the truth. The most popular thing to do at Kiyomizu-Dera is to go to one of the three waterfalls and touch the special water. It’s believed to give you magical powers upon touching the pure water and waiting line suggest that the belief in that theory is strong.
The Kiyomizu-Dera temple is a popular choice for all visitors, the temple is situated in the mountains, with lovely designed infrastructures and an electric atmosphere that seemed to have been brought over from the streets of Ninenzaka. One thing to know when standing inside the Kiyomizu-Dera temple, that it was founded in the year 778, that was over 1200-years ago. To be in a country with such rich history is phenomenal.
A Walk through Gion
Gion is known as the motherland of Geishas, although on this occasion I saw no more or less in other attractions throughout the day in Kyoto. The Gion set-up is like Ninenzaka, which is another street style set up with plenty of souvenir shopping and Japanese food outlets.
A lot of these street markets generally do lead to a major attraction. So, follow the road of culture and Japanese style housing, and you’re bound to be on track to another fantastic attraction, case in point, Kennin-Ji Temple is next.
On day two it had come to this, two shrines, three temples and a couple of street markets. Kennin-Ji temple was probably the least profile of the temples I visited on day-two, but when you compare it to the Kiyomizu-Dera and the Kodai-Ji Temple, you could be judging it harshly.
I had no plans of stopping by, but walking the streets of Kyoto back to the hotel, I stumbled across it by accident and said, “why not,” what’s another temple to the list.
Kennin-Ji Temple certainly has a lot of history associated with it, being founded in 1202 and once again like most temples in the area, it’s a mixture of beautiful traditional buildings, mixed in with a short garden walk, that’s without the close by surrounding mountains as the temple is situated close to the city centre.
It was an action-packed day one and in particular, day two in Kyoto and it only has me chomping at the bit for what’s install for days three and four before I head off to my next destination in Osaka. Until then, stay tuned for the next edition of travel diaries in Japan.