Tues, 1/12/15 – Fushimi, Higashiyama, Kiyomizudera

Today we headed back to Kyoto. This time to the southern part to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine. To vary our transportation route, we took the Keihan Rail.

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It wasn’t worthwhile getting the 1-day sightseeing pass for our itinerary so we just used our Suica. First was subway from Shinsaibashi to Yodoyabashi, then Keihan train to Fushimi-inari Station. From there we had to cross a railway track and walk a short distance to the foot of the shrine.

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Similar to Minoh Park, the start of the walking trail was lined with food stalls. We couldn’t resist the wonderful smells and had to stop for some grilled pork belly and salted baked sweet potato.

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Fueled up with food, we began the uphill hike through lots of torii gates.

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It was packed with people at the beginning but gradually the crowd thinned out. We figured they either made a turn back or detoured to the various shrines and temples along the way to pray. We plodded on because our goal was to reach the Yotsutsuji intersection, about half-way up the mountain for aerial views of Kyoto.We almost gave up after taking a wrong turn which brought us down instead of up the mountain. We retraced our steps to the crossroads and continued the hike to finally arrive at the viewing point.

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Was it worth it? Well, my girls felt it was a waste of time. All that walking just to see buildings. They would rather see natural scenery like Wineglass Bay in Tasmania or Halong Bay in Vietnam. For me, the highlight was the torii gates. The view I agree wasn’t fantastic. So a walk through the gates then u-turn back, in my opinion, is good enough. In the map below, it would be the shaded portion.

It was time for lunch. Instead of the Keihan train, we took the JR train direct from Inari Station to Kyoto Station to try this very good tonkatsu restaurant called Katsukura. It has a branch on the 11th floor of The Cube, a shopping mall within Kyoto Station. To get there, I read on a website that I need to go to Isetan and take the lift to level 11. And that’s what we did. The lift opened to a floor full of restaurants and we started to look for Katsukura. We found one selling tonkatsu but it was called Tonkatsu Wako. Since there was a queue waiting outside Wako and the prices were reasonable, we tried it.

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All traces of disappointment disappeared when we took a bite of the food. The tonkatsu was crispy and juicy, the oysters were succulent, the cabbage was so fresh that I had 2 servings of it and the clam soup was one of the best I had. It was so good that I refilled the soup thrice. Besides the vege and soup, rice was also free flow.

After a very satisfying lunch, we explored the station. There was a door out of the restaurant level to an open area with a long flight of stairs – “Daikaidan” Grand Stairway leading down to the ticket gates.

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On the other side of the stairs was another building also with restaurants. We walked over and the first thing on the signboard was what we were looking for an hour ago- Katsukura.

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The mystery as to why we could’t find the restaurant was solved. We were at the wrong place! A check at another signboard revealed that there were 2 restaurant areas on level 11 – The CUBE Restaurants and Eat Paradise, separated by the Daikaidan Grand Stairway. Lesson learnt – always check signboards.

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While walking down the Daikaidan, my husband spotted a sky walk above us. It looked pretty cool but with Gion, Higashiyama and Kiyomizudera Temple yet to explore, we gave it a miss.

Instead of taking the bus which we feared would be crowded, we took the JR Nara train to Tofukuji then changed to Keihan train for Gion-Shijo. Exiting from the station, we passed several historical buildings before hitting the main street lined with shops.

Prior to this trip, I read about the tea houses and cafes in Kyoto that serve matcha desserts. Several were located in Gion and the one I singled out was Tsujiri Tea House. The plan was to try one of the many parfaits in the cafe on the second floor.

Alas, there was a queue that snaked from the retail shop on the ground floor up to the cafe, and since the rest in the group were still too full from lunch, we just bought matcha powder and this very yummy Gateau Bubu Matcha and Hojicha Financiers from the shop.

I wasn’t very happy to leave without trying any desserts so on the way out, I bought a take away cup of matcha latte topped with matcha ice-cream. It was the closest I could get to a parfait. And though there weren’t the other toppings like jelly, cake and beans, it still tasted great.

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Leaving Shijo Street, we headed towards Yasaka Shrine and onto the preserved historic streets towards Kiyomizudera Temple.

We wanted to experience the autumn colours of the temple in the day and at night. We thought there would be a combination ticket for the two admissions where you enter before 5 pm and stay on to view the night illumination. Well, it doesn’t work like that. We got the day tickets and were told we need to leave the temple grounds by 5 pm. To enter again, we had to buy the night tickets when the booths open at 6 pm.

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The fall foliage inside the temple was really pretty, especially when the setting sun cast its light on the trees. We stayed as long as we could until we heard the announcement requesting all guests to make their way out. From the exit, we walked back to the entrance of the temple where crowds of people were already queuing to buy the night tickets. The people formed lines that stretched from the ticket booths to the street lined with souvenir shops. We joined in and as the queue moved, we took turns to pop into the shops.

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Night illumination in Kiyomizudera Temple was simply shining spotlights on the trees. I wouldn’t say it was romantic, more eerie actually. I very much preferred the scenery in the day especially when the sun was setting. But I guessed because the illumination was only for a limited period of time, throngs of people visit to experience the temple at night. We were barely inside for half an hour. I think we spent more time queuing for the tickets.

There was no direct train back to Kyoto Station. Instead of going back the same way we came, we walked to another station on the Keihan Line, Kiyomizu-Gojo, took the train to Tofukuji and changed to JR Nara Line to Kyoto. It was quite a distance downhill from the temple to Gojo, a rather boring street with no shops, unlike Shijo. The only plus point was the street was deserted, a nice change after jostling with tons of people earlier.

We were too tired to explore the many food places in Kyoto Station so my husband led us back to Eat Paradise to have dinner at Ante Caffe, an Italian restaurant. Between a la carte and set dinner, we chose the set which came with appetizer, main course with bread or rice, soup, dessert then coffee or tea. The dishes were delicious especially the cakes.

From Kyoto Station, we took the JR train to Osaka Station, walked to Umeda for the subway back to our Airbnb apartment in Shinsaibashi. Totally tired out from all the walking today.

Travel Tips:

  1. Visit temples and shrines only if you want to pray or there’s something worthwhile to see or you have lots of time on your hands. If not, I think time is better spent somewhere else. I regret not exploring more of Gion and Higashiyama, and the nearby Philosopher’s Path. 
  2. Don’t shy away from restaurants. They are quite affordable especially those within the malls and department stores. Our lunch at Wako came up to $17 per person and dinner at Ante Caffe cost about $25. 
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