Thursday, April 1

Korea-Japan, Day Ten: A Bullet Train To Kyoto

Due to our lack of a rail pass we were able to book seats on the super fast Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. This meant arriving in around two hours, quite the feat considering some of our day trips from Tokyo took longer. Unfortunately I still didn't get to see Fuji and seeing as we weren't coming back to this side of Japan that was pretty much my last chance. Oh no.

Kyoto seemed a bit underwhelming at first, but that all changed once we found our ryokan. We decided to spend our only night in Kyoto in a traditional Japanese inn instead of a hotel, and we immediately realised what a brilliant decision that was. Apart from the ryokan being clean, homely and rustic the service is above par too, which is astonishing considering how Japanese service is leagues ahead of the curve already. I merely had to mention that I needed Jummah tomorrow and they had found my mosque and printed out instructions on how to get there. Amazing.

The local vicinity of Higashiyama had as much character as the ryokan. We paid a visit to the nearby Maruyama Park to check out the cherry blossom and then got straight onto the sightseeing trail. We only had one night so rushed to make the most of our time in Kyoto.

Our first stop was Nijo Castle and its ever squeaking nightingale floors, after which we headed north to check out a trio of sights starting with Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion. Next door was Daitokuji, popular due to its rock garden (I can't say that I fully understood the attraction myself). Although we were too late for the final sight, Ryoanji, I did manage to sneak a peak as its wonderful pagoda before it shut completely.

Back in the ryokan the traditional vibe carried on. We put on our robes(!) and settled down for our nine course kaiseki meal; the dinner was awesome in terms of the food, hospitality and the overall experience and we basked in how well we were being looked after. We had reserved our slot in the public bath for after dinner, although we chose not to take the fact that it was public literally and instead split the time between us separately. I could have sat in the hot bath for hours though.

Unfortunately it appeared that I had missed a few friends who were also in Japan - Kyoto was pretty much the only time our paths would have crossed so it was a bit disappointing that we didn't get to see them especially since they had made it all the way to our ryokan while we were away temple hopping. It's a shame, since meeting up with friends on holiday is a pretty special and rare occurrence.

Tonight we sleep on tatmai mats.

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