Konnichiwa Kyoto! (or Shrines and Temples and Monkeys, Oh My!)

Yesterday was our first full day in Japan and it was definitely a full day. A day full of walking. A day full of climbing. A day full of fun.

We were awake well before sunrise and unable to get back to sleep. Our hotel has a view of the train tracks and we could see people going to work while it was still dark out. After getting ready, we had pastries and coffee for breakfast at the station and then headed west on a train to Arashiyama. There we checked out our first temple of the day – or was it a shrine? Honestly can’t tell the difference! – Tenryu-ji. Admission was 600 Yen so we did what I now call “a temple drive-by” and just looked at it from outside!

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From there we went to the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves which were kind of cool.

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Then we wandered over the Togetsukyo bridge to the entrance to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. Many of the reviews we read noted how steep the climb was but several said just to take it slowly as did an Australian woman we passed who was exiting. The climb was too much for my mother so she stayed on a bench we found after climbing several sets of stairs and a long path up. From there, I climbed further up the mountain along winding paths. The stairs were probably the worst part but the rest of the climb was tough too but worth it in the end. On the way up, I saw families of monkeys playing on the hill and was shocked to come across two pairs of monkeys on the path. In each case, one was grooming the other and they didn’t even flinch when I walked by.

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The top of the mountain had amazing views of Kyoto.

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The highlight was the visitor’s centre which had monkeys wandering around and a building from inside of which visitors could pay 100 Yen (about a dollar Canadian) to buy a bag of food to feed to the monkeys. I bought a bag of apples and fed a baby who was hanging off the wire that keeps the monkeys out (and the people in). It was immediately chased by an adult (who didn’t get the food from the baby or get any food from me).

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A staff member came in and advised us it was feeding time outside and that we could come and watch but had to hide our food in a pocket or leave it inside. I went out to observe the feeding which ending up being highly entertaining. First of all, the guy calls the monkeys over in Japanese (they are Japanese macaques so I guess they understand it!) and then they play a song while he goes around feeding them monkeys from a bucket. Unfortunately the video won’t load here but I’ll try to upload it somewhere later if you’re interested.

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I went back inside to finish feeding the monkeys with the food I had bought and then went back down the mountain to pick up my mom.

We then headed to the Randen Rail station where we boarded a purple trolley-like train and headed toward another temple (or maybe this one was a shrine). This one, Ninna-ji, had huge grounds so we did another drive-by and walked about halfway up to see a five-storey pagoda and then headed to the next stop on our itinerary.

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Next stop was a Zen garden called Ryoan-ji. This one had an admission fee too and seemed familiar to us from our last trip here five years ago so we gave it a pass. At this point we thought about ditching our plans to visit Kinkaku-ju which we knew we had visited last time. We tried to get on a bus with our Japan Rail pass as they operate buses in Kyoto but were told we could not (it was a city bus). We walked a little further and stumbled upon the conveyer belt sushi place I had read about online. This place was fun! The sushi comes around and you can pick whatever strikes your fancy as it goes by. You can also use a touch screen at your booth to special order things from the menu that comes zipping along an upper conveyer belt. We had a decent amount of food for less than $20 for the two of us, which is amazing here where most things are expensive.

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After lunch we headed to Kinkaku-ji (which I called Kinkajoo for some reason!). It’s another temple and the only thing in Kyoto I had heard of before I came here the first time. It’s known as the Golden Pavilion because of the gold foil painted on it. Kyoto also has a Silver Pavilion but apparently whoever built it never got around to painting it silver!

After a quick tour through the grounds, we headed by bus to the outskirts of Higashiyama and looked through Nishi Market, a very old market that sells gross things like octopus stuffed with quail egg.

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Once we started down the narrow market path we remembered that we had been there on our last trip. Like last time, we marvelled at the exorbitant cost of strawberries (this one was $18 for six and a big package is about $100!).
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We even found the restaurant we saw last time with the expensive sundaes. (The sundae pictured is $500!)

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We tried to find somewhere reasonable to eat on Pontocho street but everything was too expensive (we were not that hungry) or questionable (we wanted to find a place with an English menu). We decided we were too tired to head to Gion to look for geishas or restaurants (that are apparently more expensive than Pontocho anyway) so we opted to return to the station. We got a little turned around and ended up walking more than necessary trying to find a train station so we hopped on a bus that got us to the station pretty quickly. Food choices at our hotel and the station were pretty expensive too so we got a quick bite at a pub at the station and headed to our rooms for foot soaks/baths.

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