Since moving to Japan, I’ve lived on small islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Unlike those on the mainland, it can be hard to travel when you factor in the time and cost of having to take a boat or plane before you get to a major airport, and at least two planes to get to a major rail station. Still, after a motivating visit from ZoomingJapan and a time sale on Peach Airlines (less than 7,000 yen round trip from Naha to Kansai), I decided to make a weekend trip up to the Kansai region to visit Kyoto and Himeji.
Although I’ve been to Kansai before, I chose the region because I love the history and culture of Kyoto, the tickets were cheap, and because Himeji is the sister city of Phoenix, where I was born. My novel Samurai Awakening is also set outside of Himeji City for the same reason. With the way flights worked out, I had to fly into Naha on Thursday night to catch an early morning flight from Naha to Kansai International Airport (KIX) via Peach. I was a bit nervous about using the discount airline, but since I didn’t check a bag, things went smoothly enough. I got a seat in the first row so I had plenty of leg room as well. The flight seemed rather long for the short distance we traveled.
In Kansai, I jumped on the airport express to Shin-Osaka station, and then jumped on another train to Kyoto. I got in town right around 1:30 with the plan to do some photography and wander around the city. It promptly started raining.
I bought an umbrella from a convenience store after running around with my camera tucked into my jacket. I walked east past the art museum and sanjusangendo temple then turned north for my favorite place in Kyoto – Kiyomizu Dera. If you check out that link, you’ll find pictures from my previous trip a good 3 years ago. Though it started raining pretty well, and I was carrying my only bag, I walked the whole way. I was surprised at all the tourists despite the rain. Unfortunately, in addition to the rain, the temple was undergoing some reconstruction, still I managed to take a few decent pictures, and I enjoyed the feeling of timelessness that the surrounding forests and wood buildings seem to create, despite the crowds of umbrella toting tourists (me included of course).
Outside the temple grounds are streets filled with stores and shops catering to the tourists. At one was an older lady baking senbei (a kind of cracker) that were flavored with cinnamon and in a unique curved shape rather than flat and round. I bough some while escaping the rain for my coworkers and was treated to tea and taste-tests of their other products as well.
After the temple, I continued my trek north, turning west to visit the Gion district. This was an area I had missed on my last trip, having had to go run and try to find a JA bank in the middle of a big city (JA is the agricultural bank of Japan) while my friends shopped. This time, the rain kept me from getting to see much. It would definitely be a great place to stroll at leisure, but perhaps not with a 20kg bag. At that point it really started pouring, so I turned south to check into my hostel near the Kyoto Station. My pants were soaked by the time I made it back.
After dropping a few things off, I went back out and jumped on the subway north to the old Kyoto Imperial Palace in the hopes to checkout another place I had missed on my last trip. By then it was dark (and still raining). SUPER CREEPY. Seriously, that is how really good horror movies start. Walk into a huge park with bad lighting and hedges cutting you off from the main street. I left disappointed and headed back south to the Nishikikoji Food Market (yet a third place I had missed). It was mostly closed.
By the time I found the street normally filled with food shops and stalls they were all closed. I wandered the area for a bit. There were plenty of side streets with other types of stores open, but by then I was starving and looking for somewhere to eat. There were okonomiyaki shops and a beef place, but in the end… I ate at Subway. It was so good.
With the rain settling down a little I returned to the hostel for a drink with random travelers at the pup next to the hostel. It was, unfortunately not a perfect day, but well worth it. Since I did most of my trip via foot the most expensive part of my Kyoto trip was the shinkansen from KIX to Kyoto, but I think that came to about 4,000 yen.
The next morning, I woke up early to continue my trip. I jumped on a few Shinkansen trains to Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture to visit Himeji Castle and Hoko Park (I’ll share more on the park soon). That too was well worth the extra expense of the express trains as it made it about a two-hour trip to Himeji City. After touring around I returned via Shinkansen to the airport area to stay at a local hotel since I had to catch my 7am flight back to Naha on Sunday. That was the only bad thing I found about using Peach. The morning flight meant I lost all of Saturday. Still a great trip, and highly recommended.