Destination of the Week: Kinkaku-ji

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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).

Japan Diary – September 11, 2013 – Kyoto

Jose posing in front of Kinkakuji in Kyoto, September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin
Jose posing in front of Kinkakuji in Kyoto, September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin

I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 11 while staying in Kyoto with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan.

Today was a whirlwind day of sightseeing that left us tired at the hotel when everything was all said and done.

First order of business was to go to Kyoto Station to purchase the three-day Kansai Thru Pass. This is an economical pass that allows unlimited travel on private railways in the Kansai region for 2 or 3 days, and it is only available to foreign tourists. With that done, we were on our way to the first destination, Kinkakuji Temple. We could have joined the long lines for the city bus at Kyoto Station, but instead we opted to take the subway, then take the bus. I can see why this method of travel is recommended… Hassle-free and room to sit (on a weekday morning, granted) and the trip was actually quicker.

Kinkakuji was a wonderful place – a first for me as I’ve never been there. The gold leaf plating was a sight to behold… of course, so impressive that we were not allowed within a good 20 feet of it…

Next stop was Ryoanji, which was a pretty quick trip on the then crowded bus. Ryoanji was our first stop in which our shoes had to be removed before entering.

The rock garden was beautiful… there are a total of 15 stones in the garden and it’s said that when viewing the garden from the angles provided, one rock is always hidden from view. Ryoanji was actually quite a small place otherwise. One thing I did notice was that there was a row of about 15 red water buckets lined up along the side of the main temple…. fire buckets in case the worst should happen.

Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto - September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin
Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, September 11, 2013.
Photo by Jordan Martin

From there we walked to the tram for the trip to Arashiyama. After having a delicious curry lunch next to the station, we went to the Monkey Park. A long, looong uphill climb (for me at least… Jordan was fine) – but we were rewarded with monkeys and an impressive view of Kyoto City and the surrounding mountains from a height of approx. 520 feet above sea level.

We returned on the Hankyu Railway which zipped us back to the subway for the ride to the hotel.

This evening we went to Kyoto Station again for dinner at a rotating sushi restaurant, which was fun for the both of us – this is a place that I’ve been to now in each of the three trips I’ve made here, but the first time I’ve seen all of their menu items translated to English.

After the sushi we went to the Kintetsu Railway station to purchase our “Vista Car” limited express tickets for tomorrow’s journey to Nara, and called it a day.

Japan Diary – September 11, 2013 Morning

Over the next few days I am hoping to re-post my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. Here’s the first post, written the morning after my arrival in Kyoto.

My travel companion is my girlfriend (now fiancé), Jordan, along with the unofficial ‘trip mascots’, a plush lobster and cat.  We are joined by our friend Daniel from Canada later in the trip.

Ok everyone! Here’s a summary of our Japan trip so far….

Check-in at LaGuardia went well and we got to Detroit with no issues.

When we got onto the plane in Detroit, it was discovered that in the business class cabin a few rows ahead of us, one of the overhead baggage bins was missing a federally-mandated weight limit sticker.

That’s right, we were delayed a little more than an hour just because there was a small sticker missing on the plane.

Soon after I saw an airport worker use packing tape to put the new label on the plane, we were on our way.

The flight was a little rough… we tried to sleep but it was difficult. Especially because there was a (insert bad word here) directly across from us on the opposite side of the plane that would open his window fully every 20 or 30 minutes. Didn’t seem like he needed to sleep at all, cause this happened from start to finish. NO consideration whatsoever!

We landed in Nagoya in the evening (only 20 minutes late), and were bowed to by the airport workers as we stepped off of the plane, which was a nice treat.

Immigration and customs went smoothly, we got our big bag sent through to the luggage delivery service, and only 70 minutes or so after we landed we were on our way to Nagoya station by way of the Meitetsu “Myu-sky”.

We connected to the shinkansen in Nagoya city (Nozomi 253)… we were at Kyoto station by 9 PM and in our hotel by 9:30.

The good thing is that we both slept well, though I had to check on the air conditioning every few hours or so. Turns out the AC was in “HEAT” mode instead of “COOL” mode!

Off to breakfast, then to our plans for the day which will hopefully include Kinkakuji (Golden temple) and a monkey park.

We did not take photos or videos last night as it was pretty dark anyway, and we were both worn out. But we’ll be on the task today.

Say a prayer for us as we start the first full day in Kyoto!

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (Feb. 2014)

Nagoya Airport – technically Chubu Centrair International Airport – was a real pleasure to fly into. The arrival formalities were very straightforward for an airport that is now Japan’s third major gateway for International flights behind Tokyo and Osaka… the airport had only opened in 2005.

Seeing the bowing airport workers was a surprise to be sure… What I liked especially about the airport was that all of the arrival procedures were on a single level – a very short walk from the airport to Quarantine, then Immigration, then Baggage Claims, then Customs, then the exit.

Luggage delivery service is a tremendous benefit for passengers with large suitcases. You can have your luggage delivered to any destination in Japan for a reasonable cost. This allows you to carry light luggage onto whatever mode of public transport being used – many of which don’t have spaces for large suitcases. If I remember correctly, it only cost us about 2,000 yen to transport our large suitcase from Nagoya to our hotel in Kyoto.

Our starting city was Kyoto. There is an airport much closer to Kyoto – Kansai Airport. But for some reason it would cost both of us several hundred dollars extra to fly there. Working out the expenses, it turned out to be a cheaper journey if we flew into Nagoya Airport, took the airport train to the center of the city, and then took the Shinkansen for the quick trip into Kyoto.

Our itinerary for the trip was ‘open-jaw’. By starting in Nagoya and ending in Tokyo, instead of doing a round-trip in and out of Tokyo, we were able to maximize our sightseeing time, not to mention the difference in airfare was only a few dollars.

In the airport’s access plaza is the entrance to Meitetsu and their airport train, as well as a Family Mart, one of the top convenience store chains in Japan with over 10,000 outlets. That’s where Jordan fell in love with the Family Mart-brand soy sauce crackers. None could be found in Kyoto, but there’d be plenty of these to snack on once we got to Tokyo later in the trip.