Among all the many cities you can visit in Japan, one of the most preferred destinations is Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. As well as being the cultural capital of Japan, the city is also one of the most visited for pilgrimage.
After a few days in Tokyo, I was excited to board the Shinkansen direction Kansai, more specially Kyoto. For this trip, I made good use of the very convenient JR Rail Pass. The high-speed train is really an experience: beautiful trains, impressive punctuality, clean and spacious seats, you always sit facing the direction of the travel so to avoid headaches! Taking the shinkansen also means tasting bentos and there is an array of stalls in Tokyo station offering specialities all across the country.
I tried this ekiben with fried chicken and vegetables which was delicious!
Day 1 (Tōji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple)
Just after checking in at the hotel (Hotel Gran Ms Kyoto), I met with my friend Noriko and we went for a walk down the streets of Kyoto. The streets around the hotel were beautiful, with plenty of restaurants all the way to the Kamogawa river.
Toji Temple (東寺, Tōji – “East Temple”)
Kyoto is famous for its many Buddhist temples so I was of course bound to visit a few. My first stop was Tō-ji temple, one of Kyoto’s oldest temples and has the tallest pagoda (55m) in Japan. The pagoda gets illuminated at night which makes it a lovely sight and a good photo opportunity.
The temple also house the biggest flea market in the city which happens on the 21st of each month. You will find pretty much anything: kimonos, antiques, artwork, pottery, lacquer-ware, calligraphy materials, tea ceremony utensils or cutlery. You will have to look well in order to find a good deal or bargain. I managed to have the price reduced for my tea set as one of the cup was had a slight chip. I was really pleased that Noriko brought me there!
You can even buy plants, flowers and bonsai trees. As per the salesperson, the 3 characteristics of a good bonsai are: originality, harmony and elegance. He said that what makes a bonsai a work of art is the sensitivity of the person who shapes it. I found that to be very beautiful indeed.
Toji is open daily from 9am to 4-30pm and is five-minute walk from Toji Station. Alternatively, it can be reached within 15 minute walk southwest of Kyoto Station. Buses 19, 202, 207 and 208 pass by the main entrance to the temple. Toji Temple, 1 Kujo, Minami-ku, Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji Temple (金閣寺, Kinkakuji – “Golden Pavilion”)
The beautiful Kinkaku-ji also known as the Golden Pavilion was number one on my list of temples and shrines having been told the history around it by my Japanese teacher. The Zen temple located in the northern part of Kyoto used to be called Rokuon-ji. The particularity of this stunning temple is that the exterior of the top two floors are entirely covered in gold leaf. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion). The surroundings of the temple are just as beautiful as the temple itself, with ponds and gardens along the viewing paths.
Walking along the garden we were able to see several statues that people throw coins at for luck. Outside the temple there’s also a tea house and souvenir shops. Although the Golden Pavilion was beautiful, I felt a little cheated for several reasons:
- the temple is located on an island so you cannot get close to it.
- the sheer number of visitors makes it impossible to enjoy – the grounds are packed with people, with little room to move making it difficult to get a good view or even take good pictures.
- the temple is small and doesn’t give you space to relax and enjoy the premises – it kind of felt that we were rushed to the exit.
Perhaps it is preferable to visit as it opens or around the closing time. But if you decide to visit in the evening, you might not be able to see the beautiful golden reflection of the temple in the pond!
Kinkaku-ji is open daily from 9am to 5pm with an admission fee of ¥400. To get there, take bus numbers 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop. Bus fare is ¥230. Kinkaku-ji Temple, 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan
Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi)
If you are planning on visiting the Silver Pavilion, I would recommend walking along the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a pleasant and relaxing walk with several cafes on the way where you can stop for a nice cup of tea, and be sure to follow the signs (doing so will take you to wonderful little temples and shrines).
Your thoughts about Kyoto, please share and comment below. Next is my trip to Fushimi Inari-Taisha.
As always, thank you for reading!