Lately I have found myself so involved with new shenanigans that I haven’t been able to document it all (or…err…any of it, for that matter)! But, as school winds down before the (brief) winter break, I decided to take the opportunity to finally write about all the traveling I’ve been doing as of late. So here goes – part one: my weekend in Kyoto!
I arrived in Kyoto late on Friday, November 27th because I left after work. Considering how completely isolated and inconvenient Kyotango is (it’s its own country, I swear!), despite being in the same prefecture as Kyoto, actually getting to Kyoto itself still takes a bit of time – especially when you missed the “fast train,” as I did. So I got off work around 4:30pm but I actually didn’t get to Kyoto until around 10 pm! Granted, that wasn’t all commute time – I also tried to get some last-minute errands done before departing
But once I finally arrived, getting to where I was staying was no problem! It was a bit of a walk – about fifteen minutes from Kyoto station – but well worth. The location was convenient and the apartment itself was comfy and clean! And yes, I did say apartment – this was my first time using the popular site, Airbnb, which facilitates people renting out their apartments to travelers (and usually at a very reasonable price!). The friends that I stayed with were so kind as to take care of booking our accommodations well in advance so we ended up with a pretty sweet deal!
One I was all settled in, despite insisting before entering the apartment that I would be going out to get a late-night meal, I ended up staying in and catching up with my friends before hitting the hay. It was just too damn cold outside! So I got some much-needed rest, and good thing too, because little did I know that I would be getting a serious workout the following day!
Seeing as my friends had never been to Kyoto, naturally the first thing we did the following day was go to Kinkakuji – the Golden Temple! It is seriously THE most overdone, touristy, obligatory thing you can do in Kyoto (or in all of Japan, for that matter) but for a good reason! Just check out this sexy temple, would you?
Yeah. It’s nice. So despite being incredibly cliché, if you’re in Japan and haven’t been to Kinkakuji – go! It’s beautiful. And my friends and I couldn’t have been more lucky! Despite this being my FOURTH time to Kinkakuji, I would have to say that it was by far the most beautiful this time around. I attribute that to two factors.
- The weather was perfect – sunny and clear!
2. It was fall so we got to see all the trees’ colorful leaves!
Going off number two, I offer a word of warning – Kyoto is the craziest during the month of November for the very reason that the leaves are changing color and everyone knows it. This was my second time going to Kyoto in November and though incredibly beautiful, it is also incredibly crowded. So if you go during this time, just be prepared to deal with that, and also try to book your accommodation as early in advance as possible!
After we had our fill of crazy tourist fun times, it was time to move onto our next destination – yet another popular tourist spot, though one I had actually never been to: Arashiyama!
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
So basically as soon as I entered the bamboo forest, I had some serious high school PTSD! By that I mean that it was so crowded there was essentially a river of people, just as I had to deal with back in high school in between class periods. I shudder at the thought.
Since my friends and I had suddenly found ourselves in a human-river, that meant that one: we had to keep moving and two: if we wanted to get to the other side of the “river,” good luck! Because of this, we weren’t really able to take pictures until it thinned out. Except the main path never actually thinned out! What we ended up doing was pulling off to the side at a spot in which there were branching paths. Sometimes there were areas that most people didn’t really take the time to explore. So basically, if you go to Arashiyama and it’s ridiculously crowded, know that you’re going to have to break free from that hive mentality in order to get some good pics!
The bamboo forest itself was stunning, but I gotta be honest that the insane amount of people really took away from the mysteriousness of it all. Not only was there a river of people, but they also had men pulling carts (rickshaws) with people sitting in them, giving them a tour of the forest. Only, there were so many people it seemed like they were forced to stop every few seconds so as to avoid hitting anyone. My friends and I had to watch ourselves – as it seemed like just as often we had to get out of the way of one of them so as to avoid certain death by rickshaw.
So moral of the story? Don’t got to Arashiyama in November and on the weekend! Just don’t. The general consensus of my friends and I was that it is an overrated attraction. Though a forest composed entirely of bamboo is certainly exotic, there has got to be more of them throughout Japan that no one knows about! Hell, even Kyotango has shrines and mountains and things that far surpass the awesomeness of similar attractions in Kyoto, but because Kyoto is so commercialized, everyone goes to Kyoto and thinks nothing else of it. The coolest things you can find won’t be in a “greatest tourist spots” book, I can promise you that!
Arashiyama Monkey Park (Iwatayama)
After we had our fill of wandering around the bamboo forest and the surrounding area, we decided that it was time to try something new (and hopefully less crowded)! Thus, we made our way to the Arashiyama Monkey Park – also an attraction I had yet to go to. And let me tell you – that was a tourist attraction that was right up my alley! The monkey park was hands down the highlight of the day!
Once we located the entrance, we began hiking the mountain that is home to the monkeys until we reached the ticket booth – a nice, unassuming little place. We each had to pay 550 yen. That was the adult price. If you’ve got a kid 4-15 years old, it’s 250 yen and children under 4 are free (I wouldn’t bring a child under four… XD) – in other words, it’s a complete steal! And you can also buy a yearly pass for the same price! I’m kicking myself that I didn’t notice that before I purchased my “normal” ticket.
We thought that the very short hike to the ticket booth was a workout, but that didn’t even scratch the surface! Little did we know that the true hike would begin after purchasing our tickets. If this monkey park was in America, I bet it’d last a month tops before being taken down! It’s just not “safe” enough by silly American standards. Unknowing helicopter moms bringing their small children to see some cute monkeys would no doubt have a field day – lucky for me I’m in Japan!
During the initial hike up, there are no railings or anything – just a steep cliff there to greet you on the left side. It. Was. Awesome. After a few minutes of hiking up that, we reached the crossroads. We ended up taking the path to the left, as it was recommended in November since it gives you a better view of the pretty leaves changing color. I believe it is also the more difficult of the two paths. Though we didn’t have time to take the other path, it appeared to be the less taxing of the two – more geared to children (still no railings or anything though!) as it ends up at a little playground. Before we began our ascent, we couldn’t help but take note of the following:
I don’t know if these or the signs warning against the deer at Nara are better!
So we steeled ourselves, knowing that though we had eluded the rickshaw threat, death by way of angry monkey (or, ya know, falling off A CLIFF!) was still a very viable possibility. The trek up was by no means a nice brisk stroll through the forest, though I do think it was slightly easier than our initial hike (maybe we were just used to “the burn” at this point, though, I dunno!)
Getting to the top, though, made all of the pain and narrow escapes with death more than worth it! As we approached, we gradually started seeing more and more monkeys. This, of course, completely blew our minds. Being Americans, to us monkeys are animals that one only gets to see at zoos – wild monkeys are just not a thing in America. So the fact that we now found ourselves completely surrounded by wild monkeys, no barrier keeping us from them, was insane!
Lady, didn’t you read the signs!? …Someone’s about to get monkey-punched in the face.
Now I’m going to sidetrack for a moment to talk about the Japanese view on monkeys. Quite simply put, they’re pests! They’re like rats, or skunks, or raccoons – except way worse because they’re intelligent! Most of the Japanese people I have met not only dislike monkeys, they have an intense hatred of them! Considering that 2016 will actually be the year of the monkey, I wonder if many Japanese people will be heading into 2016 extra cautious?
In Kyotango there are also wild monkeys and boy, have I heard some stories! Basically, monkeys will just break into people’s home and steal their shit! XD Hilarious to me, an innocent bystander, because it’s not happening to me! If a monkey broke into my place and stole say, my PS4 for example, my nice healthy relationship with the “cute but evil” would end right then and there.
Monkeys are a serious problem in the rural, mountainous areas of Japan (like Kyotango), not only because they break into houses but also because of the more obvious – they steal farmer’s crops! Just the other day, my friends and I had just finished a hike on a mountain in northern Kyotango. As we were driving back, we noticed a ton of wild monkeys in the farmer’s fields at the foot of the mountain. It was so incredible that we just stopped the car in the middle of the road to watch. And lo and behold, the monkeys really were just straight up stealing food from the fields! When they eventually noticed us, they all fled at top-speed back toward the mountain, like they were just caught in the act. I also met a guy from a similar area who is so deep in the “inaka” that his neighbors are all basically monkeys. He told me he once saw a monkey hotwire someone’s car! I can’t confirm whether or not this is true, though if you ever find yourself in rural Japan, I would say be extra certain to lock those doors, just in case (even then, it probably won’t save you ‘cause – monkeys!)