The Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji as it’s commonly known as, is a Zen Buddhist temple located in the northern part of Kyoto. Visiting Kyoto without seeing Kinkaku-ji is like going to the Louvre and not be bothered to see Mona Lisa. So of course, we had to see what all the fuss what about!
We got there by taking a JR train (forgot which line) to Enmachi Station and then a taxi to the temple. If you’re not on a tight budget, I can very much recommend grabbing a taxi. It cost us around ¥1000 one way but because there is pretty much no traffic, you’ll reach your destination in no time. The only downside is that taxi drivers speak almost no English at all. If you don’t speak a word of Japanese, I recommend writing down the address on a piece of paper and/or bring a map with you.
At the temple grounds there were a special exhibition showing the high priest’s house. It was in Japanese only and the cashier seemed very concerned that we wouldn’t enjoy it and told us several times that English wasn’t available. We assured him that it was fine and bought our tickets. Just as we had taken off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag (yes, you carry your shoes with you, in a bag), another ‘museum attendant’ came up to us with some papers. They weren’t official or anything, he said, but they were in English and explained the layout of the house, what rooms had been used for what etc. Then he did his best to give us a quick guided tour. It’s things like this that I love about the Japanese. We’ve met so many lovely and friendly people who really go out of their way to help two slightly confused foreigners.
The special exhibition was very nice even though we didn’t really understand everything. The best thing about it could actually be the calm atmosphere that surrounded the house. Almost everyone went straight for the Kinkaku-ji, making it a bit crowded but at the house we were just a handful of people. Also the stone garden surrounding the house was memorable.
Kinkaku-ji itself was very beautiful but I have to say that I think the crowd of people was a little bit disturbing. I would probably have enjoyed it more if we could’ve just sat down on a bench contemplating the view of the garden like we did at the Tenryu temple. In summary, I’d say that the Kinkaku-ji was well worth the visit but I would recommend visiting early in the morning.
Outside the temple grounds, there’s a café selling the wonderful green tea ice-cream that I miss soooo much. I just had to take a picture of the plastic food they got on display. That green tea/vanilla ice-cream is to die for, yum yum!
After the Kinkaku-ji, we took a taxi back to Enmachi Station and took the train back to Kyoto station, switched to the train for Nara and got off at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, known for it’s “Thousand Torii Gates”.
We didn’t know much about the shrine when we started climbing the stairs and like with most temples/shrines we visited, I severely underestimated this one as well. I never thought that it would be such a long walk with stairs pretty much all the way. Luckily, there are several vending machines on the way (even on mountains they’ve got vending machines!!). We even reached the wonderful vantage-point with a café just before closing time. Nothing beats enjoying the sweet taste of a soy-bean ice-cream and the view of Kyoto in sunlight after a long walk. Filled with new energy we continued our walk and finally reached the top. It was an amazing feeling but to be honest, I was expecting more of a view from the top. The coolest thing was that the sun had started to go down and the lanterns were lighting up. Unfortunately, that also meant “mosquito time”! With that said, we hurried down the mountain. We almost got lost on our way down but it wasn’t that serious since we turned back before completely walking down the mountain on the wrong side. Apparently quite a few people hike the mountain even in the evening so we weren’t alone. After walking past a house that looked very much like a pub(!?) we met a couple of hikers chanting their mantra “Give us a beer, Give us a beer” while climbing the stairs. I guess what we saw earlier really was a pub :)