Kyoto and Osaka are two of the popular destinations that most of the visitors from abroad put on their itineraries. If you take Shinkansen bullet train, it only takes about fifteen minutes, not enough time to read your paperbacks. But I must say that many charms are being overlooked in those fifteen minutes journey. In this feature article, I’d like to introduce two charming sites located at the limit of Kyoto and Osaka. Try traveling from Kyoto to Osaka at a leisurely pace by visiting these sites.
Taking a local train from Kyoto Station for about twenty minutes, 143-meter-high mountain appears over the Kizu River. Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, first destination of the day, rests on the top of this mountain, Mt. Otokoyama. This shrine has been beloved by the local people for a long time that it dates back until 860 in the early Heian Period (794-1192). After numbers of repairment and renovation, the current building was renovated in 1634 during the Edo Period. And in 2016, Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine was designated a National Treasure of Japan.
Getting off at the Yawatashi Station (八幡市駅), the nearest station from Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, you will see a cable car station on your right which will take you up to the mountaintop. On your left, you’ll find a big torii gate (Ichi-no-torii, or the first torii gate), an entrance of the main approach to the shrine. If you are ready for a half an hour of light hiking, I recommend taking the main approach to the shrine. Please note that there are some steep steps on the way, so if you have some difficulties climbing up some steps, take a cable car and enjoy five minute ride through the woods. The one-way fare of the cable car is 200JPY for adult, 100JPY for a child.
Go through Ichi-no-torii and walk by the shrine pavilion called Tonguden, there is another torii (Ni-no-torii, or the second gate) through which you will find the main approach that leads you to the mountaintop. Keep climbing and you’ll run into a beautiful bamboo forest. It may not be as significant as that of Arashiyama, but it has own special story behind. Thomas Edison used bamboos from this area when he was working on incandescent lightbulbs! There is even a monument in the grounds of the shrine which was built to honor his achievements.
At the mountaintop, there is San-no-torii (the third gate). And through this gate, Honden (the main sanctuary) finally appears in front of you. The architectural style of this magnificent building of the shrine is called Hachiman-zukuri. Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine is one of the few remains of this style built during the Edo period. As the day I have visited was raining, there were only couple of tourists but there was a family lining up in front of the camera for a group photo. It looked like they were having “Omiyamairi,” a Japanese ritual of taking one-month-old child to a shrine to pray for child’s healthy growth.
After paying a visit to the main sanctuary, take a back approach to return. Climbing down the silent, peaceful back approach surrounded by the woods, I found a secluded shrine pavilion at about halfway to the top. This pavilion is called Iwashimizu-sha, which is said to have been responsible for the name of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine. As Iwashimizu (石清水) means “spring water through the rocks”, the spring water flowing by the pavilion has been worshiped for a long time.
If you got tired out from the walk, do not hesitate to take a cable car. From the observatory deck near the cable car station, you can enjoy the view of the southern Kyoto. And if you got bit hungry, try out restaurants and cafes around Yawatashi Station. I recommend trying Bo-zushi (pressed markerel sushi stick) of the well-established restaurant serving for more than 100 years.
Check out the map of the shrine in the following page.
The birthplace of the Japanese Whisky
The next destination is Suntory Whisky Distillery. It take more than an hour if you use local train and bus, so let’s take a taxi here. Riding on a taxi for about twenty minutes from Yawatashi Station, and after crossing three rivers (Kizu river, Uji river and Katsura river), I arrived at the brick-made building at the foot of Mt. Tennozan. Although sake (Nihonshu) may be the most familiar drinks in Japan, whiskies made in Japan are now becoming popular around the world. Here, Suntory Yamazaki Distillery is the birthplace of Japanese whiskies, making domestically produced whiskies since 1923.
I highly recommend joining the guided distillery tour which you can look around the distillation room and the warehouse with the guide. The warehouse where hundreds of whisky casks lining up is a great place to take a picture so don’t forget to bring your camera. And the highlight of the tour is the tasting of the unblended whisky which can only be tried here in the tour. To end the tour, we will make highball (whisky with soda) with whisky made in this distillery. Kanpai!
There is Yamazaki Whisky Museum on a premise where you can learn about the history of the distillery and Japanese whiskies. In the museum, check out a gift shop where you can buy some special gifts that can only be bought here. And for whisky lovers, don’t forget to try the tasting bar where you can taste various vintage whiskies from all over the world at a reasonable price.
In order to participate in the guided distillery tour (1000 JPY per person), you must make a reservation in advance. Although you can enter Yamazaki Whisky Museum for free, it is required to make a reservation in advance. For reservation, please check the following page.
From Oyamazaki Station, the nearest train station from Yamazaki Distillery, it takes about thirty minutes to get to Osaka. So if you leave Kyoto in the morning, you will arrive Osaka around dinner time. If you take the Shinkansen bullet train, you may be able to do a half day sightseeing in both cities. But I believe traveling in a leisurely pace can be a precious experience.
As I have joined the tour starting at 14:50, I arrived Osaka around 6PM. Now it’s time to look for a place for dinner.