This is the chronicle of the family trip we made to Kyoto in Japan. There are many things that make a trip to Japan attractive to children. Japanese love children and are very kind to them especially if they are foreigners and they give them gifts spontaneously or they ask to take pictures with children or even with the whole family.
Japan is the origin of Nintendo, Pokemon, Sega, Momotaro, Doraemon, Inazuma Eleven and many other childrens universes. Everywhere there are souvenir shops and thematic entertainment centers of these worlds, so many that you have to choose the route with care if you want to advance at a certain pace. The ninja world is very attractive for children.
In many of the places to visit you can imagine the secret passages and the fights that happened there. Costumes and accessories are sold to disguise as ninja in tourist shops.
After getting up early at 11 we were at the airport. We passed security check and took advantage to change some money. With the usual delay of 15 minutes we take off towards Osaka. The flight lasted 14 hours and became eternal. We landed at Kansai airport at 8:20 am the next day.
After passing the customs without queues, like everything in Japan and following clear indications in the airport lobby we found the stations of the two Kansai train lines to Nankai and JR. Directly opposite was the JR ticket office. We have first contact with Japanese friendliness and efficiency.
There are 4 customer service stations, without queues and in less than 10 minutes an extremely friendly employee activated the JR Passes and booked us a ticket on the next train to Kyoto that left in 15 minutes. With the passes activated we crossed the lobby to the JR station. And once inside and after a little initial bewilderment with the signals, we went down to the platform towards Osaka and got on the train in the reserved area.
It had 3 coaches for travelers without reservation and it was half empty so booking does not seem necessary. In just over an hour we arrived at Kyoto Station after passing through Osaka. The Kyoto station is huge and like all of Japan very intricate and labyrinthine but finding the exit was simple. Following the hordes of travelers, we tried to go through the lathes putting the reservation ticket but he did not leave us.
The lobby of the station is a marvel of architecture. Once we were outside we had two options to get to the hotel: bus or taxi. We already knew that the bus in Kyoto is complicated and so we took our first Japanese taxi. Our driver is super friendly, but has no idea of English. We show him the name of the hotel in Japanese.
In 15 minutes we arrived at the hotel, which was about 2 km from the station. We pass through the typical traffic jam that allowed us to see the local fauna and the shops of Kawaramachi Avenue. Once at the hotel our worst suspicions were confirmed. In Japan one cannot occupy the room until 3 o'clock in the afternoon and it was 12 o'clock.
We had written to the hotel asking to be able to check-in earlier and they replied that they would do their best. They kept the luggage and sent us to do sightseeing. The hotel was at the Sanjo Dori at the junction with the Kawaramachi. In other words, the same center in Kyoto. We continuation of the Sanjo to the west is a covered pedestrian and commercial street called Cupola Sanjo.
We went there starting to hallucinate with those we saw with grocery stores with rare things. Employees shout at the door of their establishment with a strange look. We turn left on another commercial street-gallery called Teramachi. Among the shops there were many small altars and temples, even with their own cemetery in contrast to the commercial activity of the area.
We went into one of them, a little Shintoist named Nishiki Tenmangu. There we spend half an hour seeing everything from the fountain at the entrance to the statues of animals. A little further on we reached the Nishiki Market which was our goal. It is not a market to use but rather a long pedestrian street of just 3 meters wide with food stalls (fruit, fish, pickles, sweets) and some restaurants.
They love pickles and there are all kinds except olives and pickles that are the ones we know. It also draws attention to the different types of fish they have. They sell fish just 1 centimeter in length. They eat live eels and all kinds of seafood, many unknown to me. There are also stores of seaweed, rice of all kinds and vegetables. They sell a kind of brown paste that we cannot find out if it was veg or non-veg.
Finally, we were also captivated by the fruit and vegetables all of excellent quality, placed as for a contest. It has individual wrapping (piece by piece) and with prices according to this delicacy. At the end of the market we decided to eat and we sat at the door of a small restaurant. They had a menu in English, so we asked for some ramen and we let the time pass while we watched the local fauna that in turn did not take our eyes off.
Right in front of the restaurant there was a cashier so we decided to try to get money but he did not accept our visa card, as we had already read. We returned to the hotel at 3, checked in, took possession of the room and took a nap. We got up somewhat more rested and we launched ourselves back into the street.
First I take out money in the Kawaramachi. Then we went to the east by the Sanjo and 100 meters away we crossed with a small stream parallel to the Kamo river that runs along Kiyamachi street full of restaurants. Between this street and the river is the famous Pontocho alley marked by dozens of small restaurants on both sides.
Many of those on the east side also have a terrace on the Kamo River. Most are expensive. Of course, being the most touristy street in Kyoto, almost none has a menu in English and some even so discreet that they seemed closed. But it was not dinner time so we went down to the Shijo Dori. There we passed an advertisement for a beauty salon that offered the promise of a kawaii look for its clients.
The term applies in general to pets, drawings, dresses, toys, babies, who evokes innocence and causes tenderness and is a ubiquitous trend throughout Japan. However, in recent years, kawaii has gone from being just an adjective to defining an eminently feminine culture that consists of adopting an appearance and following a fashion whose objective is to simulate childishness and candor.
The kawaii look consists of enlarging the eyes using bright shadows and false eyelashes, little makeup, pink lipsticks, pigtails and bows in the hair, brightly colored children's clothing with many accessories and if possible accompanied by stuffed animals or pets.
We crossed the bridge to get to Gion, the old neighborhood of Kyoto. We go up Shijo Street, which has arcades on each side decorated with red lanterns for the Gion festival that takes place in July. We passed the Minamiza theater and arrived at the Maruyama park.
When we arrived, it was already dusk. We go through an ornamental wooden door painted in red. Inside the park was the Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful Shinto temple that when we arrived was closed and empty. Also called the Gion Temple, it has more than 14 centuries of antiquity. In the center of the enclosure there is a temple adorned with hundreds of white lanterns donated by local merchants.
Around the honden and other auxiliary buildings are devised. In this temple is celebrated in July the Gion Matsuri or Gion Festival, one of the most famous in Japan. We walked around the park and went up to the Chion-in temple, but it was closed and it was already dark, so we retraced our steps to Shijo street.
In the middle of the street, another of the most touristy arteries in the city goes south: Hanami-Koji Street. All the buildings on the street are of perfectly preserved two-storey wood and serve to give you an idea of what classic Kyoto was like. Now most are restaurants and teahouses, where geishas entertain their clients. All are very discreet and quite expensive.
In the middle street is the Gion corner, a theater where twice a day there is a traditional show of geishas demonstrating their singing and dancing skills. When we were leaving we even saw a geisha go out through a side door looking to get home as soon as possible.
As it was late we returned to the Shijo Dori and now we go north until we come across another small stream that runs along the side of Shirakawa Street. This is the third zone of restaurants in downtown Kyoto, all discreet, with class and also high prices. However, the night walk along the street with cherry trees, dropping their branches towards the stream is very pleasant.
We went through a konbini and I can not resist a photo from the magazine stand. At this point the tiredness overcame us so we had a quick dinner and went back to the hotel to sleep.
After a good night's sleep as a result of jet lag we went down to breakfast. In addition to a Western breakfast, the hotel offered typical Japanese breakfast dishes consisting of white rice, miso soup, cold grilled fish and pickles. There are small plates and bowls with chopsticks, of course. I tried. It was good (almost everything).
We were amazed to see how the Japanese gave an account of breakfast and demonstrated their mastery with chopsticks. We realized that slurping in food is not frowned upon, but quite the opposite. From then on my family decided to show good manners and sipped all the soups we could during the trip, raising the admiration of the Japanese.
Our first stop was Nijo Castle. We went up to the Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae subway stop and on the way we saw the town hall of the city, totally forgettable. After the odyssey to get the tickets, we rode on the subway. Each stop is numbered and the posters are in Japanese and English. After a short trip of 2 stations (which served to check that the Japanese fall asleep with amazing ease and in any position also in the subway), we went down at the Nijojo-mae stop.
Just opposite the castle wall and a few meters, the entrance. The castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. It was built in the 17th century to serve as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period and completed by his grandson 23 years later. These shoguns are buried in Nikko in some fantastic mausoleums that we visited at the end of the trip.
From 1867 it served briefly as an imperial palace and was later donated to the city. The castle is surrounded by an outer wall with a moat, and has two other inner walls: the outer one called Ninomaru and the inner one called Honmaru. The impressive Chinese style Karamon gate gives entrance to the Ninomaru but was under restoration and covered by an awning.
The main building is the Ninomaru Palace, which served as residence for the shogun on his visits to Kyoto. It is a complex of buildings with rooms with tatami floors, painted panels on the walls and coffered ceilings, connected by corridors. The whole complex has wooden floors called the nightingale (a floor that emits a faint crunch when walking on it whose function was to reveal possible enemies).
It is a fun area for children. The tour goes through public audience rooms and ends in the most private rooms of the shogun. Outside the Palace is the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese garden with a pond, ornamental rocks and domesticated pines.
The Honmaru, surrounded by wall and moat, had a castle of 5 floors that was destroyed in a fire in the s. XVIII. In its place an imperial residence of another palace is transferred that today is called the Honmaru Palace and that is not visited. Around the palace there are also Japanese-style gardens and you can climb the wall to have an overview of the site.
At the exit there is a bar where you can recover your strength and several souvenir shops. In this bar we were assaulted by a group of shy Japanese schoolboys who had the task of getting some foreigner to write something in English in their notebooks. As we accessed the first, in the end we had to write something in everyone's notebook and escape from there took a long time.
Then we went back to take the metro to the Imadegawa stop to visit the Kyoto Gyoen National Park where the imperial palace is located. To visit the palace we had booked online a guided tour in English. As we arrived in time we took a walk through the park which is quite bland, with wide avenues of gravel in the sun, meadows and wooded areas and some administrative buildings.
The palace occupies a rectangle in the center of the park framed by a small wall with several ornamental doors. In front there is another imperial enclosure, Sento Palace, destined to shelter the foreign leaders visiting in Japan and not visitable. In the enclosure there are two small temples but altogether the park is absolutely dispensable.
At 1 o'clock we entered through the Seisho-mon gate and started the guided tour a group of about 80 foreign tourists. The visit, which lasts an hour, is a bit disappointing probably because the concept of the Japanese imperial palace has nothing to do with the western one.
The palace is a series of modest wooden buildings that are only visited from the outside. On the way (marked with red arrows on the map) you can see some room with painted panels and reproductions of period furniture. The throne room can also be seen from far away. On the way there are ornamental gardens, areas of a ball game, warehouses and auxiliary pavilions.
Historically it is an important place but from a tourist point of view, the Nijo-jo castle is more attractive. Really the visit did not seem so interesting, it made us lose a lot of time and it delayed us all day. If you have time, it is worth it but if you are fair, it can be ignored.
Next we went down to Imadegawa street and took bus to the Ginkakuji-michi stop. From the stop to the temple there are more than 20 minutes walking. The first part of the route borders a canal where we stopped at a bench to eat some chicken kushiage and an okonomiyaki. For dessert we have some dorayakis (homage to Doraemon) that we had bought at a street stall. The street begins to ascend and is filled with souvenirs stores.
We arrived at the Ginkaku-ji temple which is a world heritage site. At the entrance we bought a stamp notebook that we released with the hand painted seal of the temple. The visit is a circular tour of the temple grounds. The ginkakuji was a recreational village built by a shogun in 1482 converted to his death in a Zen Buddhist temple.
The 3 buildings are articulated around a small lake scattered in a beautiful Japanese garden. No one's inside is visited. There is also a neat Zen garden with a curious conical structure called moon platform. During the tour we climb the mountainside and have an overview of the temple and then descend through a moss garden to finish in the silver pavilion, a harmonious two-story building represented in millions of photographs.
It's called a silver pavilion but there's no silver anywhere. I guess it must be in contrast to Kinkaku-ji (which is covered in gold leaf). The visit takes easily one hour. It is really an idyllic landscape and it is worthwhile although I expected something much more monumental. Lowering the slope of the stores again and finally turning left you enter the path of philosophy or the philosopher.
It is a path of about 2 km long that runs parallel to a channel bordered by hundreds of cherry trees. The road ends next to the Nanzen-ji. It is named after the Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro who was said to meditate on this path daily on his way to Kyoto University. Along the path there are restaurants and craft shops.
The walk is idyllic and relaxing and at the time we did it, practically at dusk, with the shops closing and the light of the sunset, I think it was even more so. I imagine that in spring with the cherry tree blossomed, it will be spectacular. But it is still a path along the edge of a canal, do not expect big things, go.
Along the way there are indications to approach to see small temples and altars like Miroku-in, Honen-in, Anraku-ji, Reigan-ji, Otoyo-jinja, Koun-ji, Nyakuoji-Jinja, Eikan-do, Nanzen- ji. At that time they were all closed so we did not try to get close. We saw the indication for the Honen-in but according to the map had to walk almost 1 km.
We passed the Otoyo-jinja, a temple dedicated to rats and Kumano Nyakuoji Jinja. From the road we could see some temples and cemeteries towards Kyoto, further away (we believe they were the Shinnyo-do and the Kurodani). At the end of the road there was a playground where parents rested watching the Japanese jog.
By the way, the Japanese run very weird. More than running, as they walk quickly without raising their feet and always with the feeling that they are going to fall every moment. Continuing south, we passed the closed precinct of the Eikan-do (nothing was seen) and arrived at the Nanzen-ji. It is a large Zen Buddhist complex with centuries of history and multiple reconstructions.
Like everything in Japan, the combination of combustible wooden buildings and earthquakes does not favor architectural preservation. The first thing that stands out is the entrance door Sanmon that is enormous. We can go up but it was already closed. From the door there is an avenue to the honden that we could not visit either. However, even the view from the distance was spectacular.
Around the temple there were multiple buildings and the remains of a brick aqueduct through which the canal of philosophy passed. Next to this temple there are other two more with their lands fenced in, forming an eminently ecclesiastical area without dwellings or shops. I suppose that with the open temples it would have something of life but at sunset it was absolutely depopulated. The late visit of the Imperial Palace had ruined our day.
In theory, there was a bus stop in front of Nanzenji but we could not find it. So we walked to the Keage metro stop (a 20 minute taxi ride through bland streets, if we knew we would have taken a taxi) and went down to the hotel. On Shijo Street we were caught in the window of a 3-story sushi restaurant. We asked a couple of Americans who left the site!
So we entered. We had a plate of kushiage (skewers of fish, meat and veggies) and a spectacular sushi platter that fixed us a little the day. Finally we took a short walk through the streets of Sanjo and Kawaramachi to see the nightlife and then return to bed.