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Xanthe and I spent the entire day visiting the sights in the charming city of Kyoto. We had written out a list of places that we wanted to check out, consisting of both the modern and the historic.

Kyoto Station

As Kyoto station was just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, that was our first stop. We had to go there anyway; this is the main transportation hub of Kyoto, from where we would take buses to visit other areas.

Kyoto Station

Besides being the second largest train station in Japan (after nagoya station), Kyoto station is also one of the largest buildings in the country! It is 70 metres high and 470 metres from East to west, with a total floor area of 238,000 square meters.

Kyoto Tower in the day as seen from Kyoto Station

From the station, we could get a clear view of Kyoto tower that stands directly opposite. (this would be our final stop for the day.)

Kyoto Station

Kyoto station is busy and crowded at all times of the day! Besides being a transportation hub, it also houses a shopping mall, hotel, movie theatre, isetan department store, and several local government facilities all under one roof.

Steel frames at Kyoto Station

Architecturally the building has a very distinctive design which encompasses the extensive use of glass and steel frames.

Steel frames at Kyoto Station

Steel frames at Kyoto Station

Steel frames at Kyoto Station

Cloud reflection on glass facade at Kyoto Station

Cloud reflections caught on the glass facade.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station

Escalators and staircases lead all the way up to the 13th storey of the station. At the landings on each level are doors that open to the huge isetan department store.

Mister Donut at Kyoto Station

We stopped for breakfast at a mister donut outlet within Kyoto station. We had seen this donut chain in Tokyo too.

Donut from Mister Donut

The cute donuts were simply irresistable!

Donuts from Mister Donut

I love pink donuts!

The night before, I had noticed this giant poster at the isetan department store.

Doraemon exhibition in Isetan department store at Kyoto Station

A Doraemon exhibition was going on right there! Doraemon’s my most favourite childhood cartoon character along with Care Bears! I knew I just HAD to go see it.

Doraemon comics over the years

The exhibition showcased the different ways in which the comics have evolved over the years. Initially, Doraemon had ears (they were subsequently bitten off by a mouse, and that is why this robot cat is terrified of mice).

Doraemon poster

In latter years, Doraemon was drawn with a larger head and smaller body. That’s one of the rules of kawaii-ness – cute cartoon characters must have big heads paired with smaller bodies!

Doraemon comic hangings

Photography was prohibited at the exhibition. I was stopped the moment I whipped out my camera, which explains why I couldn’t take as many pictures as I wished. *groan*

Dokodemo door

The dokodemo door, translated as the “anywhere door”. It is a bright pink door frequently used by Doraemon that opens up to literally anywhere in the universe.

Doraemon jet

Doraemon on a date

This is a photographic series depicting Doraemon on a date with a real girl. They were picnicking, boating and gaming at the arcade. It looked a little disturbing to me!

Granite Doraemon figurines

Granite figurines of Doraemon.

Doraemon plush toys

Some Doraemon merchandise.

Doraemon ties

The exhibition wasn’t as comprehensive as I had hoped, and it was also entirely in Japanese. But despite these factors I was still glad to have paid a visit; I don’t think there would be the opportunity to attend another exhibition of my favourite cartoon characters anytime soon!

After the exhibition, we got on the bus and made our way to our second stop, Nijo Castle.

Japanese monk on bus in Kyoto

On the bus, we noticed a Japanese monk. He was the first and only monk we had seen in Japan!

Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Nijo castle was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the tokugawa shoguns. Like the kiyomizu-dera temple that we visited the day before, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aerial view of Nijo Castle in Kyoto

The castle consists of an outer moat, an inner moat, the ninomaru palace, the ruins of the honmaru palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square metres is occupied by buildings.

Gate within Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Large wooden gate.

Stone ground of Nijo Castle in Kyoto

The grounds of the castle area are covered in stones. As you walk, you would be making crunching sounds beneath your feet.

Entrance of Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

The entrance of the ninomaru palace, marked by exquisite designs.

Entrance of Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Visitors are required to take off their shoes before they tour the insides of the 3300 square metre palace. Photography was strictly prohibited within the palace.

We got to see several different reception chambers, offices and the living quarters of the shogun, where only female attendants were allowed. The interior was supposed to be really grand and lavish in its heyday, but today it just seems dark and dank.

Sliding doors of Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

There are a total of 33 rooms and over 800 tatami mats (straw mats used in traditional Japanese rooms). The wall paintings in each room had been done by prominent artists and chosen according to the unique function of each room.

The uguisu-bari floors along the corridors, nicknamed the “nightingale floors”, were designed in such a way they would squeak whenever someone walks on them. It served to warn occupants against intruders. What a clever design!

Honmaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Honmaru palace is a 1600 square metre inner palace that was added to the castle complex in 1626.

Honmaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Today, only the ruins of the palace remain after being ravaged by lightning and fires in the 1700’s.

Trees within Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Garden within Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Gardens within the castle grounds.

Moat around Nijo Castle in Kyoto

One of the two moats around Nijo Castle.

Swans swimming in moat around Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Beautiful swans swimming around the moat. Notice that swans always swim in pairs? How sweet!

Next stop: kinkaku-ji, again a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had to take another bus to get there.

Admission passes into Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

Our admission passes into the temple were rather unique and certainly didn’t look like typical tickets. They were printed with calligraphic writing. (Update: these are omamori or Japanese good-luck charms.)

Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

The reason why most visitors come here is to see the golden pavilion that seems to float on water. It is literally covered in gold leaf! How strikingly beautiful!

Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

View from another angle.

Me, with Kinkaku-ji in the background

Me with the pavilion in the background.

Wind vane on the roof of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

The golden pavilion houses several Buddha relics. On its roof rests a golden phoenix.

Coin tossing at Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

Over here, people try to toss coins into the stone hole at the centre. This was where we got rid of all our 1-yen and 5-yen coins. I almost got one in!

Candles at Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

"Big" Japanese character on the mountain as seen from Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

From the temple, the hidari-daimonji hill in the distance can be seen. The Japanese (also Chinese) character “大”, one of the four different characters inscribed on the hills, is clearly visible. During the daimonji festival, the four characters are lit with giant bonfires.

Colourful candy

At the souvenir shops, we found more colourful candy.

Colourful candy

I couldn’t resist taking more pictures!

Colourful candy

These cute snacks are called dango (japanese dumpling skewers)!

Colourful candy

Satisfied, we were ready to move on to our next destination, Gion. Near the bus stop, a humourous signboard that was placed outside a hair salon caught my eye.

Humorous signboard outside hair salon

Ahhh! The Japanese just have to make everything look cute don’t they? It’s almost like a rule or something!

On the bus ride to Gion, we spotted some interesting architecture.

Building spotted from bus on the way to Gion in Kyoto

Building spotted from bus on the way to Gion in Kyoto

Then we arrived in Gion! One of the first things we saw was this:

Takoyaki stall at Gion in Kyoto

A stall selling delicious takoyaki (octopus balls)!


We bought 10 of them for ¥600 (approx 7.5 Singapore dollars). It came with a dark green paste (in the top left corner) which the seller helpfully informed us was very spicy.

Patchwork bear key chains sold in Kyoto

Patchwork bears like these were carried by several gift shops in Kyoto. I was looking high and low for a larger stuffed patchwork bear but there just wasn’t a decent-looking one!

The streets of Gion in Kyoto

Streets of Gion where machiya (traditional Japanese houses) can be seen.

Traditional wooden house along the streets of Gion in Kyoto

Gion is known as a hanamachi (geisha district). It is also the setting of arthur golden’s novel, memoirs of a geisha.

The streets of Gion in Kyoto

Obviously, our sole purpose in Gion was to see geisha in the flesh! We had immense good luck; it wasn’t too long before a maiko (an apprentice geisha) came along!

Maiko, an apprentice geisha

Thanks to my lousy camera, I managed to get a blurry-motion shot of the maiko walking rapidly back to her okiya (geisha house).

Okiya, a geisha house

At the sight of the maiko entering the house, all the tourists came swarming to the door! There was a cab waiting right outside the house so we knew it was picking up a geisha or maiko for her next engagement. Armed with cameras, everyone just stood there waiting for her to emerge!

Just then, there came the sounds of wooden clogs on the ground again. This time, it was a real geisha! She was taking the cab with a maiko who had now come out from the house.

Geisha getting into cab at Gion in Kyoto

The crowd went crazy! All of us tourists started acting like bloody paparazzi and kept snapping pictures of the two of them! The madness!

Geisha getting into cab at Gion in Kyoto

Look at the crowd with all those cameras! Thank goodness no one tried to stop the cab from moving off.

And then, it was all over. Xanthe and I lingered around a little longer for more sightings of a geisha or maiko. Our luck was incredibly good! Another maiko came along again!

Maiko, an apprentice geisha

I practically chased after her like a bloodhound to get a couple of shots!

Maiko, an apprentice geisha

Love the brightly coloured obi tied at the back of her kimono. Her okobo (wooden clogs) were so tall, they were at least five inches high. I wonder how she could walk in them!

It had been a very fruitful trip to Gion – we saw geishas! It was time to head back.

Kyoto Gion Post Office

A couple more interesting buildings before we go. This is the Kyoto Gion post office. The red and white building exterior looks cute!

Minamiza Theater at Gion in Kyoto

The minamiza theatre, also in Gion.

Our final destination for the night was the 131 metre tall Kyoto tower!

Kyoto Tower at night as seen from Kyoto Station

The traffic light at the crossing between Kyoto station and Kyoto tower plays a jingle each time the signal turns green. Check it out!

I’ve never seen a musical traffic light in my life!

Tawawa-chan, the Kyoto Tower mascot
Photo by cloudberry1224

Tawawa-chan, the mascot of Kyoto tower.

Tawawa-chan, the Kyoto Tower mascot
Photo by Kyoto Tower

Doesn’t she resemble the tower itself? Kawaii!

Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

We chilled out at kuu, the sky lounge within Kyoto tower.

Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

Kuu was a very chic bar. There was a table charge just for sitting at one!

Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

Over here, we could enjoy a nice night view of the city! What a fitting way to end our last night in Kyoto!

Our pizza and drinks at Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

Our pizza and drinks, and the coasters which we took with us.

Ladies' washroom at Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

The ladies’ washroom at the lounge was even cooler. It was so modern-looking!

Ladies' washroom at Kuu, the sky lounge at Kyoto Tower

Love the cute little metal chair. It was made out of a bottle cap.

That marks the end of our last day in Kyoto. It had been a wholesome and very fruitful trip! Early next morning, we would pack our bags and return to Tokyo by the Shinkansen bullet train.

Ahhh… I am missing Tokyo already!