Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto

For UNESCO World Heritage Site nerds like me, the prefecture of Kyoto, having 16 sites inscribed in the list under "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto", is a wonderland:
  • Kamigamo Jinja 上賀茂神社
  • Shimogamo Jinja 下鴨神社
  • Toji 東寺
  • Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺
  • Daigoji 醍醐寺
  • Ninnaji 仁和寺
  • Kozanji 高山寺
  • Saihoji / Koke-dera (Moss Temple) 西芳寺
  • Tenryuji 天龍寺
  • Rokuonji / Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) 金閣寺
  • Jishoji / Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) 銀閣寺
  • Ryoanji 龍安寺
  • Nishi Honganji 西本願寺
  • Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle) 二条城
  • Byodoin 平等院 – located in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Ujigami Jinja 宇治上神社 – located in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
Also part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" list is Enryakuji 延暦寺. This temple is located in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.

I would probably need a week to visit all these sites! But we didn't have a week, we only had a day left in Kyoto and we decided to visit the three most popular...and probably the most crowded.

6AM to 6PM (630PM August and September)
Admission fee: 300 yen

Directions to Kiyomizu-dera: Take bus 86 / 100 / 106 / 110 / 202 / 206 / 207 to Gojozaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. From either stop, it is a 10-minute uphill walk to Kiyomizu-dera.

It was my mistake that I did not read up on Kiyomizu-dera before visiting. Had I done so, I would have spent more time in this temple rather than just let myself get caught in the sea of visitors having a look-see at the vermilion gates, pagoda, and buildings.

Right by the base of the Hondo (main hall), I'd have drank a scoop of water from one of the streams of Otowa Waterfall (there are three streams: for study, for good health, for a romantic relationship) rather than just observe the other visitors do so. And I'd have elbowed my way through the crowd to get to Jishu Shrine, located behind the Hondo, just to touch the love stones! Guess I will have to go back to Kiyomizu-dera to try my luck at love!

FYI: Renovation work on Kiyomizu-dera's main hall started on February 2017 and will go on until March 2020. The main hall will be covered during the renovation period.

At the main entrance of Kiyomizu-dera: Nio-mon on the left, Sai-mon on the right

Prayers or wishes written on wooden plaques called ema

At the Hondo (main hall)

The Hondo's Kiyomizu Stage stands 13 meters high

Looking at Hondo (on the right) and the city of Kyoto

Otowa Waterfall, from which stream would you drink from? (Photo from Kiyomizudera website)

BONUS! When we exited Kiyomizu-dera, we found ourselves in Higashiyama District, a preserved historic district with rows and rows of traditional buildings, giving it an old world atmosphere. This instantly became my favorite place in Kyoto! For anyone who plans to visit Kyoto, I highly recommend including a visit to Higashiyama District in your itinerary!

Higashiyama District

845AM to 4PM
Closed on Tuesdays of January, July, August, December
Admission fee: 600 yen
English audio guide rental: 500 yen

Directions to Nijo Castle: Take the Tozai subway line to Nijojo-mae Station. Or take bus 9 / 12 / 50 / 101 to Nijojo-mae bus stop.

When I think of Japanese castles, I think of four- or five-storied imposing structures. I think Himeji Castle, Hiroshima Castle, Osaka Castle. Or even Tokyo Imperial Palace, or what little of it I had seen across its moat.

But Nijo Castle is not four- or five-storied. I can't even see its roof when I am outside the castle ground walls. The buildings look nothing like the picture that I have associated with the word castle. Instead Nijo Castle's Karamon gate and buildings somehow remind me of Kyoto Imperial Palace. But, whatever, that's just me and my untrained near-sighted eyes.

Nijo Castle has two buildings: Ninomaru Palace and Honmaru Palace. Castle? Palace? Huh? Don't look at me, I am confused myself. We entered Ninomaru Palace but not Honmaru Palace (closed to the public). Ninomaru Palace is huge with 33 rooms and impressive wall paintings (no taking of photos allowed in Ninomaru Palace). But what stood out to me was the "nightingale floor", chirping with even the lightest of footsteps.

Karamon (gate)

Ninomaru Palace

The backside of Ninomaru Palace

Ninomaru Garden

 Honmaru Palace

Rokuonji / Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 400 yen

Directions to Kinkakuji: Take bus 12 / 59 / 101 / 102 / 204 / 205 to Kinkakuji-michi bus stop.

We visited Kinkakuji, formally known as Rokuonji and commonly known as the Golden Pavilion, during the golden hour and what did we see? A million heads blocking our view. There were so many people at the temple grounds, we had to search for an opening between camera-wielding bodies that formed a barrier along the pond's perimeter. When we managed to squeeze in shoulder to shoulder, we were blinded by the pavilion's beauty! Kinkakuji was a mesmerizing sight with the golden building reflected on the pond and standing out from a background of mountains and trees. That's all we could do at Kinkakuji, gaze at it even as we circled the pond towards the exit because there is nothing else to do there but admire it (the temple building itself is not open to the public).

The Golden Pavilion during golden hour

Transportation Tip: The bus network in Kyoto City is extensive and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites mentioned above (except for Daigoji, Kozanji, Enryakuji, Byodoin, and Ujigami Jinja) can easily be reached by city bus. The bus fare flat rate is 230 yen. If you plan to take the bus at least three times in a day, the one-day city bus pass (500 yen) is recommended. Check with your hostel if they sell the bus pass; if they don't, you can buy the pass at any bus/subway information center or ticket office. I personally recommend installing Arukumachi Kyoto app and having a pocket WiFi with you. But if you are inclined on going old school, the bus pass usually comes with a route map (if they forget to give you one, don't hesitate to ask).

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (you're here!)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

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