By Abbie Leggat
Last year I was lucky enough to travel to Kyoto during Golden week, towards the end of the Cherry Blossom season. This city is full of living culture; from the food vendors on the streets selling green tea ice-cream, to the generations of local people who visit the many temples of Kyoto dressed in traditional costumes.
Kyoto had always been on my bucket list, not only so I could gorge myself on delicious Japanese food like okonomiyaki, sashimi, ramen and curry, but I wanted to walk the old streets, try to spot a geisha and sit in a tranquil garden surrounded by bonsai and koi fish.
There are over 1600 temples in Kyoto alone and it is a wonderful experience to walk the narrow streets of Kyoto and pass temples and shop fronts that were built in the 13th century – absolutely incredible. Kiyomizudera (pictured above) is Kyoto’s most famous temple. This temple is reached by walking up a long, narrow street, full of souvenir shops selling T-shirts, chopsticks and hello kitty electric fans (a personal favourite of mine). When you reach the top, you are not only met with an impressive temple complex but a 180 degree view of Kyoto.
In complete contrast, a visit to Fushimi Inari is a must. This temple complex has a tori path that snakes up the side of Inari mountain (pictured left). Take a bottle of water as it is about a 2 hour walk to the top, including stops that can be made at the many small temples, shrines and sculptures along the way.
For a change of scenery, take a local train to the Arashiyama Tenryu-Ji Temple complex and bamboo forest (pictured above). This complex has a beautiful buddha temple, surrounded by patterned traditional stone gardens full of pagodas and native bonsais. It creates a very zen-like and tranquil atmosphere for exploring. The bamboo forest is located to the north of the temple complex where you will find yourself at the foot of an amazing walking trail that winds its way through the bamboo grove and down to the Arashiyama River. I would suggest walking along the river back to the town centre as it provides spectacular views up from the gorge through the tree canopy. After a lot of walking, a foot spa and cold green tea in a local cafe is a must!
There is no better way to end a day of sightseeing than going to a traditional sushi train (yes, these actually exist in Japan) to sample all the delectable delights that pass you by. A plate of tuna sashimi (depending on the part of the fish used) will cost you about $4.00AU.
At night the streets and canals of Kyoto come alive with bars and eateries spilling onto the small alleyways. I would recommend one of the many alfresco dining choices along Lake Biwa Canal. It is a great experience to sit outside and cook your own okonomiyaki and ramen on your very own hot plate! This part of Japan is also famous for ‘Nama Yatsuhashi’, which is a triangle shaped sweet filed with various flavours including red bean paste, green tea, chocolate and blueberry. These desserts also make a quirky gift for family and friends at home!
The train system is an easy and reliable way to travel around Japan. There are many days tours that can be done from Kyoto, none better than to Himeji Castle in Hyogo. There is a bullet train that travels direct from Kyoto to Hyogo in approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes. This castle complex dates back to 1333 and is best visited early in the morning due to larger crowds later on in the day.
If you are contemplating a Japan Discovery, Discover Winter in Japan, Discover South Korea & Japan or Japan Discovery & Hokkaido Circle Tour with Bunnik Tours, enjoy your stay in Kyoto – and getting lost in the living culture of this inspiring city.
For more information and travel tips, visit the Japan National Tourism Organization.