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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Japan - Day 3 - Kyoto via the bullet train!

Japan - Day 3 - Kyoto via the bullet train!


Zennyo Ryūō-sha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan, which sits on a small body of water.
Zennyo Ryūō-sha Shrine

Damnn, don't you just love Google Maps? The fact that from memory, I was able to find out in about 20 seconds that the above pictured shrine we happened across was the Zennyo Ryūō-sha Shrine!? I mean, we had mixed feelings about using it to navigate in Japan, but it's workable once you get used to their idea of intuitiveness. Anyway, finding stuff like this out in less than a minute; that's living in the future man! Unfortunately, as promised in the last blog, I need to take you back to the past, because this is 5 hours away, hotel to hotel, via walking, bus and train.. and then some after checking in to our hotel and wandering around Kyoto to then stumble upon it. I also suggested I'd introduce you to the Onsen hotel we stayed at in Ikaho; so hey ho, let's Ikaho!

The Ikaho Grand


So, from the front, the Ikaho Grand is maybe not the most visually appealing hotel in the world, but once you get in, it opens up to this stunning lobby with a large staircase directly ahead. There's a reception to your right, and a souvenir store built in to traditional feeling mock buildings (actually inside), on your left - I only took pictures on my phone, but I'll include them below! Our room(s) was OK, maybe not the cleanest, but then it was a bit more old skool and to be expected. It was our first taste of a traditional straw mat floor and tiny but deep Japanese bath tubs. As mentioned, it was an Onsen, so we did ask about tattoos etc in the Onsen, as some do allow them despite popular belief, but they confirmed that they don't. Honestly, it was never my intention to go to Japan and hang out naked in hot water with other men anyways, so it's really not a big deal. As for the rest of the hotel, it's not a problem, of course. What we did get, however, was a funky Yukata (bath robe / casual traditional wear) that you can wear around the hotel, so I asked a local lady to snap us a group picture in them. Again, despite the tattoos, her and later her partner who came along during the shot, they were both lovely and very cheery.



Baring in mind we're far from full-blown touristy areas now, communication was a little harder in general though, so I'd say at least 50% of the reception staff didn't speak any English, so they relied on Google Translate. Everyone was pleasant, and those that did, took an interest and tried to chat to us, albeit possibly just to try and sell us extras like a breakfast, though. In the end, two different staff contradicted each other on whether we were even able to pay for one on the morning separate from our reservation. Never fear though, we had our trusty Family Mart walking distance, and given the location, this one had some Initial D gifts you could get too. What I was particularly impressed about with the hotel, however, was that they sold local merch cheaper than in the Family Mart. In the UK, it would most definitely be the other way around! Unfortunately, this made me want to collect the Japanese mascots! They have a different one for each prefecture, and once I had realised that you could get little plushies of them, I was all in. Equally, unfortunately, I'd later find out that not every place you go makes them easy to come by! You've probably seen the viral video of one mascot playing metal drums to kiddy songs, if not.. here's a reaction version of it that will play on my blog. Make sure you get past the 1 minute 45 mark!



Ikaho to Kyoto To do this journey, and despite it just looking as though you could head south-west on a map, which you indeed can by car, via train however, you instead have to pass fully south back through Tokyo and run along the coast almost - it is a good two hours quicker this way than by car too. Plus, y'know, we didn't have a car. So, do you remember the whole IC card situation from the previous blog? Well, did we manage to nullify it? In short, no, and they were now blocked.. but i'll go into that in a later blog. For some reason, this train went straight through, I think remembering back, but either way, we managed to ride the JR passes all the way through to Tokyo.

JR (Japan Rail) Passes Now the JR passes can only be used on JR trains/lines, and you have to work out whether you'll get enough use from them to make them worth buying over paying single fares, and the bad news is that they've also increased a lot since we went just a couple of months ago. Working out these JR lines can be confusing, not least because some lines run non-JR trains that you can't get on, and seemingly some that aren't marked as JR compatible on Google that you can get on - the latter will be clearer because they'll often be behind JR only gates at stations. If you don't want to be paying unnecessary fares, however, you can always try your luck and see if the JR pass will let you through a gate. There is a flaw to this logic though, because they do state you're not allowed on certain Shinkansen (bullet trains), namely the Nozomi and Mizuho services on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines - which happens to be one of the ones that we need from Tokyo to Kyoto and can access with the pass! We of course managed to get on a Nozomi. It was nice, but it was packed. They're faster than the JR bullets too. Again, however, I clocked this mistake soon after, and through gritted teeth given its unwelcome news after the stress of the IC and previous Tokyo Station fun and games, I got our group off at Yokohama so we could get on one that wouldn't end up in us paying an expensive fare we'd already technically bought. Thankfully, at this point, Linc found an app and an intuitive navigation system on his phone that solved our travelling woes, and he kinda then got forced to be our navigator. Equally, our bullet train was way more chill and empty in comparison!



In Kyoto, we were staying at the Pocket Hotel, but I'll go into the hotel in a future blog as we covered the Ikaho Grand in this one here. However, what is worth a mention is that there are two Pocket Hotels in Kyoto, and tomorrow me and Linc will head to the wrong one in search of home, but we did discover the main shopping street in the process! You can do that a lot in Japan, head somewhere, and then by accident find something else pretty cool to explore instead, and that's what we did later. Not wanting to lose a day in a small room, of course, we go exploring on foot and head towards Nijo Castle, a good 40-minute trek. I think the aim was to see if there's anything you can see from the roadside, or maybe we even considered the possibility of getting in, again, I can't remember! Along the way, however, we detoured because we found a really cool undercover shopping street, which Dr Google informs me was on Sanjo Dori and is simply called the Kyoto Sanjo Shopping Street.


After walking the length of the street, we continue to head towards the castle and are a little disappointed by how much we managed to see from the roadside - and again, I'm assuming it was closed given we continue to explore elsewhere. As we're wandering down the road, we spot another cool looking park area, which after entering from the back, it opens up and transpires to be the above pictured Zennyo Ryūō-sha Shrine. I'd say this is a little hidden gem, because up until this point, we'd not found it via any research and just literally happened across it. It's a picturesque spot on koi filled water with a traditional red birdge.. it's basically how you picture Japan in your minds eye but shoved (nearly) in the middle of the city.. albeit next to the castle. With night drawing in and knowing we're staying in probably the smallest room we're going to stay in throughout our Japan experience, we decide to cram in a little more and do the half hour walk to the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. At this point we'd walked to the Sumida river on the first night, to Tokyo Station with luggage from our first hotel on the second, around a lake but only after heading up the mammoth stone steps of Ikaho on that same day, and then from Kyoto station to the pocket hotel with luggage earlier this day. And that's before the 40 mins to Nijo, with an extra 20 or so during the shopping detour. It's well publicised that in Japan you will walk a lot, so I used it as an excuse to buy some really cool Vans walking boots for the occasion before heading out to here, knowing full well from experience that Vans trainers are super comfy. Unfortunately for me, it turns out these walking boots may look cool, but they are less comfy than my usual every day boots, never mind Van skate trainers! I think they've tried to make the soles so perfect for walking they've engineered them with specifics for standard feet, and mine a super wide. Anyways, basically what I'm saying here is, even the other guys with their footwear are starting to feel it, and our feet are screaming at us! The park was worth a look, though, and as dusk starts to seep in, it's pretty quiet, with mostly just dog walkers out enjoying the serenity. We come across plenty of shrines and temples (of course), and see the Imperial Palace walls. Looking on Google, Its vast footprint must have meant that we only explored a portion of it before darkness well and truly set in, and we felt the need to go in search of food. It was a 45 minutes back to the hotel on foot. After working up an appetite, that blow was softened by me remembering that right next to our hotel there was a sign for a Maccies, and while I'm not really a Micky D's man usually, a Japanese McDonalds really appealed to me for the whole duration of those 45 minutes! Hot food after living on konbinis (convenience stores) and a Japanese only menu.. I was excited! When we got back though, it turns out that they hadn't finished furnishing it yet, and it was indeed just a sign! Still, we had a 7-Eleven across the road..






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