In Japan, there are a string of four national holidays (Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day) that occur almost successively. Depending on when the first holiday starts, the Japanese will get a long string of days off and this event is known as "Golden Week". Luckily for me, this year happened to be one of the lucky times when the first holiday started on the right date so I was able to take nine days off to travel around western Japan (specifically Kyoto, Osaka, Wakayama and Hiroshima)!
My sojourn was off to a rocky start on Friday night. I was planning on taking an overnight bus from Tokyo to my first stop, Kyoto. However, the train I was taking to the bus terminal was delayed so I barely made it onto the bus. And this is not an exaggeration. The bus was supposed to depart at 22:45 and I arrived at 22:46. I am actually shocked I made it onto the bus because in Japan, ignoring the few late anomalies, transportation runs exactly on time. It is pretty scary how accurately and efficiently the transportation system operates.
A bad picture of the inside of the bus. I blame the adrenaline for impairing my photography skills!
Surprisingly, the bus ride was quite comfortable. I quickly fell asleep and before I knew it, the bus driver was announcing the arrival to Kyoto...at 6am. But then again, the saying does go, "the early bird catches the worm"!
While trains and the subway are the best way to travel around Tokyo, the best way to travel around Kyoto is by bus.
My first stop after dropping off my bags was *drumroll please*, Kinkaku-ji (aka the Golden Pavilion)! I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Kinkaku-ji...if I'm being honest, the moment I laid eyes on it, I became overwhelmed and could feel myself tearing up: its beauty was just so powerful. See for yourself:
After Ginkaku-ji, my next stop was Arashiyama! If you're wondering what there is to do in Arashiyama, the answer is lots! A short distance from the train station is TogetsuKyo Bridge, which literally means "moon crossing bridge". The bridge was first built in 836 and has been destroyed multiple times by floods and other natural disasters. However, the bridge has always been rebuilt.
The current incarnation of the TogetsuKyo Bridge was built in 1934.
After crossing the bridge and walking around, I randomly stumbled upon the Arashiyama Monkey Park and spontaneously decided to go in! The selling point for me was the promise of feeding the monkeys! One of my favorite parts about Japan so far is the country's deep respect and appreciation of nature and animals. Even though there are animal parks in Japan, the animals are wild and staff members give clear instructions on how to respect these animals, making it clear that we are guests are of these animals. The number one piece of advice I kept hearing on how to interact with the monkeys was this: "don't make eye contact".
After a quick lunch, my adventure continued at Tenryu-ji Temple. The Sogenchi Garden, which is inside the temple, is designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
One of the buildings inside the temple grounds.
My favorite piece of art within the temple.
A view of the Sogenchi Garden.
Besides its beauty, Tenryu-ji is also well known for its easy access to the famous Bamboo Grove/Forest, which is just a short walk from one of the exit gates.
Walking through the forest is a relatively short walk (probably around 10-15 minutes) and once on the other side, a multitude of other temples are within walking distance. I ended up going to two other temple grounds because they were so close (I didn't take many picture though). That is another thing that is so wonderful about Japan: many activities and incredible sites are within walking distance and easy to access so the possibilities are endless with the number of things you can do in a day!
A pagoda at one of the temple grounds.
After such an action packed day, I headed back to my lodging full of excitement for what my next day in Kyoto would bring!