Destination of the Week: Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji Temple. Photo ©Jose Ramos, September 2013

There is a Buddhist temple in Japan that is a must-see destination… another one of those places that you’ll commonly find photos of in many travel materials that you will come across. Nestled in the northern part of Kyoto city, it’s the one that features walls lined with the bright color of gold… Kinkaku-ji, or the golden pavilion.

Kinkaku-ji Temple. Photo ©Jose Ramos, September 2013

About Kinkaku-ji: The temple is actually known as Rokuon-ji, but the gold leaf surrounding the three-story shariden (pavilion) is where the Kinkaku-ji name is derived from. The temple is dedicated to the Bosastu deity, which embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

Kinkaku-ji, like the rest of Kyoto, was untouched by the Allied bombings in World War II, but nevertheless has burnt down and been rebuilt numerous times, including as part of civil wars. Most recently in 1950, a young monk attempted to set himself on fire in a suicide attempt; he survived, but the building did not.

The current Kinkaku-ji dates from 1955. The pavilion underwent restoration between 1987 and 2003.


Blog author Jose at Kinkaku-ji. Photo by Jordan Martin, September 2013. ©Jose Ramos

Did you know? The pavilion is covered in gold leaf because it is believed that the gold color purifies any negative thoughts related to death. The effect of the gold leaf is enhanced through sunlight reflecting off of it, as well as from reflections off of nearby ponds in the temple complex.


Kinkaku-ji is not limited to the pavilion itself. A beautiful Japanese garden surrounds the pavilion and can be found throughout the temple grounds.

Kinkaku-ji is on UNESCO’s list of 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, making it a World Heritage Site.

Costs: It costs 400 yen for admission to the temple grounds. They are open every day of the year from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

How to get there: Kinkaku-ji is a little bit out of the way on the map of Kyoto’s attractions. The best way to access the temple is by bus , though Kyoto’s traffic conditions may make the going a little slow.

Several bus routes run to Kinkaku-ji, including the 101 and 205 buses from Kyoto Station, which are the limited-stop buses that run toward Kyoto’s major sightseeing destinations… and therefore tend to get crowded. These buses, like many that run within Kyoto, cost just a flat fare of 230 yen to ride.

When I visited Kyoto in 2013 and traveled to Kinkaku-ji, I followed some advice posted online and used a combination of subway and bus. This involved taking the subway north from Kyoto Station to Kitaoji Station (7 stops, 260 yen), then changing to one of the buses that goes to Kinkaku-ji – either the 101, 102, 204 or 205 bus (230 yen). While the subway was reasonably busy heading northbound during the morning hours, it ran on time. There was little wait for a bus when I got to Kitaoji, and the bus ride from there to the temple was pleasant and not at all crowded.

Using the subway/bus method effectively doubles your one-way fare to 490 yen, though the use of some sort of all-day pass might help mitigate this cost. Examples include a 1-day or 2-day Kyoto sightseeing pass valid for the bus and subway (1,200 yen and 2,000 yen respectively). Since I did a lot of traveling around Kansai on my trip, I utilized a Surutto Kansai Ticket (also called the Kansai Thru Pass) which permits 3 non-consecutive days of travel on Kansai’s private railways, subways and most buses. This pass costs 5,200 yen as of February 2017.

Ryoan-ji Temple garden. Photo by Jordan Martin, September 2013. ©Jose Ramos

What’s Nearby: I combined my trip to Kinkaku-ji with a visit to nearby Ryoan-ji temple, which is noted for its zen rock garden. The number 59 bus easily runs from Kinkaku-ji to Ryoan-ji, or you can take a quick taxi ride for around 1,000 yen.

If you have time later in the day, head southwest to charming Arashiyama, home to shops and restaurants, as well as a landmark bridge (Togetsukyo) with a monkey park on the other side. I recommend making the Randen, or Keifuku Railway Tram, part of your trip to Arashiyama. From Kinkaku-ji, take the 204 or 205 bus south to Kitano Hakubaicho (230 yen) and then take the Randen to Arashiyama (210 yen, one train change required). From Ryoan-ji, take a nice stroll south of the temple entrance for about 600 meters (10 minutes) to Ryoan-ji-mae station, and take the Randen to Arashiyama (210 yen, one train change required).

Returning to Kyoto Station, my recommendations:
*From Kinkaku-ji, bus number 101, 102, 204 or 205 to Kitaoji Bus Terminal (230 yen), change to Subway to Kyoto Station (260 yen).
*From Ryoan-ji, bus number 59 to Karasuma Imadegawa (230 yen), change to Subway to Kyoto Station (260 yen).
*From Arashiyama, you can walk northeast for approximately 800 meters (10-15 minutes) to the JR station at Saga Arashiyama and take a direct JR train to Kyoto Station (15 minutes, 240 yen). Alternatively, you can take the Randen to Tenjingawa Station (210 yen) and then take the subway (260 yen, one train change required).

Destination of the Week: Enoshima

The entrance to Enoshima island is prefaced with this stone marker. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

One of the more pleasurable trips on my journeys to Japan has been the one to Enoshima. An easy day trip from Tokyo, Enoshima is a mountainous island that is connected to the mainland by a beach-lined causeway. It can get busy during summer months… but whatever time you decide to go, a trip to Enoshima is rewarded with seaside charm and beautiful views of the surrounding area… even of Mount Fuji on a clear day.

Looking from the end of the causeway towards the main pedestrian path. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

About Enoshima: Technically a part of the city of Fujisawa, I passed through Enoshima on my first trip to Japan in 2004. Having spent most of my day in and around Kamakura (more on that in a bit), I was unable to visit Kamakura due to prior commitments. I made it a point on my second trip in 2008 to devote some time to this charming place.

Enoshima is best discovered on foot. Once you get close enough to the island, just take the walkway along the road. It’s a few minutes walk, but it’s better than taking a cab or vehicle… especially when the weather is nice and you can smell the salt breeze that brings memories of the South Shore of Long Island (well, that’s what it did for me at least), and especially during summer months when there can be traffic. Besides, there are not too many roads on Enoshima, and most of the island’s attractions and gems require that you go on your own feet.

As you ascend the island, you will encounter several Shinto shrines, all part of the same shrine complex. Enoshima Shrine is dedicated to the kami Benten, which is derived from a Buddhist goddess.

This photo from the Samuel Cocking Garden shows the portions of the original garden’s foundation that were discovered during construction. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also of note is the Samuel Cocking Garden, home to a lovely botanical garden. It is named after the Englishman Samuel Cocking, who grew up in Australia and arrived in Japan soon after the country ended its over two-century long period of isolationism in the mid 1800’s. He created a botanical garden with a greenhouse, which was destroyed in the big Kanto earthquake of 1923. Parts of the original garden’s foundation were discovered in 2002. Today you can see a wide mix of plants and flora.

Enoshima Sea Candle seen from the Samuel Cocking Garden. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also part of the complex is the relatively modern observation tower, known as Enoshima Sea Candle, with commanding views of the Pacific Ocean and Fujisawa City. As mentioned, you may be able to see Mount Fuji on a good day.

Finally, there are a couple of caves called the Iwaya Caves on the southern end of the island. Update: blog follower Okkie has provided some tips regarding the caves, saying that there are a lot of up and down steps to navigate, but you are given a candle to help light the way. You can see photos of the caves and of more destinations on Enoshima by visiting Okkie’s tumblr.

Primary Entrance to Enoshima Escar. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Did You Know: There are paid escalators on Enoshima Island? While you could spend some time and effort climbing steps to ascend the island, there are three sets of escalators that will make it extremely easy for you. Dubbed Enoshima Escar, this will shave some time from your trip and save 46 meters of climbing. The escalators only go UP, but I’m sure it’ll be a more pleasant journey walking DOWN at the end of your visit. It costs 360 yen for a ticket to cover all three sections; the Escar is also included in various combination tickets for visits to Enoshima Island.

View of the walkway and road leading from Enoshima to Fujisawa City on the mainland, taken from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Costs: At Enoshima Shrine there is a small charge to view the shrine’s large Benten statue, but otherwise the shrine grounds are free. At the Samuel Cocking Garden the admission charge is 200 yen for the garden and 300 yen for the observation tower. The Iwaya Caves cost 500 yen to enter.

There is also a 1,000 yen Enoshima One-Day Passport that includes the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves.

How To Get There: There are several options available to visit Enoshima. By train, it’s possible to get close to Enoshima to then complete your journey to the island on foot.

The closest train station to Enoshima is Katase-Enoshima Station on the private Odakyu Railway. A few minutes walk inland is Enoshima Station on the charming Enoshima Electric Railway, or Enoden, which connects to Fujisawa and Kamakura. Near the Enoden stop is the Shonan Monorail, an elevated transit line that runs to Ofuna station on the Japan Railway (JR).

Odakyu trains leave from Shinjuku on the western end of the Tokyo metropolis. It takes 70-90 minutes to reach Katase-Enoshima, with one or two train transfers required, at a cost of 630 yen each way.

Odakyu offers two excursion tickets for Enoshima: The Enoshima 1-Day Freepass covers a round-trip to Enoshima, the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves for 1,970 yen. This represents a savings of 650 yen compared to purchasing individual tickets. They also offer a cheaper Freepass that combines the Odakyu train with a pass that allows use of the Enoden to visit nearby Kamakura. However, the latter Freepass does NOT include admission to the attractions on Enoshima.

For an additional charge, you can ride in a comfortable limited express train called the Romancecar, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned often on this blog. With comfortable reserved seats, you can reach the end of the line at Katase-Enoshima without switching, and not have to worry about crowded commuter trains. These services cost an extra 620 yen each way. On weekdays there are four return trips to/from Shinjuku, and on weekends and holidays there are trains every 1-2 hours. Be sure to check the timetables carefully to examine your options before using the Romancecar.

Japan Railways (JR) run a little further away from the access point to Enoshima, but can be considered because you can more easily access JR trains from around Tokyo, and because your trip costs nothing if you already have some sort of JR Rail Pass.

You can take a JR train to a few stations. Here are the recommendations along with fares:
* Fujisawa station allows you to connect with the Odakyu Railway to Katase-Enoshima Station, or with the private Enoden railway to Enoshima station. Katase-Enoshima is closer to Enoshima Island than the Enoden station.
Tokyo area to Fujisawa by JR: 970 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Fujisawa to Katase-Enoshima by Odakyu: 160 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Ofuna station allows a connection to the Shonan Monorail. From the terminal of the monorail it’s a longer walk to Enoshima.
Tokyo area to Ofuna by JR: 800 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Ofuna to Shonan-Enoshima by Monorail: 310 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Kamakura station allows a connection to the Enoden railway. From Enoshima Station it’s a longer walk to Enoshima island.
Tokyo area to Kamakura by JR: 920 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Kamakura to Enoshima by Enoden: 260 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 90 minutes.

JR also sells a one-day Kamakura-Enoshima Pass for 700 yen which includes unlimited trips on the Shonan Monorail and Enoden, and unlimited trips on the JR between Ofuna and Fujisawa.

Also, on weekends and holidays, there is a ferry that runs from the causeway to the Iwaya Caves. The ferry takes 10 minutes and costs 400 yen. It is another good way to save considerable travel time if you plan on spending a lot of time on the island.

A small photo of some guy who runs this blog, from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

What’s Nearby: I would highly recommend a trip on the Enoden to experience a leisurely trip through beautiful residential areas combined with a lovely stretch between stations that runs along the beach, which I experienced first hand. You can easily see surfers riding the waves along the line if it’s a good day!

If you have time, Kamakura is home to some important historical landmarks such as the large bronze statue of Buddha (daibutsu), Hasedera Temple and Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I highly recommend the Odakyu website to research some of the other wonderful destinations in the area, such as the Enoshima Aquarium, and to plan your trip to the area.

Destination of the Week: Fushimi Inari Shrine

When you learn about Japan, you may see this as one of the country’s “trademark” images…. a seemingly endless stretch of bright red and orange gates going down a path and through the mountains. This is Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine), which I had the chance to visit on my first trip to Japan in 2004.

Torii gates of Fushimi Inari. Photo by Paul Vlaar (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

About Fushimi Inari: Located in the ancient capital city of Kyoto in central Japan, Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the kami, or deity, called Inari. Inari is a commonly-used phrase to refer to foxes. But this kami is known in the Shinto religion as the one for industry, agriculture, fertility, sake and rice… which explains the name behind inari sushi – a type of sushi that uses cooked tofu wrapped around rice.

There are many thousands of Inari shrines spread all over Japan, but the main one in Kyoto is the one that you see in photos and travel guides with thousands of Shinto torii gates donated by Japanese businesses as a tribute to the deity.

Did you know: The foxes are said to be the messengers of the Inari deity, which is why foxes are referred to as such.

Costs: There are no admission charges to visit Fushimi Inari, and you can go whenever you want. The grounds are open every day, day and night. Though you’ll probably have better luck when the trains run. 🙂

While I highly recommend that you stroll out to Fushimi Inari on your own, there are paid guided tours out there that combine trips to the shrine with visits to other nearby shrines/temples, or with a trip to a sake brewery. Information on these tours can be found by doing an Internet search.

How to get there: The closest train station to Fushimi Inari shrine is JR Inari station. It is only 2 stops and 5 minutes away from Kyoto station by JR Nara Line local at a cost of 140 yen. It is also served by the private Keihan railway at nearby Fushimi-Inari station; it is possible to take Keihan here from either the eastern part of Kyoto, or cheaply from central Osaka (About 50 minutes and 400 yen).

Once you’ve made your way to the main entrance and start up the path, you can turn around and go back whenever you wish, but on my trip I decided to take the entire trip around the path and shrine grounds. Eventually the torii gates will come to an end and you will find yourself on residential streets a bit from where you started. Back in 2004, I used the sounds of trains running in the distance to help guide me back to where I started. Obviously with smartphones and GPS in today’s day and age, returning to your point of origin is a cinch.

What’s nearby: The stop between Kyoto Station and Fushimi Inari on the JR line is Tofukuji, a 10-minute walk to the famous Zen Buddhist temple of the same name. It is well worth a visit, but during the autumn it can get crowded for fall foliage viewing.

Destination of the Week: Ryogoku Kokugikan

Greetings! In an effort to try and be more active on my Japan Travel Tips blog, I will be starting a new segment called the Destination of the Week. Every Monday or Tuesday I will try to choose one particular part of Japan to talk about, be it a city or an attraction.

The first destination in this series is appropriate to discuss because it deals with the Japanese sport – and tradition – of Sumo wrestling. Recently the Ozeki wrestler Kisenosato, a native of Ibaraki prefecture, won the first Sumo tournament in his long career. This effort, combined with his performance last year (despite not winning a tournament he won more Sumo bouts than any other wrestler), has made him eligible for promotion to the sport’s highest rank of Yokozuna. This is expected to happen later this week.

With a high-profile scandal damaging the sport’s reputation in 2011, there is no doubt Kisenosato’s efforts have aimed to positively promote the sport of Sumo, not just for tourists but for the Japanese themselves – there has not been a Japanese-born wrestler promoted to Yokozuna in almost 20 years.

So with Kisenosato’s promotion as a backdrop, the Destination of the Week is the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the home of Sumo.

Ryogoku Kokugikan in 2006. Photo from flickr/CC

About the Ryogoku Kokugikan: This building is actually just over 30 years old, having been completed in 1985. The original Kokugikan opened in 1909, but was taken over by Allied Forces at the end of World War II. Tournaments were relocated to other venues in following years, before another Kokugikan opened in Kuramae, north of the original site, in 1950. Kuramae Kokugikan hosted Sumo tournaments until the end of 1984, at which point they returned to their original location in a new facility.

While the Ryogoku Kokugikan also hosts other sporting events, including boxing and professional wrestling, it’s main purpose is to host three of the six annual Sumo tournaments in Japan – in January, May and September. Each tournament lasts 15 days, with the Emperor’s Cup trophy going to the top-division wrestler with the most wins.

Did You Know: The Kokugikan is also home to the Sumo Museum, which helps to preserve and cultivate the sport. Located on the first floor of the Kokugikan, the museum is open on weekdays, except national holidays, from 10 AM to 4:30 PM.

Costs: If you visit the Kokugikan when there is NO tournament in progress, admission is free to everyone! But during tournaments admission is only open to those actually attending the tournament.

Purchasing tickets to Sumo tournaments requires some skill, especially for tourists. In most cases you have the option to purchase either regular seats on the upper level of the Kokugikan, or tatami-style box seating on the main level. Ringside seats are the most expensive to get, but as you’re the closest to the action there is no food or drink allowed in the ringside seats!

In recent years, sales of tickets in English have been possible through the Japan Sumo Association via their official ticketing website. Purchased tickets can be picked up at will call on the day you are scheduled to visit. Tickets should be purchased as soon as the ticketing window opens, as they are very popular… for example, in the January 2017 tournament all 15 days were eventually sold out.

There are other agencies whom you can purchase tickets from, but at a mark-up. One example is Buy Sumo Tickets, who will attempt to purchase tickets for you on your behalf. Their service charge is 1,200 yen for each ticket purchased. You can pick up your tickets at a 7-Eleven store in Japan, or they can be mailed to either your place of stay in Japan or to your residence overseas for an additional charge.

JTB, one of the top tour agencies in Japan, offers Sumo tickets starting at 9,500 yen per person. The tours includes a visit to the Sumo museum and a view of the day’s main bouts from the upper level reserved seating, accompanied by an English-speaking guide. For an additional charge you can enjoy eating chanko nabe – the protein-rich stew that is the traditional meal of Sumo wrestlers – after the matches are done. Bookings can be done through the website.

How to get there: The JR Sobu Line (the Yellow Line) stops at Ryogoku station, within a short walking distance of the Kokugikan. The Sobu Line connects with the Yamanote Line at Akihabara, two stops away, and with Shinjuku on the other end of the city.

What’s nearby: A short distance from the Kokugikan is the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which aims to show the Tokyo from centuries ago. (admission is charged)