Kyoto, the Imperial Capital city of Japan whose name even translates to “Capital City”, may have lost its Capital status to the effervescent Tokyo but it still retains a lot of history and beauty which make it a worthy stop on any tour of Japan.
After arriving late at night from our visit to the ever so cute Rabbit Island we found our accommodation in the dark and got some much needed sleep ready for two days of solid exploration.
The following morning, after a 7-Eleven breakfast, we made our way to the main Kyoto train station to set out seeing the city by foot. Straight outside the train station stands the Kyoto Tower, which, at 131 meters tall, makes a good homing beacon when making your way back to the station.
From the station we made our way towards the Imperial Palace stopping at various sights on the way and any random temples we came across. Just over halfway to the Palace we found Nishiki Market, and OMG (I don’t use that phrase much) what a cool market this is!
Nishiki Market, also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, is a covered farmers’ market with lots of hustle, bustle and free samples (yippee!). Down a single street you will find more than 130 shops/stalls covering 390 meters. In true Japanese style, we’ve never seen a farmers’ market look so clean and so professional. But this doesn’t impact the joviality and pure awesomeness that you will come across. Amazing foods everywhere you look, stall owners hurriedly crafting local delicacies, customers eyeing up the freshest, tastiest samples – this is a people watching dream.
From there we made it to the Imperial Palace. The former ruling palace of the Japanese emperor is set within huge grounds and surrounded by a thick high wall and large strong gate. Unfortunately, this large strong gate was shut up tight when we arrived so we never made it inside the palace. Instead we enjoyed our time wandering the gardens.
On our way back to the train station we went via the Gion district. Here there is a traditional Japanese street where life has stood still for centuries and Geishas hurry around trying to stay out of sight. If you don’t get to see an actual Geisha (we didn’t ☹️) then the next best thing are all the normal Japanese ladies who have made a day of it and dressed up in traditional wear to pose with their friends. Another great place to people watch and get a glimpse into Japanese life.
For our second day in Kyoto we ventured to two sights to get our quintessential Japanese tourist photos: the red torii on the path to Fushimi Inari-taisha and the Bamboo forest.
We started the day early to beat the crowds to Fushimi Inari-taisha to ensure we could get a good photo. Inari is the patron of business so it is thought good for business to donate the classic red torii gates ⛩️ to this shrine. Businesses throughout Japan have made these donations and you pass through 10,000+ of these Torii as you do the two hour hike up Inari mountain. It’s a mesmerising hike up as you go through the red torii tunnels and once at the top you have a great view over Kyoto. Definitely a classic Japanese moment.
And it’s a similar feeling you get at the Bamboo forest. There is a simple beauty in walking the paths with the Bamboo towering above you. It can get crowded and the rickshaw runners can be a little irritating, but when you find a moment to yourself and listen to the bomboo rustling you feel like you are in some enchanting fairy tale exploring an exotic forest.
After the Bamboo forest, and after the miles of walking we had done exploring Vietnam, Hong Kong and the big cities of Japan, our legs had had enough walking and were close to giving up on us. Therefore, we decided to have a rest and found ourselves in Japan’s take on the classic English pub enjoying a pint. Cheers Kyoto.
Whilst the above were the main official sights of Kyoto that we saw, we also visited the unofficial Kyoto sight of Shoji’s Castle. Like in Tokyo and Osaka we were couch surfing again. This time it was a friendly farmer called Shoji who came to our help. Again we found ourselves with a whole house given for us to stay in for free – remarkable! Shoji’s place has earned the nickname Shoji’s Castle and visitors from all over the world write their praises for Shoji’s generosity all over the walls in the house – the place is covered! We found comments from 2008 and the love for Shoji’s generosity is evident everywhere you look. We added our own comment and Rob noticed that there wasn’t any penis drawings so had to add one in – as childish as ever!
And that was our time in Kyoto. Whilst it didn’t have the electricity and buzz that we loved so much about Osaka and Tokyo, it did have some quintessential Japanese sights and provided more insight into the Japanese way of life. Arigato Kyoto!