Japan’s former imperial city is chocked full of temples most in the category of amazing; there is something like 10 UNESCO world heritage sites in Kyoto alone. After the industrial chaos of Osaka, Kyoto seems elemental, organized and gorgeous. There seemed like there are temples or shrines around every corner and all of them are beautiful. The Shinto religion the indigenous religion of Japan is followed by approximately 50% of the population with 35% following Buddhism and the rest something else. We learned that Shintoism is really a collection of rituals, beliefs and mythology involving nature and ancestors linking the past with the present.
After navigating the Osaka train station we picked up our JR rail passes and we hopped on our first train from Osaka to Kyoto. It was just a quick 30 minute ride to Kyoto on a commuter trail. We took a taxi from the train station to our airbnb; a subway and a 14 minute walk seemed too much for the girls especially in an unfamiliar city, still no Uber. After dropping our bags off and eating some sushi for lunch (Maddy and Julie had curry) we attempted to make it to the Hijo-jo Castle but only made it so far as a local playground. We grabbed some groceries on our way home, it’s nice to have a kitchen again especially in expensive Japan.
On our first full day in Kyoto we went out to the Arashiyama bamboo forest and the famous Tenryo-ji Temple our first UNESCO site in Kyoto (only 10 more to go). The green bamboo forest had trails that wound through the forest and the light that day produced an amazing effect leading your eyes up in the air.
We had lunch at the local seven-11; I know right but this seems to be a thing in Japan. It’s easier to get the girls to eat something there and stave off meltdowns for at least a few hours. We walked through the Tenryu-ji Temple adjacent to the bamboo forest and one of the oldest and most revered temples in Japan. The temple was incredibly beautiful with a pond and running stream surrounded with traditional style Japanese buildings and beautiful moss gardens. It was a very tranquil place to visit, we tried not to break the silence too many times; kids will be kids though.
Next we crossed the Katsura River to hike up the other side of the river to see a group of Macaques and a beautiful view point of Kyoto. The kids were exhausted so we headed home on the city tram way.
That afternoon when everyone else rested I went out exploring. I headed toward the Imperial Palace but it was already closing by the time I got there so I was only able to walk around the gardens a bit. Afterward the palace I wandered over to the confluence of the Takano River and Kamo Rivers, where I enjoyed the final rays of sunshine and a relaxing break. I grabbed some quick dinner and groceries for breakfast and headed home.
The next day was a bit of a down day after pushing the girls to so many spots the day before so we just did a quick stroll through the Nishiki Market in the afternoon. The market was in one of the covered walking malls that are so popular in Japan. The stalls were more sophisticated looking with assortments of dried fish, pickled radishes, green tea flavored everything and soft serve ice cream around every bend. They even had a few rock stores for me, but almost everything in the stores was from somewhere else. Maddy has some time to herself that afternoon and had a massage and walked around to some temples.
Our next adventure was taking a train ride to Nara an imperial capital of Japan prior to Kyoto. We used our JR passes at the train station and hopped on a train south. Although we were warned to take our passports with the JR tickets although they never checked them and we just passed around the turn-styles and headed to the trains. Once we arrived in Nara we quickly found lots of the docile deer that makes the city famous and we were able to pet them and feed them. A park with the deer was originally established in the 6th century when the town was the feudal capital of Japan. There was also an impressive pagoda and palace grounds. The deer have been trained to bow prior to receiving their food, it’s pretty hilarious. Only in Japan.
Our destination the next day was just a short walk from our house; the Hijo-jo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence for the first shogun of the Edo period (1603-1867). We kept our outing short after a somewhat long day to Nara the day before but we lasted long enough to complete the tour through the house and walk along the ramparts. It was a beautiful castle and another UNESCO site but not quite as impressive as the Osaka Castle. On our way out we strolled through plum and cherry tree orchards, which reminded us a bit of home.
After a few days of running around with the kids we chilled out in our apartment for the most part. I took advantage of everyone’s laziness and temple fatigue and got out and toured some on my own. My target was Kiyomizu-dera, on the eastern side of the city, many of the best temples are built on this western facing hillside taking advantage of water sources and beautiful views. After being dropped off by the bus I walked through the Yasaka Shrine, there were lots of tourist even with the overcast day.
Trying to avoid the majority of the crowds I slipped into the Kodai-ji Zen Buddhist Temple and took a walk around; there were very few people so I really got the place to myself which enhanced the experience so much. The temple had some amazing features and it wasn’t really featured on any tourist info; there was a Zen rock garden, foot bridges, bamboo forest, prayer and a huge dragon head sticking out of the ground.
Next I climbed through the shopping area at the bottom of Kiyomizu-dera, mostly kitchy shops but some were pretty upscale. I pushed through the pedestrian traffic so I had enough time to see the sights. They didn’t disappoint, there was a massive orange pagoda, with several temples, and a grave yard overlooking the city of Kyoto. Even after visiting many temples over the last 10 days I was impressed. I walked down through the graveyard then down through Otani Hombyo temple; I would swear there is a temple every 20 feet in this city.
I walked home passing through Gion Corner, with really small walking streets. There were people waiting to see if they could spot a Gesha, apparent it is a well known spot for seeing them in between engagements. I didn’t see one, not that I hung out waiting for one.
I was off to walk along the river and have some sushi before heading home to put the kids to bed.
On our last day in Kyoto we decided that we couldn’t miss Fushimi Inari, the shrine with distinctive vermilion gates that meander up the mountain on the eastern side of the city. It was an amazing spot and the weather was beautiful. We rang the bells in the temple to awaken the spirits and walked through several long sections of gates before Julie and Caroline and I decided to head home. Maddy and Mimi went on a longer hike further up the hill. The rest of the day was spent packing and cleaning our apartment; we were headed to the mountains the next day.