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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Pfaff

Kyoto Stories - Japan

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Kyoto is the city of cute little alley ways, traditional restaurants, lots of temples, and geishas moving in between tea houses. In this blog post I'm combining my two Kyoto visits into one, to give you the best itinerary there is! Trip plan here.

The hotel

Having arrived at Kyoto station (one time by bullet train from Tokyo, the other by JR line from Osaka airport) we make our way to the capsule hotel. Yup, trying out the traditional accommodation!

With separate lifts for men and women I get introduced to my next two nights in this place, which turns into a very cozy experience actually. Everything is separate, from lifts, over changing rooms, onsen, lockers to capsules. Definitely not the most romantic place, but I was very positively surprised by my own capsule, and how not claustrophobic it felt!

The forests

As it’s already midday by the time we get to the hotel we move out right away and take the train to a part which is a bit more remote to see the Bamboo and Kimono Forests. Let me tell you about the Bamboo Forest first! Japan's Sagano Bamboo Forest is probably on dozens of "things to see in your life" bucket lists, and for good reason. It's a natural forest entirely made up of bamboo (fun fact: did you know bamboo is a grass?), and very densely populated. It's best to go during the day (the earlier the better, as it’s usually packed) and don't rush through it!

The Bamboo Forest

If you ask me, the Bamboo forest is something that should not be missed during a Kyoto visit (however, it depends on the season). I went in May when it was lusciously green, so can highly recommend checking beforehand. The forest is made up of lots of pathways for visitors, and I would suggest walking through all of them, as the views are absolutely worth it.

You can also hire a rickshaw driver to take photos, show you the forest, and around the temples close by, which speeds things up a bit. As we were waiting for it to get darker, we spent 2-3 hours in the forest and in the temples around it, but it definitely didn’t get boring.

The Kimono Forest

Later in the afternoon we made our way to the underrated Kimono Forest, that not many people know about. The Kimono Forest is an art installation of 600 pillars framing the entrance to Randen tram station on Kyoto’s Keifuku Arashiyama line. It consists of textile displays dyed in the traditional Kyo-yuzen style, chosen by the artist Yasumichi Morita in collaboration with the textile company Kamedatomi. And it's free!

By day it doesn't look that special (still worth a visit though). BUT when it gets dark the LED lights turn it into a magical place that I could have spent hours admiring. So the difference of seeing the backlit Kimono pillars during the day and at night is huge! Be aware that the pillars are only lit from sunset until 9pm.

The food

One of the main reasons to visit Japan is definitely the food, and I had my eye on trying Kobe beef since booking this trip, which can be very expensive, but if you are not that hungry it’s definitely worth spending the money. Walking through the Gion district in the evening I found myself in a lovely looking small restaurant and ordered a small-ish portion of it. I was not disappointed! Like they say it really melts on your tongue, like butter.

Other than Kobe I would highly recommend having Ramen and Sushi. The Izakaya style restaurants are an easy choice, if you want something of everything, as they usually have a great selection of very traditional and more modern dishes. Izakaya is a Japanese bar with Tapas like dishes, which are intended for sharing. One place I really need to call out specifically was Hanamakiya, which served some of the best soba (noodles) I have ever tasted. On top of that you sit on the floor in a very traditional setting with slippers for the bathroom, and intricate wooden separators. Once we had eaten our own bodyweight in noodles we were off to see the Golden Temple (just around the corner).

The temples

Even if you are not a fan of temples (they can get repetitive), the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is quite unique and the most beautiful one I have ever seen. I actually visited it both times I was in Kyoto. After paying a small entrance fee we are inside the terrain and start walking towards the lake, and finally see the Golden Temple just across from it. It’s made up of 3 stories and the top 2 are pure gold leaf, which gives it a very yellow look and becomes golden in the right light.

The pavilion is a Zen Buddhist temple and also a World Heritage site, as it makes up one of 17 'Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto' locations. We went on a small walk around the temple and into the woods behind it where we see some more smaller temples and some stands selling mochi (Japanese rice cake) and other delicacies.

Overall the visit doesn’t take too much time, and shortly after we are on our way to our next destination: Fushimi Inari Taisha. This place is every photographer’s favourite! We did the whole walk up the mountain, and I would say it’s worth it as it gets emptier and emptier the higher you go. So if you are looking for that perfect photo, then that’s what you’ll have to do. The main attraction here are the 1,000 torii gates that line a path up the mountain. These traditional Japanese gates are most commonly found at the entrance of shrines to mark the the transition from the mundane to the sacred. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies, and you will find the donator's name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each gate (which is why the gates look empty in the photo here).

A beautiful way to end our weekend in Kyoto was an onsen of course, which again is separate for men and women, but so lovely for our aching feet after all that walking!

"A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one single step"
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