Day 5: Zen in Kyoto at Ninna-ji temple

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Sandal Wood hostel

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today is the day.... when we are on our own in Japan! First destination: Kyoto. The journey in TX to Tokyo was a piece of cake, in spite of the rush hour. We managed to board the Hikari Shinkansen without any problem, found 2 seats on the right side of the coach as N. suggested in order to admire Mount Fuji on the way ; so we did!

After 2 hours and a half, we reached Kyoto station under a grey sky. A quick stop at the tourist information center (right in the station), grab a map of the city and get some information about aur stay in Kyoto. We then took bus 205 to reach our hostel for the first night.

For the record, go for a bus day pass: it's 500 yens for the whole day, it's definitely convenient and cheap (otherwise each ride would be 220 yens... Do the maths!)

We landed at Sandal Wood Hostel around 11:40. We found this cool and friendly hostel via the internet, and we highly recommend it. It's cheap, clean, cosy, and the people there are really nice and friendly. They speak english, give good advice, and listen to good music in the common area ;-) A kitchen it at your disposal if you wish, and you always can find hot coffee or tea. Bathroom is shared but it's really clean.
A must-go !

Before starting the visit of Kyoto, we stopped to grab a bite at Mos Burger, which is a japanese hamburger restaurants brand that N. told us to try once, instead of mister bloody McD. The sandwiches were pretty good, fries a bit too salty, and japanes service as usual over carring.

There are so many things to visit in Kyoto that we had to focus on one part of the city to start. We decided to concentrate on the north-western part of the city, where you can find some of the most beautiful temples that Kyoto can offer.

It should be mentionned that Kyoto is a huge city, surrounded on 3 of its sides by moutains. Where the mountains start, the modern buildings stop. Mountain is a kind of holly place that belongs to gods, and it has been well preserved for centuries. Most of the temples you can find in Kyoto are in the mountains around it, dominitating it.

The first one was Kinkaku-ji, also known as The Golden Pavillon. It is a beautiful temple, covered with gold as you could imagine, which sits in an amazing garden. The place is really beautiful, but definitely too over-crowded to fully enjoy it. Still, for our first temple, it was very satisfying.

The second one had been recommended to us by the owner of Sandal Wood Hostel: Ninna-ji temple is close to Kinkaku-ji, and its specificity is to have a beautiful garden of cherry trees. This doesn't sound like very specific in Japan, but actually, the variety of cherry trees they grow blooms later than the usual ones. As chery blossom was a bit early this year in Japan, when we arrived in Kyoto, we were already too late to enjoy full-bloom. But not at Ninna-ji temple !
On top of that, this temple has a beautiful pavillon, with nice zen gardens. Considering both the grey weather and the end of the day, the visit was really quiet and peacefull. It is definitely a must-go in Kyoto.

On our way back to Kyoto downtown, we stopped at the Imperial Palace. The Palace itelf was closed, but the HUGE gardens still open (at 6 p.m.). And believe it or not, we met maybe.... 4 people! An incredible experience and a beautiful place.

We then tried to reach a restaurant that Sandal Wood suggested. On the way, we "lost ourselves" (on purpose !) in the small streets south of Imperial Palace Gardens. They're incredibly cool ; you don't feel in a 1.5 million inhabitant city any longer! Old houses, narrow streets, nice antics shops, tempting restaurants... And all of sudden, we faced "Hello ! Café Bibliotic", a quite trendy bar/restaurant with books to read, sofa to rest on, pastries to die for! We thus stayed there, ate a nice dinner while reading "Tadao Ando" Taschen Book, finishing with an exquisite and tasteful strawberry pie. Once again, a must-go!

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at Ponto-cho, a supposingly old-fashionned street of Kyoto, filled with restaurants and bars. Actually, all of this looked pretty fake to us, very tourist-tailored, and so (too) many french people everywhere!!! You don't feel in Japan anymore....
Instead, we went to the very next street, along the river, and this was much more typical. Many restaurants too, but those one looked pretty "real" to us ; a very nice atmosphere with the endless parade of taxis, people singing on the sidewalk under a cherry tree...

We finally managed to get back to our hostel with bus 205. We met new people in the common room, chat a bit, prepared the next day, and finally went to bed after this exhausting first day in Kyoto!

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