Despite the previous day’s ordeal, we managed to wake up early for this day as it is officially the start of our holiday in Kyoto, Japan. We were tired and a bit overwhelmed, yes, but the moment we started exploring during our first day there, only one thing is clear – it was all worth it!
Breakfast or as They Say – Asa Gohan
To start the day right, the plan was to get our first all-day bus pass and find breakfast.
As per our Kyoto itinerary, our accommodation at this point was Khaosan Kyoto Guest House (KKGH). I never did manage to ask the proprietors why they had Bangkok’s famous street on the guest house’s name, but I’m making the obvious guess that it all ties to travel. Anyway, they sell the bus pass at the front desk so purchasing it was no problem. We just had to pay 500 yen. (Note: bus passes are also sold in vending machines at Kyoto Station)
Even better, KKGH had breakfast coupons for their guests. We got one for a shop that offers traditional Japanese food. If I remember correctly, they had a coupon for a Western establishment, but since we were in Japan, then Japanese food all the way!
We found ourselves at the small food establishment, basically a cafe, called Sakakura. The coupon was actually just free coffee, but that is better than nothing in a place where eating is considered way more expensive than where I’m from. I ordered the basic breakfast set, which cost 500 yen. It was composed of rice, tofu, vegetables, sunny-side-up egg, and soup. It was delicious and filling, but feels light to the stomach. The free black coffee was very much welcome.
Two ladies attended the cafe. The younger one spoke English so communicating wasn’t hard. The older lady, probably the mother, spoke in Japanese. Thanks to all the anime and Jdorama we have watched, we understood some of the things she said and even managed to talk to her in broken Nihongo. Overall, we started the day just right.
Time to Explore!
We decided to visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple on this day since it is within walking distance from KKGH. We could have taken the bus there since we had the all-day bus pass after all, but the day was nice and we wanted to take our time exploring. So we walked.
That turned out to be a great decision since we passed by so many typically Japanese sights. There were the traditional-looking houses and shops. The bikes parked outside of houses. The clean streets and litter-free gutters. We marveled at the decorated manhole covers. We passed by a store with a cute dog guarding the door and down the road, there was an adorable fat cat lounging by a shop window. We passed by lots of shops selling food and sweets too.
Then, of course, since this was Fall/Autumn season – red, orange and yellow foliage were everywhere. We passed by bridges too and were amazed at how clean the waters beneath them are. Seriously, the waters were so clear, no plastic and other garbage floating around. Simply wonderful!
Got Sidetracked by Totoro!
At last we found ourselves at the foot of the hill where Kiyomizu-dera Temple was situated. By the way, we used Google Maps to guide us everywhere we went in Kyoto. It is very helpful and the only time it failed was when confronted by my horrible sense of direction. But that’s for another post. 😀
We made our way towards the top of the hill. The street going there was very busy already despite the early hour. It was lined with shops selling all kinds of souvenirs. But there was one thing and one thing only that caught our attention – the Totoro shop tucked in a corner. When we saw that, we were like #^%!#@!!!
This was the next best thing to going to Tokyo and entering the magical Studio Ghibli Museum. As you can probably guess by now, we are huge anime fans and are definitely in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s creations. That shop was not just a shop for us, it was paradise! A very cute and pleasurable paradise!
After we wrenched ourselves from the Totoro shop (we returned there after visiting the temple), we finally visited what we came there for – Kiyomizu-dera. This temple is Buddhist, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has massive grounds. It is close to 400 years old, a number made more remarkable by the fact that not a single nail is used to make the temple! I mean, this must be a seriously stable and excellently built building to have withstood time like this.
It got its name from the waterfall within its perimeters. “Kiyomizu” means “pure water.” The waterfall is not hard to miss since many people line up to drink its waters, which is believed to grant wishes. We skipped that part since we did not want to join the long line and there were still so many things to see there.
We went to the main structure, which was of course impressive because of the no-nails thing, and enjoyed the large veranda overlooking the grounds. The fall colors did not quite reach this part yet so many trees were still green, although some were just starting to show hints of red. It was still a beautiful and peaceful scene, but I bet it would be more amazing if everything has turned red or orange or when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Dedicated post about the Kiyomizu-dera coming soon.
Food Trip at Nishiki Market
We took the bus to Nishiki Market where soooo many delicious stuff are crammed in one street. I’ll do a post about riding buses in Kyoto later. For now, let’s talk about the food 😀
So many mouth-watering treats await everyone in this market. Since it was around lunch time, a food trip was definitely in order. For starters – authentic takoyaki! One serving equals six balls and they actually had real octopus (or tako) pieces in them. *insert angelic music.
It was also a very fun experience since the stall was tiny and people just sit on a few benches to eat, much like our pungko-pungko here. The difference? We made our orders through a coin machine! After dropping a certain amount, certain buttons would light up. They had words and pictures but since we do not read Kanji, we relied on instinct haha. It was like we were playing a game of luck, pressing just anything that lit up.The machine produced a tiny piece of paper with our order number and then the takoyaki was made right in front of us.
Verdict: It was deliciously hot and we savored every bite.
Next, we sampled some desserts – Charcoal Grilled Mitarashi Dango and Yomogo Yakianmochi. In English that would be charcoal grilled dumplings covered with sweet soy sauce and grilled mugwort mochi filled with sweet red bean paste. YUM~
Dedicated post about the Nishiki Market coming soon.
History and Art at Nijo Castle
Took another bus to Nijo Castle, or Nijo-jo as the locals call it. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Its construction was started in 1601 as ordered by Tokugawa Ieyasu, an important person in the Japanese history who became known as a great, wise and cautious leader.
Some parts burnt down in the late 1700s, but they were restored. Ownership of the castle also transferred to the imperial family and finally in the early 1900s, it was donated to the city of Kyoto. Now it is open to the public and hosts many historical artifacts.
We were able to view the exhibition when we went there and the huge castle itself is a wonderful thing to see. I definitely enjoyed walking inside its halls despite the freezing wooden floors (shoes had to be left outside). I saw the rooms where Tokugawa slept and conducted business with his vassals. The art inside, including all the decor on the walls and beams, are amazing. Picture-taking is not allowed within though. There was also a sprawling garden to one side of the castle. Walking through there is very relaxing and highly recommended. Pictures are allowed there.
Dedicated post about Nijo Castle coming soon.
The Night Lights at Shorenin Temple
Another bus ride and we found ourselves in this temple. We made sure to arrive here in the evening because we wanted to see the night lights show/exhibition. Most temples in Japan do this in the Spring and Autumn seasons. The Japanese are really appreciative of beauty, particularly in relation to nature, so the night lights shows at temples are popular events for the locals.
What happens is that some parts of the temple, typically the maple trees or the cherry blossoms are lighted up by ground spotlights. This is done in a way that highlights how pretty these trees are. People just mill around, mostly in silence, to appreciate the view. In some temples, you can sit on the verandas that overlook the garden or the trees and just gaze at the beauty in front of you. Very relaxing, and again, highly recommended!
As for Shorenin, it was our first temple night lights and we were not disappointed! The display was just very simple. They had LED lights in the garden that hypnotically change color, but mostly stayed blue. The scene we came upon looked like stars have fallen on the ground, ripe for the picking. It also looked like fireflies flocked to the area and were caught in suspended animation. In short, it was beautiful. It was also very relaxing that my friend felt really sleepy there 😀
Dedicated post about the Shorenin Temple coming soon.
Ended the Day with Some Kyoto Ramen
After leaving the temple, we decided to find dinner. As we were walking towards a nearby bus stop, we spotted a ramen shop with a Tripadvisor sign on its door. We thought it’s a good idea to eat there since they are obviously used to serving foreigners. We were not disappointed. The meal was on the pricey side for us (800 yen~) but the serving was huge. The Kyoto-style ramen I ordered was warm and filling, just what I needed after being out in the cold for so long. Yes, 13°C is already so very cold for this tropical country dweller.
That is it – our first day of gallivanting around Kyoto was filled with beauty, history, kawaii (cute) and oishii (delicious). It was all worth the trouble getting here and I regret nothing! Read Day 02 here 🙂