Japan 2014: Traveling to the Kansai Region (II)

After spending the night at Osaka, we went back to Kyoto first thing in the morning to visit more temples. Kyoto is not called the “City of Ten Thousand Shrines” for nothing. As a former capital of Japan, one could only expect the great number of temples, shrines, and palaces that can be found in this city. Japan’s culture and history is truly reflected in this city; during World War II, the palaces and shrines at Kyoto were especially removed from enemies’ target so as to preserve them. And I’m really glad they did. After seeing for myself at how beautiful Kyoto is, I cannot begin to imagine how Japanese citizens would have felt if their cultural and historical treasures that were intricately built and preserved by their past leaders and ancestors were to only be destroyed by foreign enemies.

Our first stop for the day was at Kinkaku-ji or The Golden Pavillion, another Buddhist temple in Kyoto that is famous for its garden design and golden architecture. Upon entering the complex, tourists have the chance to strike a bonsho or a Buddhist bell. Bells in Buddhist temples are usually struck with a suspended rope beam, as it was with the bonsho  at Kinkaku-ji. It is believed that striking a bonsho would help you achieve your wish. The practice is done in three steps: 1) toss a coin at a saisen box (100 JPY is usually enough), 2) strike the bonsho, 3) clap your hands twice or simply put your hands together as you would in a prayer and bow humbly and make your wish.


In Kinkaku-ji, your coin donation would be collected by a temple worker who would also assist you to strike the bonsho. After striking the bell and making your wish, the temple worker would give you a post card of Kinkaku-ji. It was winter by the time we visited so what we got were post cards of the temple during the season.


One thing I learned from striking the bell for the very first time: hold onto the suspender beam until it strikes the bell! I made the grave mistake of letting it go earlier than I was supposed to. Thankfully, the temple worker understood that it was purely a mistake. You can see from the photo above that he was the one who held onto the rope after I let it go >_<


kansai_21 kansai_22

The actual golden temple. The top two stories of this Buddhist temple were made from gold leaf and houses the shariden or the Buddha’s ashes. Among the temples that I visited in Kyoto so far, this one is definitely the prettiest! My pictures do not give it much justice, but the garden that contains this temple was also extremely beautiful and only shows how sophisticated and intricate Japanese architecture is.

As it can be seen from the first photo above, the temple is surrounded by bonsai trees while being strategically placed near a pond, making it a picture perfect sight. The still water from the pond makes the whole thing even more beautiful as it also reflects its surroundings, including the temple and the trees. It was like a picture taken straight out of a post card, except that it was real, and I had to remind myself for a brief second that what I was seeing was the actual thing with my own eyes, in person. But that’s the thing: the entire garden complex of The Golden Pavillion was too beautiful that you’d begin to wonder if it is real.

The path that surrounds the garden complex is also decorated by several maple trees that I felt like I was in a Korean drama (hello Autumn in My heart and Winter Sonata). I cannot stress it enough, IT WAS TOO BEAUTIFUL.

As it was with other temples we visited, the outer area of the actual garden complex also have several stalls that sells a variety of souvenirs and food, such as mochi and lucky charms. The complex also has a sign that the temple employs bilingual workers (I guess it was due to the great number of tourists who visit the temple everyday). I expected the workers to only know English so I was totally surprised when one of the workers from a sake stand greeted me with a “Kumusta, kumusta? Salamat, salamat! (How are you, how are you? Thank you, thank you!)” when I passed by. I immediately told my mom and she laughed it off then asked me, “How could he know you’re a Filipino(-jin)?” It was nice seeing you, multilingual-san.


We were starting to get really cold from walking outside, so we decided to take a short break before proceeding to our next stop. We bought green tea and mochi from a nearby snack stand. The warm, bitter and herbal taste of the green tea perfectly complements the sweet taste of the azuki or red bean paste inside the green tea mochi, making it a perfect snack combination for the weather. Having warm tea during winter is definitely one of the greatest delights one could have.


Our next stop was at Ryoan-jia Zen temple. This temple is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is famous for its zen garden design, which is created to facilitate meditation. The garden currently has 14 distinctive rocks, but it is said that there was another one in “hiding”. The 15th rock is said to only appear to those who have already achieved enlightenment.


Our next stop was at Toei Kyoto Studio Park, a theme park that features the filming sites of most period dramas. The actual filming site portrays the street from the Edo Period and also features other attractions such as a Haunted House, a Ninja Mystery House, and a 3D Theater. The studio also has an anime museum that can be found at the lobby. Inside, you can see posters of films and animes that were shot/produced by Toei Studios, some of them including Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Kamen Rider (as shown in the photo above).

kansai_24One thing that I really liked about this place was their display of the dolls of prominent figures during the Edo period, such as the Shinsengumi and the Oniwabanshu.


The famous Shinsengumi trio. From left to right: Hijikata Toshizo (vice commander), Kondo Isami (commander), Okita Soji (first unit captain). Shinsengumi was Kyoto’s special police force formed during Japan’s Bakumatsu period. It was formed to particularly protect the Shogunate.

We were supposed to watch in the 3D theater, but the show does not start until 3 pm on that day so we opted to have a tour in the filming site instead. I’m really glad we did because that’s when my inner fan girl feelings started to explode.

kansai_25 kansai_27The whole site was really BEAUTIFUL. I was secretly dying inside because I really felt like I was transported to the Edo period. The houses, the shops, everything! The inner Gintama fan in me was also celebrating.

kansai_29 kansai_31

A lovely, lovely place.

kansai_30 kansai_36

A portrayal of the Yoshiwara street during the Edo period, Japan’s red-light district. Like in the photo above, courtesans were put behind bars on brothels for potential customers to look at. My primary knowledge about this district comes from Gintama so you can only imagine how happy I was when I spotted this street.

One of the highlights of our visit in this park was the Haunted House. I haven’t been to a lot of haunted houses but I could say that this one was quite haunting, but not exactly scary. Visitors who decide to brave this attraction would have to wait in line as customers were instructed to enter the haunted house by each pair (an opposite to the norm I was used to back home, where customers can enter the haunted house simultaneously and huddle in groups). Once you enter, you would be instructed to watch a short clip on a television placed inside where a woman reminds you of the few things that you should and should not do inside the haunted house (English translation included). The clip was eerie and sets the mood, a primer for the experience that you are about to have. Once the clip is done, the doors to the actual haunted area automatically opens for customers to enter.

The haunted house was frightening but not extremely scary. In retrospect, the interior was not filled with scary designs everywhere in comparison to the haunted house I once saw in a Korean reality show. However, the sound effects were surprising and had me screaming. My mindset was to finish the course as fast as I can so I sprinted my way through the entire haunted house, with my sister in tow. I even heard a real ghost actor make creepy noises behind us but I did not bother to look back and just encouraged my sister to run. In fact, we were so fast that we managed to reach two Japanese teenagers who entered the attraction before us. There was a scary female mannequin ghost on the corner where we met them and at first, the four of us were reluctant to proceed, afraid that it was actually a real person who would start running after us once we pass by. I decided to take the lead by of course, running, everything be damned.

By the time we were back outside, my sister was laughing at me for running too fast. I blame Xiumin for this newly acquired technique for handling haunted houses.

samura fam

Another highlight of our visit was this encounter with samurais. These actors were readily available for a photo op; there was another worker who takes your pictures, and there were baskets near the photo op area where you could place your belongings for the mean time. They were kind and hospitable too and patronizes the customers with much delight.


One of the must-try attractions in this park is the Ninja Mystery House. This attraction features a demonstration of how ninjas move and how their houses work, including how to discover and go through false doors and pull-out staircases. Once the demonstration is done, customers would be given the option to stay and watch a ninja clip or proceed to the fun part: the ninja maze. The ninja maze would test the information you have acquired from the demonstration earlier, you would have to work out your way outside by going through false doors and walls.

I went to this attraction with Papa and my two sisters, and Papa opted that we proceed to the maze right away. As a result, we were the ones who first made it outside among our group. The workers from the Ninja Mystery House would greet you a welcome back and a congratulations once you make it back outside.

kansai_33 kansai_34 kansai_35

This entire place really gave me strong Gintama and Ruroken feels, you don’t even know.

kansai_41 kansai_42

Aside from the photo op area with samurais, the park also features other interesting places to take pictures at including this cut-board area where you can insert your head to the body of samurais and ninjas, and the small roof where children can pretend to be bad-ass ninjas.

The studio park also has shops inside where you can choose from a great array of souvenirs, particularly ones that pay tribute to the rich history of Kyoto. I was delighted to find a couple of Shinsengumi goods in the shop inside the studio, and much to my amusement, there were even some items which proudly has Kondo Isami’s and Hijikata Toshizo’s pictures printed on them respectively. It was then when I came to the conclusion that Japan really love their Shinsengumi heroes.

In summary, Toei Kyoto Studio Park successfully manages to merge a cultural and historical experience with a fun leisure time, something that the neighboring sacred temples do not entirely permit. If you’re traveling with children to Kyoto, this is a great and a must-try place.

Japan 2014: Traveling to the Kansai Region (I)

Last December, I was finally given the chance to achieve one of my lifetime goals – to travel to Japan.

I wish I was exaggerating when I say ‘lifetime’, but it has truly been one of my greatest goals since I started to have a mind of my own. I remember being five years old and writing to my mom that I’ll visit her in Japan one day through my own parachute because a) I miss her, b) my five-year old self was filled with aspiration and determination. Of course, I learned that traveling from one country to another was not as easy as it seems as I grew up, but I could say that my determination never wavered. One day, I told myself. One day, I’ll visit the foreign land that I have always loved. One day, I’ll visit my mom.

I never expected that moment to happen in the last few weeks of 2014.

Drama aside, I spent my Christmas vacation in Japan by traveling to the Kansai region. Admittedly, I was quite skeptical at first when my mother told me that we’ll be spending most of the holidays at the south and not at the city, but after the experience, I was really glad Papa (my stepfather) decided to take us there.


Continue reading