Monday, 26 March 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 7

Kyoto                                                                                          Japan

Monday 10th October 2016

So this was it, the end of our time in Tokyo for Craig and I as we were now heading for the most awaited location of all; Kyoto. All year, I had been thinking about this beautiful place; to think I would be amongst its glorious wonder and what better way for us to get there than the ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train. Craig and I were deeply excited to get on this wondrous train but for the moment we would head down for our last breakfast which was beautifully made by Tomoko.

The food consisted of toasted bread topped with cheese, meat and sweet corn along with a bowlful of fruit. Tomoko was nowhere to be seen, until moments later she surprised us both when she walked through with her full kimono clothing on. It looked truly magnificent with its mint green colour with golden patterns flowing down the clothing; and the effort she made to put it on just for a couple of pictures with us was fantastic of her. Throughout her time in the kimono, she looked uncomfortable wearing it and she even told us that it took half an hour to put it on and couldn’t wait to take it off.

We got our pictures with her and as she went off to get changed, we headed up to grab all our belongings for the trip ahead making sure nothing was left behind; only jasmine the cat who seemed to want to come with us. We were ready to leave and to help us on our way Tomoko would provide us a lift to Tachikawa train station, which was kind of her. Therefore, we grabbed our shoes and said goodbye to Jasmine the cat making our way to Tomoko’s car. It was a short drive away and we were soon outside the station where we bid farewell to the fantastic Tomoko who was brilliant throughout our time with her; she was going to be a very big miss for us both.

We eventually made our way into the station and straight for our beloved chuo line rapid service to Tokyo. There was a moderate amount of people onboard the train, which was fine for us especially as we pushed through with our heavy rucksacks on our back. A long while went by rocking around on the train and then we pulled up at Nakano station and we both shared a look to each other as though we were thinking ‘let’s go for the 8 tier ice cream’. However, we stayed on board eventually finishing our trip on the chuo line straight into the busy station of Tokyo. As expected, it became crazy at this busy station but as usual we took our time flowing through the ever growing crowd with quite a challenge finding our way towards the right place. A short time passed after asking station assistance for help before eventually arriving at the platform eagerly waiting for the long awaited trip on the bullet train.

We were only to sit in the non-reserved carriages so we tried to find the right place to stand before the train would arrive. We couldn’t really figure out where we had to stand and hoped the carriages would state there class. A unique melody chimed over the platform and soon after the notorious train approached us. What an incredible locomotive it was and I couldn’t believe I was about to climb aboard this famous train. The carriage we had entered in was quite empty and just so happened to be the non-reserved area; so we took our seats with plenty of leg room, large windows and comfy seats. Craig and I had smiles on our faces as we had been waiting a long time for this experience. We were soon under way heading east for Kyoto enjoying this moment.

Once we left the Tokyo area, it felt as though the driver hit the hyper speed button as we were pushed back into our seats feeling a great force of power moving us forward. It felt as though I was sitting in a plane to be honest and I loved it; I also felt relaxed admiring the views of Japanese forests and valleys. To be honest a part of me was missing Jasmine the cat but Tokyo was a very long way behind us now.

Time and again, we would view pure blackness as we rushed through long tunnels feeling the vacuum suck into my ears with the pressure and speed we were going at. It would have been nice just to keep on moving but we stopped at a few stations along the way including the grand city of Nagoya; the halfway point. Once we continued on, the sun was shining once more on the breathtaking Japanese green fields, which looked so peaceful and free of everything but nature. Time went on until the call came out stating our arrival onto the old city of Kyoto. We didn’t want to leave the comfort of the breathtaking Shinkansen but we also didn’t want to waste any time in this glorious looking city as we were eager to explore its wonders. However, finding our accommodation was top priority so once we left the train our thinking caps came on flowing through the very busy station with ease.

We headed to the information desk to grab a Kyoto rail map but we ran into a little problem. The trains in Kyoto weren’t as sufficient as Tokyo’s network. So instead we would use the alternate form of transport; the bus. The bus service in Kyoto looked very promising and easy to use with colour-coordinated buses for each area of Kyoto and just like that, we managed to figure out which bus we needed. Our bus eventually arrived with us all climbing aboard in an organised fashion for once ready to grab our first glimpse of Kyoto from the bus. Once the bus left the station, we immediately realised that we were the only westerners on board so it became obvious that we were both a sight for the local commuters who looked as though they had never seen British travellers before. We didn’t mind though as we were too busy catching glimpses of life in Kyoto.

The bustling streets so full of life and colour as well as thousands of people going through their day to day life in this great city. Finally, our stop at Takano bus stop arrived quite rapidly as we soon paid 230 yen and left to find our accommodation. We wouldn’t be alone in trying to find our accommodation as Craig revealed his secret weapon of his offline map on his tablet. As we pin pointed the accommodation we began walking through the streets and the first thing that caught our eye was a very promising bakery called Mister Donut; no surprise as to what the place was selling. The journey to our accommodation was a short one and we soon arrived at a large area of apartment blocks running alongside a railway line. Then a full sense of relief came to our hearts as we had located the specific apartment, which luckily wasn’t on the top floor but on the ground level.

We soon knocked on the door and then our host Arlene opened the door already expecting our arrival. It was nice to enter into a new place, which would be our home for the next 3 nights. Off went the shoes as we entered into the main living area, which was no wider than any of the other rooms of the apartment. It was a nice apartment with simplicity at the heart of the place and to be honest that was all we needed. With the quick tour and house rules out of the way, we settled down for a moment emptying our small rucksacks trying to make the room temporarily ours even though it belonged to Arlene’s son full of anime comic books and Pokémon characters which to be honest was great for a big kid like me.

Anyway, with everything sorted we wanted to explore a bit of Kyoto before the night sky would consume the land. We sat with Arlene for a short moment where she provided us with a great map of Kyoto with all the famous sights clearly marked out for us to explore. However, what was great was that she recommended small temple areas where not many tourists visit. We thought this would be a great start to our time in Kyoto so she recommended a specific temple called ‘Enkouji’ which was a bit difficult to get too especially as we would have to head through a lot of maze like streets in a suburban area. She mentioned that it was only a 20-minute walk from the apartment, which wasn’t so bad. Then she said that we could take advantage of her bikes during our time here. Once she had mentioned bikes to us it felt like Christmas morning at the sound of bikes so with no hesitation, we left the apartment as Arlene guided us to the bikes.

Knowing Japans commuter bikes weren’t exactly top of the range, we didn’t care when we caught sight of them. They looked like women’s bikes with a basket on the front and so we adjusted our seats and figuring out the route to the small temple, we were on our way. As soon as we set off, we both had great big smiles on our faces cycling towards our first port of call; Mister Donut. Constantly we would talk about how much fun the bikes were and how much easier it was to get around on them compared to taxis or buses. I was the first to enter the magical world of Mister Donut’s bakery and came back out with some amazing treats for myself. Once Craig had bought his baked goods, we were soon on our way to the temple cycling along the pathway having a great time.

Soon though, an uphill road would approach us so we braced ourselves and pedalled up. What made things harder for us was the shape of the handlebars on our bikes. We managed to arrive in one piece to temple Enkouji and immediately became aware of the peaceful setting with nobody around the area, which I had been waiting for on this trip. The first sight we came across was the tranquil stone pathways, bright white gravel, magnificent temple architecture, beautiful Bonsai trees creating a sense of peace. As we couldn’t take our bikes any further towards the temple area we had no choice but to leave them at the entrance steps. Craig decided to test Japans trust even more by leaving his bag of donuts in his basket. However, it was too much to handle if he had lost them so he brought them with him anyway.

A 500-yen admission fee was paid by each of us and we managed to gain another stamp for our collection along the way. Up the stone steps we went already admiring the beautiful surroundings hearing nothing but nature enjoying the new environment we were in. We truly were lost for words for the first time in Kyoto knowing deep down that there were more wonders to see. We soon entered the temple with our shoes off walking onto the famous tatami mat. The temple was truly fascinating and then we continued around the small Japanese garden area passing through small ponds and bamboo trees until we came to a set of stairs leading away from the temple area and towards the gravestones, which in themselves were quite beautiful to behold. As it was quite late, the sun was very low in the sky, which was creating a beautiful backdrop of Japan.

We continued our climb to a higher vantage point noticing more unique stone structures and monuments. It was at this moment we both witnessed a most breath-taking view of Kyoto below the forest hills and valleys surrounding the city. We both sat for a while embracing the views and a sense of peace as Craig ate his donuts. Suddenly we could hear singing which we actually mistook for a Buddhist ceremony but instead it was someone singing an opera solo of ‘Nessun Dorma’. Anyway, it was time to leave fully satisfied with what we had seen thanks to Arlene’s local knowledge and recommendation.

What was great with the journey back was the fact we were freewheeling downhill all the way to the apartment weaving past quite a lot of people along the narrow streets. We soon returned the bikes to the parking area and entered the apartment immediately talking to Arlene about our temple trip. I was sure she could tell by the great smiles on our faces that we had a brilliant couple of hours out on the bikes. She soon had to leave us though in order to pick up her son and so with the night still young, we decided to head out too exploring a bit more of the area we were in. To be honest it was quite a nice walk along the streets but we still had to watch out for cyclists coming up behind us both. We also stopped a few times to admire the odd shop and restaurants with their amazing food displays through the window.

As we both already had our fill of food thanks to Mister Donuts bakery, we decided to turn back to the apartment for our first night in Kyoto. For the first time and most likely the last time in life I would have to share a double bed with Craig and jokingly I said to him ‘ok Craig, remember, I am not Heather’ so an invisible line was drawn in the bed which we couldn’t cross. What was funny at this point was that I began to miss my small companion Jasmine the cat from Tokyo who would try to grab my camera strap or notebook thread. I then fell asleep with great hope that tomorrow would be full of adventure and sights for us to both enjoy.
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