Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji and Nijo Castle
After spending our first (tiring) day in western Japan, we decided to spend our second day closer to home. It was time for Kyoto.
Kyoto was actually our main reason for visiting Japan. Knowing that it once was the country’s capital, the choice between Kyoto and Tokyo was clear. We wanted to see Japan’s history and traditional culture, and we were sure to experience it in Kyoto.
From Kyoto Station, Bus 101 delivered us to Kinkaku-ji, along with loads of noisy tourists. After my first day riding trains in Japan, I realized how quiet the Japanese could get. That was just the sad part of riding a bus aimed at tourists — it’s convenient, but very un-Japanese. Talk, talk, talk. Everyone was on the top of their voices.
A short walk from the bus stop was all it took for us to reach the temple complex, but another gravel road had to be undertaken to reach the main temple ground. Amidst the crowds of tourists, the Golden Pavilion stood serenely. Its walls were shining, and its reflection could be seen on the pond surrounding it. Then, all of a sudden, the crowds dispersed, making you appreciate this extremely touristy attraction. This happiness was fleeting however, as groups of tourists shuttled by buses suddenly arrived.
The road to the exit was long, and excruciating slow, thanks to the narrow pathways created for visitors. Locals threw coins at a fountain wishing for luck. Tables and mats were set up under the shade of trees in preparation of the hanami season. A temple stood at the end of it all, where believers offered incense and prayers. Snacks were sold along the way out, and fortunes were dispensed through vendo.
Outside, we headed to the nearest food stall for a snack. We had sticks of dango, both plain and green tea, fried chicken nuggets and ice cream. Yes, no matter how freezing it was, a cone of matcha ice cream was still a treat.
Bus 101 brought us to Nijo Castle, where a lot of visitors were at the entrance scrambling to get tickets from a vending machine. Unlike Kinkaku-ji, Nijo Castle had wide alleys, providing you with space you greatly need. As we were having our photo-ops at the main gate, a fellow Filipino approached us. Three more souls were then added to our mini-tour group, adding an extra layer of fun to our visit.
The drizzle prompted us to enter the main castle building. Beware: you have to remove your shoes when you enter this building, and the floor was really cold. As you walk through the corridors, sounds of birds chirping begin, a security feature of this castle to let the inhabitants know whether there were intruders in the past.
The rooms were mostly empty, yet staring at the wall paintings and the intricately-designed ceiling, along with the chirping sound with your every step, was actually a great experience. Some wall murals were in the process of being restored though, while others remained in their old beauty. I actually loved seeing them in their unaltered state — I cannot help but imagine how beautiful they must have been.
After we finished going around the castle interior, we made our way to the plum grove. The garden at the back of the castle was beautiful with its rocks and the pond and the lush trees. Add to this the picturesque Japanese building, and suddenly it dawns on you that you are actually in Japan.
As the rain began to pour, we paused under the roof of the castle, providing us with more time to enjoy looking at the garden. Outside the Nijo castle walls, the entrance to the Honmaru Palace stood. We didn’t visit it anymore, and decided to proceed to the plum grove. Just before reaching the plum trees, hundreds of cherry trees stood right before our eyes, but they were empty! Everyone in our group wished that we were there for the main season…
Truth be told, our timing was in limbo — we were too early for cherry blossoms, but too late for plums. The plum blossom season was over, except for a few late blooming trees that indulged our curiosity. Plum trees were short, and the flowers weren’t just enough to cover the entire tree. However, the blossoms were beautiful up close.
We said goodbye to our Filipino friends and started our journey to Kiyomizu-dera.