Exploring shrines, temples and gardens in Kyoto

On Thursday 1st December we left our hostel in Tokyo and caught the Ginza train line to Ueno, then the JR line to Tokyo central station, and finally the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. We then had to get a smaller/local train out to Uzumasa which was the closest station to our accommodation, Hat n Hat Hostel. It was about a 10-15 minute walk to the hostel from there, so we didn’t arrive until late. There was a small town area around our hostel but it was quite quiet and we didn’t see too many restaurants so we’re sorry to say but we had dinner at the McDonald’s down the road as it was quick and easy. That evening we chilled at the hostel using the good wifi and watching films on our laptop.

The next day we didn’t know where to go for breakfast so the guy at our hostel recommended a nice bakery just up the road. It actually turns out that a lot of Japanese people eat sweet things for breakfast. It came as no surprise that they loved to snack on sweet treats such as ice cream, biscuits and cake. But we had no idea they didn’t really have a staple breakfast dish. We rarely saw any places serving eggs or porridge or anything. So donuts for breakfast it was. Once we had got over the temperature change - it was several degrees warmer than Tokyo! - we caught the tram (JR Line) to Inari station where the infamous Fushimi Inari-taisha (Red Shrine) was, and spent a few hours looking around. 

The shrine was beautiful and the red walkways went on forever. They actually went all the way up a nearby mountain which locals and tourists can follow if they wish. The walk was about 2 hours long so we decided not to do it as we had plenty more of Kyoto to see. But we had some fun walking through the walkways and trying to get that typical Instagram picture, which was extremely hard to do with so many people about. After seeing most of the Fushimi Inari-taisha we found ourselves indulging in the food market set up as you exit the shrine. The pathway was filled with street food vendors cooking up delicious traditional Japanese dishes such as; Yakisoba (stir fried vegetable noodles), Onigiri (deep fried rice balls stuffed with meat), Daifuku (glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet filling), Dango (small sweet dumplings made from rice flour and served on a stick), dried/sweetened fruit and an assortment of brightly coloured hard sweets. It’s safe to say we tried several of them!

After consuming half the food market, we then walked to another train station (apologies we forget the name) and got train from to Kyoto central. Once arriving in the main hub of Kyoto we walked from the train station to Kiyomizu-dera Temple which took about 30 minutes. Either side of the narrow road which lead up to the temple there was several ornate shops with beautiful ceramics, cafes selling the sweetest food imaginable, and traditional Japanese houses. There were also shops where you could rent a colourful kimono (dress), extravagant obi (bow/sash) and zori (similar to flip-flops) to dress like the traditional Japanese geishas.

Once walking up the steep roads we were greeted with views of the temple. You had to pay to get in this one but oh wow was it worth it. The wooden structure was beautiful and the views were spectacular.

After walking round the temple and taking in the vast views, we walked to the popular tourist area of Kyoto called Gion District. The sun was setting by this point (it was about 4pm) and we knew we wanted to get some nice pictures of the area in the daylight so we quickly moved on and continued walking to what looked like the main shopping area covered with Christmas decorations. We warmed up in a coffee shop there before catching the train back to Hat n Hat Hostel. It was a lovely hostel - very homely and good wifi, but it was too far out location wise. We would recommend staying in Jam Hostel if you visit Kyoto as is situated right in Gion District. As we had the JR Pass it didn’t cost us any more to get to and from our hostel, but it was just a bit frustrating being so far out from the city. That evening was another chilled one as there wasn’t much to do around the hostel at night.

Saturday was our last full day in Kyoto so we wanted to make the most of it. In the morning we quickly walked around Ninnaji Temple but didn’t want to pay to go into the main area as we were keen to see the Ryoanji Temple (with Japan’s most well-known zen rock garden) which also had an admission fee.

Apparently the garden is arranged in the karesansui (dry landscape) style and is composed of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders of different sizes. However, it is said that only 14 of these can be seen from any one place in the temple - until one attains enlightenment, the fifteenth boulder remains unseen. The temple grounds also include an interesting wooded garden and a giant pond. The gardens are lovely to walk around but we found that many areas were sectioned off so we couldn’t walk through them.

That afternoon we went back into Kyoto city centre to walk around Gion District. Before doing so we had lunch in a place called Elk in the city centre. Unfortunately, as Natalie had had food poisoning, she had really gone off of Asian food, as you can imagine. So she ordered a pasta and Jordan ordered eggs benedict. That afternoon we had a wander around the Gion District taking pictures and generally taking in the Japanese culture.

We were going to stay in the city for dinner as well but we were both tired from all the walking we had done in the last few days, so we headed back to our hostel. Luckily we found a small, local restaurant for dinner which did Ramen and Dim Sum. It was cheap but so tasty and probably the only decent looking restaurant close to our hostel so we were very happy to eat there.

On our last day we knew we couldn’t check into our new hostel in Osaka (Khaosan World Namba) until 3:00pm so we spent the morning exploring just a little more of Kyoto. After our sweet breakfast we caught a local bus from the stop opposite our hostel to the incredible bamboo forest. It was so beautiful. Just as the name suggests, it was a forest of bamboo. Everywhere you looked there was just rows and rows of beautiful bamboo trees growing tall and swaying in the wind. Some of them had a silvery tinge to them, others a black tinge, and some more of a greeny blue. The colours were amazing and we were both mesmerised by the beauty.

After exploring the forest we indulged in some of the street market treats - both sweet and savoury. The green tea ice cream went down very well and tasted just like the real thing! We then caught the bus back to our hostel, grabbed our backpacks and caught the JR line to Osaka.