Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kobe, Kyoto and Tokushima: Where East meets West

Day 2:

Entrance to Ikuta Shrine
Not feeling refreshed from my late sleep, tea provided by the inn provided enough caffeine to wake me up. Another day, another place to go. Our next destination is Kobe. We took a train from Osaka to Sannomiya Station (This is where the famous Ikuta Shrine is located). Then, after a short walk along Ikuta road, we reached the Ikuta Shrine.

Ikuta Road
Ikuta shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. According to Wikipedia, it was used as a base for a festival welcoming back warriors from the latest attempt to invade Korea. The shrine is quite small and I don't think it can even accommodate more than a hundred warriors comfortably. Unless they squeezed like a sardin can, it is plausible... 

The lady in red...
By the time we reached Kobe, it was already raining heavily. I love rain. Rain reminds me of my hometown. The smell of freshly mown grass after drizzle is my favorite smell. I always hope one day, when I am successful, I can afford to have a big garden beside my house. Every time when it drizzles, I would be sitting on the bench, looking outwards while drinking hot cocoa. Peaceful and relaxing.   

Shinto wedding ceremony
At the Ikuta Shrine, we were lucky to witness a wedding ceremony. Shinto is one of the very beautiful beliefs still practiced by Japanese. During the wedding ceremony, we saw dances performed by two young performers. The were graceful. After Ikuta Shrine, we visited the Kobe mosque. My friend performed his Friday prayer while I waited for him. Kobe mosque is one of the very few Islamic buildings in Japan that survived the World War II allied bombing in June 1945. Somehow, the mosque was eerily quiet and nobody was around after my friend finished his prayer.      

At the Kobe Mosque
Kobe is not really an ideal destination for people looking to save money. It resembles more like the affluent Gangnam minus the hostess bar than anything. This is a place where expensive Kobe beef restaurants and high fashion boutiques located side by side. Louis Vuitton retail shop in Kobe was fantastic even from the outside. The interior resembled a glittering palace with lots of helpers serving the customer. Anyway, I am a practical guy and I don't like spending thousands of dollars for an identical bag. 

Our Day 2, Kobe City Route
Getting to Kobe Tower...
Here we are... Kobe Tower!
Our next destination was the Kobe Tower. To recap, we walked from Ikuta Shrine to Kobe mosque to Kyu-kyoryuchi (the up-class fashion district) to Kobe Tower. Taking taxi in Japan was a big no-no for us. We preferred spending money on good food than on transportation. Transportation expenses in Japan can be exorbitantly high if compared to Korea.

The admission fee at Kobe Tower

Kobe Tower is one of the must-visit spots in Kobe. The entrance fee is either 600 Yen or 800 Yen that also includes an entrance to the Maritime Museum. We chose the 800 Yen ticket. However, I do not recommend the Maritime Museum! It was really boring! Better save your 200 Yen and buy me a drink. After around an hour indoor in both the tower and museum to avoid the rain, we went on with our main plan of the day - meeting our Japanese friend and her friend from Kuwait.

At the Kobe Tower

We were to overnight at his house today. Our host was kind and extremely friendly, we had a small party at his house (he cooked some nice looking Kuwaiti food for all of us) that night! I even learned from him an interesting Japanese phrase sure to make heads turn. "Hitome boresteh shi mai masta". It means "I fell for you on my first sight".

Yesterday by Kaori

Before we slept, we went to Sento /Onsen (a public bathhouse). I was very reluctant to go there but left without any choices, I merely obliged them. It was my first and will probably be my last in Japan. The water was either burning hot or freezing cold. Not good... not good...

Small gathering
Day 3:

Hi Kyoto!
One of Kyoto's landmark
Kyoto. From Kobe, we took a train to Kyoto. Kyoto is the eighth largest city in Japan. Kyoto is a very traditional city due to its influence as the Japanese capital for almost a thousand years. Spared from heavy bombings by the Allied forces during World War II, Kyoto continues to be main city in Japan to experience Japanese culture.

Kyoto is highly recommended and I love how the city balances modernity while at the same time preserving its heritage. A convenient way of getting around Kyoto? Use the city buses. A one-day pass costs 500 Yen which is cheap considering the bus route covers most places here and a one-way journey by bus is already 220 Yen.

Day Pass - 500 Yen
Hmmn.... what to eat for lunch..
Tempura (1,050 Yen)...
Toei Kyoto Studio Park or Toei Uzumasa Eigamura (entrance fee is rather steep: 2,200 Yen) was the first place we visited in the morning. It is a theme park catering for tourist interested in traditional Japanese streets and buildings. The main highlights of our trip there were the ninja performance (all in Japanese, Damn... cannot understand a thing!) and the ninja maze (It was really fun but sadly, the time needed to complete the maze was too short).

Toei Kyoto Studio Park!
Sayoranna... yawn...

We spent some time over there. Then in the evening, our friend (the Kuwaiti and my Japanese friend) went back to Kobe and Tokushima respectively. Our next destinations are the Shinkyogoku (a good place to buy Japanese souvenirs) and the Kamo river (to see the crowds lazing around at night). At Shinkyogoku, there is a long stretch of street catering for tourists buying Japanese souvenirs. My observation: shops located at the middle of the street somehow sold similar souvenirs cheaper than the rest. Hmmn...

Shinkyogoku - for Japanese souvenirs!

Kamo River

With the Pachinko shops still buzzing with people, we strolled along the Kamo river. Kamo river at night was literally occupied by young couples looking to escape the city heat or hide from their parents' prying eyes. Along the river, there were many high-end restaurants serving foreign cuisines. Our accommodation for the night was at Khaosan Kyoto - the best dormitory I've ever been! Clean, comfortable and the bed even comes with a curtain to block the lights.

Highly recommended dorm in Kyoto!
As my dorm was located on the fifth floor, unfortunately, it has only a shower place and a toilet. Imagine sharing the same shower place and toilet with all the residents of fifth floor. Luckily no two people had diarrhea at the same time... The dorm located on the second floor is much better. It has more toilets and shower places.

Day 4:

Kinkaku-ji - Temple of Golden Pavilion
The first destination of the day was the Kyoto station. As I was carrying a large backpack, and my friend had a hand luggage filled with souvenirs. We had to find some place to store our bags and Kyoto station was also a good place to start our journey. After storing our belongings, we purchased the one-day bus pass again.

First tourist attraction we visited? It was none other than the famous Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of Golden Pavilion (Entrance fee: 400 Yen), an UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can read all the history here. What I like about this place was the beauty of the garden. It was so picture perfect. After Kinkaku-ji, we went to Kiyomizu-dera (300 Yen), a very famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto. This is my favorite and most memorable place in Kyoto.

Japanese students at Kiyomizu-dera


There's also an interesting story to be told. Hehe... While we were going up the steep road to reach the entrance of the temple, I saw some girls wearing Yukata (another type of Japanese traditional attire). Thinking it was another great opportunity to get my first photograph with Yukata ladies. I politely asked them for permission to take a picture of them and us with them. They happily obliged. I think, to them, we were irresistibly good looking.

Japanese in Yukatas
One of my favorite question to ask any locals and foreigners is "Can you guess which country you think I come from?". They answered....... "China"..... I was like "What? Chinese?". Ah never mind... Nevertheless, I spoke a little basic Japanese and this was how our friendships with Japanese strangers began. We accompanied them to take photos (they helped to take our pics while we reciprocated by becoming their part-time photographers).

Oh really, drinking from all three streams no good?
After sometime with them, we hurried off to the Otowa waterfall. "...The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy..." I never knew drinking from all three streams were considered greedy.

As there was nothing much to do further up the temple, we returned to the main temple and we met the Yukata ladies again. We exchanged our greetings and I (and my friend) took a Polaroid picture with them. While walking downhill, we went around the traditional streets and we even saw ladies wearing Kimono. Awesome! I bought several packets of Yatsuhashi, a traditional Japanese snack (250 Yen each), for my department staffs and Professors. The taste was so-so but I regretted not buying one for myself.

Ladies in Kimono
At the bus stop after the end of our trip to the temple, we saw the Yukata ladies (at the opposite direction) again. They waved at us and instinctively, we waved at them back. Meeting them was one of my most unforgettable moments in Japan. Sadly, our bus came too soon after and we did not manage to get their phone number or Facebook. Inside the bus, I saw them trying to look for us at their bus stand. It was nice knowing them though we don't even know their names. Very interesting huh?

Ladies in Yukata
Thanks for the memories... ladies in Yukata...

Fushimi Inari

Our final destination in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari-taisha (entrance is free). A shrine famous for the wooden blocks along the gates. Since we did not have enough time to hike all the way up, we spent our time taking pictures along the gates. This shrine like the many shrines and temples we visited, it was equally beautiful. Statues of foxes were found in many places in the shrine. I was curious but so little time to know and see more. From Fushimi Inari Shrine, we took a bus back to Kyoto station. We were to take an express bus to Tokushima, a small city to meet our Japanese friends. Another city to cover... another adventure...

To be continued....

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