Thursday, 24 September 2015

Nagoya and Kyoto: 4-Day Itinerary

Since moving to Japan, I have been looking forward to seeing more of the country. For the first weekend getaway, I chose to visit Nagoya and Kyoto. I took a Friday and Monday off work but this itinerary is possible in two days if you don't opt for the slow train.

I traveled with the Seishun 18 pass (青春18きっぷ) by JR which allows unlimited rides on local and rapid JR trains for 5 days for 11,850 yen. It is only offered during specific times of the year. I wasn't eligible for the tourist JR pass so I tried this one instead. I used HyperDia to search for the train times and it was immensely helpful because it is in English and tells you which track the train departs from.

When using the Seishun 18 pass, walk to the gate attendant and show him or her your ticket. If it is your first time using it that day, he or she will put a date stamp. Every time afterward, just show the attendant the date and he or she will wave you to pass.

Day 1 - Kyoto (京都) and Nagoya (名古屋)

Toji Temple
It happened to be the 21st of the month and the Toji Temple area (東寺) in Kyoto had its monthly outdoor market. We stopped in Kyoto on our way to Nagoya. The Special Rapid Train from Kobe - Sannomiya Station (三宮) to Kyoto Station took about an hour. From Kyoto Station, it was a short bus ride and walk to Toji Temple. A single bus ride is 230 yen for adults and an all day bus pass costs 500 yen.

Toji Temple Market
Japanese food handmade craft
The market was crowded with locals and tourists. An assortment of foods, crafts, clothing and more were sold there. It's worth going if you happen to be in town on the 21st but I don't think it is a must-see like some articles claim.

After our brief stop at Toji Temple, we took the train again to Nagoya which required a transfer in Maibara (米原) and took two hours. The ride was long and luckily we got seats but the Seishun 18 pass only allowed non-reserved seat trains so you may have to stand for a long time to reach your destination.

When we finally arrived in Nagoya, we headed straight for our accommodation which was Kyoya Ryokan. If you're looking for a budget option, I highly recommend this place! For the price it was clean, hospitable and comfortable. Nagoya Castle and Nagoya Station were both about 15 minutes walk away.

Miso katsu
It was already evening when we arrived at Kyoya and the castle was closed for the day so we set out to find the famous miso katsu for dinner. We ended up eating at Yabaton (矢場とん) at the Nagoya Lucent Tower. I'm not sure if this is the most famous place for miso katsu but they had an English menu and the food tasted good.

Day 2 - Nagoya

Check-out time at Kyoya was 9:30am and we left the place a little before then. We went to  Nagoya Station to lock our baggage in the coin lockers then went to the city bus area. A day pass for the bus costs 500 yen and for the bus and subway costs 600 yen. From Tuesday to Sunday, there is a sightseeing bus (included in day pass fee) that loops around all the tourist spots of Nagoya including Nagoya Castle and the Toyota Museum. There was even a tour guide on board explaining each sightseeing spot in Japanese.

Nagoya Castle
We went to Nagoya Castle first. The area surrounding the castle is pretty large. Inside the main building, there were six floors of exhibitions showing the history and origins of the castle.

Model of castle and surroundings
Hommaru Palace
After the castle, we took the subway to Osu Kannon Temple (大須観音). I believe that dancing occurs here during Obon festivities. Next to the temple is the Osu Shopping Street which housed many food stalls, restaurants, clothing stores, and more. One could easily spend hours here.

Osu Kannon Temple

Osu Shopping Street
We ate a late lunch in the area and went back to Nagoya Station to get to Kyoto. Apparently Nagoya Station is the largest train terminal building in the Guinness World Records. The ride took two hours.

Yasaka-jinja Shrine looking out to glittering traffic of Gion
In Kyoto, we took a bus to Gion Q-beh Ryokan. It was a clean place in a good location. It was a few minutes walk from Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社), 10 minutes walk from the Geisha district and 15 minutes walk from Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺).

We dropped off our things and went to explore the charming streets of Gion (祇園). We were fortunate enough to see a maiko walking past quickly in the Geisha district. 

Day 3 - Kyoto

We had a very packed day trying to visit as many sightseeing spots as we could. We made a loop around the city starting with Arashiyama (嵐山). We took a bus there which took about an hour from Gion. A bus day pass costs 500 yen and are sold on the bus. The area was crowded with tourists (running theme of this day) and omiyage stores.

Tenryu-ji Temple
Bamboo Forest
We walked past Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺) which is a World Heritage site but we did not go in. Despite the crowds, the Bamboo Forest was able to give a calming feel when you look up and watch it sway in the wind. No wonder this was a popular spot. Finding a bus to Kinkakuji (金閣寺) proved frustrating because the bus stop signs were all in Japanese and there was minimal useful English to be found.

Since it was a weekend, buses did not stop at certain stops and we could not read the signs that instructed where they would stop. It was especially irritating in the hot 30C sun. Finally, we asked a shopkeeper and she directed us in the right direction. In fact, she even had a drawn out map so tourists probably ask her a lot.

Kinkakuji - The Golden Pavilion 
Crowds at Kinkakuji
The bus to Kinkakuji was about another 45 minutes. This was the most crowded of all the places we went to but probably also the most famous. It cost 400 yen to enter. There is a path around and away from the Golden Pavilion, so your photo opportunity is at the beginning.

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Passing through the torii gates up the mountain
Next we took a bus and subway to Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社). The subway cost 210 yen one way. You can also take a JR train to get there. We spent about 40 minutes walking up the path under the torii gates and reached less than half way. Though if you have the time, I would recommend walking up higher to avoid the crowds that cluster at the bottom. It was a pleasant walk because it was shaded by the trees. 

Day 4 - Kyoto

For the last day, I only had time to visit Kiyomizudera and Nishiki Market (錦市場) because of the long train ride back to my town. Since the ryokan was so close to Kiyomizudera, I was able to go quite early just as the first tour bus rolled up. This temple offered a view of the city because it is situated higher up.

Kiyomizudera
Kiyomizudera
I was there before 10am and many of the stores at Nishiki Market were not open yet though I can imagine it'd be hustling and bustling when it is fully open. There were many food stores and would probably be a good place to buy souvenirs.

Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market
I look forward to visiting Kyoto again in another season and to eat more matcha things!
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