Japan Diary: Day 11- Kyoto and Arashiyama

The girls and I woke up early on Sunday morning and got ready for our day in Kyoto. After leaving, we had our first meal in Shinsekai, near our share-house. We ordered takoyaki from a machine. It was much like a vending machine, only it printed out tickets with numbers which we then gave to the chef at the stall who made our orders and called out the numbers when ready. I thought it was a totally efficient system and wished we had something like it in Sydney. There was a large group ahead of us already waiting for their food, so it was about a 15 or 20 minute wait for our food.

Takoyaki from a stall in downtown Shinsekai
Takoyaki from a stall in downtown Shinsekai- Front: takoyaki with cheese sauce and mentaiko, middle: classic takoyaki with okonomi sauce and katsuobushi

The girls and I shared a few platters of takoyaki between us. The platter in the middle was the classic takoyaki with sweet, thick okonomi sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise and heapings of katsuobushi (dried fish flakes). The takoyaki in the far back and front consisted of octopus balls with cheese sauce and mentaiko. Although I really liked the classic takoyaki, the version with cheese sauce and mentaiko was a really interesting combination. The contrast between the creamy sauce and the salty mentaiko was nice. Kyoto was a half an hour train ride from Osaka station, but from Kyoto, it was another half an hour to get to our destination, Arashiyama. At Kyoto station, the girls and I went our separate ways as I had plans with a friend who lived in Kyoto. I met K at the gates of Kyoto station. Kyoto station was huge, and there were people walking in every direction. It was another balmy day, so we decided to cool down and go to a cafe. Matcha, the powdered green tea used in tea ceremonies comes from Kyoto, so I was particularly excited to try matcha from Kyoto that day.

Yatsuhashi at Kyoto station- a sweet made from glutinous rice flour, with red bean filling
Yatsuhashi at Kyoto station- a sweet made from glutinous rice flour, with red bean filling

We passed a sweets shop in Kyoto station. K showed me these triangles, known as yatsuhashi, and told me Kyoto was famous for them. We walked out of Kyoto station and to a matcha cafe nearby called Nana’s Green Tea. The cafe had a good English menu, but as I was with a Japanese person, it was the one day where this didn’t matter.

Menu at Nana's Green Tea
Menu at Nana’s Green Tea
Drinks from Nana's Green Tea- matcha with dango and black sesame ice cream, and iced matcha with red bean and dango
Drinks from Nana’s Green Tea- matcha with dango and black sesame ice cream, and iced matcha with red bean and dango

The drinks were the perfect way to cool down, and extremely refreshing. The cafe was filled with people of all ages chattering away, and we were lucky to get a table. K is a Japanese girl that I met while she was on exchange at Sydney University. It was the first time we’d seen each other in a year, and we spent a good while catching up. After we finished catching up, she walked me back to Kyoto station and told me which platform to go to, to get to Arashiyama. I had plans to meet back up with the girls at either the Monkey Park in Arashiyama or the Bamboo forest. It was a short train trip to Arashiyama and I saw lots of other tourists when I got out of the station, so I followed the trail of tourists and came to the Bamboo Forest.

Walking from Arashiyama station to Bamboo forest
Walking from Arashiyama station to Bamboo forest

I didn’t expect it at all, but Arashiyama was a very tourist-friendly area of Kyoto. They had lots of signs in English on the street directing people on how to get to the Bamboo Forest, and I used these (as well as the trail of tourists) to get to the Bamboo Forest. DSC_0559

Beginning of the bamboo forest
Beginning of the bamboo forest
Graveyard in the bamboo forest
Graveyard in the bamboo forest

The bamboo forest was shady and cool, but a little tiring in some parts as it was an uphill walk. I was also walking at a rapid pace hoping to bump into the girls. As I didn’t have my own pocket wifi, I had no idea how I was going to contact them to meet up later on and didn’t want to spend the day by myself.

Deep in the bamboo forest
Deep in the bamboo forest

Luckily, I reached a train station stop in the middle of the bamboo forest which had free wifi. I was able to contact the girls and we decided to meet at the Togetsukyo Bridge in half an hour to go to the Monkey Park together.

Train stop in the middle of the bamboo forest
Nonomiya, a small shrine in the middle of the bamboo forest- I didn’t go in due to the line

DSC_0566

River I passed while on my way out of the bamboo forest
River I passed while on my way out of the bamboo forest
Togetsukyo Bridge
Togetsukyo Bridge

DSC_0573 I got lost walking to Togetsukyo Bridge, so it took me around 45-50 minutes to get there. The bridge was quite large and long, and upon seeing it, I felt silly for not discussing a specific meeting point with the girls. There were lots of tourists walking everywhere and thinking that the girls had moved on already, I decided to keep walking and make my way to the Monkey Park. Due to the profusion of English signs, I had no trouble making my way to the Monkey Park. I arrived there at 4pm, an hour before closing time. I paid 500 yen for the entrance fee and began the walk. Little did I know what I was in for. DSC_0574 Iwatayama Monkey Park was situated on top of a small mountain, and for people entering, it is an uphill hike. I am scared of heights, and had no idea that the park would be so high up. I was walking up steep, rocky stairs with no railing on the side. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I could have fallen off the side of the mountain and died.

Iwatayama Monkey Park
Iwatayama Monkey Park
Trail in the monkey park- this is one of the parts that had a railing on the side
Trail in the monkey park- this is one of the parts that had a railing on the side

I had only reached the halfway point of the park, where there was a small playground when I decided to give up on the walk. I hadn’t bumped into the girls yet (didn’t know it at this point, but they never made it to the monkey park) and I was already bathed in sweat from the torturous hike. The monkeys weren’t worth it.

Monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park
Monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park

At the entrance of the monkey park, visitors are told they must not touch, feed or look at the monkeys directly in the eye. Due to these warnings, I was mildly terrified of the monkeys and didn’t want to get too close, although they didn’t seem scared or wary of humans at all. I watched two monkeys play fight and stumble into the path of a group of visitors. They acted as if we weren’t there at all. DSC_0581 DSC_0583 After coming to the halfway point in the park, and seeing a few monkeys, I felt like I had gotten what I came here for (and more) and decided to make my way back down the perilous mountain. DSC_0584

View from Togetsukyo Bridge
View from Togetsukyo Bridge

Arashiyama is a beautiful, scenic place and embodies traditional Japan. No one here spoke English so my Japanese skills were utilised to their full extent. Along the Togetsukyo Bridge and in the streets of Arashiyama, they had small stores selling Kyoto sweets, such as the yatsuhashi I’d seen before, and many other kinds of sweets.

Around Togesukyo Bridge
Around Togetsukyo Bridge
Katsura River
Katsura River

DSC_0590 DSC_0591   I enjoyed strolling around Katsura River and Togetsukyo Bridge for some time, taking in all the views. After I got a bit tired of this, I started walking back to Arashiyama station.

Boats were available for hire and row down Katsura River
Boats were available for hire to row down Katsura River
Streets of Arashiyama
Streets of Arashiyama
Sweets in a store in Arashiyama
Sweets in a store in Arashiyama

On the way back to Arashiyama station I passed Tenryuji shrine, which I stopped in.

Tenryu-ji Shrine, Arashiyama
Tenryu-ji Shrine, Arashiyama
Tenryu-ji Shrine
Path leading up to the shrine

DSC_0604 DSC_0605 DSC_0607 DSC_0608 I enjoyed taking in all the sights in Arashiyama, and the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the town. After seeing Tenryu-ji, I decided to catch the train back to Kyoto and then back to Osaka from there. It was an embarrassing situation, but when I got back to Shin-imamiya station, I got out of the wrong exit (to get to our share house, it was the South exit) and got lost for an hour. When I got back to the right area, it was about 9pm and I was too tired to eat dinner at a proper restaurant so I got takeaway sushi from Lawson convenience store for about 300 yen and ate at home. Soon after I got home, the girls arrived and we swapped stories about our eventful day before retiring for the evening.

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