Destination: Kyoto, Japan (Part 1)

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Kinkaku-ji, aka “Golden Pavilion Temple” (June 2016).

The following morning after our visit to the Miho Museum, we boarded our coach to head back toward Kyoto. However, we weren’t visiting the city proper just yet—rather, we would be visiting the natural surroundings in the parks and forests, situated on the outskirts, away from the hustle and bustle of the city itself.

Our coach driver drove us to a nearby train station, where we would board the train over to the Arashiyama, a district quite outside of Kyoto that’s known for its lush nature, traditional houses, and numerous temples. We boarded a special type of train reserved for tourists called the “Sagano Romantic Train,” which is notable for passing through some of the most picturesque areas of Arashiyama—from a leaflet I received at the train station, the train offers tourists beautiful scenery all-year round, from the bursting cherry blossoms in the spring to the harvest, red-yellow leaves in the fall. Being that it was summer when we visited, the trees alongside the train were a flourishing green—they accentuated the craggy, towering cliffs on the way, along with the rapid, white waters rushing below.

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Sagano Romantic Train (so many tourists)!

Arriving in Arashiyama, we descended the train and followed our tour guide through the famous Bamboo Forest, considered one of the most beautiful and iconic groves in Japan, if not the world. It was certainly a sight to see, walking under the numerous, thin bamboo, their tops seemingly never-ending. Although the walk was full of tourists, it was surprisingly peaceful, admiring the trees and taking in the cool shade underneath.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

We walked through the Bamboo Forest and ended up on the other side of the district, filled in numerous, traditional shops along a single, small street aimed for tourists to check out typical Japanese affairs, e.g. food, clothing. Our tour guide recommended soy ice cream, which was being sold near the exit of the Bamboo Forest—she told us that soy ice cream is different from the usual kind, for it doesn’t fall to the ground when you tip it from its cone! Although risky-sounding, I tried my hand (literally) by tilting my sesame soy ice cream a full-180 degrees, and it didn’t come off! Whether it was something in the ice cream or just pure magic, it was a fun experiment to try out, let alone taste in the end.

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There you go!

Our tour guide gave us some free time to explore the traditional shopping quarter of Arashiyama before lunch, so my family and I went to check out some more specialized snack stores, one in which we tried grapefruit jello—what made it distinctive, though, was that the grapefruit jello was placed into a slice of a grapefruit peel, as if you’re actually eating it from real grapefruit! Not only was it rather ingenious, but also the jello proved to be extremely cold and refreshing, especially when temperatures were climbing that mid-morning.

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Grapefruit jello in grapefruit peel!

Right before we had to reconvene for lunch, my family and I quickly headed from the small clusters of temples we’d been walking through to the Togetsukyō bridge, aka the “Moon Crossing Bridge.” It separates two rivers–the Hozu and Katsura–that changes name from one side to the other. The bridge is also notable for having plenty of cherry blossoms and colorful red leaves in the backdrop of trees during the spring and fall seasons, respectively, and it makes for another iconic spot for photo opportunities.

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Togetsukyo bridge.

More sashimi was served for lunch, although this time, we got it in the form of raw snapper (compared with salmon and tuna in previous places). We certainly ate well, enough to give us energy to move on to our next destination for the afternoon. Leaving Arashiyama, we headed to the Kinkaku-ji, aka “Golden Pavilion Temple” or “Deer Garden Temple.” It’s a 14th-century Buddhist temple and one of the most-popular tourist attractions in Japan. With its golden, three-tiered structure floating in the middle of a lake, the Kinkaku-ji certainly makes for an impressive look for tourist to capture on camera. What I realized was that one could only capture the “ideal” photo from a specific spot across the pond, and it wasn’t surprising to see so many people congregating there, and it was certainly a struggle to avoid photo-bombing group photos (some which were fifteen people deep—I’m serious!) and to fight my way through the crowd to get at least one photo in. Glad that I succeeded!

There wasn’t much else to see in the temple’s garden complex, so we made a loop around and promptly exited the site, taking the coach to Kyoto city center for our final visit of the day at a dyeing (not dying!) studio, where we participated in a dye-ink activity. We selected templates and blended dye colors before dabbing them into a white cloth—I created a series of random items, from fruits to stars to sushi. Things got a bit dirty, but a bit of hand-washing afterwards did the trick. We got to take home our creation afterwards, which was a neat souvenir!

We checked into our hotel, where we would be staying for two nights—we headed out a bit in the evening to check out the city’s atmosphere, which was very much like that in Tokyo: busy, over-populated, filled with shopping and food districts. Didn’t stay out too long, though, since we needed to turn in earlier than usual (before 22:00) in order to wake up bright and early the next morning (think 5:30) to visit a nearby temple before peak-tourist time. Not a problem turning in early for us, since we had a rather long day out and about (as usual).

Look out for the second part of Kyoto, Japan soon!

 

— Rebecca

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