For me, Kyoto has the perfect balance of the Old and the New. A place where traditional blends seamlessly with the modern and a feeling I thought I would feel in Athens. During our time in Kyoto, we visited the usual tourist spots: Fushimi Inari Taisha; Kinkaku-ji; Kiyozumi-dera; Arashiyama; Nishiki Market; Nijo Castle; Gion. Each site had it's own charm and beauty and when I go back to Kyoto, I would visit them all again.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Even though you may not know the name Fushimi Inari Taisha I am sure you've seen pictures of it at least once. It is the spot where you see hundreds vermilion torii gates that line a path like the one pictured below. The torii gates are not the only attraction at Fushimi but it is likely the main reason tourists come here.
We arrived Fushimi Inari via the JR line and as soon as we exited Inari station, the shrine was right there. An alternate train line to get here is the Keihan line which stops a few streets over. It is a nice walk through the streets with small shops.
We decided to go to Fushimi Inari a earlier in the morning to hopefully beat the large tourist groups. When we arrived at 930am, it was already pretty busy but not compared to how busy it got at noon when we left.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head shrine of the god Inari who is the god of rice, tea, sake, fertility, agriculture and of prosperity, and is one of the principle kami (or spirit) of Shinto. The Kitsune, or fox, is believed to be a messenger to Inari.
We spent a lot of time hiking up the mountain and taking pictures in between. There is so much to see and experience along the way, so when you visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha, I would allot at least 2 to 3 hours to enable you to really experience the area and the beauty of Mount Inari. It could be done in a little over an hour but that wouldn't do the place justice. Be warned, the hike up to the top of Mount Inari is like a stair master challenge! We only made it halfway up and according to my pedometer, we climbed 55 flights of stairs!
Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is one of the most beautiful places I visited not only in Kyoto but in the world. Admission is ¥400 (roughly CAD$5) and worth every penny in my opinion.
After a short walk from the front gates, you see this spectacular scene: (pictured below)
It is not uncommon to see huge groups of school kids on a field trip when visiting Kinkaku-ji, in fact, when we visited, I counted at least 6 groups of 15 kids or more. We spent over an hour alone in the front area mainly because it was so crowded that I had to wait patiently to get good pictures but also because it was so beautiful and serene. There is plenty more to see other than the Golden Pavilion but in my opinion, none are as memorable.
Shirakawa Dori and Pontocho
After a long day of touring the sites and attractions, it is nice to just relax and be brought back in time.
Shirakawa Dori and Pontocho are 2 great places to do just that in Kyoto.
Shirakawa Dori is a small section located in the Gion district of Kyoto. From what I have read in a lot of blogs, this area is often depicted in animes and Japanese dramas because they have kept the old style feeling of the buildings and streets. We visited this area at night and with the real Geishas/Maikas and tourists dressed up as Geishas/Maikos walking the narrow streets, it was easy to imagine being in the old Kyoto days.
Pontocho is a great place to do some Geisha spotting. Similar to Shirakawa Dori, Pontocho is an alley that has been preserved. From what I saw, the shops in this alley are mainly restaurants and clubs but there are a few other stores as well. The street parallel to Pontocho also has a large number of restaurants of many cuisines.
This year's travel adventure was a trip Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka, places I have never traveled to before. Prior to this trip, Tokyo was the only Japanese city I have visited and I was very excited to see other parts of Japan.
The first leg of my trip was a 4 day stay in Kyoto. I flew into Kansai International Airport and the easiest and fastest way to get to Kyoto from Kansai that I found was taking the Airport Express train called "Haruka" line which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes as it only stop about 5 or 6 times. After collecting your luggage at Kansai, go to the second floor and across the pedestrian walkway to the adjacent building which is the train station. There you will see 2 sets of automated ticketing machines, one for the Nankai Electric Railway and the other is for the JR line. If you purchased the JR pass, I believe you need to go into the ticketing office to get it. I didn't buy the pass so I went directly to the automated machines, selected English and bought my tickets to Kyoto. When buying tickets for the Haruka, there are 2 tickets you need to buy and it cost me around 2850 Yen. I believe one was for 960 Yen and the other was for 1890 Yen. Don't lose these tickets as you will need them to enter and exit the train platforms.
One thing that I found extremely helpful when using the various public transportation in and around Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima is to get an ICOCA card. Prior to my trip, I read many blogs that weren't entirely clear if the ICOCA card was usable outside of Kyoto and Osaka. I can say that from what I have seen, it is now available to be used all over Japan. The only caveat seems to be that you can only get your deposit back in the Osaka/Kyoto area.
To get one of these cards, look for one of the automated ticketing machines for one that dispenses the ICOCA. The price of the card is 2000 Yen (1500 Yen available for use, and 500 Yen is the card deposit). To reload the card, you can go to any convenience store like 7-Eleven or Family Mart and tell the clerk you wish to do so.
You can get the 500 Yen back when you return the card at the end of your trip but there is a 220 Yen service charge. If your load amount on the card is less than 220 Yen, then it will take the balance as the service charge and you still get your 500 Yen back. One good thing about the card is the balance on the card is good for 10 years, so if you intend to return to Japan within that time, you don't need to return the card at all.
The Court Hotel Kyoto Shijo was the hotel we chose to stay in during our time in Kyoto. Overall, I would agree to the 3 star rating for the hotel. It provided us with everything we may need while there and even had a laundry room if we needed to wash our clothes. One thing disappointed me was that we booked a non-smoking room and they did not have any left when we checked in. Luckily, the room wasn't too smelly and the next day when housekeeping came, they did a steam vacuum to the room and the smell was virtually gone.
The room we got was a standard twin(standard) room. Amenities included in the room were the usual bathroom items, sleeping robes, hot water kettle, tea and cookies (replenished daily), and slippers. The bathroom has the usual Japanese toilet complete with heated seat and bidet. But with all Japanese hotel bathrooms, it feels like being in a cruise ship. The one thing missing from the room is a safe which it seems like isn't included in a lot of Japanese hotels.
The hotel is very centrally located and a bit outside of the busy section of Kyoto. The Nishiki Market and shopping district is only about a 15-20 minute walk. The Gion district is about another 15 minute walk past that. Kiyozumi Dera is about a 45 minute walk (but be warned, its a bit of an uphill trek on the latter half of the walk). To get to Nijo Castle, it is an easy 15 minute walk from the hotel. To get to Arashiyama (the bamboo forest and the monkeys at Mount Arashi), its an easy 10 minute walk to the Shijo-Omiya station to take the Keifuku Line which is an above ground light rail tram to the Arashiyama station. I will talk about the sites I visited in upcoming posts. :)
There is a lot of restaurants close to the hotel as well as a Family Mart and a Fresco (supermarket). I would recommend this hotel but if you want to be closer to the shopping district, then I would definitely recommend the Hotel Sunroute chain which we stayed with in Hiroshima and Osaka (more on this later as well).
That's it for now, stay tuned for the sites that I visited while in Kyoto. For now, Mahalo Nui Loa :)
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