Double Trouble Tokyo and Kyoto - Let the real Japan adventure begin

The following morning on the 22nd, my alarm rang at 8 O'clock 'Oh crap' I said to myself. I was supposed to be picking my brother up from the airport. However I was too tired and so put the alarm forward another hour and went back to sleep. I figured my brother wouldn't mind waiting a little. I'm sure he would find a place to take a little nap.  Bzz bzzz'' The phone was going off, I checked and it was a text message from my brother asking me where I was.  I looked at the clock it was 9:30am! Damnit! I had slept an extra half hour. I quickly dashed to the bathroom got ready, got dressed and bolted out of the hotel and straight to the train station.  It took me about 90mins to reach the airport.

Once at the aiport I was faced with a little drama, in my haste to get here I had forgotten to take my passport and they would not let me in past the arrival gates. Anyway, after a little convincing that I was here to pickup my brother and that he was new here and didn't know where to go, they allowed me to enter.  At the arrival lounge I gave my brother a hug and we both headed down towards the train station. A short while later we were on the train to back to 'Asakusabashi' 

Back at our hotel, my brother decided to take a nap while I once again visited 'Akihabara'. My brother charged me with bringing home some takeaway.  But you see I got carried away at the 'Kotobukiya' store that had 5 levels of film, comic,manga statues, toys, t-shirts, dvds etc. I guess my 'geek mode' had kicked into high gear and 2 hours later I suddenly remembered, "Oh damn, Aiya needs food"  So I quickly left  the shop and started asking a few restaurants and other eateries around the area 'Omochikaeri' meaning "Take-away" but they all said no. I texted my brother and told them there was no take-away.  He had still been sleeping, so I guess it was all well and good forgetting to inquire about take away.  Also in my defense even if I had asked earlier the answer would still have been the same. 

Later that evening around 7.30pm we both headed out  towards Shibuya where we were going to have dinner at a seafood restaurant by the name of 'Kaikaya -By the sea' This place had been recommended to me by a friend.  Before we could eat however, we had to find the place and it took of a lot of hunting around, asking for directions before we could find it. The funny thing is that it  was right under our noses the entire time. i.e just 2 mins away from the station. 

Kaikaya has a pub like decor and the staff all speak English. They are also very helpful when it comes to choosing what to eat.  We enjoyed a delicious plate of assorted sashimi, Ebi tempura, two  whole 'red-snapper 'and 'Yellow Tail (Buri)' and a big plate of Tuna rib steak. The food was absolutely amazing. Coupled with a nice bottle of Sake it was perfect. To top it off we also had a delicious serving each of 'Matcha" cheesecake. 

After taking some photos and thanking the chefs and the waiters,  we went back onto  the road where we walked around taking photographs before deciding it was time to get back. The next morning the real holiday would begin .  We were set for Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan and to many the real personification of what Japan truly is. Before going to bed though I jumped onto Hyperdia and took a look at the train times. I wanted to get there early morning around 10am but when I told my brother we would have  to catch the 7am, he said can you check for mid-day arrivals. Haha he really isn't a morning person, unless ofcourse there is no choice. So the next best option without leaving it too late was to arrive at 11.30am in Kyoto.

The next morning we headed to 'Asakusabashi' station where we caught the train at 8.30am to 'Akihabara' and from there the the 'Yamanote' line to Tokyo.  At Tokyo station we headed towards the JR (Japan Railway) trains to get to the platform where the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) would be departing for Osaka, with Kyoto being a stop on route. 

The train looked magnificiently cool, I had seen them in photos before and in films and as kid I would always get excited seeing them, I cant deny that as an adult they still bring out the kid in me.   We had the ordinary passes which meant we could only get in carriages 1-5 as this was unreserved seating, but there were plenty of seats so we had nothing to fear.  For standard class but the leg room we had was incredible far more so than the trains back home in blighty.  A short while later the train was on the move. It was quiet, It was fast but most of all you could not feel it, you knew it was fast due to the surroundings wizzing past. Coffee, snacks etc were served, my brother slept for most of the journey whereas I spent most of it watching the scenery and then watching my favourite episodes of "Cowboy Bebop" 

At 11:30am the train arrived at Kyoto station. It was exactly the time specified in Hyperdia. Our hotel was located at Gojo, so we took the escalators down following the signs to the subway and caught the train to Gojo station.  Our hotel was just 2 mins from the station. It was a beautiful hotel with wooden decor and really friendly staff. The room was also failry large and comfortable with an impressive bathroom. Now I must digress a little here to tell you about the toilets. If you have never been to Japan before it can come across as quite a mouth opener. Seriously the Japanese toilets are cool. They are equipped with automatic seats that are heated, have inbuilt shower, bidet functions, a dryer and also odorizing spray.  It's just incredible and I was totally fascinated by it.   The Japanese have spared no expense to make the Number 2 job a little bit more exciting.

Anyway, we unloaded our luggage and headed back out, we were really hungry now as we hadn't had any breakfast.  

The streets of Kyoto, Gojo where we were based though not as vibrant as the likes of Tokyo still had an alluring sense about it, wide roads, shops, restaurants, intersections etc.  We took a good walk around absorbing the sights and sounds and also smells before we settled at a little restaurant to have our first meal of the day. We settled for a small joint that served us a platter of sushi and sashimi. After that we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and decided to visit the Kyoto imperial palace.

When we arrived at the Kyoto imperial palace we walked around the gardens for a while but noticed there weren't many people to our dismay we found that the place was shut. We took a few photos anmd walked back to the main road. It was around 4.30 pm now and there wasn't much we could do as most of the other major sites were appraoching closing time too. So instead we headed back to the hotel where we rested a bit and then headed out to dinner.

The following morning after breakfast we took the train to the Northern Higashiyama region where to we visited the Nanzen-ji temple a beautiful 13th century Zen Buddhist temple that was built by emperor Kameyama, first as a retirement villa but  later converted to a Zen temple upon the emperor's death.   The temple is free to all except the sub temples and gardens. We visited one of the gardens which carried a cover charge of 600 yen (5.94 USD at the time of writing).  rich greenery, a beautiful waterfall, bamboo , this is all the stuff you expect to see in a typical Japanese garden. 

Splash Splash! It was starting to rain lightly.  We braved it but very soon within ten to fifteen minutes it was pouring down rather heavy.  Our next destination was the "Kinkakuji" - Golden Pavilion temple, but it turns out it was around 45 mins walk from Nanzen-Ji. We pulled out our trusted lonely planet guides and looked for what was closer, the station was onlly 2 mins walk away and it was still raining so we had to make quick decisions.  We decided to head to Kyoto, grab a bite to eat, get ourselves and umbrella and then head to the "Ginkaku -ji" - Silver Pavillion temple.

With our newly purchased umbrellas we caught the bus from Kyoto station arriving shortly afterwards (around 15-20mins) at Ginkaku-ji.  For your information the bus number you need to take is  No.5 and it is located at bus stop A. The fair for an adult is 220 yen (2.18 USD).  Anyway so back to where we were, there was a long road with signs leading upto the temple, we followed it up for about 10 mins before we reached the big gate of the temple complex. We had to pay around 600 Yen each to enter. The main attraction here of course is the silver roofed temple, o fcourse due to natural erosion and oxidisation the roof doesnt really look silver anymore, but I can imagine it must have shone brightly in its heyday. There is also meticoulously raked cones of white sand in the gardens, said to represent a mountain and river and a beautiful pathway leading further up the moutains that provides a scenic view of the pavilion from above. I can only imagine that the scenery would have been a lot more picturesque had the skies been blue, due to rain it was pretty grey but nonetheless we still enjoyed walking around here, and taking in the beauty in all its stride.

We had spent about a couple of hours wondering the gardens and temple complex and now it was time to head back to Kyoto. Most of the other temples would be closing and it was still raining. Unfortunately the bad weather on that particular day meant that we had to cut out a few places from our list.

Around 5.30pm we arrived back  at our hotel and did some research on where we could have dinner. I then remembered that a friend of mine had given me a list of places to eat in particular Ramen in Kyoto and so we headed to an area called Pontocho one of Kyoto's most atmospheric dining areas. Certain restaurants here are pretty exclusve and require the right connections and fat wallets. It is also the place where Maiko are seen. We were able to see a couple but they didnt stay inthe vicinity long enough to take photos.  We were quite hungry so I started asking people where I could eat ramen. Eventually the directions given led us to a small ramen bar tucked away in a little corner. It was your typical ramen complete with the smells  and slurping sounds making it the complete authentic experience.  I must say the ramen was so good! It was,  as they say in Japan "Oishii!!!"

It was now  close to 10pm, we had another early start tomorow as we wanted to cover the Southern Higashiyama region and Arashiyama as we were headed to Osaka in the evening.

The  next morning we took the train the Kyoto station to Arashiyama. Located in the western regions of Kyoto is famous for its natural beaut, particularly popular during the cherry blossom and autumn colour seasons. Ther are also many temples to be seen here but  what I was most interested in is the famed bamboo groves. If you have seen the movie House of flying daggers, you will know exactly what I describe.  Acres of lush bamboo trees  towering all the way up creating a breahtaking canopy. The bamboo groves are just five minutes walk from Arashiyama station. The road along the bamboo groves leads towards a few shinto shrines, a few quiet roads with small cafes and beautiful green fields. By around 1pm we had made our way back to the main streets of Arashiyama and we stopped at a restaurant where we had the most amazing lunch that I've ever had. It was a dish called Chazuke a simple dish consisting of rice and fish where green tea is poured onto the rice and eaten along with the fish. It is simple yet delicious and as always presented like a work of art.  In fact I would go so far as to say that no one presents food quite like the Japanese.

Around 2pm we returned to Kyoto station and from there caught bus number 206, around 20 mins later we stopped at Kiyomizu-michi which was about a15 min walk away from our final  destination in Kyoto. The Kiyomizudera temple - litterally Pure water temple. So named because it was built on the site of the Ottowa water fall's pure waters. I believe the temple dates back to around 780AD. Anyway it  is a magnificient temple complex that attracts thousands of visitors from all over Japan as well as from other countries. In total it takes around 2-3 hours to visit the entire complex. The main attraction is the large wooden deck and also the water well where hundreds flock to get a taste of the pure water.

 After returning from the temple grounds along the side streets were we greeted by a group of school childen around 8-10 years old who wanted us to take part in a little survey, so we obliged. They spoke to us in English telling us their names, where they were from and then asked us a few questions. I was totally amazed at how well mannered and well disciplined they were.  They thanked us with smiles for our time and soon they left our company. 

Kyoto - Japan's ancient capital rich in history, culture and food had provided us with an enriching experience that would last in our memories for a long time,  but now it was time for us to head back to Kyoto as we had a train to catch to Osaka.

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