Sunday 12 January 2020:
Since the weather forecast predicted that today would be interspersed with a couple of showers throughout the day, I decided to explore the areas near where I was staying for greater ease and convenience. The main destinations were: Kinkakuji temple, Chion-In temple, Nishiki market, and the major shopping streets. My plan was to seek shelter and stay indoors as much as possible to avoid the hassle of having to carry an umbrella and brave the rain.
After breakfast in the hotel, I set off for the bus terminal located right outside of Kyoto station. Tip: the bus interchange that goes to a variety of tourist attractions is found on the side where the Kyoto Tower is, so whenever in doubt, choose the exit that leads you to the tower (from what I remember, there aren’t any signs pointing out the bus terminal)! Since there was no subway stations in close proximity to Kinkakuji temple, the best option (cheapest, most direct and convenient) is to catch a direct bus from the bus terminal. For those interested in visiting the temple, this is a helpful website to get you to your destination: https://www.kyotostation.com/traveling-from-kyoto-station-to-the-golden-pavilion-of-kinkakuji-temple/
Personally, I chose bus service #101 because this bus had announcements made in a variety of languages, which made it easier for me to grasp an understanding of my surroundings. The whole journey took approximately 40 minutes, but since I hopped on at the very first stop, I was blessed with having a seat throughout the whole journey.
From the designated bus stop which I alighted from, it was a short 5 minute walk to get to the temple. The admission fee was 400 YEN for adults and 300 YEN for children. The admission ticket was really interesting looking because it came as a long white strip of paper with calligraphy writings on it. Despite arriving before 10AM, the temple was very crowded especially since there were large groups of children on a school tour. Another plausible reason could be that this temple is a UNESCO World Heritage attraction after all, which explains the constant flood of tourists.
If I were to be very honest, I must say I was a lil’ disappointed with the Kinkakuji Temple. The temple itself was definitely stunning, its bold golden colour standing out amidst the greenery, yet complementing it at the same time. However, that’s all there is to the site. After passing the golden temple, there were just a couple of small attractions to explore and before you know it, you’ve exited the gates. It felt like I paid the 400 YEN just to get nice pictures (which is hard considering the sheer number of others vying to get a good photo-taking spot) of the golden temple, and nothing else. Within 20 minutes, including 2 toilet breaks, I finished exploring. Definitely way shorter than the 1 hour I had allocated when planning my itinerary. Perhaps I came in with the wrong mindset, expecting a museum of artefacts instead of a single attraction. Don’t let me discourage you from visiting this site though; I suppose if you go in expecting to see a beautiful golden temple floating in the centre of a serene lake, and admiring its architecture in detail from various angles, then this would be a good place to visit.
After the Kinkakuji temple, I hopped on another bus that took me directly to the bus stop located near the Chion-In temple. The entrance to the Chion-In temple was grand indeed, its wooden (at least I think it is) structure looming large and imposing. A couple flights of steep stairs later, I finally made it to the main temple area. There were quite a few locals going about their usual temple routine, and I spied some areas being cordoned off to members of the temple only. Once again, I finished strolling the grounds in about 30 minutes as opposed to the 1 hour I thought I’d take. At this point, I think temple visits are not really my cup of tea – I’m more of a scenic, hiking, nature loving traveller. But, at least there was no entrance fee for this one!:) And it was here, that I spotted a random sakura (not sure if it really is) blooming on a branch, its delicate pink petals spread out wide and open for passersby to witness.
Upon exiting and going back to the temple entrance, I then realised that there were a few shops selling delicacies and since my stomach was on the verge of growling, I decided to buy a cute little strawberry red bean daifuku! It was so pretty and lovely and looked too good to eat (almost). Firstly, that strawberry was one of the best I’ve ever tasted with its sweetness, juiciness and slight tartness. You can literally taste the freshness and life oozing out of that tiny lil strawberry YUM! The rest of the daifuku was absolutely mouthwatering as well, the thick red bean paste paired with the soft, smooth, chewy and stretchy mochi skin…this is making me hungry I wish I could’ve bought more back home with me.
Being the true glutton that I am, I set off to my next destination…Nishiki Market!!! This marks the third time that I’ve been to this place and even before stepping in, I already knew what were some of the things that I wanted to get (since I missed getting them the previous two times). The first stop was this store selling grilled Ebi sticks. Three plump, fresh and juicy prawns were grilled on a pan, seasoned with either salt or sauce and voila they’re ready to eat! TIP: One thing about buying food in Japan’s markets is that you have to eat in the vicinity of the store that you bought the food from to prevent from obstructing other stalls’ business. Sometimes, in larger markets (like the Kuromon market in Osaka), they have designated dining areas where you can buy all your food and then go there to enjoy them all at once instead of standing and eating.
The second stop I made was the Takoyaki stall! This stall I went had an interesting way of placing orders – basically there was a vending machine within the shop, so you had to select and pay your desired option to get a ticket, which you would then hand over to the Takoyaki chef. This system was extremely efficient, and within a minute of handing my coupon over, I got my plate of steaming hot Takoyaki! Despite being able to see the steam floating out of those Takoyaki balls, somehow my brain failed to register that it might be extremely hot, so I ended up popping an entire Takoyaki into my mouth. That first bite released a gush of hot, piping contents which flooded my entire mouth and goodness, it set my mouth on fire! And yet, I couldn’t spit anything out because there were so many people around so I had to resort to blowing steam out of my mouth like those fire blowing performers you see at carnivals. This silly impatient mistake cost me the burden of suffering from sore painful gums over the next few days so BEWARE: always blow on the Takoyaki first until it has cooled slightly and never attempt to pop it in one go.
My third and final stop of the day was this shop selling soy products, tucked at one of the intersection, facing the roadside, in the middle of the market. Their soy donuts are a popular treat to get when in Nishiki market, and I first discovered them when I was doing my research of foods to eat a few years ago. Back then I was too full from gorging on other delicacies so I had to give the soy donuts a miss, but not this time! The smallest amount that you can purchase is a pack of 10 small donuts, so I bought that. Each donut is miniature, and when its freshly made out of the fryer, make super addictive snacks to munch on. Each piece was light and fluffy, with a mild hint of soy flavour once again. It was similar to the soy donut that I bought from Koe donuts, but these were probably even airier in texture. It kind of reminds me of choux pastry except in the dough form if that makes sense.
With a full belly, I decided to take a long walk to the shopping street where Tokyu Hands is located. If ever in Japan, I’d recommend stepping into at least one of the Tokyu Hands outlet and have a look around. Tokyu Hands sells a large variety of items, but they’re mostly well-known for their stationery products and a large variety of cute washi tapes! Without intending to, I found myself charmed by one of its mechanical pencils. Its slim, black and elegant form caught my eye, and the feel of it in my palm as I scribbled on the test paper was seductive enough to lure me into opening my wallet and paying for it. And that, my pals, is how I got a pencil as a souvenir from Japan! Not that I mind, because I know for sure I’ll put that pencil to good use seeing as how I’m more of a pencil person than a pen. At least, it’s not an expensive fountain pen?;)
The long day of walking had me tired out, so I ended up buying dinner back home. Since Saba (mackerel) sushi is a traditional delicacy of Kyoto, I got myself a packet of it from Kyoto station’s Isetan. Saba sushi is different from traditional sushi in that its ‘fishy’ taste is stronger. That flavour is very distinct and unique, and I’ve never tasted anything like that before but I quite enjoyed it nevertheless. For dessert, I had a packet of Dango which are basically bite sized mochi pieces on a stick. There were 3 different flavours: matcha, soy bean, and another coated in a sweet teriyaki-like sauce. My favourite surprisingly was the soy bean one. I thought it would be the matcha one since I love all things matcha, but alas the taste was not strong enough so it ended being somewhat plain.
And this, is how my third day in Kyoto ended! Stay tuned for more Kyoto adventures, the best of my experience has yet to come!