Kyoto used to be the capital of Imperial Japan before it was moved to Tokyo. It is bustling with temples, shrines, palaces and traditional wooden houses. It also the best place to meet a Geisha.
If we had the time, we would have spent at least 3 days in Kyoto because it is teeming not only with places to go, food we’d want to try out, but more so, a culture, a vibe, far different from that in Tokyo.
We rode a train with tracks passing by a neighborhood, like a typical “home along da riles”, only the homes are much more poised that their counterparts here in Manila.
Probably the most famous tourist site in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is known for its thousands of Torii Gates that lead to the sacred mountain of Inari (the Shinto god of rice).
Since foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, fox statues can be found anywhere around the complex.
After alighting from the train (there are 2 stations nearby, a short walk along the street leading to the shrine is considerably one of the slowest walk we ever took in Japan, probably only second to the walk to Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple. Why? Left and right you would see food and other Japan memorabilia, and you’d have to stop by to taste, smell, touch, and marvel at what the place has to offer.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TEMPLE AND A SHRINE?
The easiest answer is that, a temple is Buddhist and a shrine is Shinto. The second obvious difference is, if you see a Torii gate before you can enter a building, it’s a shrine. If you see a Buddha statue, it’s a temple. Notice how Sensoji in Asakusa is a temple (there were no Torii gates there; instead, you see the Kaminarimon gate), and Meiji is a shrine.
TEMPLE / SHRINE ETIQUETTE WHEN IN JAPAN
One of the traditions when going to a shrine is the washing of hands and mouth. This is the Shinto way of presenting oneself to god, to rinse one hand after the other, and to wash the mouth as if gargling it (note: do not drink it) before entering the shrine.
Another custom is when you’re at the offering hall, you have to follow these steps: (1) throw a coin into the offering box, (2) bow deeply twice, (3) clap your hands twice, (4) bow deeply once again and (5) pray for a few seconds. If there is some type of gong, use it before praying in order to get the kami’s attention. Visitors are doing it in the photo below:
A popular custom when entering a temple is to burn incense, just like what we saw visitors do at Asakusa.
If you don’t belong to the same faith, it’s okay to visit these places. But make sure to dress appropriately. Some temples have a piece of cloth you can rent / buy so you can cover yourself up. When Mary and I were in Asakusa and Sensoji, I wore shorts, and Mary a spaghetti strap-top but she had with her a piece of cloth for cover (we were there during a sizzling summer day).
Photography in the complex is allowed but indoors, it’s usually not. Look for signs before snapping photos, or taking videos. Monks and shrine administrators are usually fast when they catch you violating this.
We planned on going to Ginka-kuji next after Fushimi-Inari but because we had limited time (we needed to catch the night bus back to Tokyo from Umeda at 9pm), and we nearly got lost, we had to get back to the train station on our way back to Osaka. The travel time from Osaka to Kyoto is almost an hour via express train.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT NEAR KYOTO: OSAKA, KOBE, NARA
If you’re planning to head to Osaka anyway, please add Kyoto, Kobe and Nara in your itinerary. We may not have stayed long but we wanted to explore more. To keep you excited, here are some places you can visit and things you can do while in these areas:
- Nijo Castle in Kyoto – the residence of the first shogun in the Edo period. If you’re planning to go to Osaka Castle too, choose either of them. Both have lovely gardens best during the spring and autumn seasons. Osaka Castle has a moat surrounding the castle, while Nijo Castle has a large pond.
- Kyoto International Manga Museum – if you’re an enthusiast, you shouldn’t miss this haven for Manga lovers. There’s an entrance of JPY 800, and they’re open daily except Wednesdays, 10am to 6pm (latest admission is 530pm).
- Temples in Eastern Kyoto – there’s too many of them to mention. If you only have a day to explore Kyoto, I suggest you head to the eastern side (items 1 and 2 in the list are in the central side). The most prominent and frequently-visited of which is Ginka-kuji (which we missed), and the Geisha district of Gion.
- Todaiji Temple in Nara – since Nara also used to be the capital of Japan before Kyoto, its historical prominence cannot be denied. The most famous of which has the world’s largest wooden building, the Daibutsuden, which houses a 15-meter tall bronze Daibutsu (buddha), also one of Japan’s largest. It is also near Nara Park where you will have a close encounter with deer. There are varying admission fees per hall.
- Osaka Castle – we featured this in the previous blog, which you can read here.
- Akashi Kaikyo Bridge – while there are still so many cultural spots in Kobe, I would have loved to see, and cross the world’s longest suspension bridge, which spans 4 kilometers.
So if this article didn’t get you elated enough to book your flight to Osaka, let me tell you that it isn’t too expensive, especially coming from Manila. Cebu Pacific, the budget airline of choice of most Filipinos, have frequent flights there that are usually less expensive than the Manila-Narita (Tokyo) flights. Oh and by the way, you can score a round trip ticket, if you’re patient to wait for those low fare seat sales, can be as low as PhP 5,000 (US$ 106). Note: I am not a Cebupac employee.
Go on and take that vacation! One last thing, it’s not true that there are no more visa requirements for a Filipino tourist to Japan. But don’t fret, it’s easy to get one. Find out how we got ours, here.