Kyoto (Kyoto) is a city with traditions, temples, chrams, the destination of almost all trips to Japan. It is said that being in Japan and not seeing Kyoto is like being in Poland and not seeing Krakow.
Thus, we devoted the day entirely to exploring the former capital of Japan. A very long day…. seriously!
Table of contents
Public transportation in Kyoto
To start, we went to Kyoto Station, where you can buy an all-day ticket for buses or buses plus the subway. We went straight to the tourist information desk to pick up some maps, leaflets and ask about the most interesting places. If you have a moment, it’s worth going to the terrace located at the station – you can see the city skyline (the terrace is free).
As for public transportation, the subway itself is not very extensive, but it is there. It should be noted here that there are only two subway lines in Kyoto: north-south and east-west. For tourists, the city has prepared special bus lines that run between the city’s main attractions – a huge plus for that! Before pulling up to the stop, we were able to listen in Japanese, English and one language closer to us unidentified (Korean?) to a description of the attraction we were approaching.
Interestingly, buses are boarded through the back door and only at the exit do we pay our fare or show our ticket. Nowhere so far have we encountered such a mechanism – well, full confidence in the public and also you have time to deduct change or find a ticket.
Unfortunately, it had been gathering rain since early morning and the weather made it very difficult for us to explore the city. After a rainy day in Kamakura and Yokohama, we hoped to see the most beautiful places in Kyoto in the sunshine, but we counted.
In Japan, when it rains, there is no such thing as a rain jacket in operation – everyone walks exclusively with umbrellas, and in front of every store or restaurant you will find stands where you can leave them (and even plastic bags for umbrellas). We (unfortunately) moved around in rain jackets. Convenient, but “uncultured”, because thanks to the umbrellas they leave outside you do not go inside wet. We, unfortunately, brought some water and sometimes people steamed at us strangely…. But to the point…
Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)
We took our first steps to Kyoto’s most famous site, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji). There is, of course, an entrance fee, but it’s really worth it!
The title building is a Zen temple covered with gold flakes that make the building shimmer beautifully. The temple’s location alone is noteworthy: right on the Kyōko-chi pond, in which the entire building is reflected, surrounded by greenery on all sides. Originally, it was the villa of shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, later renamed a temple. Destroyed several times and even set on fire by a young monk – it was finally rebuilt in 1955.
Beautiful building, well-maintained gardens – it’s worth a walk up the hill to enjoy the view of the city. What caught our attention was a marked tree standing in the distance, which survived or was exposed to radioactivity after the Hiroshima attack. We don’t know exactly how it was possible that only one was marked, but there must have been something in it.
Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji)
Ginkakuji is another Buddhist temple, originally the villa of shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (not to be confused with the one from the Golden Pavilion!). Contrary to the name, we won’t see a silver-covered building here, because the shōgun didn’t manage to complete the villa in his lifetime.
Just as in the Golden Pavilion, there is also a pond, well-kept gardens, although in the case of the Silver Pavilion, the garden seems more manicured, there are more flowers, and in places there are cones made of sand symbolizing the mountain and the lake (sand garden).
Kyoto’s other temples
Kyoto has a real glut of temples and chrams. You could spend a week here and still not have a chance to see everything. We managed to see a few more sites that day, in the eastern part of Kyoto, which we write about below.
Heian Chram (Heian-jingū) – a relatively young chram, as it is slightly more than 100 years old, built on the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding. The building and plaza are impressive in size and unused space. Only outside the square is it a little less overwhelming – there is a garden, a pond (where turtles are said to swim), a bridge and lots of greenery. The orange, tall torii gate that forms the main entrance to the temple is located on the street, some half a kilometer away from the chram buildings themselves.
Chion-in Temple – this is the headquarters of one faction (or sect, if you prefer) of Buddhism: the Jodo. The temple is famous for its large wooden gate, San-mon, which is the largest gate in Japan.
Nanzenji Temple – also in this temple (monastery) you can see the impressive wooden gate of San-mon. Initially, there was the villa of Emperor Kameyama, then a temple was erected here, and later the whole thing was changed to Rinzai Monastery. Especially noteworthy is the garden at the back of the temple.
Yasaka Chram – one of the most popular chrams in Kyoto. Something that catches the eye right away are the red wooden tori, but also the red finishes on buildings, fences and even lanterns. There are a lot of lanterns hanging here, their number even gives the impression that a few more and the structure that holds them is about to collapse. On each is written the name of the funder (the company that supports the chram). Yasaka Chram is also called Gion, after the neighborhood that is right next door (about which two paragraphs below).
We saw many temples and chrams. Maybe even too much, because at a certain point they began to merge into one for us…. All of them are beautiful and worth recommending, however, by the next temple you can already confuse which one you have seen before. Maybe it’s a matter of such a different and unfamiliar religion and culture for us.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck during our tour of Kyoto’s sacred sites, as the rain kept on giving, which took away some of the joy. We didn’t smell the smoke from the incense sticks, we didn’t see Japanese people praying, the atmosphere wasn’t the same anymore.
Geisha in Gion
However, we did not lose hope. Or maybe we just felt bad for the day to go back and sit in the hotel? We set off in the direction of Gion in search of the truest geisha(though in Kyoto, geiko is more correct).
Gion is a modern district on the one hand, and an old and historic district on the other. More importantly, however, the district is famous for its geisha, who are easy to meet on the street, and even easier to meet in restaurants or in the so-called “geisha shops. teahouses. We, again, were kind of less fortunate – we saw only a few Geisha on the streets (perhaps due to the rainy weather).
The most famous street is Hanami-koji, which features buildings dating back to the 17th century, especially the wooden machiya buildings.
If you will be at cherry blossom time then be sure to go to Shirakawa-minami Dori, one of Japan’s most beautiful streets. We can only imagine how magical it is here when the trees bloom.
Rain, rain, rain…. :)
Yes, we are monothematic in our coverage of the day, but what to do when two wanderers from Europe come to one of Japan’s most beautiful cities and can’t enjoy it ;) Soaked and tired, we drove to the Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba), which is an excellent shelter from the rain. Finally, there was hope that we would dry out a bit and get warm.
It is a downtown market with more than 100 stores and restaurants. Here you can get lots of more or less familiar food items, plenty of seafood (including small octopus stuffed on sticks like lollipops) and strange Japanese ingredients/spices. Most of the rarities sold here we did not know and had never seen with our eyes before. We weren’t brave enough to sample everything either, but we couldn’t take our eyes off the baskets and containers full of exotic delicacies. At the market, of course, you can also buy various souvenirs, gadgets, clothes, although food definitely dominates.
At the very end of the market is a big red crab ;)
The mixture of smells, crowds of people and the prevailing bustle are characteristic of the place. At times it was hard to squeeze from one stall to another – you can see the market even on the other side of the world is governed by the same laws :)
After a short walk, we walked to a pub recommended by our guide: the Ippudo. We just happened to hit lunchtime, so in the price of soup we still had Japanese dumplings, rice and, of course, tea.
An additional attraction was the locals sitting next to them, who very ostentatiously gulped and slurped while eating the soup – I mean the guys liked it :) This is completely normal behavior in Japanese culture. Unfortunately, the other tourists sitting next to them didn’t seem to like it, because they quickly left the restaurant.
After the meal, we went to the Imperial Palace (Kyōto Gosho), which is located in the sprawling, rectangular-shaped Imperial Park. This large, green area in the center of the city is immediately striking when looking at a map of Kyoto.
The park was empty (which we understand due to the increasing rain), so we traversed the wide park avenues alone, and finally kissed the handle of the gate to the palace. Unfortunately, when we arrived the facility was already closed, so we had no chance to see the imperial buildings. We only learned that in order to get inside, one must sign up in advance at a building nearby – this is the only option to enter the Imperial Palace grounds.
We decided to end our tour of Kyoto for today at this point. It was a very long and tiring day. Probably even one of the longest during our entire trip. Despite the adversity, we tried to get as much as we could out of the day, but on our way back to the hotel we were glad we were staying here longer, as we might still be able to see Kyoto under more favorable conditions.
Still, perhaps due to the weather, we lacked the “wow effect.” Aside from the temples, which are indeed impressive (if only for their number), the city is gray, bland, less developed than Tokyo. This is probably due to the fact that two days earlier we were in the noisy, colorful capital, and here there is more peace and quiet, the advertisements do not dazzle so much and also there is no problem with crowds on the street. Different city, different climate. We were more comfortable with the Tokyo one so far.
This by no means means means that Kyoto should be crossed off the list of cities to see in Japan. Worth it! If only for those temples, chrams, palaces as well as villages not far from Kyoto, which we write about in subsequent posts.
We invite you to see more photos in the gallery, of course: