A day trip to Kyoto: Japan's ancient capital

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila - The Freeman

Kyoto, Japan: It was a manic Monday when we walked to the subway station below the Hotel Nikko Osaka in Nishi-Shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka City so we could get into Osaka Train Station for the supposedly 40-minute ride to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, which served as the Emperor's residence from 794AD until 1868, during the Meiji Dynasty.

Kyoto is Japan's 7th largest city with a population of 1.4 million. While the Samurai wars did its toll in destroying many of Kyoto's treasures, however during World War II, the US spared Kyoto from being firebombed, which is why today, its priceless temples and shrines have become a major tourist destination in Japan. Unfortunately we took a local train from Osaka to Kyoto and the trip lasted an hour and a half.

Actually for us who do not read Japanese characters, getting a subway or train ticket is a bit tricky. First of all, you must know your destination; second, you must find out how to operate those ticket vending machines. Yes, Virginia, again vending machines are what the Japanese people face everyday in order to get to their place of work or even to eat. At one point, I got a coffee beverage from the vending machine and it was unexpectedly a bit hot. I thought I would get cold coffee.

Luckily their train stations have trained helpers for tourists who are English speakers… so in the end they are quite helpful in giving out instructions when you use the ticket vending machines. When that is done, you have to find out which track number is your train, otherwise you could end up riding the right train, but going to the opposite direction. One thing is sure: the great majority of the Japanese people ride trains everyday for the rest of their lives. It's a daily grind of vending machines and trains.

Because we took the local train from Osaka to Kyoto, we lost most of our morning hours inside the train station. But then we only had two places to visit. The first we visited was only a five-minute walk from the Uzumasa Station the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. I did not realize that this was a film studio and they still make films there. This is where all the Ninja movies of Japan and I think Voltes-5 were shot.

The Toei Kyoto Studio Park is actually a huge back lot (just like Universal Studios in Los Angeles) with covered soundproof studios, which they now included into their tourism destination in Kyoto because many Japanese children love their Ninja warriors. They have a small but ancient village in the days of the Samurai warrior.

We were able to see a 30-minute live drama stage presentation of a Samurai warrior and their Ninja enemies in a theater setting. Outside they also showed demonstrations on their martial arts skills. What I found amusing was a roof that was placed on ground level so your little children garbed in Ninja costume could play on the roof in total safety! 

We proceeded to our next destination, the Kinkakui Temple a.k.a. The Golden Pavilion or the "Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It is officially called Rokuon-ji and is a Zen Buddhist temple and designated as National Special Historic Site. We arrived there around 3:30PM just as the sun was setting and reflecting its rays on the golden walled temple and into the Garden Lake filled with carp and koi fish. Few temples take your breath away and I assure you that a visit to the Golden Temple is a must for travelers who are planning a visit to Japan.

While American bombers spared this historic edifice, however on July 1950, a young novice monk attempted to commit suicide and burned the building. He was arrested and sentenced to prison, but was released due to mental illness. Nearly all the temple was burned, except its basic but petrified wooden structure. It has since been rebuilt and has become one of Japan's national treasures. You can actually see the whole temple area in one hour, except that it is difficult to take selfies because of the huge crowd of tourists elbowing their way to get a better picture.

On our return trip, we decided to take a taxicab from the Golden Temple to the Kyoto Train Station, which is a 30-minute ride away. The taxicab we got was a Toyota Prius and its flag down was 629 Yen or about P250 bucks! We ended up paying 3,500 Yen or about P1,400 bucks for the whole trip. But it was worth it! There are many other ancient temples around Kyoto, but we lacked the time to visit them.

My first time in Osaka was during the World Expo 70 when the Philippines had one of the best pavilions there. From Osaka, we took a taxi to Kyoto because 45 years ago, Kyoto was even smaller than Cebu City. But how things have changed in that part of Japan, thanks to the massive railway system of Japan, something we can only dream of having. On our way back, we finally got our ticket right when we got the express train to return to Osaka, a trip that lasted only 30 minutes. What a great day trip to Kyoto!


For email responses to this article, write to vsbobita@mozcom.com or vsbobita@gmail.com. His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com.


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