Our departure schedule to Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) was far from ideal. It was a red-eye flight departing from Hong Kong at 1:50am and arrived in Japan at around 6:30am. At the airport, we picked up our pre-ordered Haruka Express ticket from the JR ticket office and rushed to the platform for the Kyoto bound express train that was about to leave. The train sped past towns and suburbs along Osaka Bay and reached Osaka in about 40 minutes. From Osaka, the train took another half an hour to reach Kyoto. Opened in 1997, the current Kyoto Railway Station is a futuristic building made of glass and steel trusses, with an enormous atrium and a huge stepped plaza reaching multiple storeys up to the sky garden 70m above ground. We stepped out the station for a quick peek of Kyoto Tower, the city’s tallest structure opened in 1964 coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics. Together with the modern railway station, the tower often comes as a surprise for tourists who come to Kyoto expecting to see an 1200-year-old ancient city.
We took the escalators down to the subway, topped up our Icoca cards that we kept from our previous Kansai trip, and managed to board the train with our suitcase and backpack. Our designation was Higashiyama Station (東山駅) on the Tozai Line. We reached Higashiyama Station at a peaceful residential neighborhood sandwiched between two of Kyoto’s popular tourist areas: Northern Higashiyama (Nanzenji, Ginkakuji, etc) and Southern Higashiyama (Gion, Kiyomizu-dera, etc). At Higashiyama Station, we purchased a city bus pass for the day and picked up a handy bus map. We crossed the street and walked into a quiet alleyway right beside the crystal clear Shirakawa River (白川). We reached Eco and Tech, a 2-star budget hotel that we would call it home for the next five days. After checking in, we immediately headed out to the bus stop near Sanjo Station (三条駅) and Kamo River (鴨川). Before arriving in Japan, we had already decided to begin our Kyoto visit at the northwest part of the city where the cluster of three famous temples Ryoanji (龍安寺), Ninnaji (仁和寺) and Kinkakuji (金閣寺) are located. According to online updates of the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions, Ryoanji (龍安寺) and Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) were two possible places where we might still encounter peak autumn foliage. Because of the recent cold weather, the autumn foliage of 2016 came earlier than usual. By the time we arrived on Dec 3rd, the fall foliage at most places had already passed the peak. The bus ride took over half an hour. It was sunny and we took a brief rest on the bus under the late morning sun.
Our plane landed at Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) at about 6:30am. Despite a sleepless night, we were very excited upon arriving.
We left the airport and over to the railway station for JR’s Haruka Express train.
Upon arriving at Kyoto, we were overwhelmed by the steel trusses and overhead catwalks at the huge atrium of the futuristic Kyoto Station.
A large Christmas tree on the organic shaped platform looked small under the huge atrium roof.
Across the street from Kyoto Station stood the tallest structure in the city, Kyoto Tower.
Advertisements on the subway train reminded us that the special night visits to a number of temples were available during the autumn foliage season until 4th of December. Arriving in Kyoto on the 3rd of December, we made just on time for the night visits.
Many Kyoto’s attractions can be accessed only by public bus. We picked up a bus map from the ticket office at Higashiyama Subway Station, which proved really handy over the next few days.
We managed to carry our suitcase up the stairs and finally reached the exit of Higashiyama Station.
Following online instruction, we crossed a bridge at Shirakawa River (白川) on our way to our hotel.
A local couple dressed in traditional costumes were taking photos on a stone bridge at Shirakawa River (白川).
Eco and Tech Hotel is located in a quiet residential neighborhood away from the tourist crowds.
Eco and Tech Hotel.
We checked the website http://souda-kyoto.jp/travel/koyo/ for the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions almost daily for at least a week before departure. We decided to head to Ryoanji Temple on our first day because of its peak colours.
We walked to a bus stop near Kamo River (鴨川) and Sanjo Station (三条駅) for Bus 59 heading towards Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺).
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan