Hello from the Land of the Rising Sun! In particular, hello from Osaka! This is my first time blogging from a different country, so please forgive my enthusiasm! (See, all of those sentences ended with exclamation points.)
This series, #IKansaiClearlyNow, is going to be my travel diary for the six days my family and I will spend in Japan. Our trip will cover Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. If any inquiring minds want a copy of our itinerary, leave me a comment and I’ll send it your way!
Because I don’t want to spend the rest of the #IKansaiClearlyNow (props to my boyfriend for coming up with our official trip hashtag!) series referring to them as ‘my mom’, ‘my sister’, and ‘my brother’, allow me to introduce my family! This is my sister, Cas; my brother, Paolo; and my mom, Cora (although, obviously, this blog will still be referring to her as Mom).
Our flight was pretty uneventful. We had a four-hour layover in Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei. I wanted to read but I ended up getting some extra work from the
Purveyor of All Things Evil Prince of Darkness Father of Lies Lord of the Underworld my boss. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), WiFi there was pretty fast. I parked my butt in the nearest Starbucks and got right to work, while my family relaxed on some really comfy-looking lounge chairs right by our departure gate. Lucky me.
We landed in Kansai International Airport at around 9:00PM. It was cold. I’d already experienced the jarring change of temperature when you travel from a tropical country to a colder climate, but I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever get used to. Luckily, I’d thought to pack a heavy coat and a scarf in my carry-on.
The AirBnB we rented is in Higashiyodogawa-ku, near the Kami-Shinjō Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. It’s actually a funny story how my mom and I ended up booking this unit. We were browsing all the listings on AirBnB with a critical eye, shooting down one after the other because it was too expensive, it didn’t have mobile wi-fi, it was quite far from a train station, it was small, there was no nearby convenience store, etc., etc. It was almost midnight when we finally chanced upon a 2LDK (two-bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen – and incidentally also the title of one of my favorite movies) that seemed to fit the bill. It was pretty spacious, wasn’t too expensive (at just Php 1,800 a night), had both in-house and mobile wi-fi, and had a fully-equipped kitchen. But what really caught our attention was… this.
Mom started screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God, we have to get this one. That is the cutest thing!”
Yup. We booked an AirBnb just because we liked the dining table.
(To be fair, it’s a really cute table.)
It was one hell of an adventure, getting to this AirBnb. Although I’d been to Japan before, its commuting system isn’t exactly easy-peasy-Japanesey (HAHA) to catch on to. The train from the Kansai International Airport was only supposed to take an hour, an hour and ten to twenty minutes at the most. It took us two hours to get to our AirBnB.
We finished unpacking, then my sister and I nipped over to the nearby konbini to buy bento boxes for our dinner. We ate quickly and went to bed right after, excited for our adventures the following day. It’s also worth noting it was so cold that, for the first time in living memory, Paolo, He Who Is the Reason Why Our Electric Bill is Huge, went up to the AC and switched it off. Mom, Cas, and I were, as they say, shookt.
Our first day in Japan was spent in Kyoto. Thanks to a well-organized public transportation system, getting there was absolutely no problem at all. There was a lot of arch comment about, “Kailan kaya magkakaroon ng ganito sa Pilipinas?” from Mom. (“When are we going to have something like this in the Philippines?”) To which I had no answer. Sigh.
We had planned on getting up at six in the morning, but we were so tired from our commute the night before that we got up at eight instead. Our AirBnB’s futons are so comfortable, you guys. It was such a struggle to get up, dress up, and face the day.
At Kyoto Station, we met up with Mom’s old friend, Tita Evelyn, who’s been based in Kyoto since they graduated from university x years ago (I am acquiescing to my mother’s request not to inadvertently reveal her age, haha!). When Tita learned that we’d be heading to Japan, she offered to tour us around Kyoto. Wasn’t that nice of her?
Our first stop was the Tenryu-ji Temple and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Both are within walking distance of the Saga-Arashiyama Station, and according to the travel blogs I read, are best viewed together.
The Tenryu-ji Temple is ranked as first of the world’s five great Zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. It was built in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji. We first explored the temple’s main hall (Hojo), drawing hall (Shoin) and temple kitchen (Kuri), which you have to take your shoes off to enter. (A good rule of thumb to follow: if you see tatami mats, you have to take off your shoes.) The original buildings apparently succumbed to fire and other such natural disasters over the years, and most of the buildings were rebuilt during the Meiji era (1868-1912).
The garden, however, survived the centuries. It was designed by Muso Soseki, Tenryu-ji’s first head priest. You know those little Zen gardens in plastic frames filled with little bushes, pebbles, sand, and a tiny rake that you sometimes see on CEOs’ desks? The Tenryu-ji Temple garden is the real thing.
From Tenryu-ji, it’s a little over a ten-minute walk to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking through the grove, listening to the wind whistling through the bamboo, everything around you in shades of green tinted with sunlight – it’s like being transported to a different world. I closed my eyes and could almost believe that when I opened them, I’d be in kimono and a pair of zori or geta, carrying a paper umbrella. Alas, I am not a young woman of the Kyoto Imperial Court, but a twenty-first century girl with a very vivid imagination.
After gorging ourselves on food to replenish our energy, we then headed to the Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. It’s not just painted gold – the top two floors are covered in gold leaf.
The temple was once the retirement villa (villa, woah) of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Unfortunately, the present building is not the original. The original burned down during the Onin War, and again in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatical monk. The current structure was built in 1955. The restorers did a good job, don’t you think?
We were supposed to go see Fushimi Inari, the famous shrine with the vermillion torii gates, but the rain (which had been falling lightly but steadily all day) had gotten stronger, so we decided to postpone seeing the shrine until tomorrow. That decided, we headed back to Kyoto Station for dinner and dessert before going home.
Unfortunately, I don’t have too many pictures because both my camera and phone had died by then (I learned my lesson – tomorrow, I’m bringing a powerbank), but let me tell you about the Kyoto Station Building. Its not just a train station. Its also eleven stories of pure awesomeness. Its filled with shopping outlets and restaurants – including the truly excellent sushi bar we ate at – but its best attraction is the “Grand Escalator” which goes from the ground floor all the way up to the rooftop! That is some real crazy cardio shit right there.
Bae and Thea know this (because they made fun of me on Twitter), but I nearly died on those escalators today. The wind was crazy, and because the escalators are open to the sky and it was raining, I had my umbrella out. The wind caught my umbrella and I very nearly toppled over and slipped. Thank God just as I was falling I managed to somehow swing myself backward so I ended up seated on the escalator step. I swear, I saw my life flash before my eyes. Ya girl has officially took a level in clumsy.
We’d have loved to explore more of Kyoto, but unfortunately, our six-day stay only allows for one day per place. So we said goodbye to Tita Evelyn (which took about an hour, because, you know, Filipino moms – insert eyeroll here) and we headed back to our AirBnB to get some rest. And that’s where I am now, sitting at the Japanese table in our dining room (I just did a Google search, and apparently it’s called a chabudai – the more you know!), typing out this blog entry.
Tomorrow, we’ll be seeing Nara, and I’m so excited to tell you all about it! Until then!