Kyoto bound!

15The next morning dawned bright and early. I packed up my small, wheeled carry-on, slung on my backpack, and walked ten minutes to the train station. One transfer and twenty minutes later and I was walking downstairs into Tokyo station. I had planned to meet my friend at the Shinkansen (bullet train) office to pick up our tickets to Kyoto. I would have preferred to take the three hour journey alone. But she didn’t feel confident in figuring out the ticket system, so I agreed to meet her at 10 AM. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for her, did. In the end she didn’t make it there until almost noon.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we split up and checked in at our separate hostels. She suggested meeting up but I wanted to wander around by myself so I politely declined. We each had different things we wanted to see while in Kyoto. And though we met up a couple of times, I was on my own for the most part and it was amazing. In the days that followed, I used the train system, and a few buses, to travel around Kyoto. Revisiting favourite places and discovering new ones. On the day we arrived, I spent most of my time in the Gion area. I visited Kennin-ji Temple. It was founded in 1202 and claims to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. I also checked out Yasaka Shrine that evening. It’s also called Gion Shrine and is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto.

My first full day in Kyoto was full of travel! The bamboo grove in Arashiyama was my first stop. It’s one of my favourite places in Kyoto. But to avoid the throngs of tourists, you need to go early. I revisited Okochi Sanso and enjoyed a cup of green tea prepared the traditional way. I also took time to explore Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important temple in the Arashiyama area and a world heritage site. I recommend it and it’s well worth the price of admission to see both the temple and gardens. I took a much-needed stop at Tenzan no Yu onsen to rest up and soak my sore and tired body. It’s an amazing onsen and spa complex in the Arashiyama area.

The next day was just as full! I woke up early and headed to Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. To avoid the crowds you can either go early or late at night. I spent an hour or so climbing up the steps to the top. Then took a brief rest and enjoyed a Japanese snack of strawberry daifuku from a vendor at the bottom. Then it was time to take the train to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It was beautiful! I spent the rest of the day traveling to and exploring Kiyomizudera. It was founded in 780 and was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Part of it was under construction while I was there. But it was still very impressive. The views you can see from the main building are incredible!

I also had the chance to make an afternoon visit to Nara. It’s a 30 minute trip by Limited Express train from Kyoto (it normally takes an hour). The deer park was beautiful and it was neat to see deer roaming around among the tourists. You can buy special crackers to feed the deer if you’re interested. I also got to see Kofuku-ji Temple which was established in 710. Another highlight was Todai-ji Temple, a famous Nara landmark, constructed in 752. As I was heading out, I discovered Yoshiki-en Garden. It’s named after the Yoshikigawa River. Any foreign tourists gain entrance free of charge. But it’s so beautiful that I’d happily pay admission.

The next day was my final day in Kyoto. I woke up early and took the bus to the Tetsugaku no Michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a beautiful path that follows a tree-lined canal. It’s a well-known tourist area, so go early to avoid the crowds. When I was there I only saw two other people! It’s perfect for a quiet, reflective walk. I also walked to Honen-in Temple which is nearby. It was established in 1680 and is especially beautiful in the spring and fall. It was one of my favourite temples. While I was in the area, I also visited Ginkaku-ji Temple. It’s also known as the Silver Pavilion and was modeled after Kinkaku-ji.

After a wonderful trip to Kyoto, it was time to take the train back to Tokyo. I had a few things I still wanted to see in Tokyo before we flew back to Canada.

Next stop: Tokyo!

Adventures in Japan – Part 3

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Day 6

It had been nearly a week of rainy, overcast weather. But when I looked outside this morning, I saw the bright sunshine and decided to visit the Meiji Shrine. I explored the area for an hour or so, drew my fortune, then headed back to Takeshita Street and Tokyu Plaza in Omotesando for lunch. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Yoyogi Park enjoying the warmth and sun. It was a laid back day and I definitely needed the slower pace.

Day 7

Today was an early day. I woke up before everyone else, checked out of the hostel, and headed to Tokyo Station. I reserved a seat on the Shinkansen with my rail pass, bought an ekiben (train bento) for lunch, then headed to the platform. The journey took less than three hours and I arrived in Kyoto in the early afternoon. I found the hostel with ease (with a map) and checked into my room. After settling in, I walked around Kyoto with a fellow traveler from Germany. We got back around 8 pm, I had supper, then headed to bed.

Day 8

As I was only in Kyoto for two full days, I wanted to make the most of my time there. I got up early and walked to Kyoto station, grabbing a coffee and onigiri on the way. After a short train ride, we arrived at Fushimi Inari. Beautiful orange temples and torii gates decorated the landscape. It’s located on a small mountain and you can walk all the way to the top beneath an unending line of orange gates. It’s quite the experience and quite the challenging climb. But it was the perfect start to the day and the quiet coolness of the forest is calming. Introvert tip: go super early or at night to avoid the massive crowds. I explored Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle after that. I made it just in time for the last tour of Ninomaru Palace, complete with gorgeous artwork and nightingale floors! Then a quick supper and time for bed.

Day 9

To avoid the crowds, I took the train at 7 am to the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Very few were there that early. It was an incredible experience to walk among the towering bamboo in solitude and reflection. I also quietly explored the neighborhoods, and many shrines and temples. I also recommend checking out Ōkōchi Sansō. It’s a villa that was owned by a well-known Japanese actor. But for a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a steaming cup of matcha in a cute tea house in the midst of a beautiful garden. I then walked to Monkey Park Iwatayama nearby. It’s a steep climb, but well worth it to see the Japanese macaque monkeys and the view at the top! In the evening I headed to the Gion district for delicious sushi. Then I spent a few hours exploring the quaint side streets to catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko. Walking the narrow streets really feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

Hope you have a great weekend!