Treading the Path of Ancient Kyoto, Japan 🇯🇵
We arrived in Kyoto after a long overnight bus journey from Tokyo. The journey was not the best as we had disrupted sleep and arrived in Kyoto in a daze. We did shake it off after breakfast and dropped our bags off at the hotel before starting our exploration of Kyoto.
Kyoto was formerly the capital of Japan for about a thousand years and the city has been well persevered even though it has been exposed to numerous wars over the years. If you would like to experience traditional Japanese culture and heritage there is no better place than Kyoto. Within the prefecturals there are about 1600 Shinto temples and shrines as well as various traditional areas such a Gion and Ninenzaka with many small streets flanked by traditional Japanese wooden buildings and Imperial palace. With a bit of luck you may also be able spot one or two geishas along the way. A word of caution- the geisha are just like any of us and do not like to be harassed by the multitude of tourist trying to take photographs of them while going about their daily life. Therefore, if you want to take a photo of them close up do seek their permission and respect their decision. If not just take a photo from a distance rather than chasing after them, as we have observed some tourist doing. If you wanted you could also purchase tickets to attend a show displaying a geisha performance. The tickets are ¥1200 and the show lasts for 15 minutes.
Although Kyoto may not be as big as Tokyo, some attractions are spread far and wide around the city. Kyoto does offer an unlimited one day bus pass for ¥500 but we decided not to utilise this and just used the trains instead. The reason for this was that roads within the city were often inundated by heavy traffic and you were most likely only able to visit maximum of 2-3 places in a day by rushing so we didn't view it as value for money. We felt that we would like to take in the sights at a leisurely pace and found the trains to be more cost effective. Kyoto is a walking city so be prepared to walk a lot, especially when visiting the different historical sights within central Kyoto. Do keep your eyes peeled as almost every corner or wee alleys boasts a shrine of some sort. Each shrine is dedicated to different aspects of life for instance there are shrines dedicated to geishas, marriage, students, peace etc so people will visit a shrine depending on what they are needing to pray for. While visiting Kyoto, you should also take time out to visit Nishiki market. It is a local market rich with history and traditions where you will find traditional delicacies and an array of Japanese made items. This is where you will be able to try food like fresh sashimi, roasted chestnuts as well as Japanese matcha (green tea) and Kyoto's famous Takoyaki. Takoyaki is a sphere shaped snack made of wheat batter filled with diced octopus, cooked in a molded pan. Within the market you will also be find a Japanese knife and cooking utensil producer and store, Aritsugu. Aritsugu is famous for making hand crafted knives and was founded in 1560 by Aritsugu Fujiwara, a master swordsmith.
As for temples, there are so many temples in Kyoto and although they all have different features, you may be overwhelmed if you visit them all. Of the bigger, well known temples we only went to Nishihongen-Ji temple and Higashi Honganji temple but also visited smaller ones while exploring Kyoto. One thing to take note of if you decide to visit the Imperial place in Kyoto, is that you will not be able to enter the main buildings and will only be able to explore the surrounding gardens. There is a free Imperial palace tour that you can sign up to but the tour will only take you around the off-shoot buildings and not the main ones.
Two of the sights that must not be missed are the bamboo forest, located at Arashiyama and Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. The easiest way to get to Arashiyama is to get take the Keifuku Randen Tram line from Shijo-Oriya Station in central Kyoto. There is more things to do at Arashiyama then you first expect. I would suggest that you head to Arashiyama first thing in the morning to have a quieter experience at the bamboo forest. We were at Arashiyama on a wet, foggy morning and the area was just beautiful. The walk along the Ōi river was breathtaking during the foggy morning with the banks of the river flanked by cherry blossom trees. There are also plenty of gardens, shrines and temples to visit while you are there, however do take note that private gardens and temples do have an entry fee so you need to do your homework to decide which ones you really want to visit as it can become costly to visit them all. During the trip to Arashiyama, we also visited Tenryuji Temple where you will discover a UNESCO zen garden. Certain sections of the garden was very peaceful and tranquil when it was not crowded. Within the garden, you will experience beautiful ponds, sakuras and zen garden art.
The easiest way to get to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is by train and there are two options. You could either take the JR Nara line or Keihan Main Line. We went with the latter as the Keihan main line was closer to where we were staying. Just like any busy tourist attraction, it will get really busy as the day goes on. We decided to visit Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine early in the morning to miss some of the crowd. What is unique about Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is the endless torii gates. A Torii gate is a Japanese traditional gate regularly located at the entrance of Shinto shrines. The torii gate is a symbol to mark the threshold between sacred and non sacred grounds. There are more than 500 torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine lies at the base of the Inari mountain and there is walking rout which loops round to the peak and back, the hike should take no more than 3 hours including the time spent discovering many smaller shrines. You can also turn back at any point if the hike becomes too much. There is a purpose build path but do remember to wear comfortable walking shoes as the grounds can be uneven at times. The town of Inari was a town for merchants, manufacturing and businesses and the shrines were dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. The endless torii gates are donated by Japanese businesses. During the walk, you will also come across many statues of foxes. Foxes are regarded as Inari's messengers hence the numerous fox statues found at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. The density of torii gates will decrease gradually once you head up the mountain. About half way up the mountain, you will come to Yotsutsuji intersection and this is where you will get a view over the city of Kyoto. Although there is a decrease in torii gates, I would urge you to continue the hike as there are 3 shrines at the top of mountain that are worth visiting.
Kyoto did give us an insight into ancient Japan and it was nice to see that ancient cultures and traditions are still be kept alive to this very day. Our next stop in Japan will be the city of Osaka, the journey from Kyoto to Osaka will take roughly an hour by regular train on the Keihan Main line.