Hideyoshi Toyotomi against the Muromachi; perfect juxtaposition to a most physically taxing battle I was to have with sleep deprivation and fatigue, only to become what I’d simply describe to be a most refreshing immersion, leagues deep into the raw sights and sounds the sophisticated japanese culture had to offer. 1 AM flight onboard Cathay’s Airbus A330 towards Kansai International airport was catalyst. Have I mentioned I was backpacking this 1 Day Itinerary solo?
Before I go any further a show of appreciation is essential. Chris Rowthorn, author of InsideKyoto, as well as Lonely Planet Kyoto, provided the perfect backbone for the 12-hour endeavor. As such I arrived at Osaka by 6 AM, took the compulsory visit to the tourist centre, and got the kit ready for the trek of a lifetime. First temple run: Tenryu-Ji.
The tourist centre provided the following as so a first-timer in Japan could make it back alive in one piece:
- docomo SIM CARD (Data only – 2GB valid for 7 days; GPS is savior)
- train map + Kansai Area day pass
By 9 AM, I was at Saga-Arashiya station, google maps on the left, Camera-clad on the right, and already the sight of Kyoto is of an incredible contrast to the city. It was at this point where the aftermath of having stayed in the rushed hustle and bustle of Hong Kong was realised, as the adjustment to the genuine courtesy and respect the Japanese treat both tourists, and each other, is beyond my words.
Oh and ofcourse, sink some yen for a layer of sunscreen, or face the inevitable fifty shade darker tan by the time the 15 minute walk from the station takes you to the Tenryu-Ji temple entrance. Memoirs of a Geisha anyone? No?
Ranked first among the city’s five zen temples, and also a renowned world heritage site, the atmosphere preserved from the Ashikaga shogunate of the 1300s complemented by the valley’s fresh flurry of a breeze, Tenryu-Ji temple’s walkway alone prepares you for the revitalising facilities it offers. Behold,
I promised invigoration, and for 500 yen at the Arashiyama Bamboo grove, the sight of this zen temple’s garden pushes you closer to the enlightenment you definitely seek:
2 espresso shots and a nature valley granola bar became compulsory, as the next time I was to sit on the comfort of JRWest rail’s train was to knock me out to a full 8 hour REM cycle. Not today, I whisper to myself worriedly. Next stop was a stunner, right at the Northwest corner of Kyoto. Considering my circumstances on time, a 2000 yen cab was the best approach.
Walking through the entrance, the alleged Golden Pavillion of Kyoto was definitely one of the more sought-after sights, as tourists from the west take turns taking selfies along the bonsai ornamented walkways. The place is a fullblown complex, dating all the way back to the Year 1397, surviving multiple fires throughout the Ashikaga shogunate and the Onin War. Most of the pavillions were rebuilt, and the facilities, commercialised.
600 Yen entry, expect to line up briefly as the place is populated more often than not, being the World Heritage Sight most seen in postcards. Passing through the gates and the echoing “woah” in fifty different accents nationwide already fill the first block. and for good reason:
Takes quite the patience to get a decent shot as selfie enthusiasts from the world’s four corners tend to overpopulate the first overwhelming block of the complex. This Temple of the Golden Pavillion is supposedly the closest reconstruction it’s ever had to the original in the 14th century. As the Muromachi shogunate at the time heavily believed in visual excess, much favour was placed in the gold grandeur and the reflective pond the temple’s encapsulated in
Quick stroll around the complex shows the keen amount of effort taken in preserving the environment, armed guards, appropriately-put railings to keep the average mischievous child from the near-millenia old sites.
Sun at its peak, the population showed no signs of dwindling, I reckoned it was time I took the calmer, quieter cousin of Kinkakuji. A plaza separated the complex from the exit, prayers spoken, bells rung, and the smell of sandalwood incense lingers here.
Catching the silver-pavillion involved having to take the public bus 204, a troublesome endeavor only solved through the interpersonal act of “asking for directions”, followed by the compulsory bow and domo arigato. Not only were the locals incredibly helpful, the directions were comprehensive, and included the ‘must-have’ macha ice cream break across the street.
Making sure I took the 204 route to the East, I hopped off as soon as Ginkakuji was announced. Google Maps was much needed help in the 10 minute walk that followed towards this unmistakable street, parting the route to aforementioned silver temple and the Path of Philosophy, a path later taken. The left on this forked road takes you to a streetworth of souvenir shops, decently priced.
The temple entrance marking the end of this road is unmistakable, not to mention very successful in shrouding the beauty that lies within, unlocked for the compulsory 500 yen entrance fee, a no-brainer fee considering at this point you must’ve spent thousands of guilty yen on takoyaki snack stops.
Officially renamed into Jisho-ji or “The Temple of Shining Mercy”, this one aims to represent the Higashiyama Culture, a culture embodied by 15th century shogun Yoshimasa, during the Muromachi shogunate. Being the ‘silver’ counterpart of the Ginkakuji, Yoshimasa opted to have the structure covered in silver foil, but failed to do so until his untimely death at 66. In compliance to the ‘wabi-sabi’ (tradition of embracing imperfection and impermanence), it remained uncovered even during the restoration in 2008, having the zen temple look exactly how Yoshimasa last saw it.
Being an art-obsessed shogun, Yoshimasa with the aforementioned Higashiyama culture revolutionised the country, circulating the arts and refinement even beyond the aristocratic communities. Flower arrangement, poetry, garden design, theater, and the much coveted tea ceremonies; it was at this time these became synonymous to ‘Japanese Culture’.
This temple, not as commercially advertised, wasn’t only less populated, but maintained the relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere the old man Yoshimasa would’ve preferred. A meticulously maintained sand garden, known as the “Sea of Silver Sand” is adjacent to the route, a massive cone known to be a moon-viewing platform stands alongside.
Supposedly designed by great landscape artist Soami, the moss garden adjacent the sand, is a most calming sight, a multitude of ponds grace the path heading the panoramic view deck uphill.
Uptop, a breathtaking sight of Eastern Kyoto, a raw breeze bringing no less than zen in this temple complex with ofcourse, some complementary kimono goodness.
Exit, if you deemed that’s enough fresh air for one human, is the same way you came in. Throw a couple nods acknowledging existence towards the average westerner in a kimono and flipflops, then make your way back down souvenir alley, taking the adjacent fork down the Path of Philosophy to Nanzen-Ji.
Now at the Northern Part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, the Philosopher’s Path adjacent to Ginkakuji isn’t just a path made to breath and rethink one’s life, but one of the country’s most famous hanami, or Cherry Blossom viewing spots. That being said, it is in one’s best interest to unravel philosphy when the trees erupt flush pink around April.
The Path was dubbed its name ’cause of Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosphers, having chosen this imperturbable track adjacent to a Lake Biwa canal as a location of meditation. At the present, a number of establishments can be found, from cafes, kimono-compulsory fine dining restaurants, and a number of Jizo Statues, figurines, not dolls *coughs*, devoted to the buddhist patron diety of children and travellers.
Halfway this 20 kilometre trek, the challenged belly had let out a grumble loud enough to have fellow hikers throw strange glances, whispers, and generous assortment of protein bars. Yes, even tourists adopt real quick to the niceness around here. Thankfully enough, an array of food carts and vendors lie close to the path. Then again who wouldn’t follow a sign pointing “Beer and Fried Chicken”.
Having been handed a bowl of chicken and a lemon-lime energy drink, the jolly-japanese-lady opened up a conversation catered to most backpackers passing through: Where are you from? How’s it like there compared to Japan? As you use a selfie stick do you love yourself? *no ma’am I’m a travel writer //laughs with guilt* A couple more minutes down the track, temples such as Eikan-Do are available to the public at a seemingly common temple fee of 500 Yen.
Under humongous time pressure as it was, I decided to skip out on the Eikan-Do. Should you be able to skip on the chicken then congratulations would’ve blessed with the minutes necessary to go for a temple run here. In my case, I press on the current singular path towards the end. Coming from the Ginkakuji, the entrance of the temple’s from the west side, a stone path clad with trees covering the unmistakable Sanmon Gate.
Unlike the others, the Nanzen-Ji and its grounds are free-of-charge, unless you require entry in the subtemples around the spacious complex. The Sanmon Gate marking the entrance, as a sight to behold, constructed by a clan of personal favourite, the Tokugawa, in the 17th century; a backdrop perfect for the family or active honeymoon couple. *cries*
The Sanmon Gate entrance which requires a fee, bears a view showing the entirety of the grounds’ canopy, a curtain of scarlet-red and orange throughout Autumn, a blanket of green throughout the spring.
At this point the 4PM sun decided it were to be less harsh on my delicate skin, definition of sensitivty and fragility really, I decided to get a move on to a train station 25 minutes away; a sign conveniently posted on the right side of the front entrance points here. With my 12-hour Kyoto temple run, I was on a roll. Now finishing the day-trek with Kyoto’s most world famous spot, Fushimi-Inari, was the goal. Behold, the Romon Gate, donated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1589.
TripAdvisor dubs the Fushimi-Inari Shrine as the first most popular site for tourists in Japan for the third-consecutive year, as such I wouldn’t pass on the opportunity to see what the fuss is about the Torii Gate is all about. There’s thousands by the way. All a form of devotion and worship to Inari, the God of Rice. As a filipino that’s heavily appealing.
Typically, tourists aim to explore the trails in the sacred forest of Mount Inari, wherein the shrines belong to its base. Visiting the place, free of charge by the way, at 4:30PM wasn’t the most ideal plan. Carrying an array of camera equipment prompted tourists to stop me in my tracks to take family pictures. By the 8th time I was asked I’ve decided to hasten my pace around the place of worship.
According to the legend, foxes are thought to be Inari’s personal messengers, and as such, multiple fox statues can be sighted across the grounds, which date back to 794. If one were eager (and possibly on a hike of penance, a 12-hour-run plus a hike’s over the line don’t ya think), the view reaching towards the summit of Mt. Inari can be reached with a 45-minute ascent. Hard pass mate.
My GoPro batteries maxed out, my dslr covered in a prideful homogeneous mixture of sweat, used sunscreen, and memories, I call it a day, heading back to Namba for a well-deserved Dotonburi-dinner. Oh and look, a familiar face decided to land in the same timezone. Takoyaki appetizers? Check.
Freshly made, juicy, full of flavour, these puffs of beef and vegetable literally melt in your tongue offering none else but sheer appreciation for this sweet-sour-spicy japanese delicacy. A must-try for a mere 50-Yen. A walk towards city-centre and we’re presented the iconic walkbridge over Dotonbori canal, an entire block showcasing an array of eye-catching neon-signs, illuminating an eccentrically lively atmosphere, and almost emulating New York’s famous Times Square.
Alas’, the much-awaited kaitensushi ‘ dinner at Daiki Suisan to end the day. What can I say more than that the staff were most accomodating, the food invigorating, and the whole dinner experience? Authentic.
So there we go! A fullblown Nathan Drake experiene across Kyoto in 12-hours! All I could say and wish is that I had more time to fully immerse myself in the zen atmosphere each temple attempted to exemplify. But should you find yourself on a quick transit in Osaka, a short business trip, or you happen to be a time traveller, I hope my guide gives fantastic insight!
- the Big Man upstairs for such a breathtaking place!
- Mum for being the most persevering, loving mother to walk the Earth
- Dad for the support, and the rest of the family
- Cathay Pacific, for the flights and accomodations
- InsideKyoto for a fantastic summarised guide!
- Kansai Airport Tourist Centre for the very comprehensive help
- All shots were taken by a Canon EOS 750D, a GoPro Hero 4, iPhone 6 and are property of VoyagerZulu.com