When I thought about Japan, my expectations were really Kyoto. I thought I would be surrounded by magnificent temples, a lot of zen gardens, and all the matcha you could think of. Tokyo has these things to an extent, but Kyoto is where you can really see the history of Japan and the culture. No folks, it’s not all anime, manga, and ramen!
I only had a full day to see Kyoto and while I was interested in seeing the temples that are world famous, I also wanted to visit some less touristy spots and really get into what it’s like to be a local. I really wanted to take more away from this trip than a picture of all the hot spots.
I stayed in K’s House Hostel, which was in a great location ( a few minutes from Kyoto Station and a tone of other shops. It was also a stone’s through away from the river with amazing views of the mountains. While the actual sleeping part was a little uncomfortable, they had a great big common room, great outdoor space, a cafe next door and a magnificent view of the mountains from the rooftop deck. I would absolutely stay there again if I can stay in a private room.
On my first night I ate amazing fried rice at this ramen shop a few blocks away from the hostel. The rice was truly delicious and filling and cheap! The next morning I ate the breakfast buffet that was provided for an extra fee by the cafe next door. It was good and fresh! In terms of food, this trip was one where i was trying to save money and such so I didn’t put much effort into where I would be eating and exploring my foodie fantasies. There are definitely some places I still have on my list to visit if I ever come back.
After a long internal debate on which temple I would visit, I settled on Kinkakuj. Kinkakuji is famously known as “The Golden Pavilion”and is more formerly known as Rokuon-ji Temple. “The garden and buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion were said to represent the Pure Land of Bhudda in this world. The building also served as a guesthouse, welcoming Emperor Gokomatsu and other members of the nobility. In 1994, Rokuon-ji Temple was registered as a World Heritage Site.”
The temple is surrounded by this beautiful natural scenery and when the sun is out the temple glistens beautifully. Kinkakuji gets many international tourists a day I’m sure, but there are also many Japanese people who visit there as well. I know that all three of my junior high schools I teach at have made the trip out to Kyoto to visit Kinkakuji and many other shrines yearly. I chose to visit Kinkakuji, because how many times do you get to see a golden temple?! It’s also a big favorite amongst my Japanese students and tourists alike. It’s definitely worth the hype and and the experience was peaceful despite the many visitors that day.
A few other sites I would love to see are Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari, Nijo Castle, and Kiyomizudera.
After knocking Kinkakuji out of the way, I took the bus back down to the city and headed for the Gion district. Now, the Gion district is a big shopping area, but it’s most importantly known as the Geisha district. Since Gion is the central hub of Japanese traditional arts and entertainment, there are many famous landmarks to see here.
I was interested in possibly sighting Geisha’s or Maiko’s ( Geisha’s in training) but no such luck. I enjoyed walking down the main streets, but was growing bored of seeing busy shops. That was until I decided to walk down a random street!
I began seeing restaurants and kept walking until I noticed this narrow pathway between two buildings that led to a crossover. I walked through the pathway and realized I was in the Gion’s older district. This area was so open and surprisingly sparse. There were some women and girls walking around in yukata’s (cotton kimonos) and taking pictures, but no Geisha’s in sight. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed walking around the area, taking pictures of traditional buildings and tree-lined pathways adjacent to a running river.
An hour or so after spending time in Gion, I began my walk to Nishiki Martket. This open-air market is rather famous in Kyoto. Vendors come together to sell all sorts of cooked or raw food, teas, spices, and other objects. Visiting markets in any city is, I believe, a great way to connect and get a small snapshot of popular foods and the vibe of the city. For example, there were a lot of matcha stands, vendors selling seafood on sticks, takoyaki (octopus balls), and yatsuhashi (Japanese sweets). I had soy doughnuts for the first time and they were tasty!
While I did manage to buy a few things to snack on, I was looking for place to E.A.T. Of course I stupidly forgot about the restaurant I planned on visiting that serves great Omurice (omelette rice). I was so hungry that I settled for pizza. That sounds like a loss, but it was actually pretty good and was only 1,000 yen.
After lunch, I set out for my appointment at an art studio that I made while I was in Gion. The night before I went to Kyoto Station’s visitor center and browsed the many travel brochures. Instead of partaking in a tour, I decided to attend a class so that I could create some art.
I went to this place called The Kyoto Artisan Workshop. It seems they do some form of engraving on products. The instructor, Mr. Monobe, was an older Japanese man who speaks very little English and I of course speak very little Japanese. However, we made it work! He explained the three main styles found in Japanese art are chinkin, makie, and raden. He presented a lot of styles and designs as options for me to copy. I ended up deciding to engrave an image of Kinkakuji and Mt. Fuji in the chinkin style on a small mirror.
Now, my engraving looks nothing like the perfect model from which I copied it, but I had such a great time and that’s really all it’s about in the end. It was such a great and worthwhile way to end the day. For 2,550 yen I have something that is functional, has a great design and encourages me to remember my time spent in Kyoto.
So that wraps up my recap of my time spend in Kyoto. After class I headed for the train and embarked on my journey to Osaka. Comment below and let me know what you think. Isn’t Kinkakuji beautiful? What is one item you’ve bought or made during your travels that is precious to you?