(02.01.2017 – 08-02.2017)

Now that I am on a real trip that lasts longer than only one weekend I can show you some more pictures from pretty places full of life, history, and culture in one weekly recap. Our last days were stuffed with sightseeing, picture-taking, food-tasting, and simply strolling around neighbourhoods in several cities in Japan. We spent the first two days of the year in Tokyo and hopped on board of a Shinkansen on the 3rd January that got us to the culture-rich city of Kyoto before each of us headed back to the place they call home at the moment (my boyfriend back in Germany but I still in Oita).

Last days in Tokyo

Roppongi Towers

There are good and bad sides about spending New Year’s Eve and Day in Tokyo.

Good things: The countdown at Shibuya Crossing and the traditional New Year’s soup („oden“) you can get at many restaurants for free.

Bad things: Some places, like restaurants or museums, might be closed. New Year’s time is when all Japanese people return home and spend time with the family, so naturally, some restaurants are on holidays (not as many as you might expect, though). Most of them however open again at the 3rd January – too bad we left on that day, so we missed the chance to eat what were considered to be the best ramen and the best hamburgers in town. So if you plan to spend your New Year in Tokyo, either arrive early enough before everything closes (usually around the 29th) or stay long enough until it opens again (usually around the 3rd).

Another thing we missed due to our poor planning on this was the chance to enjoy a view over Tokyo from the Government building in Shibuya.

Travel Hack: Don’t spend the 25-30€ on entrance fees for either the Tokyo Tower or the Skytree. Instead, go to the top of the Government Building in Shibuya – it’s almost as high and for free! If you can’t go there (maybe because it’s closed) take a metro to Roppongi and buy a ticket for the Roppongi Towers. Its around 12€ and the view is just as nice (plus you can see the Tokyo Tower in the skyline – would be hard if you were on it!). Also, here applies my usual recommendation when it comes to city top views: go in the afternoon, right before it gets dark and enjoy the transition from day to dusk to night. I always do that and have never been disappointed.

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View over Tokyo’s skyline at sundown. 
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Blurry picture due to bad light but you have an indoors platform as well.

Tokyo National Museum

We spent our last two hours in this museum before we had to take the Shinkansen (yeah!) to Kyoto. You can see mainly art and handcrafted pieces like pottery here. To me it was quite interesting because it shows the different historical periods of Japan, about which I read in university. So it was nice to see some real examples for what I read about but I think my boyfriend only „moderately enjoyed“ it. It was a good way to pass the time however, but if you are normally not a big fan of museums you might not enjoy this too much.

Taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto

Well, if you are in Japan, you have to take a Shinkansen ride once, don’t you think? Yeah, we thought so, too. So we took one from Tokyo to Kyoto.

How it was? Yes, it was fast (but you do not really realise unless you have a window seat). Yes, it is expensive. But I would prefer it over a plane anytime and here is why:

  1. It’s probably the fastest way of travelling. The Shinkansen brought us to Kyoto in just over 2 hours – and its 460km. Plus we did not have to be there two hours earlier to check in our luggage.
  2. It’s not the cheapest way of traveling, but for many routes it is cheaper or at least as expensive as a plane ticket – especially when you are taking off from Tokyo to somewhere else.
  3. It’s the most comfortable way of traveling. You can book a reserved seat (strongly recommend), the seats are spacious, you can eat (buy a Bento box in one of the shops at the station – just do it), and – best part – it takes you from the main station of your starting point (city centre) to the main station of your destination (usually also city centre). So no worries about airport busses or shuttle services.
  4. It’s super cool (admit it).

So definitely a „yes“ to the Shinkansen experience!

Kyoto

Tokyo is Japan’s pulsing heart. It is loud, it is modern, it is colourful. It bursts from life and people, it never sleeps and every street holds something new for you and never ceases to surprise you.

Kyoto is the opposite. It is Japan’s cultural heart, way more modest and quieter than Tokyo. There are many people too, and also many tourists but the atmosphere is totally different. Here you can experience traditional Japanese culture at its best. More shrines and temples than you can ever possibly visit, old quarters where Geishas walk around, and a less hectic vibe. Kyoto is a city for itself, so I will let the pictures speak. However, there are a couple „must-do’s“:

Fujimi Inari

Probably the image everybody directly associates with Kyoto: orange pillars in a bamboo forrest. Of course this was a must. If I recall correctly, there is no entrance fee but consequently, there are many tourists. So it might be a bit difficult to take pictures without people everywhere in it. If you climb your way up to the top, there are less and less people, though and your chances rise. Plus, only on the top you can buy sacred souvenir pillars with inscribed wishes for the ones you bring the pillars for.

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Many people at the entrance..
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… and many people on the walkway. Here you can see the different inscriptions on every pillar.
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If you go all the way up (and down again) you can snap a picture with less people in it!
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Getting our little souvenir pillars inscripted and blessed.

Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Temple

Let the shrine hopping begin. Seriously, there are so many temples and shrines in Kyoto, you will never be able to see them all (and it gets boring after the third or fourth, trust me). So make sure that you see the most impressive and exceptional ones first. Like this one here, the Golden Temple – I guess you can see why. It is surrounded by a lovely little park, so you can spend a good 30 minutes to 1 hour here easily.

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Golden pavillon in the middle of the lake.
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You cannot enter it, but the colour and shine from the outside is amazing.
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There’s also a nice little park around.

The Emperor’s Palace

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Emperor’s palace main building.

Kyoto has been the main seat of the warrior emperors (shogun) of Japan for a long time. Only in the 19th century, the main capital was moved to Tokyo, when the emperor received his power back from the last shogun. The palace is still in Kyoto and serves as a festive hosting place for visitors – the Queen of England once watched a match of traditional Japanese football here. Also, the thrones of the emperor and the empress, which are used for the coronation of both, are stored here. For the current emperor Heisei they were especially brought to his palace in Tokyo.

Ginkaku-ji – The Silver Temple

Where there’s a Gold Temple, there must probably also be a silver one right? Right!      Even though it is not completely silver from the outside, it is worth a visit. The garden around is even prettier than that from the Golden Temple.

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This is the park around the silver temple.
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Japanese gardens are traditionally designed very much like nature – but don’t think that there was not a lot of planning involved!

A Japanese concept of beauty describes incompleteness as a characteristic for beauty. So normally, Japanese style gardens are never completely finished – there must a small corner somewhere that is not planned or structured to make sure there is something left for the spectator to imagine.

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Philosopher’s Walk

Leave the silver temple’s garden and walk down the street. When you turn left, you can follow a nice little path, known as the philosopher’s walk. There is nothing very special about it, but if you are still in the mood of strolling around, it will take you away from the busier main street.

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Bamboo Forest Street

Another one of the places you’ll find when you search for Kyoto in Pinterest. It is picturesque in itself. When the sun shines trough the bamboo stems, the atmosphere is unique. Like always, you have to be lucky that there are not too many tourists around.

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Strolling around the bamboo walk.
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Lucky that the sun came out!
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50 shades of green.

Monkey mountain

Close to the Bamboo Forest Street there is a monkey mountain. Guilty pleasure – I like to watch monkeys!

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It’s a mountain – you have to climb it first.
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But on top, there are the monkeys – many of them! The view is quite nice, too.

Nishiki Market

Go there to eat – period. Get yourself some Katsudon at the last street (left side) of the market. I treated myself twice to it – everything on rice is just my favourite.

Gion

A nice little quarter of Kyoto. If you are very lucky (we weren’t) you might see some Geishas walking around after sunset. Besides that, the coffee is just incredibly expensive everywhere here. But as oh, so often you can take a nice walk here.

Sanjusangen-Do

This time, it is not a Shinto shrine but a Buddhist temple. The name comes from the 33 (san ju san) corners inside the hall. You can see 28 guardian statues inside, guarded themselves by 1001 statue soldiers. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, so for the statues you’ll have to ask Google. I’ll show you the outside in the meantime:

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1001 + 28 statues plus a gigantic Buddha statue need a lot of space.
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Water reflections in the tiny lake in the garden.

Extra tipp: Many people like to rent a bike for a couple of hours to explore Kyoto. We did so too and rode to the Sanjusangen-do and another small Shinto shrine. It’s very nice to ride along the river and see what is left and right to it. But be careful – you are only allowed to park your car in designated bike areas. Otherwise the police may pick it up and you have to get it back yourself – and pay for it, too, of course!

That were our 4 days in Kyoto. We were a bit exhausted after all the sightseeing we did the days before so we decided not to do all the tourist stuff and took it quite easy. Nevertheless, we saw many things and as a resume after almost 2 and a half weeks of traveling around Japan, both my boyfriend and me agreed that it was a perfect length for the trip we took. So if you want to study in Japan or are here for a time of around 3 weeks on holidays, you can definitely see and do a lot and get a nice insight into both traditional and modern Japanese culture. Plus you can try most of the classic Japanese dishes!

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