Kyoto is a huge city…definitely not ideal for a camper, so we came in by train… the bullet train. A journey that takes 65 minutes using the local train, took 18! It was fast! And smooth.
We planned 2 days in Kyoto, and wanted to see as much as we could using public transport and our feet. We used 3 self guided walking tours which took us to hidden paths we would have missed. Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years, so not surprisingly there are many temples, shrines, castles etc. but they are quite far apart. This would be a challenge! Poor Chris! I get an adrenaline charge in busy cities… whereas I think after a while he would rather be in a field birdwatching!
The one or two day bus and subway passes are good value, but we also used the JR trains which were quick and comfortable.
Exiting the station, the bus queues were huge, but efficient marshalling, and some squashing, meant we were soon on our way to stop one. From here we would walk through parks, and some of the oldest streets in Kyoto, still with wooden frames and paper screens.
The biggest treats were that it was warm and sunny, and the cherry blossom had erupted almost overnight. Glorious, but it meant everywhere was extra busy!
There were small temples everywhere, but we had our main goals. Firstly, overlooking the mountains, the amazing Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple complex, first built in 763, but this renovation was from 1633. The colours were gorgeous, and the highlight is a huge temple, with a veranda hanging out over the side of the mountain.
Some renovation was in progress… we loved the bamboo scaffolding!
Then onto the impressive Chion-in temple complex with the largest gateway in Japan! The timbers were an incredible size.
Next to the lovely Shoren-in temple, with giant, ancient camphor trees guarding it’s entrance. The main hall had beautiful sliding screens with 16th and 17th century paintings.
Next a side step to Nanzenji Zen Temple, rebuilt 1570-1600. This was a lovely oasis with a pretty, zen garden, and gorgeous tiger screen paintings in the Hojo hall.
Now a walk along the 2 km Philosophers path, alongside a canal and lined with cherry blossom and spring shrubs. Gorgeous.
At the top of the hill, (every temple seemed to be at the top of hills …we will have climbed Everest by the end of this trip!), our final stop at Ginkakuji Zen Temple and dwelling house. High above the city, the garden winds it’s way up the hillside. We love the way the rooms are divided with sliding panels so they can be reconfigured in so many shapes and sizes. The 17th century screen paintings were beautiful but we couldn’t photograph them.
Onto a very busy bus to the town centre to find food! A recommended restaurant serving acclaimed Kobe beef wanted over £100 for a steak! Er… no thank you! So we found a great sushi restaurant with conveyer belt!
Then train back to our little camper before we do it all again tomorrow!
Day two, earlier start to try to beat the crowds. We were at our first shrine – Fushimi Inari Taisha – by 8.45. It was still busy!
This is a special place at the foot of Mt Inari. It has been a shrine to the guardian god of abundant rice crops and good business since 711. The shrine buildings are vermillion, the colour of our life force, and which can counteract spells. There are many statues of foxes, guardians of the rice harvest. Since ancient times, worshippers have built shrines up the mountain, and added Torils – huge red gates, so that now the Toril walkway stretches over a mile up the mountain… so up we went. Every one is inscribed with it’s donor and their wishes or thanksgiving message. It was quite moving to witness such belief.
Next, we found a tiny shrine to the frog spirit,
and then headed to the wonderful Nijo-jo castle, built in 1603 by the Shogun leader who unified Japan. It was also the place where the Shogun returned Japan to Imperial rule in 1867.
It was full of paintings, and special wooden Nightingale floors.. the nails squeak like birds singing when you walk. It is said that this was so that no-one could creep up on the Shogun unnoticed!
The ceilings were ornate.. themore decorative your ceiling, the higher your status!
The gardens were lovely and we had some great street food here – duck slices and Octopus balls!
Finally, a train to Arashiyama to see the impressive wooden bridge,
and the Tenryu-ji temple. We hardly left the train station when I foolishly pointed out a poster for a model railway exhibition! Quick diversion to see a very good layout of Kyoto, complete with bullet train… with one slightly bizarre addition!
Back on track, the Tenryuji temple is most famous for it’s garden, one of the oldest in Japan, laid out in the 14th century and little altered. It was gorgeous. The exit leads into an amazing bamboo forest, on an epic scale.
Finally, train back to Mairaba to collect the car. We needed to eat. Tripadvisor showed a cafe, so we headed down a dark street without much hope. Suddenly there it was. A small, very local restaurant! No English. They came and said ‘Sashimi tempura’. We nodded, unsure of what it would be like. It arrived, beautifully presented, tasted delicious and cost less than £10 each including tea and water… and an ice cream at the end. A perfect end to a great day!
PS ..you have to love a city that has cherry blossom handrails on it’s escalators!