Ten temples might be too many to think of right now, but the title had a nice ring to it and there really are SO many temples, that it does help to get personal opinions on which ones are worth seeing in a limited amount of time.
Kiyomizu - I would definitely recommend. In Eastern Kyoto it stands far apart from the many others temples you'll see in Japan. Upon a hillside overlooking Kyoto, the temple has a wonderful view of the city. Even the massive wooden pillars supporting the temple have a certain charm, (I think the entire temple might have been built without nails). Sip water from the special flowing spring as you leave the temple for blessings of fortune and health. But the real must is walking down the picturesque Ninnenzaka as it leads away from the temple. A great place to stop and have a snack is Kasagi-ya a tiny homey tea shop with only a handful of tables, but which serves the best ohagi and tea sweets I've ever had. Their Kaki-gori (shaved ice) with green tea is also so oishii you'll want to make the trip back to Kyoto just for this little shop. (if I remember correctly if you're walking down the stairs of Ninnenzaka it's on the left hand side, partially covered by the stairs - look for the kaki-gori kanji)
Todai-ji - if you have the time this is a nice day trip from Kyoto (it does take the whole day though, so only if you have the time). Todai-ji is memorable from other temples just for the sheer massiveness of the Buddha. The bowing deer and being pulled through a hole in the pillar (the size of the Buddha's nostril) for good luck, makes it even more enjoyable. Watch your pockets though, the deer can get a little aggressive.
Kinkaku-ji - SO different from any other temple. GOLD. Not quite what I think of when I think of the tranquility and peace of zen gardens (and personally, I think I prefer the calm of Ryoanji or Ginkakuji) but if I were never able to visit Kyoto again in my life, then this is something I would have wanted to see.
Okay, so sorry to disappoint. I'm stopping at three. ;) Just wanted to put in my couple of two cents on Kyoto temples to balance out Kai. :D
So much to say about food in Japan! Here are just the foot notes on some reasonable and easy places to eat:
- Ticket vending machine restaurants are easy, cheap and great if you're a limited or non-Japanese language speaker. Look at the pictures or fake food in the window, match the characters, press the button, pay the machine and a ticket comes out. Take it to the person at the counter, have a seat, and within minutes (usually not more than 3) your meal has arrived. These diners are scattered everywhere throughout major cities in Japan and target businessmen and commuters who literally inhale their food and are out the door within minutes
- Similarly there are GREAT gyudon (beef on rice) restaurants. They cater to the fast pace crowd but you can find a yummy bowl of steaming teriyaki-ish beef on rice for $3. All you need to do is point at the picture in front of the register. No speaking necessary. My recommendation is Yoshinaru (bright orange signs with a bowl with steam coming out of it - EVERYwhere in Tokyo and major cities - www.yoshinaru.com) $3/bowl and always satisfying.
- 7-11 (Seben ereben) and any convenience store are also an easy and affordable place to grab food on the go, and much better quality than the states. They have a variety of musubi, sandwhiches, ramen, pasta, salads and pastries everyday. Not to mention all your regular 7-11 stock. Again, absolutely no speaking necessary. This is the perfect place to stock-up for a Shinkansen or long train ride (bentos on trains run pretty steep and aren't quite so tasty). No place to sit down and eat at these stores though, and don't forget eating in public (on the streets, on transportation, in stores, etc., etc.,) is frowned upon unless you're on a long train ride or on a bench in the park. Big metropolitan city with Starbucks popping up everywhere, but rarely do you ever see someone walking with one anywere!)
You can't get around Japan without JR!! (Japan Rail)
The Railpass is a DEAL if you're going to be traveling roundtrips or long distances on the Shinkansen. The unfortunate part being that the Railpass can't be used on certain express trains. However, that being said, I believe one way tickets used to be a couple hundred dollars, so for about $271 a 7 day JR Pass that gets you anywhere is a steal. (14 day passes are also available)
Their website has been updated recently and includes all the info you need including schedules: http://www.japanrail.com/
Quick tip for making reservations in Japan. This is how we found all of our accomodations for our last trip. Pay attention to where the hotel/inn is located, walking distance to stations is ideal. Bus rides are not.
With Sach and Lee already making their way through Asia, looks like I better start writing...course once I start who knows when it'll stop!
Thank heavens for the categories, for now I'll stick to sight seeing.
Chapter 1 - Sight Seeing
Aside for your normal temples and shrines, there are a couple of must sees in Japan.
Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon - Young Tokyo fashion is something entirely in itself (think loose flash dance socks to the knee), but it's nothing compared to what you'll see on the corner of Omotesando at the entrance to Yoyogi park on a Sunday afternoon. Take the Yamanote line to the Meiji-jingu/Harajuku Station. if you're in a crunch for time exit at either end of the station (the closer end is Meiji-jingu-mae) and hang a right, but if you have the time give yourself a treat and walk down my favorite street in all of Japan, Takeshita-dori, where you're packed shoulder to shoulder by the bustle of young fashionable Japanese looking for a good buy, hang a right at the first real street, then another right on Omotesando. (Suddenly you're hit by real Western Culture: GAP, J-Crew, Starbucks, oh and Condom-mania) However, keep going up the street and BOOM, your in the middle of a cross between a cult, a costume party and the 60's, 70's, 80's all combined. It's unforgettable and unlike any fashion party or gathering you'll ever see again. (Don't be shy with the camera, we were polite at first and took pictures subtley from a distance, till we realized their preference was to pose as people snapped happily away)
Tsukiji Market is another must-see and an experience all in its own. Tour books often have this written up incorrectly or not enough. They say get their early, but after it's officially open to the public. The real action happens earlier between 5am and 6am when the HUGE masses of tuna (I believe they average 200 lbs) are auctioned off to restauranteurs and wholesalers. (Did I mention that this one open market supplies the WHOLE of Japan and the Westcoast - well I thought I read that somewhere, and it's certainly busy enough to make me believe it) More species and types of fish for sale than you've ever seen in your life. So if ANYONE has just a smidge of appreciation for seafood or sushi take the time to wake up early, you don't see too many foreigners, but as long as you're able to weave through the frantic masses of crowds and little motorzied delivery trucks, you're fine. Don't forget to stop for sushi and sake at one of the numerous shops on your way out. Follow the locals or the men in knee high boots, they know where to go. It is the freshest possible sushi your palate will ever have the pleasure of experiencing, and pretty affordable as well.
Shibuya Crosswalk I've been to Tokyo numerous times and the throngs of people, never cease to amaze me, but never more so than at this one intersection in Shibuya. I wish I could tell you more of exactly where it is. You'll know when you're there, when you're trying to cross the street at the same time as HUNDREDS of other people and you get so turned around you can't remember which side of the street you were trying to get to. I'm not 100% positive, but I believe it's the Hachiko exit of the station (Hachiko is a famous dog and statue rendezvous point)..I do know that the best vantage point is from the second floor of Starbucks that's either adjoining or a part of the Seibu Department Store. This is also a great area to hang out at night, the lights, the crowds the feel is amazing. I've never felt more IN Tokyo then in that exact spot (or corner).
Ouch...hmm..that was only three sites and I've babbled your ears off (or worn your eyes out)...better stop for now. I did try to warn you and I haven't even gotten to temples yet!!!
Jya matta ne! Stace