Kansai, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

We started our 4th day in Kyoto a bit later than the previous days since our first stop was just a few minutes away (walk) from our Airbnb – NIJO CASTLE (UNESCO)!

While walking along one side of the Nijo Castle, we realized how huge the castle ground was since it took us a few minutes to finish walking just one side. The huge stone walls looked imposing and surrounded by moat. At the time of our visit, the original entrance gate was under renovation so the entry point to the castle was different.

MARCH 9, 2017

We started our 4th day in Kyoto a bit later than the previous days since our first stop was just a few minutes away (walk) from our Airbnb – NIJO CASTLE (UNESCO)!

While walking along one side of the Nijo Castle, we realized how huge the castle ground was since it took us a few minutes to finish walking just one side. The huge stone walls looked imposing and surrounded by moat. At the time of our visit, the original entrance gate was under renovation so the entry point to the castle was different.

We paid ¥600 to get access to the castle grounds, and our first stop was the Ninomaru Palace, with the Karamon Gate as entrance. For me, this was best part of the castle because of the “nightingale floors”, a term used for the squeaking floors which resemble the bird’s sound. We read inside the palace that this served as a defense mechanism back then as it alerts the people inside the castle on presence of intruders.

Another thing we loved inside Ninomaru Palace were the artworks inside. Each part of the palace had a different theme for decorations – from walls to ceilings and fusuma-e. The most striking themes there were the tora (tiger), peony, bamboo, and simple drawing (in black ink only).

Too bad we were not allowed to take pictures and videos inside… so I highly recommend this to people and go see for yourself.

While walking to the next part of the castle, M spotted a sign that leads to another area. Surprise, surprise – a garden of ume (plum blossom) trees! Unlike the ume garden in Kitano Tenmangu, we got inside this one for free.

We went to Honmaru Palace afterwards but we were not able to enter since this is not regularly open to the public. We still strolled around the garden and we found an overlooking spot that had a good view of the moat and surrounding residential area.

After a bit of rest, we headed for our next destination. We thought that the first shrine we encountered was already the place but it turned out to be KAWAI-JINJA. What I found distinct in this shrine was the ema used – mirror-shaped + must draw face + write down request to be more beautiful! The god in this shrine specializes in women’s beauty, hence this concept.

Our actual destination, SHIMOGAMO-JINJA (Lower Kamo Shrine; UNESCO), was not far from here. It is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful shrines in Japan, which I agree with. It is also said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

The walk going to the entrance was a bit long but we took our time since the view was really nice. We were surrounded by trees, and everything was just peaceful and quiet.

Inside the shrine, I easily spotted the Takiobashi bridge. It was beautiful especially since there were some ume that had already bloomed.

Another interesting thing I saw in this shrine was how the locals were dipping a piece of paper in a small stream of water. Not sure if what they were checking out was an omikuji. The contents are only available in Japanese so we did not try doing this anymore.

After going around the shrine, we went to NISHIKI ICHIBA since we had not yet eaten lunch and it was already past 2PM. The bus stop where we were waiting was quite confusing but we were lucky that there was a local who could understand English.

Nishiki Market is also popularly known “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. It is the largest traditional food market in Kyoto and it is a really long alley lined with mostly food stalls. Other stalls sell souvenirs and fresh ingredients (including meat and seafood).

We tried a lot of food here but I’ll let the pictures and captions do the storytelling. 🙂

Kawaii tofu doughnuts

Dashimaki tamago

I wanted to try tako tamago (baby octopus with quail egg inside) but I found out it is served cold so I passed on this. I also thought of buying matcha warabimochi but the line was long and I was already too full by the time I saw the stall.

We went home after eating to get some rest before our 9PM reservation in YAKITORI HITOMI. I found the place through some blog posts, who highly recommended it as a casual yakitori place that makes of almost every part of a chicken. The place is popular among locals and tourists so I had to ask help from our Airbnb host on reservation.

However, when we went inside, it seemed like they forgot about the reservation. Good thing though that there was a free table so we did not have to wait for long. Pictures and captions below show what we ordered. Also, the owner and staff were apologetic about our reservation to the point that the person serving our table kept on saying “sorry” and “gomenasai” every time he would go to our area. The owner also gave us free food – 1 stick of chicken meat with perilla and 1 stick of wings per person.

Almost every part of a chicken can be ordered

Tsukune (chicken meatballs) — one of the best dishes we ordered! Got sold out fast!!!

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Duck meat — soooooo good!!!!!

Chicken skin — sinful but really, really yummy!!!

We were the last customers to leave so we had a bit of conversation with the owner. This also gave us the opportunity to personally give our compliment to the chef/owner. All of the food we ordered tasted really great! What a great way to cap off our last night in Kyoto. 🙂

Kanpai!!! These are called Shochu Highball 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

On our first day of tour, we left early for Kiyomizu-dera to avoid the big crowd. We hopped off at Gojo-zaka bus station and it was still a long walk before reaching the majestic gate to KIYOMIZU-DERA (UNESCO). There were no visitors yet when we reached the place, and it was a wondrous feeling to take in all the calmness and serenity.

MARCH 5-6, 2017

We purchased our tickets to Osaka (KIX) via Cebu Pacific last year, and we were lucky enough to catch a seat sale (Php 7,500 for RT ticket per person).

Our flight to KIX was a bit delayed but we still arrived in KIX around 8PM (flight lasted for about 4 hours). Since we were not sure if there were any restaurants near our Kyoto Airbnb, we decided to eat in KIX before leaving. We chose SUKIYA which is popular for their gyudon but there were also a lot of other dining options in the same area. After eating, we bought ICOCA cards at the JR office then proceeded to the bus terminal for our airport limousine bus tickets to Kyoto (¥2,550 per ticket).

The trip was about 2 hours and we hopped off at Kyoto Station (JR side). I read about a Foreign Friendly Taxi in Kyoto Station (read more here)… But, we could not find the terminal for this so we opted for the regular cab. Good thing Shu, our Airbnb host, sent us a PDF file which included the Japanese address and a map screenshot of the Airbnb’s location. Our taxi driver did not have any problem finding it.

While we did not meet Shu, he was really accommodating of our requests. He helped us book a reservation in Yakitori Hitomi and even allowed us to store our luggage beyond check-out time. We highly recommend staying in Shu’s Airbnb:

  • Clean unit + working heater
  • Walking distance: Nijo Station and bus stations (IMO, bus is the better way of going around Kyoto)
  • Walking distance: Nijo Castle
  • Free pocket Wi-Fi
  • Convenience store in the same building (ideal for breakfast needs)

On our first day of tour, we left early for Kiyomizu-dera to avoid the big crowd. We hopped off at Gojo-zaka bus station and it was still a long walk before reaching the majestic gate to KIYOMIZU-DERA (UNESCO). There were no visitors yet when we reached the place, and it was a wondrous feeling to take in all the calmness and serenity.

Kiyomizu-dera is best known for its wooden terrace where people can have a good view of the surrounding trees and of Kyoto. Unfortunately, the roof of the main hall is currently undergoing renovation so it is difficult to get a good view.

A little bit of walk and we saw the gate to JISHU-JINJA, a shrine dedicated for love and matchmaking. They also sell different types of enmusubi omamori – for single people who are looking for love, stronger relationship, good marriage, etc.

The shrine is also popular for two stones called “love fortune telling”. Stones are placed a few meters apart and you have to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed. If successful, your love-related wish will come true. If not, it is said that it will take a long time before it is fulfilled.

Start from this stone…

…going to this stone

Another highlight was the OTOWA WATERFALL – water streams divided into three. We got a long pole with cup to get and drink water from the streams. But, it is advised not to drink from all three because this is considered to be greedy. Each stream provides a benefit and facing from inside the falls, from left to right, the benefits are: academic achievement, success in love, and longevity.

(L-R): longevity, success in love, academic achievement

We headed out of Kiyomizu-dera to explore SANNENZAKA and NINENZAKA. Both streets are lined with traditional-looking establishments, which made us feel like we were walking along ancient Kyoto. I hunted the following stores based on research prior to the trip: Yatsuhashi Cream Puff (matcha cream puff), Malebranche (okoicha langue de chat, cha no ka), and Shichimiya Hompo (shichimi and yuzu powder).

 

Must-buy in Malebranche!!!!! White chocolate filling in between matcha biscuits ❤

Matcha cream puff

We also passed by a small shop selling strawberries and I knew that I had to buy one… Best decision ever as the strawberries were really sweet!!!

While the walk along Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka took some time, we did not mind because of the quaint vibe. As we went farther away from Kiyomizu-dera, the crowd got thinner so the walk became more pleasant for us.

 

We were supposed to eat lunch in Izuju Sushi, one of the oldest traditional sushi restaurants in Kyoto, but we were surprised to find out it was closed. There was a nearby restaurant with a long line outside so we opted to join the bandwagon. They say that when locals line up for it, the food is most likely good.

While HACHIDAIME GIHEI has 2 floors, the area per floor is just small. We waited for about an hour and a half before being ushered inside, and it was quite cold outside! I ordered Oyakodon set and added Miyama Komoriuta (free range egg brand) to make a tamago kake gohan – fresh egg placed on top of rice which is very popular in Japan.

 

I honestly did not get what the fuss was about although I read reviews that rice was the highlight for this place. The waiting time we spent felt like a waste for me especially since the oyakodon tasted average.

A few meters away from the restaurant, we saw YASAKA-JINJA which was next in our itinerary. Upon entering the gate, there were a lot of food and souvenir stalls. Since we still had some space in our tummies, we bought takoyaki, caramelized fruits, and a big kani stick.

Entrance to Yasaka-jinja

Entrance is free and one of the key highlights in this shrine is the dance stage, which has hundreds of lanterns that are said to be lit during the evening. This place is also known as Gion Shrine and very popular for Gion Matsuri, a summer festival held every July.

We were supposed to get an omikuji but we were told that there is no English translation available. I noticed that there were two kinds of omikuji in this shrine – one for general fortune telling, one specifically for love. I was interested in the latter because I already had the chance to get the general omikuji last year in Meiji-jingu.

Draw a stick – part of the process in getting your omikuji

From Yasaka-jinja, we walked to MARUYAMA-KOEN which was just a few minutes away. The park is very popular during sakura season, especially because of its iconic shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree). Unfortunately, since we were there around early March, it had no flowers yet.

Famous shidarezakura – not yet bloomed

We still enjoyed the place though since there were different corners to explore. We also had the opportunity to see some ikebana displays there.

Our next stop was CHION-IN, where access to temple ground is free but Hojo and Yuzen gardens require a fee. The Sanmon Gate, which serves as the main entrance, is considered to be the largest wooden gate in Japan.

Sanmon Gate (Chion-in)

Happy kiddos

There are two ways to get to the temple ground – climb steps or ride a shuttle for free. We went for the latter option since we were quite tired already from walking since morning. There were different halls when we arrived but Miedo Hall, the main hall, is closed for renovations until 2019.

Our last stop before dinner was SHOREN-IN, which can be walked from Chion-in. When we reached the area with the payment booth, we decided not to enter for reasons I cannot remember anymore. I’d still recommend the place though because I read that they have kachoden (drawing room with fusuma-e – screen paintings). Additionally, they also have a garden with carp pond which one can admire while sitting on the tatami mats.

After our short stop in Shoren-in, we hopped on a bus going to the dinner place. When we got off, J said that she saw a blossom tree near the river so we hunted for it. True enough, there was one tree which was in full bloom but this turned out to be ume (plum blossom), not sakura. Nevertheless, the flowers were really pretty.

We walked to Kichi Kichi afterwards since we had a reservation and we needed to be on time. KICHI KICHI is famous for its fluffy omurice made by Chef Yukimura Motokichi.

Each of us ordered the half-size omurice since the full size was too big for us. The omelet was indeed fluffy and I liked how the sauce was not too sweet. Overall, it was delicious but I wouldn’t jump into concluding that this is the best out there.

We also ordered Chicken and Cheese Cutlet with Mustard Flavor, which was another good call!

Chef Yukimura Motokichi

Famous omurice (half-size)

Chef Motokichi really knows how to entertain his customers, and his staff are efficient and friendly. I highly recommend placing a reservation since they can only rarely accommodate walk-in customers.

Reservation: Click here

Japanese address: 中京区三条先斗町下ル材木町185-4

After our delicious dinner, we went back to Higashiyama area for the HIGASHIYAMA HANATOURO, an annual spring illumination the said district. Popular temples, shrines, and gardens are open in the evening. Shops also extend their working hours to cater to the huge crowd that attend the event.

We were supposed to visit all the temples we went to during this day but we had no more energy. We went back to Kiyomizu-dera and headed to KODAI-JI, which had a colorful lights show in the rock garden. The raked gravel in the garden is said to represent the vast ocean.

We were too tired to commute going back home so we decided to take the taxi (an affordable option if you are 3-4 in a group). Not surprised to find out that we reached almost 30,000 steps from all the walking we did for more than 12 hours. Not bad for our first full day in Kyoto?

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Tokyo, Day 4: Shrines, Temples, and Museums

Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.

Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.

JANUARY 17, 2016

It was the last day of our company outing (but not last day in Tokyo for me and a few colleagues) so we had to check out at Hotel Monterey Akasaka.

Bye to this nice view of Tokyo from our room

Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.

Temizu — process to clean one’s self before entering the shrine

Raking the pebbles neatly also helps in cleansing visitors

Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is a term used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.

I kind of drifted away from the group when I saw the ema at one side of the shrine. I only saw these in some anime shows I watched so seeing them in reality was a delight. Most of the ema are written of course in kanji, but I still found it fascinating to look at some of the ema with cute drawings.

When I returned to the group, Toshi-san was already giving instructions on meet-up time and place as he would give us free time to explore the place. I followed a few office mates exiting the shrine but I remembered that there was one area in the shrine proper which I did not check out. I traced back my steps and found some locals crowding a wooden box where they were getting a piece of paper.

At first, I thought it was like a fortune cookie where you get to know your luck/fortune for the day… But apparently, they were getting omigokoro which is a poem card written by either Emperor Meiji or Empress Shoken. According to the printed paper in English:

“Emperor Meiji wrote about 100,000 waka and the Empress about 30,000 waka, which are not only excellent as literary works but also constitute significant teachings to enhance the national moral character. Meiji Jingu has chosen fifteen waka each from among their composition in order to provide visitors and worshippers with the divine grace of the Imperial couple in the form of omikuji (oracles).”

No shrine staff to watch over this. Goes to show how honest Japanese people are as they trust that no one would dare not to drop 100 yen.

After getting an omigokoro, I noticed two women in the other stall browsing boxes then getting a small item and paying for it. I got curious so I checked it out. The items sold looked like amulets but everything was in kanji, except for the price. Then, I found one amulet which had an English translation — unfortunately, I found its purpose not that relevant for me but at least it confirmed that all the items were amulets indeed.

I picked an amulet randomly, praying that it was of more relevance — whether for luck, work, love, or health — then paid for it. I was already itching to go back to the bus so that I could ask Toshi-san what kind of amulet I got.

But, before I left this area, I saw a couple dressed in traditional clothes passing by. A woman and photographer were following them so I guess they were having a pre-nup shoot here. So lucky to be able to see locals wearing their traditional clothing~!

I was able to catch up with two office mates and we passed by Toshi-san who was counting the number of people going back to the bus. I tried to ask about the amulet I bought but he said he would check later.

We went to the souvenir shop first before heading back to the bus. Once we were complete in the bus, Toshi-san mentioned to the group that I bought an amulet. Turns out that what I chose was a luck amulet and he told me to keep it with me at all times. He showed his own luck amulet which he keeps in his wallet. He said that the amulet had been with him for 40+ years already, even before he got married. Amazing!!

My luck amulet and omigokoro

Our next stop was the TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE, where the Emperor of Japan resides. Of course, we were not able to get close and see the Emperor. But Toshi-san said that there are certain occasions when they open a part of the palace so that people can go closer and see the Emperor and his wife when they greet the crowd. If I’m not mistaken, one of the occasions is New Year.

After Toshi-san explained everything about the place, we were given some free time for picture taking before we leave the place…

We went to Asakusa area afterwards and visited SENSOJI TEMPLE, which is for Buddhist worshippers. Toshi-san said that most Japanese people practice both Shintoism and Buddhism so temples and shrines can be easily found.

Most of the people in our group chose to do some last minute shopping around the area, and the ones left behind with Toshi-san are the people who would be extending stay in Tokyo — me + 3 office mates.

We visited on a Sunday so the temple was full of worshippers and tourists, yikes. Toshi-san took us around the whole area of the temple and he took time to explain every area and statue to us.

I love hearing things directly from a local as it makes me feel closer to their culture, and it always fascinates me to hear their own stories and opinion. 🙂

At one point in our walking tour, Toshi-san led us to an area where we could get our omikuji, the famous fortune-telling paper slips in Japan temples. We dropped 100 yen coin each, shook a metal can with wooden sticks and took out one stick, located the drawer with the same number as the one in the drawn stick (note that the number is in kanji though), then get the paper at the topmost. The one I got was…

..the BEST fortune. I showed it to Toshi-san and he suddenly hugged me tightly. He patted me at the back and happily told me that I was really lucky to get this one so I should always keep it with me. Apparently, drawing daikichi (great/best fortune) is quite rare. Yay! If one gets bad luck/fortune, the paper slip must be tied to a nearby tying station (not sure what it is called). Toshi-san said that this is practiced so that you leave the bad luck/fortune behind.

After exploring the area, we started to walk to our meet-up place with the rest of the group. We passed by a long alley of different kinds of stores — souvenirs, local delicacy, bags, accessories, etc. Toshi-san recommended a local food, can’t recall its name though since the matcha flavor I got did not taste that good.

After regrouping, we had our lunch in a restaurant nearby…

…then traced back our steps to go back to our bus. The four of us who would be extending would get our luggage while the rest of the group would head back home that evening.

We parted ways with the rest of the group, bid our goodbye and said our thanks to Toshi-san and Yamada-san (our bus driver). After that, we took a cab going to the Airbnb unit I booked for our extended stay in Tokyo. It was a good thing that the Airbnb listing was just in Asakusa area so paying for the cab was not that bad. I chose a listing from Shoji & Coco (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4807040) because of the following:

  • Price per night is at par with other listings but this one has a spacious area that really fits 4 people i.e., not cramped
  • Clean bathroom
  • Walking distance to Oshiage station, Tokyo Skytree, and Solamachi (mall)
  • Responsive and helpful hosts

After settling down, we headed to UENO PARK to start our museum hopping… which ended up in us going to just one museum since we were too tired already. We only visited the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE — a bit of a bummer though that most of the stuff inside do not have English translation, but we were still able to appreciate the displays inside.

We took a rest in one of the coffee shops in the park then headed for Shinjuku. We went back to BIC CAMERA (visited a few days ago) to purchase a 3-day unlimited train ticket for 1,500 yen. Note that this is only for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines — thankfully, most of the stations we rode were under these lines. We only paid extra for a few stations under JR line.

We shopped in the nearby Uniqlo afterwards then headed to Ichiran Ramen for dinner. The line was long though and an employee said that we would have to wait for about 40 minutes. We decided to look for another place since we were really hungry, and we stumbled upon a place that sells food in sizzling plates. We waited for about 10-15 minutes since the place was small and full of customers.

It was worth the wait since the food was good. Also a welcome break from soupy dishes!

We went back to our lodging after this dinner to get a long rest and prepare for the next day. 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER TOKYO 2016 POSTS:

Tokyo, Day 1: Tofuro Restaurant, Hotel Monterey Akasaka, Gindaco Takoyaki

Tokyo, Day 2: Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo, Day 3: Mt. Fuji, Komagatake Ropeway, Lake Ashi + Cruise

Tokyo, Day 5: Akihabara, Shibuya – Tokyu Hands, One Piece Mugiwara Store, Ichiran

Tokyo, Day 6: Tsukiji Market, Kawagoe, Maisen

Tokyo, Day 7: Revisiting Asakusa