I got out of Osaka pretty early mainly due to excitement to see Kyoto. I’d heard nothing but good things about it and it definitely sounded like my kind of city. The train makes Kyoto so accessible from Osaka and in under an hour I was standing on the platform ready and raring. The JR Pass covered the trip from Osaka to Kyoto so again if you’re travelling for a while in Japan and over decent distances you should definitely look into it, I can’t stress it enough. The first thing I noticed is it’s quite a busy place in it’s own right. I had an image of a small, quiet little hamlet type town that was blessed with unnatural natural beauty…instead it’s quite the city that is blessed with unnatural natural beauty.
I am staying at K’s Hostel House and it’s extremely convenient from Kyoto station. I chose to walk (I always choose to walk), but I’m sure there’s a bus option if you have heavy baggage. It’s lovely, really lovely. The common room is spacious and decked out with a lovely atmosphere and a large kitchen for everyone. The bathrooms are big enough for me so that’s enough, and the beds are quite comfortable.
After dumping my stuff and planning out all the places I’d like to see here in Kyoto I set out to see what I’ve dubbed ‘Central Kyoto’ which encompassed as many things near the hostel as I could reach in half a day by foot.
The first of my stops was the Shoseien garden which was closed unfortunately, but not 3 minutes later I found myself at the Higashihonganji-Temple (say that 10 times really fast) and it was both huge and ominous. A large black temple and one of the bigger ones I’ve seen as for sheer building size.
A free visit for all of you cheapos and a quick and easy walk considering how close to Kyoto station it is.
The good thing I found about Kyoto is that everything seems to be within walking distance. A few streets over was my next choice of visit the Nishihongwanji-Temple. It is very similar to Higashihonganji-Temple but bigger. Unfortunately I didn’t get let in as it had already shut for the day (but I’ve been back today, so you’ll see it on tomorrows post).
The hike to Nijo castle was pretty easy going and it’s only a few blocks away from the temples. The castle itself cost 600 yen to visit, which was a bit steep in my opinion. It’s an ok visit, but decently popular so if you do go on a weekend please do what I did and go in the reverse direction of the crowd. You will at least get 70% of the place to yourself as the crowds mill around the start (which aren’t really all that special anyway).
After the castle I felt myself warming to this beautiful city. It was literally warmer so that was a start, but the place has a feel to it. Unlike Osaka which kind of felt unwelcoming Kyoto feels like it wants you there. So I obliged by moving onto the Imperial Palace which was another two blocks to the east and just like all things you have to work for in Japan, it was worth it. The garden is marvellous! It’s huge and well designed and has little mini walks in amongst the garden that take you on a little adventure. I can only imagine what beauty this place must hold during non winter months because even now it’s fantastic.
Unfortunately for the second time that day I was to find out I JUST missed the last acceptance for entry and I missed out on the actual palace. A bummer indeed, but not the end of my day.
The Nishiki Markets are directly two blocks to the south from the Imperial Palace and that was my next venture. You walk down these quiet little streets and the entire thing is totally unassuming until suddenly CROWDS of people appear. It feels like a mirage at first, that it isn’t real and you’ve imagined it, and then you get swept up in the sea of people and disappear into a world of humans, food, noise and a sheer cultural explosion. The food stalls are all relatively cheap and being addicted to food I must say most are delicious! I had 5 or 6 shots of Sake from a free sake tasting stall (BEST) and I have to admit I adore Sake… If crowds aren’t your thing then this place might not be that high on your list of things to do but if you really want to get your hands on a piece of authentic Japanese cuisine cooked right in front of you then please give it a go! This video doesn’t begin to give the crowds justice.
I headed to the left and towards the Gion district at a very very slow pace behind all these Japanese folks when suddenly the old disappeared and I was transported to this unreal area of modern technology and clothing shops. It ran exactly horizontal to the Nishiki markets and was meant to be a gravesite according to my maps…got that bit wrong. It was beautiful in its own right but not my kind of thing so I zipped on out of there and on across the river towards the Gion district.
Now the Gion district is a thing of beauty. The amount of Geishas running around is exceptional and it gives what is a bright and lively area a feeling of authenticity still. They looked absolutely gorgeous. It’s another busy district, so be prepared to do the Australian power walk and zip past the crowds. A few times I said screw it and walked on the road which no one else was doing, ah well.
When you walk far enough into the Gion district you come to the Yasaka Shrine which is quite beautiful and if the shrine itself has too many people don’t be afraid to keep walking towards the mountains and enjoy the gardens that stretch up the hill. I’m sure there is a path up into the lookout there but it wasn’t lit up at night so I called it quits and made my way back towards my hostel.
Kyoto quickly became my favourite destination yet, and truth be told I was excited to get to it again tomorrow. The night was a chilled occasion where I met two Americans whom I really enjoyed talking to. One from Denver and another from New Jersey, it is nice to talk football from time to time!