Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Traveling Solo - Japan (6)

Starting from this post, you will be able to view more of my pictures on flickr.com...

Day 4 - I took the bus from K's house to J-Hoppers.  Although the 2 hostels are relatively close (only a 10 minute walk), I didn't feel like walking.  After checking in, I asked the staff if I would have enough time to visit Nijo Castle before heading to Kibune and Kurama.  She said Kibune and Kurama are small towns so I shouldn't have any problem. Yeah!

J-Hoppers is conveniently located near the Kujo subway station so I took the subway towards Nijo Castle instead of the bus.  Since it's also the day for the Jidai Matsuri, there happened to be a dressed up group passing by Nijo Castle towards the Imperial Palace.  (I later found out the different groups gathered at the Imperial Palace before the parade and will take pictures with tourist there!)  Now I felt like I sort of seen the Jidai Matsuri too :) 






The Autumn Festival is in session at the Nijo Castle and the most attractive part of this festival is the free rickshaw rides they are giving out during the day! (There are 5 sessions of lucky draw every day during the festival).  Unfortunately I didn't take part in the lucky draw as the times weren't right for me.


Nijo Castle


so sad... the Karamon gate is under restoration :(


No picture is allowed inside Nijo Castle and a lot of the room are under restoration as well. 
But I thought it's still pretty cool to visit!




Special viewing during the Autumn Festival






free rickshaw rides if you are lucky!
It would be a wonderful experience to tour Nijo Castle on a rickshaw,
too bad I didn't have enough time
I took the subway to Sanjo and made my way to Kibune using the Kibune-Kurama one-day value pass.  After arriving at Kibune, I took the bus towards Kibune Shrine.  It was around 1130 and I was hungry.  However, Denbei wasn't open yet so I just kept walking, trying to find something else to eat.


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bought the one-day ticket from Sanjo subway station
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I guess everyone is at the Jidai Matsuri...
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it was definitely less crowded than I anticipated...
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greeted by a pretty waterfall as I arrived in Kibune
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slightly pricey at JPY160 one-way for a 5-minute ride but I have a lot of walking to do...
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hi cutie pie ;)
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you will still need to walk a bit before arriving at the Kibune Shrine
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my interest in Kibune really sparked from a Japanese novel
it did not disappoint!
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where "ema" (繪馬 / えま) originated...
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This is pretty neat.  You purchase a piece paper, placed it in the water,
and your fortune will appear!  If you received bad luck, you can tie it to the rack nearby.
This is how I discovered Kibune Club (貴船俱樂部).  It's a small restaurant with large floor-to-ceiling glass windows.  It was as if the entire town came to eat here that day (everywhere else was quiet).  I keep surveying the restaurant and I noticed almost everyone was ordering the same thing - 釜めし.  This is exactly what I originally planned to eat at Denbei but 50% cheaper!  It's like hitting jackpot!

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I was promptly seated in one of the two remaining tables and I pointed at what I wanted (like I said, almost everyone ordered the same thing).  Since the sun was hitting the glass behind me I switched tables when the tables freed up.  I loved the cookware (?) my dish came in!  The dish takes 20-25 minutes to cook so I got time to observe my surroundings and relax~  I keep peeping into my rice and the waitress came to stop me :P  She said she will let me know when the dish is ready... by bringing me soup... (I later figured out the candle is timed to burn for exactly how long the dish needs to be cooked... brilliant!  The kitchen also wrote down the time they delivered the dish.)

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takes 20 minutes to cook, make sure you are not in a hurry!
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this is one of the restaurants that serve "noodles in running water" (流水細麵 / 流し素麺) in the summer
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the restaurants also place tables on the river bed for the exquisite riverbed cuisine (川床料理) in the summer
I will come back for these!
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Kibune is indeed a very small town.  It was still early after I visited all the tourists spots.  I was sorely tempted to take the trail (approximately 2 hours) to Kurama but decided against it last minute since this is only day 4 of my trip... As such, I took the bus back to the Kibuneguchi station and took the train to Kurama.

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eh... 588m... it says it takes about 100 minutes... I don't think so...
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You can tell the night is going to be hectic just by the way they have prepped the station.  I stopped at a local sweet store only to find out their popular sweets has already sold out for the day.  Shops and families have brought out their "heirlooms" as display.  Even the temple has brought out their shrines in preparation for the Fire Festival tonight.

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I should have bought some of the baked goods!
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Tenryū (pronounced Tengu) (天狗, "heavenly phoenix") are a class of supernatural creatures found in Japanese folklore, art, theater, and literature
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anticipating the crowd...
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the famous sweets shop has already sold out their famous sweets when I got there...

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Since I am there early, I was able to sneak into the holy grounds and took a few pictures up close and personal of the shrines before heading up to the Kurama temple.  I used the 100 yen I saved from the temple entry on the cable cart ride (one of the perks from the one-day ticket).  The ride is a short one but I saved myself at least 30 minutes of walking.  There are still plenty of stairs from the cable station to the temple but the view is worth it.

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The HUGE sake barrels donated from the different enterprises and Kurama Temple for the festival tonight.
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The shrines will be carried by the townfolks in the parade as the festival climax in the evening
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Kurama Temple
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I waited forever to get a clear (?) shot :P
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the cable cart station downhill
(the picture was on my way back)
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for JPY100, this is money well spent!
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steep
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more walking from the cable station...
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more stairs...

If you are into Japanese temple amulet collection Kurama Temple has a pretty one for you.  It's pricy so I didn't buy any.  I also run into the Taiwanese guy I met for dinner last night.  We are both getting excited for the festival tonight.  He also confirmed that taking the cable is probably a smart idea since the walk uphill was exhausting.  After taking my time and admiring scenery, it's time to head back to town.  This time, I walked.  Walking downhill was more pleasant and I would recommend it as the path was very beautiful.

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finally...
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We were catching our breaths while enjoying the scenery.
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the walk is so lush

The Fire Festival is actually sponsored by Yuki Jinja Shrine so there is a crowd already gathered there.  The shrine is also selling special offerings in light of the festival.  I got a small keychain with my fortune spelled out in it.  Maybe I was cleansed by the mountain, my luck already improved from the fortune I received at Kibune Shrine. (LOL!)

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Yuki Jinja Shrine

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special souvenir sold during the fire festival
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from "no luck" to "medium luck"... LOL!
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800-year old pine tree
I made my way back to town and tried to find a place to grab a quick dinner before the festival starts at 18:00.  I ended up with a sushi bento to go, found a spot by the road and just sat down and ate.  It was the perfect spot as it's the corner where the leaving crowd would be directed when visitors decide to leave town that night.  Unfortunately, the police asked everyone to move just when I was getting comfortable.

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dinner bento + bottle tea = JPY1,000 -.-|||

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a busy night for the police

The festival started as night falls.  It was quite informal as families just randomly light up their wood pile in front of their houses.  The men of the families would then light up the torches and carry them up and down the main street shouting a phrase in Japanese.  Most of these men are dressed in traditional clothing showing off their butts.  I have to say it is a very interesting scene.  Little kids would also be seen carrying a smaller version of the torches and they are a joy to watch as they are generally more excited about the festival than the adults.

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starting to get crowded...
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parade participants tonight
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the festival starts off when the townfolks lid up the branches in front of their houses
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The torch is heavy!
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so cute!
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are you looking at the kid or the butt? :)
After an hour or so I felt like I have seen enough.  With an increasing number of people started their way back to the station, I slowly made my way back too.  Even though the climax of the festival only starts at about 20:00 - when the men parade the temple shrines up and down the streets.  I am just too weary of the foreseeable craziness as the night progress.  It still took me almost an hour to make my way back to the Kurama Station but at least I made it back to the hostel at a decent hour (the trip back took me at least 2 hours and I think you can see why from the pictures).

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After a refreshing shower and another iPhone scare  (I placed it in the side pocket of my backpack underneath my waterbottle while I was unpacking and thought I lost my phone), I went for dinner #2 at the Yakitori place 10 steps from the hostel.  The food was delicious and the price was not bad at all!  I definitely recommend it if you are staying at J-hoppers Kyoto.




chicken with leek & chicken gizzard

salted fish - I love this type of grilled fish!

learned a new Japanese word today!  Gingko is called "gin-n-na" in Japanese :D
I really like Kibune and Kurama.  The view is spectacular and it's pretty to visit in any season.  Next time I think want to to visit during the summer so I can try out the famous riverbed cuisine and the noodles and complete the walk from Kurama to Kibune!

My thoughts on the J-Hoppers:

There is no elevator in the building but I still liked J-Hoppers a lot.  The staff and the guests are very friendly and unpretentious.  It is closer to what I expect a youth hostel to be like.  The staff (and even guests!) are very helpful.  A guy carried my luggage up and the staff helped me carried my luggage down.  The small talks were genuine and I felt welcomed. 

Location is also better than K's House in my opinion.  It's less than 10 minutes away from the JR Kyoto station and 15 minutes to the Tofukuji Station.  If you ride the bicycle, you can get to Fushimi Inari Shrine in 15 minutes.  Not to mention it's close to Kujo subway station and has at least 5 restaurants within 10 steps of the hostel and 2 convenient stores nearby.

Personally, if I am going to Kyoto again, I would return to Waraku-an and J-Hoppers.  I probably will try to find another hostel closer to Sanjo or Shijo near Higashiyama.  A fellow traveller I met in Osaka actually recommended me a hostel recently opened in Higashiyama called Oki's Inn.  Per their website, from now till Feb-2013 (the website says Feb-2012 but I am guessing it's a typo since they only started operation in September 2012), they are offering special rates to travellers.  JPY2,000 a night for a female dorm!  Now that's a steal!

Finally, a word to all potential travelers out there.  If you made a reservation at this type of small, family operated hostels, please be a responsible traveler.  Make sure you contact the hostels as early as possible should your travel itinerary changed.  Don't be a no-show.  That's just low.

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