by Daniel George
Day 3, August 17 – Fushimi-Inari, Daigoji, and Nagoya
Saturday was to be our last day exploring Kyoto itself. We had two targets today: one of Kyoto’s most iconic sights, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and the more-out-of-the-way Daigoji Temple, not as well known by name, but one that you’d recognize had you seen photos of the autumn leaves in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
First stop on the still-hot Saturday morning was the Fushimi Inari Shrine, as the Inari JR station along the Nara line was just one stop out of Kyoto Station. The sight that greeted us only hinted at the morning ahead.
The first of many Kitsune (fox) idols we would see, at the entryway to Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Inari is the Shinto Kami of Just About Everything. Foxes, fertility, rice, agriculture, Industry, tea and sake, general prosperity and worldly success, and a patron of swordsmiths and merchants. That’s one heck of a resume, even for a god. The most common Inari-related statues are those of foxes (kitsune – above right). A good couple of hundred meters up the pathway was the main shrine, along with plenty of smaller shrines around the courtyard, as well as a stage. Admission to the shrine is free, so there’s no ticket office and thus no queuing up.
The main Fushimi-Inari shrine.
The main shrine is quite nice, but this isn’t the reason you come to Fushimi-Inari. That was a short walk away from the main shrine…
Well, which way do we go?
There was the entryway to the pathway of Torii gates… which quickly became two pathways of Torii gates. Don’t worry, both come out the other end in the same place.
A cat stretching on a shrine for a nap in the heat of the day
From there, it’s into another pathway of Torii gates and a few minutes until you come to one of the first locations – a large pond (with even more turtles that knew to ham it up for the camera) surrounded by a considerable number of small shrines. Then it was another long uphill slog under a plethora of Torii gates, until we reached the lookout, which is Point 6 on the map that adorns several locations throughout the complex. This place is distinguishable by two things: a sizable café with soft ice cream, Yebisu beer, and a gazebo on the other side of one of the pathways with traditional low tables. Be sure to get a snapshot of the city from here too.
This is also an important decision-making point, as the path goes in two directions from here. They’re opposite ends of the same path that take you on a loop around to the highest point in the shrine complex. Based on my experience, I’d say head off towards the right, because we found the climb nowhere near as steep as the downhill incline when coming back down the other way. Head to the left if you’re physically fit and want to get your heart pumping that little bit more.
The view of Kyoto from the cafe’s vantage point.
The highest shrine is #14 on the guide map, and from there it’s downhill most of the way back to the café. It’s also where we learned about how they operate. While one side of the Torii gates are generally barren of anything but a couple of kanji that are consistent for all the gates, the reverse side is filled with advertising! We only learned this because one such gate had “TATTOO STUDIO” emblazoned on it in English letters. It seems this is how replacement gates are paid for nowdays – sponsorship by local businesses. Obviously the Torii gates don’t withstand the test of time, and we did notice quite a few that would be in need of replacement in the not too distant future.
How the shrine pays for maintenance – advertising!
We stopped at the café mentioned earlier to grab a seat and a soft ice cream cone. From there, there’s another downward path that covers an area you don’t visit on the way up, and this area contains many shrines and stores of various types (more cafes and shops selling religious items such as charms of various sorts). Eventually, you find yourself back at the main shrine, at which point we checked the time. We’d been there the better part of three hours, so it was time to move onto our next destination.
Fushimi-inari is a fantastic place to visit, and well worth the time you spend there. To enjoy it fully, take water, some electrolyte drink such as Pocari Sweat, sunscreen, and insect repellent, particularly in summertime. Plan to spend 2-3 hours there unless you’re super fit, or you really want to take the time to appreciate the site. Use the bathrooms at your accommodation before you leave, because they don’t have proper toilets onsite.
Go-ju-no-to, the five story pagoda that is the oldest
verified building in Kyoto.
Our next stop was our last temple visit on the trip, to Daigoji. I’d noticed it in passing before Terry posted a photo of part of the temple there a few months before we flew out. Terry’s photo captured the beauty of the site during late November, when the leaves are vivid reds and golds, but I agreed this was a must see.
Daigoji, like Arashiyama, is a long way from the center of town, but unlike Daigoji, there are multiple ways to get there. The easiest, it turns out, is a direct bus called the “Yamashina Express” from Kyoto Station, which costs 300 yen and takes 30 minutes. (The southern side near Hotel Keihan rather than the northern side where the main tourist buses leave – it’s the same area you arrive in if you take a bus to Kyoto from Kansai Airport)
Our first 15-20 minutes on site was spent being lost. I kid you not, this place is huge, and easy to get lost in if you don’t know where you’re going. Eventually we found our way to the main pathway from the entryway we should have gone in – and saw the entry to the Sanboin site midway down the pathway. Up the other end of the pathway was the entryway to the main area, Shimo Daigo.
We paid for admission to Shimo-Daigo and Sanboin, but chose not to go to the Reihokan Museum. A short walk through the gardens and we found ourselves surrounded by a number of Shimo Daigo’s wonders. The most notable of these was the five-story, 38-meter tall pagoda that stands as Kyoto’s oldest verified building, built in 951 and being the only part of Daigoji to survive multiple fires that have repeatedly destroyed Daigoji over the years.
What we came to Daigoji to see, Bentendo Hall. Click here to see what it looks like in autumn.
Shimo-Daigo has several notable structures, but the most famous of them is that which we came to see, Bentendo Hall, and the adjacent bridge across the surrounding lagoon. If you venture around behind here, there is a beautifully arranged garden that just screams tranquility. In spite of the ridiculous temperature and humidity, you couldn’t help but feel calm and relaxed.
From here, there’s also the entryway to a trail up to the top of the mountain to the higher part of Daigo, Kami-Daigo, which we would have ventured up to in cooler weather, since the views are purported to be magnificent from there, well worth both the effort and the additional ¥600.
The Messenger’s Entrance at Daigo Sanboin.
After returning to the far side of the lagoon which surrounds Bentendo Hall, we ventured back towards the entrance, photographing some of the other halls in the complex, before making our way back to tour Sanboin.
Sanboin has a strict no-photography policy, but it is still definitely worth a look. This was originally constructed in the 12th century as a residence for the head priest of Daigoji. Ceremonies were going on that weekend, so much of that part of the complex was off limits, but the part we could see is the part you really want to – the architecture, the screen artwork, and various other artifacts within the main building. Definitely worth the extra 400 yen in my opinion.
From there, we bade Daigoji Temple sayonara, and returned to the road to get a bus back to the station. Just across the road we saw our first vending machine selling booze – both beer and sake! Ironically, it had “soft drink” emblazoned on it, though every product it offered was almost certainly alcohol.
Side-trip to Nagoya
We arrived back at the hotel just on 5pm and put one of our Plan B options into effect: jump onto the Shinkansen for a short one-hour hop to Nagoya to visit a site relevant to another of our interests. Terry and I first met through bowling. We’ve bowled in the same league for four or five years now, and we also bowl in a touring league together. So, naturally as students of the sport, we wanted to see a Japanese bowling center in operation.
We had initially planned to visit one in Kyoto itself that was part of an amusement center, three floors with 16 lanes each. I did a little digging, since I knew Japan had the world’s largest centers by lane count, and found that Nagoya had two of the largest centers in the world (156 lanes across three levels) and the largest single-story center (116 lanes in a single line). For us poor Aussies, where our home center is a measly 26 lanes, either of these was a must-see. So we hopped on a late-afternoon Hikari Shinkansen to Nagoya. We found the green car seating (we bought green car passes) to be quite comfortable. We marveled at accelerating to 280 km/h in a few minutes and watched the surrounding countryside zip by.
Nagoya Grand Bowl, the largest bowling center by lane count (156) in the world
3 floors of 52 lanes each!
An hour later, we changed trains onto a local to get to our destination. In what wouldn’t be my last mistake on the trip, we jumped onto the wrong local service for the center we wanted to go to. Instead of the 116-lane single-story Inazuma Grand Bowl, we wound up at the 156-lane, three-story Nagoya Grand Bowl on the other side of town.
We were somewhat disappointed that we went to the second-choice center. We’d wanted to get a photo from Lane 1 to the other one of us on Lane 116 for an idea of the awe of the scale, but it was still pretty impressive from Lane 1 to Lane 52; twice the size of our home center back in Brisbane.
The pro shop was very well equipped and had some specials – and one of them was too good a deal to pass up. Yes, my first big-ticket item on this trip was a bowling ball… so sue me!
We were all set to throw a couple of games until we realized we should have brought our bowling shoes over to Japan with us after all – while Japan has a fantastic system of dispensing rental bowling shoes, their largest size was a US 9 ½ – one size too small for either of us! So we made our way back to the train station, and began the lengthy trek back to Kyoto.
The view from Lane 52. The dot in the middle is me behind Lane 1.
Day Four: August 18 – Iga Ninja Museum
Ugh. Where to begin with today. Start with me forgetting my camera, and then deciding it was more important to go back for it than to get on the desired train to Nara. That was the first mistake that day, and it kinda mushroomed from there. Not that it wasn’t a great adventure nonetheless.
When we finally got on a later train, we rode it to Kusatsu, and changed trains there to get to Tsuge, with the latter having the better part of an hour’s wait for the connecting train to Iga-Ueno. From there it was a 16 minute ride to Iga-Ueno Station, but again, a long wait of nearly 45 minutes before the train to Uenoshi would leave. This was where we dropped down to a single track, a real country town sort of feel to it.
Upon arriving at Uenoshi, we found a shuriken-throwing setup in the train station’s parking lot. However, we were in a hurry due to the loss of time, and wandered into a summer festival being set up before finding a sign pointing us in the right direction, which was actually the completely opposite one!
A short walk and we entered an area containing a number of Uenoshi’s main tourist sites, including the Ninja Musuem and Ueno Castle. Since we were hoping to see the Ninja Museum and the Ninja show, but also make it back to Takarazuka in the afternoon to visit the Tezuka Museum, we decided to forego Ueno Castle. We went into the Ninja Museum, and upon removing our shoes, we were shown into an area that was set up as a typical medieval Japanese nobleman’s home… or was it?
Our ninja host started to explain to us the various techniques that ninja would use to infiltrate a target home, as well as how they would set up their own homes with hiding places and traps to enable hidden observation of any intruders. This was a rather educational, albeit short, insight into ninja espionage techniques. And it came with English subtitles! Terry got a photo with our ninja host and we were directed into the main museum.
The museum is somewhat small but very informative, with English-language explanations for all its displays. All sorts of weapons and tools are displayed and explained, including firearms and cannons.
After this, we saw the live ninja show, which was quite entertaining, and not a waste of half an hour. After it concluded, we decided to try to head to Osaka and Takarazuka for the afternoon. It wasn’t even noon yet, but we knew if we wanted any chance we needed to leave now to make the Tezuka Museum that day.
Thus, it was a walk back to the station, where we saw one of the other trains used on the line. The one we rode on to Uenoshi was unmarked, but we snapped one that was decked out as a pink ninja. This is one of three trains whose layout was designed by Leiji Matsumoto.
One of the Leiji Matsumoto-designed Ninja Trains.
After the ride back to Iga-Ueno Station, we were on our way back to Kyoto and Osaka. Ultimately, combined with the long waits to change trains, our trip to Takarazuka would prove to be too late to get into the museum. But on the upside, we knew exactly where to go first thing the next morning – and if we were to see both it and Kure in the same day, we’d have to be split-second with our timing.
Back in Kyoto, we went to the Gavly burger stand in the Cube Eatery in Kyoto Station. Expensive burgers? The ones we ordered were 1800 yen. Worth it? Heck yes. So much so that after I bought the first round, Terry went back and ordered the second. These burgers were made with Kobe beef, which was so melt-in-the-mouth it wasn’t funny. The poor guys at the counter were so gape-jawed at Terry’s return for seconds, that they gave us a serving of fries for free.
After that, we stopped by a bookstore in the JR Kyoto complex so I could pick up the latest issue of my hobby mags (rather than order them from Amazon Japan), and we finally finished the night at the local Irish bar, drinking Yebisu and Sapporo while they played Country and Western music! An appropriately messed-up way to end a messed-up day. Then off to bed, because we had a LOT to do the next day…