Andre from Japan Campers had mentioned cheap Kyoto parking right near Kyoto station. After a bit of circling, Rob and I finally located it here. It’s a bargain at $8.50 or 1000 yen for 24 hours right next to the Kujo metro stop. The metro stop exit is on the same side of the street and has bathrooms outside the pay zone at the bottom of the stairwell.
With the car parking a success, we wandered the Kyoto station area checking out the neat station building and Kyoto tower. I dragged Rob to Yodobashi Camera to do some shopping, mainly looking. He didn’t resist too hard because he’s obsessed with a fancy Sony wide angle lens that he looks for everywhere. The fifth floor has an amazing outdoors store and a booth with the most impressive display of mountaineering boots that I’ve ever seen. The top floor has all the fun toys including a collection of nerdy board games in Japanese. My favorite part was the ridiculous aisle of vending machines offering a variety of novelties for 200-300 yen. I wanted to buy it all, but Rob restrained me. Instead I took pics of my favorites.
The next day we bought the Kyoto metro day pass for 600 yen apiece to visit the in town sights. The morning was rainy but because we grabbed the umbrellas out of the van, the rain abated pretty quickly leaving us dragging umbrellas and around the rest of the day. Our first stop was Higashi Hongan-ji. In order to view inside the Goei-dō hall, we had to remove our shoes and bag them. It was then we realized our terrible shoe choice for a day of sightseeing. Hiking boots while water resistant are vexing to pull on and off. Lonely planet had warned us about this but we had forgotten.
Our next stop was Nijō-jō, a castle surrounded by moats and gardens. The Ninomaru was especially lovely with paintings on all the wall screens. Mostly reproductions are shown with the originals housed in a museum nearby. The castle was unheated, so after walking around in slippers, we were ready to warm up. A quick lunch at the Japanese fast food chain Sukiya did the trick with a hot pot and a gyudon bowl (thinly sliced meat with rice). After that, we saw even more temples, including Nanzen-ji with an icy waterfall that pilgrims sit under and Kōdai-ji with its serene Zen gardens. We wandered the Danzen-ji complex, which was mostly shut down, before a snack pit stop at Karafuneya Coffee Sanjō Honten (からふねや珈琲三条本店), what lonely planet described as a “futuristic dessert museum.” They had some parfaits with fried food in them, but Rob chose a tiramisu one. The real thing looks just like the model. How often can you say that about restaurant food in the US?
In the evening, Rob and I roamed the Gion district famed for its geisha and tearooms. We didn’t see either that we recognized a such, but some of the alleys and side streets still recall a bygone era providing a glimpse of what Gion was like before modern shopping took over the main streets.
For our final day in Kyoto, we drove the van to the outlying sights, which includes most of the scenic temples/shrines edges of town near the surrounding mountains.
To try to best the crowds, we hit Kinkaku-ji first. Despite our best efforts, two buses had already disgorged their masses by the time we arrived. The Golden Pavilion was still amazing to behold.
Rob really wanted to check out the bamboo forest so we headed there next. Thanks to Google maps, we had no issues finding the bamboo grove. However, it was just one pathway section. It looked as if it were marked somewhere else, so we wandered around the larger park area expecting to find a bigger grove to no avail. That one pathway stretch is what you get. It’s beautiful, but don’t expect it to be large or deserted.
Then, it was on to my choice, Fushimi Inari-Taisha. We didn’t realize that we were embarking on a hike. The orange gates that the shrine is famous for cover an entire mountainside lining paths/staircases.
Our last stop was the temples of Ginkaku-ji and Hōnen-ji. These are located near Gion so we had a chance to glimpse the area in the daylight. We had wondered about the large number of people dressed in kimono, but this drive shed some light on our puzzle.
Many of them were tourists who paid to dress up for the day and take photos at the many beautiful locations around town.
As we drove out of town towards Nagano, it started snowing. We made the decision to go on the sea of Japan side of Nagano. It was a beautiful drive along coastal highway for parts, but it took a turn for the worse when our route plan had the exact opposite effect we were hoping for – lots of snow. Apparently, the storms blow in from the Sea of Japan.
We had noticed they spray water on the road and parking lots to keep them clear of snow and ice.
Rob finally called it quits on the driving for the night an hour out of Hakuba Cortina.
*chronologically this occurs before skiing day 1 but thanks to a WordPress app bug, I lost my 1st unpublished post.