Our 5-day trip to Kyoto allowed us to see temples, shrines, and Geisha!
by jenae567 on August 31, 2008
As our train rolled in to Kyoto Station, our jaws dropped. The amazing structure we had just pulled into was a massive steel beehive buzzing with trains, busses, taxis, and all their passengers. The energy was phenomenal.Little did we realize that part of this huge Kyoto icon was our hotel. We were very pleased that it would be so easy to get anywhere in Kyoto - our ride would pull up in front of our building!When we finally decided to check in, we were warmly welcomed inside the glamorous lobby. Full of artwork, it also gave guests a bird's eye view of the hustle and bustle of Kyoto's denizens from a safe distance. Service was prompt, and employees quickly pulled out chairs for us at the check-in desk. After our paperwork was filled out, the clerk took our luggage (as we arrived prior to 3pm check-in time), and gave us a baggage claim ticket. Off we went to explore more of the gargantuan Kyoto Station - only an escalator away!Upon entering our room after a few hours of wandering Kyoto Station, we were elated as soon as we opened our door. The room was sleek and modern, with a wonderful view of downtown Kyoto. Much to my surprise, there was no traffic noise to be heard at all from the traffic-jammed streets down below. But noise was the last thing on my mind - I turned to see a giant bed, beckoning me to rest my travel-worn body. Immediately I laid down and let out a relieved sigh. The bed was amazing. The only word I could find at the moment to describe the comforter and the pillows was "Squish". Everything squished beneath the weight of my body perfectly. The pillows squished under my head in all the right places. The comforter squished and conformed to my body liked putty. I melted into the bed and did not move for 2 hours. Without realizing it, I had fallen asleep almost immediately. The Hotel Granvia Kyoto served as our retreat for the entire duration of our stay. Being immediately adjacent to Kyoto Station, getting to all the local sightseeing destinations was a snap. We preferred busses, as they were cheap and we didn't have to wait long for one to arrive. Restaurants were only an elevator trip away. It is well-equipped with a handful of restaurants that would satisfy even the most discerning culinary afiscianado; however, if your're looking for a meal on a budget, it is better to journey downstairs to the massive Porta or Isenta shopping malls to get a quick bite to eat.The concierge service offered by the hotel was of the utmost quality. I had decided I wanted to have a "Maiko Transformation" (a photo session dressed as a geisha), which was not seemingly an everyday tourist attraction. However, not only did the concierge know of a lower-priced studio than I had chosen, he also made reservations for me! And by 10am the next morning, I was a happy, beautiful Maiko!The Hotel Granvia Kyoto was an incredible experience. Our trip to Kyoto wouldn't have been the same at any other hotel. The location is so convenient to anything you need or want. The service is of the utmost superiority. The facilities are clean and modern. Last but certainly not least - the price can't be beat. Be you a budget or business traveller, the Hotel Granvia Kyoto will suit your needs and surpass your expectations!
by jenae567 on September 4, 2008
Buried deep within the endless underground hallways of Kyoto Station is Pronto Cafe.Definately worth the extensive search it may entail, Pronto Cafe offers international dishes at reasonable prices. As soon as you are seated, the relaxed atmosphere puts a smile on your face. You don't need to work in Kyoto to realize this is probably where the people who keep Kyoto Station ticking and buzzing come after a busy day's work to unwind with friends and coworkers. After a long day of sightseeing, my husband and I were famished. Not wanting to scour the station's underground again for the burger joint we previously ate at, we decided to end our journey at Pronto Cafe. From the outside, it looked warm and inviting. We were seated, and our eyes bugged out when we saw the menu. There were too many different types of dishes to choose from! Available from the menu were pastas, pizzas, soups, as well as a wide variety of dishes reminiscent to traditional Japanese "Izakayas". (The Japanese version of a "Tapas" restaurant). After about 10 indecisive minutes, I had settled on the Spicy Sausage & Potato dish, my husband chose the Garlic-sauteed Mussels, and we ordered the Italian Potatoes to share. At around 600 JPY (or about $6) per dish, we were delighted with the prices. Our hotel only offered high-priced restaurants, and the rest of Kyoto station seemed to be full of Ramen shops. To find reasonably priced, non-ramen fare was a relief! Our food arrived quickly. My Spicy Sausage & Potato dish gave my spice-craving tongue a pleasant tingle. My husband raved over the mussels, as he cracked each one open and consumed its contents. He gave me a bite, and I was again delighted as the juicy slab of meat burst in my mouth. And we both scooped up all of the Italian Sausage that was mixed in with the Italian Potatoes, leaving behind the buttery potatoes to eat at the end of our course.Much to my surprise, after our meal, my husband was still hungry. I flagged down the waitress and he ordered a small pizza. Once it arrived, we started our feast all over again. The pizza was small enough for one person to eat, but big enough to spare the wife a slice. The crust was thin and crispy, topped with just enough tomato sauce and fresh slivers of onion. With each crunchy bite, we wished there were more pizza to eat. Debates were thrown around over whether he should order another. However, the Suntory Draft Beer (the perfect pizza companion!) filled in any holes in the stomach, and we left completely stuffed and happy. Our entire meal, after the entrees, a few beers, and a soda, totalled about $50 for 2 people. Pronto Cafe is located in the PORTA section of Kyoto Station, in the basement level. They accept all major credit cards and Japanese Yen. A large variety of cocktails are also offered. Be aware that the price for non-alcoholic beverages are very high (about $4 for a smallish-sized soda), and the entire restaurant is smoking. Menus are offered in both Japanese and English languages. If you'd like to have dinner on a budget, but don't want to eat another bowl of Ramen from Kyoto Station, stop by Pronto Cafe! With so many different items on the menu, you're bound to find something to tickle your taste buds.
"Breathless" - That's what every visitor will be when entering the main hall of Sanjusangendo Temple.Serving as a Buddhist temple, Sanjusangendo will inspire awe in each person that enters. A simple rock path leads to the main hall, misleading visitors into thinking that perhaps it is just another old temple. But once they remove their shoes and turn the corner, they realize just how wrong they were to even think such thoughts.Once inside (where photography is regrettably prohibited), the serene yet profound hall will echo your gasps as 1,001 gold-plated statues of the Buddhist icon Kannon greet you. Rows upon rows upon rows of this figure stand stoic; perpetually locked into prayer or meditation. In front of the thousand Kannon statues stand 28 other Buddhist gods/deities/icons. Each statue is accompanied by a very informative sign (in both Japanese and English language) noting the background and significance of each figure. Halfway into the hall, more gasps will be heard echoing throughout as guests encounter the largest statue of all: Kannon Bodhisattva in its famous pose - standing 131 inches tall. The ornate and intricate carving and detail surrounding the statue is nearly inconceivable. It is hard to take your eyes off this statue. And while gazing upon its presence, it's hard not to feel some sort of reverance or awe - topped with serenity. Even if a visitor is not a believer in the Buddhist religion, it becomes very easy to understand why people become believers. The concepts presented in combination with the giant Kannon Bodhisattva instigates thoughts and meditation of life and spirituality.Sanjusangendo is a highly underrated temple. Unfortunately, it is overshadowed by the more popular Golden & Silver Pavilions, Kiyomizu-dera temple, and Fushimi-Inari Shrine. DO NOT MISS THIS TEMPLE. It is unlike anything you'll ever see anywhere else.
A trip to Kyoto wouldn't be complete without visiting the Gion District - famous for its nightlife and Geisha!Only a short bus ride away, Gion is best seen at night. Mystery shrouds the area as you walk past guarded clubs and windowless homes. For the younger, caffeinated generation, nightclubs are almost literally stacked inside multiple-story buildings. The only indicator as to what's inside the building is a large board divided into many small lit signs bearing the name of the inside club or venue. Young twenty-something girls teeter in and out in high heels and prom-ready hair. Mysterious men in suits guard the entrance to the buildings. Passerbys are only allowed a quick glimpse of a dark hallway inside. What goes on inside? Is it just a nightclub? Or maybe there is the infamous Yakuza inside? It could take an eternity to find out what exactly happens inside the hundreds of nightclubs piled high in all the buildings of Gion. On the other side of Gion, there is more of a cultural mystery. Streets full of tea houses with the traditional wooden facades line the streets. The rice paper sliding doors and opaque windows keep curious outsiders exactly that. One can't help but wonder if the nearly-extinct Geisha and Maiko are inside. Is it a private party attended by Geisha? Is it somebody's house? What type of people are privaleged to eat in such a mysterious and intimate establishment? Maybe it's a traditional tea ceremony! Unfortunately, this will probably remain a mystery to all but Kyoto's most prestigious citizens. However, if you're lucky, you may be able to catch a quick glimpse of a Geisha headed to her next social gathering!Also in Gion District is the tourist hotspot Gion Corner. It is a theater that proudly displays traditional Japanese performing arts. A tea ceremony, a Japanese comedy, Maiko dance, puppet show, and traditional instrumental music are all performed for people that may otherwise not have the opportunity to see such performances. Explanations of each segment are given in English, but the performances (such as the comedy skit and puppet show) are put on in Japanese. (With a translation/explanation in English provided in the pamphlet provided). Photography is allowed; however, be prepared to capture photos of fast action in very dim lighting. (Most point-and-shoot cameras will produce blurry pictures.)Whether you're looking for the most up-to-date trendy nightclub, or a walk into the past, head to Gion at night for an unforgettable experience.
by jenae567 on September 18, 2008
When the word "Zen" is used, a handful of typical images come to mind. Perhaps it is a simple image of a stone Buddha statue. Perhaps it is a peaceful Koi pond. Quite often, it is a rock garden.Ryoanji-Mai temple possesses Japan's most famous and largest rock garden. People from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this temple to sit and contemplate, or just gaze upon the famous scenery.A lowly gravel path leads visitors to Ryoanji-Mai through a pristine forest, passing small picturesque statues and ponds along the way. A peaceful Buddha statue blesses passerby's if they notice him tucked away amidst the surrounding foliage. Small shrines stand quietly in the background. An aura of peace envelopes the visitors as they eagerly make their way to the famed temple.The temple itself is simplistic; monstrous dark wooden columns support dingy white walls. Once the temple is entered, it is merely a corner's turn until the beautiful rock garden is revealed. Upon arrival, many visitors will already be encountered, seated in quiet contemplation.The temple interior offers a nice seating ledge, giving visitors a great view of the garden from any angle. The reason behind the rocks' particular layout remains a mystery, and this mystery alone provokes deep contemplation. Do they represent the artist's perception of the world at the time? Do they represent stages of life? Perhaps they stand for different locations in Japan. Or maybe even a Buddhist ideal. Nobody will ever know; but thousands more will continue to flock to this garden to contemplate. Along the perimeter of the garden is the wooden wall that completes the enclosure. It is noted in the visitor's brochure that the designs appearing in the wall are also unique. Due to the age of the wall and the process with which it was created, the oils within the wood are beginning to seep out and create a unique stain design that almost resembles a mountain scene. Should one tire of staring at the rocks, they can focus their attention to the walls and reflect upon the similarities between the intriguing stains and Japan's mountainous terrain.After viewing the rock garden, visitors will be lead through the grounds and around a huge pond. The stroll is peaceful and the scenery is relaxing. If you look closely, wildlife can be spotted finding food in the pond, swimming freely, or skimming across the water. A trip to Kyoto is not complete without gazing upon the rocks of Ryoanji-mai. Whether your life is stressful or at peace, this temple is sure to invoke a greater appreciation for the simpler things in life.
If you plan on visiting Kyoto during your first trip to Japan (or if you're unfamiliar with the Japanese bus systems), the thought of just hopping on a bus could send anyone panicking. Here, I'll explain the very easy process of getting to all the sightseeing destinations, without going broke paying for taxis.The best place to start from is Kyoto Station. It is the largest bus stop in Kyoto. The buses pull in right in front of the main building. You can't miss it! Hundreds of people, both Japanese and tourists, will be forming multiple lines beneath signs that may be a bit confusing.The first step: DON'T BE INTIMIDATED. It's very easy to get the hang of!! And to make the process even easier, all stops are announced in both Japanese and English! Facing Kyoto Station, you will find a small building to the left of the bus stops. It will be labeled "BUS TICKETING AND INFORMATION." For the best bang for your buck, (or perhaps, yank for your yen!), head to the furthest counter and purchase an all-day bus pass. For only 500 JPY (or about $5), you will be able to ride the city busses for unlimited trips, so long as you don't venture too far into the suburbs. On this ticket, you will see pictures of two different busses - a green bus and a pink flowered bus. This ticket is good for either types of these busses. The pink flowered bus is better if you're headed to the regular tourist stops - it will only stop at the major sights, instead of every bus stop on the way like the green bus.Second Step: Find your bus stop. Let's say you would like to go to Kiyomizudera Temple. Head towards the bus stops and then look up. You will see signs with destinations. The sign for your destination will most likely say "SANJUSANGENDO GION KIYOMIZUDERA". That means this bus will stop at Sanjusangendo Temple, Gion district, and Kiyomizudera Temple. (Sometimes the name of your destination may be a bit altered due to translation issues - for example, Fushimi Inari Shrine becomes "Inari Taisha", but just make sure the name contains at least part of your destination.) Directly beneath the sign, you will see a four-sided post. This post will digitally display the time the next bus is expected, and if there is more than one bus due to arrive.Third Step: Once the bus arrives, look on the side. There will be a scrolling sign that should also bear the name of its destination. If you are headed to Kiyomizudera Temple, make sure the bus says so. It should match the sign above your head. (We made the mistake of hopping on a bus without checking the scrolling sign first - and wound up about an hour outside of town!) If the bus does indeed go to your intended destination (or nearby area), hop on. Once on the bus, you will notice an electronic board in the front of the bus, near the ceiling. Keep an eye on this board. Especially during rush hour, the busses get crowded and noisy, and you may not hear the announcement. This board will display (in Kanji and English) the next stop. Fourth Step: Once "Kiyomizudera" is announced and displayed, head to the front once the bus has stopped. If you have purchased an all-day bus pass, all you need to do is show the driver your ticket. If your ticket has not yet been stamped with the date, just stick it in the machine sitting next to him and grab it when it pops out. If you did not purchase a ticket, simply throw your fare into the box next to him and get off. Tadaaa! You have arrived!Once you have finished seeing the temple, head back to where you were dropped off. Then scan ACROSS the street for another bus stop - you need to get back on the bus from the other direction of traffic if you want to get back to where you started from. Seen how you started from Kyoto Station, you will want to wait for the next bus bearing the sign "KYOTO STATION". Get on this bus and repeat the same process.Easy enough, wasn't it?A few tips: If you don't purchase an all-day bus pass, most of the busses headed to the tourist spots are a flat-fare. This means no matter where you get off, you pay only one fare. At the time of our travel, this fare was 220 yen. (Roughly $2.20). Very cheap! HOWEVER, fare MUST be paid in EXACT CHANGE ONLY. There are machines to make change located next to the driver, but it will only make change for up to 1000 yen - so be sure to carry the smallest bills or change if you intend on taking the bus. One poor tourist wasn't aware of this, and was embarassed when the irritated driver had to announce over the PA that she needed someone to make change for her large bill! Through the generosity of locals, the now red-faced lady was able to pay her fare. Busses get PACKED during rush hour. You may wind up standing if it is during morning or evening traffic. As a common courtesy, it is expected that you give up your seat to an elderly passenger that boards - if you are young and without handicap. Not every stop is listed on the bus signs - so don't panick if you make an unexpected stop. (Which you probably will.) As mentioned earlier, the pink busses don't stop at every stop along the way like the green busses do, so hop on a pink bus if it's not too long of a wait. Now you're ready to grab your ticket and hop on a bus! Go see some temples!!
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