With high speed to Kyoto – Shinkansen
Brian and I wanted to travel to Kyoto without much time loss. People and the internet told us the best way is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. The Shinkansen, colloquially known in English as the bullet train is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan. Our ride with the Shinkansen was impeccable, very fast and punctual. The trip takes about 3 hours from Shibuya station. All seats must be mounted forward, an extra plus point for the Shinkansen, especially for the people who possibly get sick. There aren’t trash bins in the train but the passengers simply take their rubbish with them. The whole coexistence in Japan is built on it so as well on the trains. For me it was a bit special but believe me this system works! On the way you can buy coffee / tea and snacks from the little food truck which passed twice. Friendliness is obviously the top priority for the train crew. For example, the ticket collectors bow in front of the passengers each time they leave the compartment. If you want to travel with the Shinkansen it is best you buy the tickets and reserve seats in advance at the JR counters in the train stations. The only negative thing is the price. If you don’t buy the Japan Rail Pass you really pay a very high price for a individual ticket. It costs about 13080 yen (114 Swiss francs). So you have to think twice about whether it makes sense to buy the Japan Rail Pass which provides 7 days of unlimited travel for 29110 yen (253 Swiss francs). But all in all, the Shinkansen is an excellent means of transport which I would recommend if you want to travel to Kyoto as fast as possible. Of course, there are other possibilities like the eight-hour night bus but for us this was out of question.
Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Kinkaku-ji
Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto and is one of the most popular buildings in Japan. Everyone has already seen this splendor somewhere on a picture. The reason for this popularity is simple. Its top floors are completely covered in golden leaf. That gives the temple a beautiful, magical and unique look. It is an impressive built with a beautiful garden overlooking a large pond called Kyoko-chi. The reflection of the golden pavilion on the water is striking and impressive. Not even the crowds of tourists – and they come by thousands – can detract from Kinkaku-ji’s undoubted splendor.
Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. The temple was burnt down several times. The current structure was rebuilt in 1955, five years after the 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple’s monks. Kinkaku-ji was build to echo the extravagant Kitayama culture that developed in the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto during Yoshimitsu’s time. Each floor represents a different style of architecture.
The Temple of the Dragon at Peace – Ryōan-ji
Ryōan-ji is a Zen temple and owns probably the most famous and important rock garden of Japan. The main building was reshaped in 1494. The original building was built by Hoskawa Katsumoto around 1449 for the Fujiwara clan (=powerful family of regents in Japan). On a gravel surface 300 square meters there are only 15 rocks of different sizes with some moss at the hem and a cob wall in the background. It’s said that you can not see all 15 stones at the same time from any part of the veranda. Behind the mud wall a row of trees create a green backdrop for the garden making the gray sand seem even brighter. Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden’s meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to you to find the meaning for yourself. The garden itself can be seen from the Hojo (=the head priest’s former residence). Besides the stone garden, the Hojo features some paintings and smaller gardens on the rear side of the building as well as a spacious park area with pond, located below the temple’s main buildings. The feature is a small shrine on one of its three little islands that can be accessed over a bridge. You can also find some good waling trails and it has also a restaurant which specializes in the Kyoto speciality of Yudofu (=boiled tofu). Unfortunately, Brian and I didn’t have time to visit the restaurant because we had some more plans for our Kyoto trip.
You usally visit Ryōan-ji in the package with the nearby Kinkaku-ji Temple. Then you can continue to the Ninna-ji Temple.
Spacious temple – Ninna-ji
Ninna-ji is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 (the original buildings are not preserved, but replicas mostly from the 16th century). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as well a national cultural assets of Japan. It’s a pretty big temple complex with different buildings and a great entrance gate. A visit is worthwhile in any case. It has a very beautiful multi-level pagoda in the middle of the area. Furthermore, the temple complex is known for its many cherry blossom trees, which are called Omuro cherry blossom trees and have a later flowering time. Unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy the cherry blossom splendor. It was just the wrong season. Outside the flowering season the entrance to the pagoda is free. So we were lucky. If you also wanna see the Japanese garden and the museum you have to pay. Brian and I have renounced it. Also a nice thing about this temple complex was that it wasn’t so crowded. We could enjoy a little rest here. We connected Ninna-ji with the visit to the Golden Temple. The walk took us about 30 minutes. Ninna-ji is not quite as impressive as the Kinkaku-ji but I have to admit that’s difficult to beat. I still think it was worth the visit.
You want to know what else I experienced in Japan? Here you can find all Japan blogposts.