After another terrible sleep we started our day by eating pastries purchased from across the road in our shoebox hotel room while we scrambled to get ready as we needed to be down at the hotel lobby by 9am to meet Asumi…who is Asumi you ask!
Asumi is a lovely Japanese university student currently living in Kyoto and spends her spare time volunteering for the Good Samaritan Club; a group of university students who volunteer their time to guide foreign visitors around Kyoto and the best part ITS FREE, well sort of you are expected to pay for the guides transportation, any entry fees to attractions as well as their lunch, regardless a great deal for a personal tour guide, and having someone with you that knows the bus and train schedules & routes as well as all the local knowledge, it was worth every penny!
Waiting for us as we entered the lobby was Asumi, she was so sweet, introduced herself, explained our day (we had been in email communication prior to our visit where we planned out the day – I had given Asumi a list of places I wanted to visit and she came up with a plan!) and before we knew it we were off on the bus to our first stop….the Golden Pavilion.
The Golden Pavilion, or its proper name, Kinkauji Temple, is another of Kyotos top attractions, originally built in 1397 as a villa by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Muromachi period. After the passing of Yoshimitsu the villa was converted into a temple in keeping with his will. Gold leaf covers the upper two levels of Kinkaku hence its name The Golden Pavilion.
Early on the in the day, yet already crowded by lots of tourists, it was gorgeous but rushed as Asumi was eager to get us to our next destination, Sagano Romantic Train and the only attraction that we had pre-booked (Asumi took care of all this and we simply reimbursed her on the day of the tour) and needed to be there by a certain time.
Thankful Asumi was with us to get us from Kinkauji to the Sagano Romantic Train as I am certain there would be no way we would have made it there on time and more than that we would have got lost at least once! We boarded the old fashioned train at JR Kameoka Station and we all loved seeing the beautiful scenery as we slowly chugged along the Hozugawa River. I can just imagine how breathtaking this ride would be in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom or in fall when the lush green trees have turned rich autumn colors. Twenty minutes later we reached our next destination, Kyotos famous Bamboo Road, a.k.a Arashiyama. While it was spectacular its also hard to be totally amazed with so many people – and it was near impossible to get a shot with no one in the frame.
From Arashiyama we walked to the small village and stopped for lunch. Asumi sat next to Eden and while waiting for our food to arrive got out a mini dry erase board and did some drawing with Eden, I did not expect this at all but Eden loved the attention and Matt & I enjoyed getting a little break!
After lunch we were lucky enough to be joined by another Good Samaritan Club guide, Mutsumi! Equally as sweet as Asumi, Mutsumi is new to the club and had come along for the second part of our tour to learn from Asumi. Mutsumi later told me that she was very excited and honored to be able to learn from Asumi, because she was known within the club for her local knowledge of Kyoto and one of the best guides they have!
After another bus ride (or two I actually cant remember) we made it to Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple and definitely our favorite place in Kyoto. Asumi asked us why we wanted to go here and how we had heard about it as it wasn’t a very popular temple, in fact it doesn’t generally make guide books, and when she told her parents that we were going they were really excited and told how they took Asumi here once when she was Eden’s age.
I don’t think there are words to describe how beautiful Otagi Nenbutsuju Temple is and my photographs definitely do not do this place justice. I think we could have spent hours here looking at all the 1200 rakan (stone statues) each sculptured by a different amateur and therefore no two are alike. Often humorous, they were just so fun to look at. Another great thing about this temple is there were only 2 other parties visiting (one arrived as we were leaving) we finally managed to escape the crowds of Kyoto!
From here our guides led us through a small village to Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple, the walk was probably more exciting than this temple as we got to see traditional village on the outskirts of Kyoto where there were rice fields in peoples back yards, thatched styled roofs and narrow lanes.
By the time we arrived at Adashino Nembutsu-ji I think we were all getting a bit tired, Clio had fallen asleep in the back pack on the walk here, Eden had done a lot of walking and her little legs were starting to lag behind so we didn’t spend much time here, although I am sure if we had taken the time to ask our guides questions and learn the history it would have been neat. An unexpected gem was the bamboo road at the back of the site, not quite as tall as Arashiyama but the lack of crowds made up for the lack of height! Had we not been tired we would have walked it but a quick family photo and we were on our way to the last stop of the day…Monkey Park.
Iwatayama Monkey Park was the one place Eden really wanted to go so I am pleased we made it here an hour before closing otherwise we would have had one really disappointed little girl. To get to the top of Mt Arashiyama you have to walk, up a steep winding path, granted its not that bad since Eden walked 3/4 of the way up herself but after a day filled with lots of walking at times it was a challenge.
Once at the top you can see many of the Japanese macaque monkeys, I believe there are over 100 inhabiting the mountain and Eden enjoyed feeding the wild monkeys while Clio didn’t want to get too close but from a distance she thought they were awesome. An added bonus was the view of Kyoto.
Finally it was time to head home, our guides delivered us, via public bus, back to our hotel and we said our goodbyes. Asumi gave us each a wee gift which was totally unexpected, a heartfelt note with an origami crane she had folded as well as a map of the city where she had marked everything we had done that day as well as the day before – she had remembered all the places we had been from conversations throughout the day.
We love to travel, we love using local public transport and we love doing it on our own, we are ok if we get lost its part of the adventure! However having Asumi and Mutsumi with us made our day so much more special. They shared their knowledge and love of their home country with us, they talked to us about their family and they took interest in where we came from and our families. They enjoyed the girls company and didn’t mind taking extra stops so we could keep the girls happy with plenty of snacks & drinks! I am so pleased we decided to go with the Good Samaritan Club and without hesitation would recommend it to anyone visiting Kyoto.
Only one more day from our Kyoto trip left to blog about, be sure to check back next week for the last installment and if you haven’t read about how we spend our first and second day you can check them out HERE and HERE.
Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust