My trip to Kansai. Kyoto and Osaka
Since I had so few time for my journey, I chose the quickest and probably the 2nd most expensive (after the airplane) way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, which is shinkansen, or the bullet train. And the price was worth it, as I later understood, for it was the first time I took shinkansen as quick as that one – its operating speed reaching as much as 300 km/h (or at least 275 km/h). Despite running at speed like this, the train itself was very comfortable and it was only through the window that you could realise that you were “flying” that fast, as you feel no signs of pressure and high speed when you are inside the train. The journey of 456 km was accomplished in as few as 2.5 hours.
Kyoto was as astonishing as expected and colder (cooler, to be more precise) than I’d expected. In fact, I should have split this into two articles – one about trip to Kyoto and another to Osaka, which would be not the best idea, keeping in mind my incredible procrastination in this blog. The first task for me when I landed to Kyoto was to find the closest temple, a seemingly too simple task in a city of Kyoto full of temples and shrines, but not that easy having in mind that I was looking for certain shrines and temples (the closest of which – Tōji temple – appeared to have been roughly 2 km far), not having a map or GPS. But since I can speak Japanese, every time I travel in Japan or somewhere where I can encounter Japanese people, it’s always a nice experience to find objects by asking the way (hence talking with locals). Plus, streets which are relatively flocked with tourists are well-equiped with easily understandable maps, so you’re never left directionless. Talking about asking for directions in Japan, it can be splendid way to get to know local people, particularly in Kansai, – out of all the places I have been to, the friendliest and the most helpful people are from Kansai, as not only do they kindly respond to your questions when you ask the way, but most of them throw everything away and escort you to your destination. I had met such friendly people in Tokyo as well, but in Kansai, particularly in Osaka, it appears to be a common phenomenon. Without further ado, let me introduce my plan in Kyoto (as far as I remember after more than 3 months):
UnknownJokyuji, a tiny temple with a very friendly staff. Mistaken with Toji temple at first (silly me), despite the obvious difference in size. The staff allowed me to take photos inside the temple – not even understanding why I asked if taking photos is allowed – to my own surprise, because as far as I noticed, most of the sacred places/buildings in Japan, be it Buddhist, Shinto or Christian, do not allow or discourage taking photos inside.
- Toji temple, a part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” World Heritage Site. Luckily, sakuras were still in full bloom, so I could do hanami while doing sightseeing! There were many Japanese cherry trees in the garden. Temple is characterized by its huge, 54.8m high pagoda which can be seen in the picture no. 2.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha. One of my favourite ones. I got there just before getting dark – perfect timing. I was very lucky going at the time it was almost empty, as it is one of the most astounding complexes of shrines in Kyoto. Inari Taisha is composed of some 10.000 red torii gates, which emerge into tunnels and form a maze where you can get lost for a while. Literally. That’s what I did (unintentionally), making almost 2 circles when walking through that tunnel.
- The centre of Kyoto where the guest house I stayed in was located. Gion district. Definitely one of the most lovely places in Kyoto.
- Various temples in the central area of Kyoto I came across while walking down the night Kyoto; as well as in the morning
- Kiyomizu-dera. Another lovely temple built in the elevated area, so you can enjoy the view of the surrounding areas. Plus, being there in the full bloom (hanazakari) of sakuras made the view even more stunning.
- Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former imperial palace (until 1869 when the capital was moved to Edo (Tokyo)), a significant historical place. I accidentally met one very interesting and talkative guy in his 30s there who would ask for the country of origin to every foreigner-like person and that comment on it (to the delight of Americans, he would ask for the state and then make a comment). He claimed that he bought some light bulbs made in Lithuania in one Osaka supermarket and that both their quality and price are far more than satisfactory. Besides, he called my country Lestonia (レストにア, Restonia), “unifying” Lithuania with a fellow non-neighbour Baltic country Estonia, but insisted on telling that the light-bulb was made exactly in Lithuania, after I corrected him. Also, he was extremely helpful guy, giving me a hand finding a bus which goes to my next destination, in the expense of being late for his own business.
- Kinkaku-ji (lit. Golden pavillion temple because of its colour), oficially named Rokuon-ji, built in the astoundingly artistic way – “golden” temple perfectly combining with a fine pond and trees surrounding it. Furthermore, it is also one of the locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.
- One major temple whose name I cannot recall; I decided to visit it as I had free time right before leaving for Osaka.
I left for Osaka in the evening and the third biggest city (though I formerly thought it’s the 2nd biggest) was in all its colours as it was already dark when I arrived.
I unintentionally got into the women-only car of the train, commuting like that for several stations, already used to people staring at me (yes, people don’t mind staring at gaijins in Kansai, while Tokyoites never care and ignore them in general), while finally realising that something was wrong and silently changed the car. Besides, for those who are not familiar with this phenomenon, there are women-only train cars provided during the rush-hours, since some girls/women would feel uncomfortable being squeezed by men, and there is some ground for that as some men (just like elsewhere in the world, with this problem being big enough in Japan) might get use of the situation and sexually harass girls. I think it’s a very passive way to solve, or I’d rather say, avoid, a problem, but I’m writing about my travels in this post, so I refrain from my further subjective comments.
PS: Kyoto was quite flocked with tourists, compared to other destinations in Japan, and what made the biggest difference from other famous spots I’d been to was that I saw many tourists from Europe.
I was always told that Osaka and Tokyo are very different and you have to visit both to feel the difference, so that you could answer an assertive binary question “[Which one you choose – ]Tokyo or Osaka?”. (I have to admit that I dislike such questions, so all I can say is that I stayed in Tokyo for 9 months and less than 2 days in Osaka, so it’s not fair to compare, however willingly I’d like to) The two seem to be competing, just like Lithuanian cities Vilnius and Kaunas. OK, maybe not that badly, but a kind of tongue-in-cheek antagonism does exist. Osaka has its own charm, without a doubt. Its central streets are full of people, tall skyscrapers with huge advertisements and LCD monitors being all around you, but it seems that everything is designed completely different from Tokyo. What’s more, people use Osaka-ben instead of Standart Japanese (though the two are easily mutually intelligible, despite lexical and even grammatical differences), are much more talkative and not that shy, [simply] incredibly helpful and do not follow as strict etiquette while using escalators as Tokyoites do (described in one older blog by another user) and etc.
I arrived to Osaka when it was already completely dark, the downtown already having all its advertisements and signs turned on, so I was met with a blend of various colours and sounds. Since I arrived quite late in the evening I spent my time exploring (or enjoying) the night-view of the city center. My hostel was situated near the city centre (so was close to the principal tourist destination, Dōtonbori where I hung out most of the time) and I was not that absolute amateur lone traveler to get lost, so everything went smoothly. Besides, I had a chance to talk to locals; to my own surprise and pleasure, a friendly group of office co-workers talked to me first in a ramen restaurant after they had heard me using Japanese when ordering meal.
Other than the heart of modern Osaka, I also visited a castle and two famous temples. But I have to admit that after an ‘intense’ tour through the temples of Kyoto and the impressive night-view of modern downtown, temples of Osaka, however magnificent they are, didn’t leave me astonishing impression, though they were all worth being visited, of course.
If Japan could be considered a personification of cleanliness (as it is so unbelievably clean almost everywhere in Japanese cities I have been to), Osaka makes an exception and is very non-Japanese (日本らしくない) in this case, though public bathrooms are clean as a general rule anywhere in Japan. Also, if elsewhere not easily spotted, homeless people sleeping just in the streets where pedestrians walk is not a rare scene in Osaka, especially near the stations when it gets dark, but it doesn’t make a city more dangerous, as even though Osaka is credited as the most unsafe place in Japan, it’s absolutely safe to walk alone almost everywhere at night.
The evening before leaving for Tokyo via night bus, I met with a fellow Lithuanian exchange student and his girlfriend and went to see Shitteno-ji, a grand temple of Osaka. On our way to the temple (as none of us knew the way) we met with a group of young Japanese students who were extremely friendly (no surprise for Osakans though) who gave us a hand, without knowing the exact way themselves. We made a big circle around the station instead of reaching a desirable destination, but at least we had a nice talk together. As soon as we parted, though, I asked the way to one Japanese woman in her 40s and she decided to lead us to our destination which turned out to be some 1 km far. She completely changed her own route just to show the way for us, gaijins(!). I suppose such wholehearted friendliness must be usual in Kansai.