Three Days in Kansai: finishing up my Kyoto and Osaka Trip

I left off with the best food I think I've ever had - kushikatsu. I say that knowing that there are many "best foods I've ever had" but that was part of the group.

So Saturday morning I was prepared to travel around Kyoto, seeing temples and shrines and parks and gardens. You know, Kyoto stuff. And that's just what I did. I started at Kameyama-koen, a park at the end of a gorge with a nice river. On a return trip I hope to take the sightseeing train up the gorge and a boat back down. Its a nice park to just go for a short uphill hike, and has nice views, but probably isn't worth the trip for most people. This time I took a bunch of pictures (sorry you'll have to see the best ones later - for now you get that bamboo-like path) and moved on to the temples.

Kinkakuji, covered in gold, was next, though again I have no photos with my iPhone. Unfortunately the temple was either too far or too close to get a good shot with it, though I should eventually have good shots from the camera. It was quite amazing to see a building covered in gold though!

I visited another temple, Shimogamo-jinja, also in the northern part of Kyoto, next. Famous, but it wasn't really spectacular to look at.

And so I moved on to Shosei-en, gardens near Kyoto Station. They were quite beautiful and I highly recommend going somewhat out of the way to get there. I could have spent all afternoon, but I had one more destination: To-ji Temple, famous for its five-story pagoda. Again, a very beautiful sight and real, original pagodas of this size are quite rare.

By this time, however, I was both exhausted and running a massive headache. Tylenol, drinking water, and eating food all didn't help, so I went back to the hostel as fast as possible and ended up falling asleep quite quickly.

Sunday was much better. I had about 12 hours of sleep in the end, and no real plans for the day after shuffling the calendar around. I did have one important stop to make: my first Japanese baseball card show. Admission was free and there were only about 20 dealers set up (possibly more) but I enjoyed the experience. I stayed for almost the entire show, going from table to table.

The rest of the afternoon - after a 3pm lunch - was spent browsing Den Den Town, Osaka's electronics and all-around geek district. I mentioned it last week, but I had more time to explore on this trip and saw plenty more of what's available. That is to say, nothing superior to Akihabara. Sometimes prices were better and some stores had some fairly unique items but the same can be said the other way around. I think it might have a higher percentage of porn shops though - there were tons of DVD stores along the main drag and they stand out even more after 8pm, when almost everything else closes.

Finally, Monday was my last day in Kyoto. I had planned a walk from Kiyomizu-dera, a famous temple at the south end of Higashiyama, all the way through the lower half of this large district. Kiyomizu was nice but crowded. What else do you expect on a major national holiday? Due to this I stayed in the free portion of the grounds, took some pictures and moved on. I did take a pilgrimage there as well, but I'll tell you about that some other time.

From there I strolled the back streets of the district (Sannen-zakat, Ninen-zaka, and Ishibei-koji to be specific) leading to Gion. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and tea houses here with traditional-style (though modern-age) buildings. Great for picture taking and window shopping at times but not much to do. Which was okay. I soon found myself at Maruyama-koen, a park that's positioned well for taking a rest on my journey. I watched kids and old men feed pigeons and fish, and watched some college kids enjoy a very large duck cleaning itself right next to them. It wasn't scared as they surrounded it. They probably could have pet it if they wanted to.

From there I walked through Yasaka-jinja (a temple full of many shrines where I saw the remnants of a wedding party including the newlyweds taking photos) to Gion. This is the famous area of Kyoto where you can really experience Kyoto. Or so the guidebooks say. Really, there are more of those traditional-style buildings with their expensive tea houses and restaurants. I'm sure some of them are quite elite and have maiko and geisha women to serve and entertain inside. But along Shijo-dori there are just your usual "local" souvenir shops and restaurants for the everyday tourist. And lots of women wearing kimonos. You can rent them in the area for the day. And you can even dress up like a maiko girl with the makeup if you'd like.

I saw no maiko girls in Kyoto that day. I saw a couple girls dressed as maikos for their own enjoyment, and that was great. I shoulda got their picture. But really this area was quite a disappointment. (Not seeing maiko girls was expected - the overall lack of ambience in the main Gion area is what was disappointing.)

I did try yatsuhashi, a traditional Kyoto snack/gift and brought some back home. It's pretty good - I prefer the baked to the unbaked type.

Anyway, I returned up the hill to the park and nearby Chion-in. This is a giant temple with a giant gate in front. It's on some steep inclines so to explore most of it you'll do a lot of stair climbing. This might have kept crowds away and it was nice to finally have some peace at a temple in Kyoto - but even here I wasn't really alone until I found myself in the cemetery at the top of the complex.

I finished my walk, passing by Shoren-in and it's giant camphor trees to get to the bus stop. I later caught a packed bullet train home - so packed that with an unreserved seat I had to stand for most of the trip - about 90 minutes.

So that finished my Golden Week sightseeing adventure! While I missed several places due to construction/repairs, it just leaves me a reason to come back in a few years for another visit!

I hope to start catching up on picture posts and full write ups sooner or later - I am still about a year behind as I haven't written even about Taiwan yet. Oi! So until then... Here are pictures from Saturday (sorry, I seem to have forgotten to take iPhone photos on Monday).

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