Kyoto was a huge contrast to our time in Tokyo with the city only having about 1.5m people compared to Tokyo’s 8-13m (depending on who you ask). It was still pretty vast though and required another one of our walking safaris to try and see a good amount of the city.
Kyoto was Japan’s capital until the late 19th century and as such has an incredible amount of history with the Imperial Palace facing off with a Shogun’s castle for most impressive central building. There are literally thousands of temples across this city and we had to contain ourselves to a few but each in its own way had something special to recommend it.
Eikando was the first we went to and in the autumn the maple trees turn wonderful shades of red and yellow and we were able to see the start of this around the amazing gardens at this pretty big temple.
At Nanzenji we wandered round and walked up the huge ‘torii’ (gate) which is one of the biggest three in Japan where we had a beautiful view of the city nestled between the mountains.
We then walked to the Heian shrine and saw a huge eagle flying towards us seemingly intent on picking up Jen or perhaps just a stray fish from the white man fishing down below us. From the look in its eyes it felt Jen was fair game.
The shrine itself was impressive as all Japanese shrines seem to be but what really took our breath away was the garden. Stunning water features with an incredible bridge where we fed the huge carp and three very different looking terrapins.
From here on in we passed through Maruyama Park which had a Japanese guy playing acoustic guitar as we sat and ate an ice cream. Then on to the Yasaka shrine which was beautiful but by this time we were ready to return to the city.
Luckily a short walk away was Gion where there are still real working Geishas. Jen will probably talk about these in her post about our stay in the Ryokan. We did see one hurrying down the street accompanied by what looked like a bodyguard but apparently you aren’t supposed to take photos of them so we didn’t – nobody had told the Japanese that though.
That night we had great evening walking down the length of a street called Pontocho (a former Geisha district) which is very narrow and features some of Kyoto’s best restaurants including some that you have to know somebody to even hear about. The place we went to was pretty good, very traditional and led to some aching muscles having sat on the floor for about 90 minutes cross-legged.
Afterwards we saw a specialist whisky bar and nipped in for a cheeky 12 year old Nikka Whisky called Yoichi which slipped down very nicely indeed (considering the Japanese menu meant all we’d had to go on was price and age) The bar was very small – maybe 12 seats and completely empty but it felt good staring up at row upon row of whisky bottles!
Our second day in Kyoto was pretty similar taking in the Golden Palace which is this massive palace painted in you guessed it gold leaf. It shone like a ginger soaked in carrot oil as we took pctures under a very hot sun. The gardens were pretty cool but a bit of an anti-climax after some we had seen. Oh and after the massive golden temple we had just seen.
Then it was a long walk to Ryoanji were there are 15 rocks in some raked gravel. They mean something but nobody knows what. It was nice to stare at them for a bit in the cool shade as everybody pretended to be thinking deep thoughts and not whether Cazorla would be back soon.
Lunch was some delicious tonkatsu or deep fried pork in breadcrumbs. Absolutely delicious and kept us in good cheer as we spent two hours trying to find an ATM that would accept a UK card. We needed the cash as the Ryokan we would be staying in didn’t like cards.
Jen will be writing up our stay in the Ryokan which featured a30 year old carp, about 15 courses, lots of sake and a very hot bath.