Anyway, back to Kyoto. Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, before Tokugawa Ieyasu moved it to Edo, which is now known as Tokyo. Since then, Tokyo has developed into a gigantic metropolis while Kyoto still has that small-town feel, with a population of only 1.5 million as compared to 13 million.
Though I lived in Japan for a year, I never visited Kyoto during that period, and as such, decided to play it safe this time round, visiting the usual tourist attractions.
Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavillion, is one of the most famous attractions in Kyoto. From the viewing area, it looks stunning, gleaming brightly in the sunlight on the banks of a man-made lake.
Until you get closer to it, which is when you realise that it's tiny!
Admission: 400 yen
Fushimi-Inari is a shrine dedicated to the Fox Spirits, and is famous for its Torii gates. Companies from all over Japan will sponsor a Torii in the hopes of good fortune, with a small one costing 400,000 JPY to over a million for a large one. I don't know about the companies, but the monks are definitely making a fortune....
When we visited Fushimi-Inari, it was raining quite heavily. Looking back, I'm not quite sure what we were thinking at the time, as we decided it was a good idea to hike up to the peak in the rain, which took us 2 hours. The hike wasn't too difficult, but the rain was a bit unpleasant. The peak, however, was a huge disappointment, as there wasn't much of a view to see, and only a pathetic little sign saying "Top of the Mountain". Bah.
Valentines Dinner at Issian Pontocho.
Issian Pontocho was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, so we decided to celebrate Valentines Dinner here, which Bear generously offered to pay for.
We were checking out the menu that was posted outside, when the owner Ken actually came out of the restaurant to invite us in. Since he had already seen us, it was too late to run away and we meekly shuffled in.
He also gave us a free Wagyu Hamburger as it was Valentines Day, and it was probably the best burger I've ever eaten.
A word of warning though : because this place is a ishiyaki (stone-grill) restaurant, there is a lot of smoke, which seeps into all your clothes, causing you to smell like a roast chicken! Do let them keep your jacket for you, and wear clothes that you don't intend on wearing for the rest of the trip.
Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, is supposed to be one of the most beautiful gardens in Kyoto. However, because we went in winter, the scenery was rather dull and grey. I think Ginkaku-ji would be much nicer during Cherry Blossom season.
Admission: 500 yen