Kyoto, Japan… City of A Thousand Shrines.
It was July. And it was hot. And Kyoto is one of those walk-around-and-see-all-the-sights kind of cities. Not much of a vibe for sitting on a balcony and enjoying the view. You’ve got to get out and see and do! Which I actually believe is one of the best ways to experience a place and it’s culture. But thank God for those air conditioned buses. Without which, I’m not sure we would have made it.
Despite all the walking, stair climbing, sweating, dehydration, and aching feet, this trip was amazing. The temples and shrines that sprinkle the land are truly incredible. These ancient temples with their intricate architecture and stunning designs are masterpieces of art. Every single one differs greatly from the next. Some were bright and colorful, located at the end of bustling streets filled with tourists and shops. Some were shrouded in blankets of moss, hidden high in the mountains, bringing a mysterious peacefulness to the air. Some boast massive lanes leading up to the main temple. While others were a labyrinth of stairs and small pathways you could easily get lost in.
We began in the Southern Higashiyama district at the Yasaka-jinja shrine where we had stumbled upon a ceremony to announce a young boy as the main character for the Gion Festival float later that month. After watching the ceremony with a mixture of fascination and confusion, we headed to Maruyama-koen park where we proceeded to get somewhat lost before emerging onto the grounds of Chion-in Temple.
After a tasty bowl of noodles at Hisago, we headed to the Gion district of Southern Higashiyama. We strolled through the lanes of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka where we popped in and out of small boutiques shops, teahouses, and intriguing food places. Amongst the sea of tourist you could spot beautiful geiko (modern-day geishas) shuffling here and there, adorned in traditional kimonos and magnificent hairstyles. Tired and sweaty, we finally reached the end of the lane where the Kiyomizu-dera sat perched on top of the hill in all it’s brightly colored glory, overlooking the city of Kyoto. After exploring the temple and stopping for what was essentially Japan’s version of shave ice, we headed to Gion Kyoto Ramen for a delicious gyoza-filled dinner.
The next day we headed up to Ginkaku-ji temple in Northern Higashiyama. Then made our way down the unusually quiet and empty Philosopher’s Path. We started the journey with a refreshing stop at a french riverside cafe called Green Terrace for some coffee and pastries. Then continued along the peaceful path where we stumbled on a few more temples, including Honen-in, Reikan-ji, and Eikan-do. On one of the canal’s many bridges, an elderly Japanese man was making small origami boats from leaves. As we approached he excitedly handed us each a flower to place in one of the boats. He told us to make a wish and toss the boat in the river below. Then smiled at us and carried on making more boats, simply trying to use his gift to spread joy to others.
Then after a brief unpleasant moment fueled by indecisiveness and hangriness (you have to have at least one of those moments while traveling right?), we headed back to our home base of downtown Kyoto to settle on some comfort food at Tully’s Coffee. We then headed to Nishiki Market to marvel at the narrow lanes packed with exotic food and strange shops. A full day of temples and walking and sensory overloads led us to dinner at Musashi Sushi, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where you basically get to release your inner-child, watch the parade of california rolls, and snatch whatever looks tasty. We then ended the night with drinks and crepes at Breizh Cafe, a fabulous little spot that began in Paris and had thankfully made it’s way to Japan.
On the third day, we jumped on a bus headed for Northwest Kyoto to marvel at Kinkaku-ji temple, otherwise known as “The Golden Temple”. We hit a couple more temples down the street including Ninna-ji and Ryōan-ji. Before catching a train to the Arashiyama district, we stumbled on a small Japanese-curry restaurant called Family Kitchen. The adorable little spot with a hipster flare was run by two sweet Japanese ladies who seemed to have literally converted their family kitchen into a restaurant. They wore fedora’s and huge smiles, as one lady served us while the other cooked up something magical. We watched her behind the counter hard at work creating what was likely an old family recipe. And we were amazed with the outcome. It was the best meal we had the entire trip.
With happy tummies, we hopped on a train headed for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, hidden high in the mountains. The stroll through the bamboo forest was truly incredible. The air was crisp and refreshing at the higher elevation. The bamboo swayed in the breeze, knocking together and echoing throughout the forest. The experience was eerie, mysterious, and magical all at once. We visited the serene Jokkako-ji Buddhist temple before heading to dinner at Arashiyama Yoshimura. There we enjoyed our best bowl of soba noodles yet and a million-dollar view of the mountains and the centuries-old Togetsu-kyo bridge.
On our last day, we got hit with a wave of rain and exhaustion. After three incredible days we were a bit templed out. But we managed to see the impressive and fascinating Nijo Castle built in 1603, home to Japan’s great warlord generals, the Tokugawa shoguns. After the tour of the castle we set out to find a bite to eat and ended up stumbling on the greatest discovery of the trip: Takashimaya Department Store’s basement food floor. It was a fantastic way to end the trip winding through a maze of gorgeous food displays and tempting smells. Although we wish we had known about it the whole time….
Here are a few of my favorites pictures from the trip! Enjoy!