For those who’ve been to Kyoto, you probably felt like you’re in a place where time stood still. The feeling is mutual. If I can, I’d like to stay here forever, for a long, long time. But alas, no. I only got to be here for only about 12 hours.
But even though we had less than 24 hours to enjoy Kyoto, I’m glad we still managed to make it one of our most memorable visit while in Japan. Kyoto, the country’s eternal ancient capital with 1,200 years of history, exudes homey allure, utmost serenity, classic countryside sophistication that’s remarkably unforgettable for any first-time visitor.
Granted we didn’t get to visit all the iconic sights, but our Kyoto experience was nevertheless inspiring—therapeutic, even. It’s a far-cry from the neon, frenzied city life of Osaka and Tokyo; more so from the congested but vibrant atmosphere of Manila that I’ve loved. But it personally made me feel like I just came back to a hometown. The moment we rode the bus snaking its way around Kyoto’s roads and main avenues, a number of words ran through my tired, sleepy brain cells…NATURE, FRESH AIR, ADVENTURE, AUTUMN, SOLITUDE, CHARM. Even now I miss its laid-back ambiance. Kyoto, in general, enticed me to forget whatever thoughts have been dancing in my mind and quietly charmed, energized my soul.
I got to visit Kyoto on a chilly day in November last year. My friend and I left the Shin-Osaka Station Hotel as early as we can hoping we can cover as many places in Kyoto as possible. We we’re in a hurry, thinking we can cover more places when we’re there early. Besides, we really have no idea how to go around Kyoto. None of us got to download a Kyoto travel app on our iPads. Even borrowed a Lonely Planet Japan edition at the hotel’s mini library, but I didn’t get to read all the details I was looking for.
I was quietly gazing out the window looking past the array of trees and residential buildings during that 45-minute train ride to Kyoto contemplating how we can work things out. But looking at the picturesque scenery outside, my thoughts wandered off. Then my eyes closed and I dozed off a little, forgetting the problem. We were instantly alert the moment the train came to a full stop at the JR Kyoto Station.
I figured that the best thing for us to do first is to look for the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) office; one of the things I happened to read on LP. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere the upper ground floor, just near the entrance of Isetan Mall (the largest Isetan mall!). I knew we got into the right place after I saw and heard some Pinoy tourists also coming out of the office. At the JNTO you can get generous information on how to go around the city. And the office is the go-to venue for those looking for a package deal for a less hassle Kyoto experience. Since we’re on a budget, we decided then to take on their version of a hop-on-hop-off bus: the Kyoto City one-day bus pass. The bus pass was absolutely helpful as the routes cover almost all major tourists sites. Most of the bus stops are located close to World Heritage sites and popular tourist attractions so finding your way in and out of your chosen destination won’t be difficult. Our first Kyoto city destination was the Kinkakuji Temple. This golden temple has been an all-time favorite among local and foreign tourists. It came as no surprise to find out half of our co-passengers inside the bus were bound here. As they said, just go with the flow. Autumn is always a busy season for Kyoto so finding the entrance to popular tourists sites can be easy. The overcast sky lent a bit of mystery. It was cold and the rain had also started to drizzle…but I felt warm. Weird. A small crowd had already formed at the bend near the river, opposite the magnificent edifice, where one can take a picturesque view of Kinkakuji.We even caught sight of some tourists taking a selfie with a group of “geishas.” Cute. All the while we were inside, I took interest at the carefully grafted bonsai plants and trees scattered everywhere the vicinity. I got awed by this one… …and this well-manicured garden in the middle of the pond…there are many sights like this here. Trudging along with the others, we walked past a wishing memorial stones…? not quite sure what they are called. I tried to shoot a coin at the bowl, but to no avail… …then we walked past a souvenir shop selling lucky charms. Unfortunately, taking photos are not allowed so we just walked on … I’m quite familiar with Buddhist temples and so out of respect I quietly stood by at a distance to watch devotees approach this shrine. While watching them pray, I managed to sneak a few shots. But what we really found amusing are these red dispensers that literally spits out fortune-telling pieces of papers. I don’t believe in luck or fortune but just for fun, we inserted a Y100 to see if we are indeed lucky. And my fortune is, tadaaan! At first, I was reading this tongue-in-cheek, but I really can’t help but burst into laughter after reading the last line! Hahaha! My goodness! 😀 After exiting Kinkakuji, we passed by some souvenir shops. Good thing I resisted the urge to splurge when we were inside the temple grounds. The shops outside sell items at more affordable rates. Almost the same items as sold inside but they are less expensive here. After purchasing souvenir T-shirts, ref magnets and that cute Japanese thimble (a souvenir for my mom), we agonized over where to go next. Since we don’t have much time, we decided to pass by the Kyoto Imperial Palace to check if it’s anything like the palaces we visited in Seoul. We were caught unprepared though when we realized that going to the Kyoto Imperial Palace would mean getting lost first in a vast but very, very beautiful quiet garden–the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. Spectacularly, amazingly, wondrously big. The best part is that admission here is free. If I had all the time in the world, I would stay here for a long time. But no, we’re here only for today, so I tried to snap myself back to reality. Then I had to remind myself the reason we went here. To see the Kyoto Imperial Palace. But alas, it was closed. And it was only then I learned that in order to enter the palace grounds, one has to secure permission from the Imperial Household Agency. Application is done online. Had I known the process, I would have done that. 😦 Because we’re unfortunate, we decided to take some time to recharge and took one of the available picnic tables at the park sides and munched on some crackers while giving our tired feet some rest and while planning the rest of our Kyoto IT. Here we met, Nishi, a Kyoto local, who shared the picnic table with us. We offered her some chocolate candies and surprisingly she accepted and nicely talked to us about Kyoto, albeit she was struggling constructing a sentence in English. But you know, we understood her, especially when she showed interest on a cute ‘neko’ (cat) rummaging through a garbage can for food. I remember that conversation, she there looking for some space for a quiet time alone after working at a local store. She said she wants to explore the museum at the far end and asked if we would like to go with her. We gladly obliged. We walked at the farther end of the park and finally reached the quiet haven of the Kani-in-no-miya Mansion. Admission to this residence site is also free. At the outset, the place looks deserted. That to me, adds a quiet and mesmerizing appeal. As we entered the house museum, it felt a little eerie to feel so at home. The pond and the rest of the garden where once part of the Kujo residence. Adjacent to it is the tea ceremony pavilion: the Shusui-Tei. It’s more than a house, really. It houses the museum pieces of historical artifacts that were once dug up here in this area. Others were well-preserved fauna and flora notable in Kyoto and some garden exhibits. After some 30 minutes of staying here, Nishi called us out to visit the adjacent temple garden which is also part of the Kujo residence. We spent the time here doing nothing but feeding the ducks and ‘koi.’ I really appreciated Nishi for bring us here. A moment of solitude is really what we need. We really wanted to explore more, like the Sento Imperial Palace also adjacent to this area. But it’s already late in the afternoon and we want to go explore other areas. Nishi suggested we visit the Nijo Castle saying there’s some exhibit going on in there that we might appreciate. She discouraged us to go to other temples in the area because its already going to be close by the time we get there. So we took her advice. 😀 And so, we thanked and left her there at the Kyoto garden and walked again to the nearest bus stop. But I couldn’t hold my growling stomach anymore. Luckily, my friend and I saw this Japanese restaurant at the end of the street and decided to go in for a nice beef gyudon rice topping meal. Night has already fallen by the time we finished our early dinner. I hate it when time really fly so fast. Realizing this, we hurried off to Nijo Castle. It isn’t as grand as we expected. But the reason we decided to drop by Nijo Castle is to get a chance to see the “Art Aquarium” in full swing. After this, we decided to cap off our Kyoto tour with a view of the Kyoto Tower and the city’s scape back at JR Kyoto station. Instead of going up the tower, we decided to go up that long escalator up Isetan mall to enjoy a stunning view of the whole of Kyoto. And so we went back to Shin-Osaka gratified and so very tired. I dreamt that night. I dreamed I was still at that mesmerizing Kyoto pond and gardens. zzz….:-O Oh Kyoto….certainly, I hope there’ll be a second time. Nice meeting you Kyoto. See you around….:-)