Solo | Backpacking | Japan

Day 4 – Kyoto

Change of Plan

If you remember I bought a two day Kansai Thru pass from Osaka airport train station. I had plans to visit Mt Koyasan as well initially. Mt Koyasan or Koya has some really old and preserved shrines amid dense forest. Most stay options near Koyasan are Ryokans (Traditional stays options). These Ryokans are managed by monks and only vegetarian Japanese food is served. You get to participate in early morning prayers and experience of staying inside a Buddhist monastery. But when I enquired about the stay prices, I was bombed with figures of over 125S$ a night at the lowest. This was a big blow to my budget and I was in no mood to spend my 3 nights budget for one night stay. So I gave Mt Koya a pass. Perhaps some other time!!

Second Icon of Japan

If there are only two places to be visited in Kyoto, I would say, visit Bamboo grove of Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari Taisha. These two places are most popular spots of Kyoto and also most shot places in movies etc. It is the place with lot of Torii gates. I was pretty excited to visit the place. Since this shrine is so popular it is also very crowded during day time. So someone recommended me to visit the shrine after sunset. Fortunately shrine is open through out the day.

Since my Kansai thru pass was valid for two days and it included free unlimited bus and train rides in Kyoto. I had activated this pass today. Fushimi Inari is a bit far from Kyoto City/Eastern hills. A 40 minutes train ride took me to the most important Shinto Shrine. Thankfully there is no entry levy and no closing hours, so I could visit the place on my own pace. I bought a small Torii gates made of wood as a souvenir from here hoping it would reach home safely (and it actually did)

Shrine has a few establishments on the entry point. But the actual Shrine is located on a hill (Known as Mt Inari) 233 meter in height. It normally takes 2-3 hours to hike to the summit and come back. At the very back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate covered hiking trail, which starts with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”). I started my hike at around 6:30 PM. Entire hike is lined with vermilion coloured Torii gates. Though the frequency of Torii gates keeps diminishing as we go higher.

Large Torii gate at entrance

Secondary hall

Wishing Toriis

Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”) Left side for people coming back and rigth side for going up

I still have some company

Iconic photo

By the time I started my hike I could see many people around the Torii gates and some were returning from the summit. Since I knew Mt Inari has a steep slope I deposited my tripod before leaving for the hike. I think it was a good decision as later I realized that hike is quite steep. After about one hour into the summit trail I reached a point named Yotsutsuji intersection. This particular point has a lovely city view and is also a resting point for traveller. I met a French photographer named David, who was clicking the city views from here. We talked about of our travel plans. He had plans to vosot Singapore too. He carried his Manfrotto tripod and couple of camera bodies all the way up and I left my light weight travel tripod before the hike
Anyway, I tried to keep my camera in iron railing to click a few shots which came out terrible.

View of Kyoto city from intersection

In no man’s land

A circular circuit start from the intersection as trails splits from this point. So you do a circular trail from here passing through summit and actual shrine and finally coming back to same point. Many of my co traveller returned from his point only. I was not able to decided if I should go up or not as there there was hardly anyone going on the hike at this time. It had turned dark now and all food stalls were long closed for the day. There was no help what so ever if some mishap happens. Since my motive was not religious (which is the case for Japanese people) I had no destination to reach. I decided to start the hike and return if I would feel uncomfortable. Perks of being a solo traveller I would say.

Thankfully Japan has these vending everywhere, so no need of shops to buy drinks etc. I stocked two isotopic drinks from the vending machine and started my climb. Well as I mentioned before there was not a single soul accompanying me. Later a couple of dogs joined me for a while but they only scared me. Little did I knew Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, so there were fox statues everywhere, making it look more spooky experience. I was taking longer strides to cover up quickly. I had no margin of getting lost. Though I had clicked a few pictures of the hike map before starting on my phone so I thought I was better off. In about 30 minutes I was at the actual shrine. Shrine was very dimly lit. And numerous torii gates of all sizes and deities made is look just out of a horror movie. Since it was quite a height it was windy and of-course, cold. I didn’t spend much time at the top and moved further after clicking some customary shots. Another 30 minutes and I was on the summit. Whole route was very dimly lit. Out of the blue, I saw a couple on the summit. A gay couple. Great, nice place to make some love. Well after some 15 minutes I came back to Yotsutsuji intersection and rested there for a while.

Getting darker and spooky

Route getting isolated

Dimly lit torii gates near summit

Shrine at Summit

Foxes are messenger of Inari

These small torii gates are donated by visitors

Descent back to the shrine was rather uneventful. But I terribly missed my tripod once I reached the bottom as shrines was brightly lit and a good place to try some long exposure shots. Never mind I had one more day in Kyoto and I decided to visit again. Little did I know God has another plan for my last day.

Entrance gate

Day 5 – Kyoto

Rain rain go away

Its was 7AM and it was raining heavily outside. I found no reason to get out of my warm and comfy bed. I pulled over my quilt again and dozed off till 9AM. It was still raining outside. Anyways my hostel had a checkout time of 11AM and this was my last day in Kyoto so I had to checkout. As per my daily schedule I made myself a warm mug of coffee and a breakfast of granola. I left my hostel at around 11AM. It was still raining pretty heavily. I did not have any umbrella and had no intentions to buy one as I did not wanted to increase an item to carry. Thankfully I had a rain protection poncho, which I bought from Singapore, for an emergency situation. Poncho was large enough to cover me with my 65 litre rucksack bag. Bidding goodbye to my excellent host for last 4 days, I made my way to the nearest bus stop for catching a bus to Gion area. Poncho was covering only my upper body. So by the time I reached my bus stop, my sneakers and pants were terribly wet. Clearly poncho was not able to save me from heavy rain. I decided to throw my poncho and buy a umbrella once i reached Gion.

My excellent host from last 4 days in Oto Guest House

That’s me all set to roll out in my Poncho

Phew! rain did not subside even when I reached Gion. My plan for the day was to shoot Yasaka Shrine, then go to Keage Incline ,then head to Fushimini Inari for sunset and finally leave for Lake Kawaguchiko area near Mt Fuji using an over night bus. I deposited my luggage in coin lockers in Gion Shijo Station and just carried my camera and tripod bags. Search for buying a umbrella began and lo i found a abandoned umbrella. Someone left it, probably because the lock that keeps the umbrella folded was broken. I waited for a while to see if someone would come to claim it but no one came. I wont mind taking it! Anyways I had no intentions to increase my load and carry a umbrella after using it today. And who knows if rain subsides in few hours.

Wet shoes and abandoned umbrella

This was one of my buffer days. I planned to click few places again as I was not satisfied by my pictures from earlier days. I headed to Yasaka Shrine first to see if I could click some photographs while light was just okay. It was raining hard. Local and tourists alike were all struggling to reach their destinations. Well I did not spend much time near Yasaka Shrine. No point taking chances with my camera in rain, I thought. Though D750 is weather sealed and can take some beating but little moisture can put my entire trip in jeopardy.

When it rains it pours

A tourist making the most of rain marred day!

Win a few, loose a few

All of my days in Kyoto have been fantastic so far. I got more than expected. I totally loved the laid back setup. This day was however different. My movement was restricted by rain. You can not win on all days, some days are meant to be lost. Probably this was one of those days. Its okay you win a few and loose a few, that’s life. isn’t it? I decided to take a break and have something to eat. I went to a small local Japanese eatery and ordered some fried rices and vegetables. Everywhere in Japan I noticed eateries display a sample of dishes on order. So its easy to visualize what you are going to order even if you can not understand what is dish name (written in Japanese). Hot food and hot Jasmine tea were relaxing. It was cold outside. To make matter worst, my jogger pants and shoes were also wet. I devoured the hot food and took longer than usual to complete my meal. Old lady serving at the eatery was kind enough to refill my cup of tea. At ~500Y local food was quite budget friendly everywhere in Japan.

A local Japanese eatry

Fried rice with veges

Sakura lined Keage Incline

It was already 3PM and I had no where to go. Rain had no plans to subside it seemed. I decided to head to Keage incline. Keage incline is one of the best places in Kyoto to enjoy Hanami (Sakura or cherry blossom). It is a old, unused track with cherry trees on both sides. Even a unused carriage is left for display. Keage incline is very popular among tourist for cherry bloom. And on a normal day (when it doesn’t rain) it can get really crowded. But today it was not crowded. Barely few tourist like me who were on their last day in Kyoto would probably venture out. I put my camera on a tripod to click some pictures covered in umbrella. I had no time to come back to Keage incline and a few customary pictures were mandatory. Continuous rain from morning had resulted in falling of cherry flowers. I came to know later that this was the last days of cherry blossom in Kyoto actually.

Last days of cherry blossom in Kyoto

No Sun, no problem! Rainy day, no problem! Show must go on…

Okay I give up. No more Fushimini Inari for me. I had to travel entire night on bus so I decided not to go out and instead take sometime to dry up my jacket, shoes and pants. I was almost completely drenched by now. I was not carrying any spare pants and shoes. So had no options of changing them.

I took shelter in a coffee shop and had some hot coffee and toast. And then another coffee. Hot coffee was amazing and gave me instant relief from cold. Coffee shop had a nice seating area with power points on all seats. I put my phone and camera batteries for charging. Lets make use of time when I had no options to go out. And I found a shoe dryer in restroom. I am never able to dry my hands in these hot blowers, so probably these are shoe dryers
In a few attempts I was able to make my shoes just wearable and bearable. Before some of you complain on being unhygienic, i cleaned the dryer with a wet tissue after (mis)using the dryer. Desperate times calls for desperate measures!

Hand blower or Shoe blower ?

Good bye Kyoto

It was around 7PM when I left the coffee shop. Rain has stopped for the day. I had to catch a overnight Highway bus from Kyoto Station to Lake Kawaguchiko. Bus, I booked, was run by Fujikyu company. I called their call center yesterday and made a reservation. Thankfully they had a English speaking person on call. However they did not take any online payment, instead they asked me to pay to bus captain directly. Please note bus captain has no change so give him exact amount. I paid 6200Y for one side journey. Right now their contact number is +81-555-73-8181. But I suggest checking their website for updates. Click this link for online booking.

Highway Buses

Day 6 – Mt Fuji

Bright and Sunny Reception

My overnight highway bus dropped me to Fujikyu Highland Bus Terminal before 8AM. Night journey was comfortable and I had a nice sleep. It was sunny morning but wind was cold. Bus terminal was still closed, but visitor section was open and heated. I got refreshed at bus terminal. A coffee would have been great but since bus terminal was closed I had no option. I had been strolling out in rain entire last day in Kyoto. Almost everything I had was wet or moist by now. I was worried about my photography gear. I decided to take a break before going to Kawaguchiko and dry my gears instead. I spread my gears on a public bench to expose them to sun and I myself also decided to soak up some more Vitamin D. Not to mention my pant was also moist and sitting in sun was soothing.

All my stuff laid out for drying

First view of the Mighty

In about 45 minutes I was all set to leave for destination for the day, Fuji Five lakes (Lake Kawaguchiko). It was about 30 mins walk from Fujikyu Highland bus terminal. I should have got down at Kawaguchiko Station instead directly. Anyways I would have missed some amazing view of Fuji San if I hadn’t walked. Walking is always rewarding. “~ san (~さん)” is a title of respect added to a name. It can be used with both male and female names, and with either surnames or given names. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles. Since Mt Fuji is revered in Japan, people call it Fuji San.

View of Fuji San from Fujikyu Highland

By 10AM I was at Kawaguchiko station. As everywhere in Japan there was no vegetarian option for breakfast except plain bread. Thankfully cafe at station had a microwave and I had my usual breakfast of Granola with hot water. Sweet lady at counter offered me to eat Onigiri (Stuffed Rice balls). At around 200Y per ball they were not bad. I ended up eating couple of Onigiri as well. Later i realized Onigiri was available on convenience stores also and a good meal option for vegetarians.

Onigiri (Stuffed Rice Ball) a great food for vegetarians

I had no plans to checkin before noon. I deposited my backpack in coin lockers at station. These coin lockers are really a boon for travelers in Japan. I bought a two day Retro bus pass from station itself. This bus service is a hop on hop off type and wonderful to explore Lake Kawaguchiko and Lake Saiko area. The cost of bus pass is 1200Y for unlimited rides for two days. There are not any more budget options, if you have to explore multiple places. Retro bus service runs at every 15 minutes in towards Kawaguchiko lake. This service is called “Red Line”. Another service “Green Line”, which is also included in above bus pass run towards lake Saiko and the frequency of this line is every 30 mins from station. With every bus pass you will be given a schedule in English. Please keep it handy to keep track of last bus for the day from each stop.

Bus pass and Retro Bus

Game of clouds along the Lake

I boarded the Green line and got to banks of biggest lake of Mt Fuji. Lake Kawaguchiko is the most developed lake of all five lakes of Mt Fuji. I was feeling a bit out of place. I expected it to be trekkers and backpackers arena but couples, families were carrying big suitcases full of stuff. They were staying in resorts along Kawaguchiko lake. Actually there are only resorts along the bank of lake and mainly people come here to stay for a day or two in resorts only. Needless to mention all these resorts were expensive and out of my budget. I spent the day strolling around the banks of Lake. Unfortunately Mt Fuji was hidden behind the clouds throughout the day. Mt Fuji is a very shy mountain. I already knew Fuji is best seen in early hours of day and as day progresses Fuji disappears behind clouds. April is infact a perfect month to view Mt Fuji as this is when you get to see the snow covered top of the mountain. Few pictures I saw, clicked in May/June, show no snow at the top. I had no plans for the day. I just spent the day walking along the bank of lake

Resorts near Lake

A cafe by the Kawaguchiko Lake

Your truly, by the banks of lake. Imagining how great would be the sight with Fuji San across the Lake.

Clouds getting denser with no signs of the Mt Shy

Waiting for clouds to go away and give me a glimpse of Fuji San

Seasonal flowers

A abandoned jetty along the bank

Visiting Natural Freezer

I a met a backpacker from Philippines. She suggested me to go to Wind caves along Lake Saiko. As i already had a two day unlimited bus pass I boarded the bus to lake Saiko. Actually Wind Lava caves are quite far from Kawaguchiko and it took me good 45-60 mins to reach at the caves. An entry fee of 290Y is charged for entry. These caves are natural freezers. The flow of air along the caves results in natural cooling and freezing. In the historic times, this cave was used as a natural storehouse and refrigerator, as the temperature inside stays at a relatively constant zero degrees Celsius throughout the year. The cave is furnished with a few shelves that store boxes of acorns and silkworm cocoons. It is the most easily walkable three caves in the area. Another two caves are bat cave and ice cave. I didn’t go to other two as I saw Ice in first cave only and people who went to both caved informed me ice caves have few more similar structures.

Ticket counter for cave

Entrance to Wind Cave

Ice structures inside Wind Cave

Ice structures inside Wind Cave

I planned to stay in Mt Fuji Hostel Michael’s tonight. At 3000Y a night this was the best option I could find in Kawaguchiko area. I liked the hostel very much. Everything I could imagine was professionally setup. It was neat and almost all amenities were provided. As in most hostels, free tea /coffee was provided. A hot coffee was a great drink to begin my evening with. I had cup noodles for the dinner and called it a day. I had to get up early next day to catch sunrise from another mountain tomorrow. Lets see if Mt Fuji will bless me with nice views!

Micheal’s hostel dorm