The summer of 2011 in Japan has ended. During the summer holidays I spent about 10 days travelling various parts of western Japan.
The trip took me to Okayama (west of Himeji and Osaka), then a day trip to the amazing Awa Odori festival of Tokushima and ending with a few days in Kyoto. Although I’d been Kyoto before, there really is so much to see in this beautiful city so I had to go back.
Shinkansen from Nagoya to Okayama
Read the post: Shinkansen: riding the bullet train in Japan – photos and HD video with all the information you need about bullet trains in Japan.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden the bullet train. The other option to get to Okayama was an overnight bus (leaving Nagoya at about 11PM, arriving in Okayama at 7AM), and I can’t sleep on buses. So, I took the Nozomi shinkansen, it takes about 1.5 hours.
I’ve never ridden the Nozomi before, when I used bullet trains before in Japan it was using the JR Pass. With the JR Pass you can use almost all bullet trains, except for the Nozomi. The Nozomi is a super express, usually the newer 700 series super-cool looking train. I got to the platform very early to take some photos and videos of the shinkansen.
In Okayama I met some of my girlfriend’s family and friends. Had a fun time at an Izakaya with a cool Japanese guy who is an electronic music producer.
A day trip to Awa Odori in Takamatsu, Shikoku
Read the post: Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima, Shikoku – lots of photos and HD video from the front row of the festival’s main stage.
Next on the itinerary was a bus trip from Okayama to spend the day at Takamatsu for Awa Odori. Actually, it was only a few hours, but we saw the best of it.
The bus left Okayama station around 9AM. We stopped about everything 30 minutes at designated road-rest areas along the way. The best bit of the bus trip was travelling over the Seto Inland sea and the amazingly huge bridges.
Awa Odori was just awesome. Since we were with a kind of tour, we had purchased seat tickets and had a great seat. We were in the second row of the main festival dancing stage. There are 4 such stages, as well as dancing in the streets. The dancing in the streets is free for all, so it’s hard to get such a good spot to see the dancing.
Day trip to Kurashiki
Read the post: Kurashiki and the historic Bikan district – a bit of history on a sweltering day.
Kurashiki is a unique small town on the outskirts of Okayama city. It is unique and famous for its buildings which have white walls with dark wooden frames. We spent a little over an hour roaming the streets.
But it was a very hot and humid day, so we didn’t last too long.
Night trip to Karakouen
Read the post: Korakuen in Okayama at Night – One of Japan’s Top 3 Most Beautiful Gardens.
A botanical/historical style garden across the river from Okayama, Karakouen holds an event each summer where for about 2 weeks, the garden is lit up at night.
There were many awesome sights, including seeing Okayama castle lit up across the river. I utilised my long exposure photography practice from the previous nights bus trip with average results.
A few days in Kyoto
Then we headed to Kyoto for a few days. I’ve been to Kyoto at least 5 times and there is still so much I want to see.
There was a lot happening in Kyoto, as it was Obon (a festival period honouring the dead) and many families come to Kyoto for various rituals. After a ritual or two, I set off on a mission to see as many of Kyoto’s World Heritage sites that I could in just a few short days…
Read the post: Amazing Golden Pavilion Temple, Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto – lots of photos and a HD video.
After seeing so many photos of this place, the pure impression of seeing the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (as it is sometimes called in English) was that of pure amazement. Perhaps the most famous icon of Japan, there was a huge amount of tourists strolling through.
Keep an eye on japantravelmate.com, for an in-depth, photo heavy post on my visit to Kinkaku-ji, including a HD video.
Read the post: Nijo Caslte in Kyoto – as always, lots of photos and information about this World Heritage Ancient Kyoto Monument.
Nijo castle is situated in the heart of the city. However it’s not your typical castle. I was expecting to see a large building, stereotypical of a castle structure (like Himeji castle). However, Nijo-jo is more of a group of buildings, surrounded by a moat and layers of thick walls and battlements.
Still very impressive, and very easy to access.
Read the post: Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) – The Best English Tour in Kyoto for Free! – a look inside the Emperor’s previous palace – a photo heavy post!
The Kyoto Imperial Palace, and former residence of the Emperor. The palace contains several buildings, and although it isn’t a world heritage site, the grandeur of this place is very impressive.
Accessible only by guided tour (tours available in English), entry is free.
Bicycle Hire in Kyoto
Read the post: Kyoto by Bicycle – The Definitive Day Trip Guide – the only guide you’ll ever need to hire a bicycle and see the sites of Kyoto.
The above all happened on day 1 of my Kyoto trip. We got around all day on some very comfortable bicycles, which were hired from near Kinkaku-ji in the morning and then dropped off near Kyoto station in the late afternoon.
9 Hours Capsule Hotel
Read the post: Inside a Modern Designer Capsule Hotel – 9hours, Kyoto.
I’d been really keen to stay here, after seeing this place on the net a few months before. This really is a special capsule hotel, one of the newest in Kyoto. It is within walking distance to the famous Gion area of Kyoto.
Walk to Shimogamo-jinja
On the second day I got up before the sun came up, to walk north along the Kamo River towards Shimogamo Shrine is another World Heritage site, open free to the public from 6AM.
500 yen bus pass
After an entire day cycling, and with the temperature around 35 degrees, on day 2 I got a 500 yen bus pass. It lasts the entire day and get’s you to most of the major sites around Kyoto. A typical one way trip on the city bus is 200 yen.
Everyone told me Ginkaku temple (a.k.a Temple of the Silver Pavilion) was nothing impressive at all. Being a Zen Buddhist temple, I found a quiet and welcoming serentity to the temple and its beautiful gardens.
I was looking for outstanding things in Kyoto, and at Daigo-ji you can stand beside the five-storey pagoda (gojunoto in Japanese), which is Kyoto’s oldest wooden structure that is still in existence today.
There are many grand temples, modest shrines and beautiful gardens throughout the Daigo-ji temple area.
Continuing to look for outstanding things, I spent some time in Kyoto station. While hanging around a train station doesn’t really sound like fun to most people, you have to realise that Kyoto station is the biggest train station in Japan.
If you ever visit, be sure to take the many escalators to the Sky Garden where you can look out over Kyoto.
Stained glass windows
Spotted just a few blocks north of Kyoto station, is Yodobashi department store. It must be very new (on Google Maps street view it looks to be under construction). Along the south and west facing streets are these great colourful stained glass windows depicting various scenes from Kyoto.
…watch this space for photos, videos and more in upcoming posts.