Kyoto is a classic Japanese city full of temples, geishas, shopping and great food. Smaller than Tokyo, there’s still much to do in and around Kyoto.
We had decided to visit Kyoto based on persuasive recommendations that the city was a must-see destination. However, once in Japan, we were enjoying Tokyo so much that departing the metropolis was bittersweet. Plus, traveling with luggage takes it toll. The plan was set and the hotel was booked, so we plowed forward to Kyoto anyway. After a morning sushi meal at Tsukiji we hopped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and we were off to the city of geishas and temples.
Getting to Kyoto
Armed with 7-day Japan Rail (JR) train passes, we boarded the train found our seats in car 12. The train was awesome as it took us the 263 miles in under three hours, with a beautiful view of breathtaking Mount Fuji along the way.
First Impressions of Kyoto
Arriving at the impressive Kyoto Station, we were immediately struck by the number of geishas in Kyoto compared to Tokyo. We saw many older geishas as well as many young maikos (apprentices). So many that we stopped counting.
Although a big city, Kyoto has a totally different vibe compared to Tokyo. It has many older buildings since the city wasn’t bombed during World War II. There is less neon lighting, and the women are dressed more conservatively. We were also struck by the great number of temples in the city. There are literally temples everywhere.
Our first priority was to visit Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. We took a bus part way to the temple and then finished the journey by walking up Tetsugaku-no-Michi, the Path of Philosophy. The path is a gorgeous, quaint, canal centered walk highlighted by the remnants of cherry blossoms and the arrival of bright green spring leaves.
We diverged from the path to visit Hõnen-in, a serene Buddhist temple up the hill.
Once we reached the Silver Temple, we enjoyed the view, the ponds, the perfectly manicured trees and the exterior of the pavilion itself.
We fit in an early morning visit to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, a Shinto shrine complex with thousands of orange gates leading up the mountain.
We kept expecting the gates to end as we ascended the mountain, but they kept going.
Although we are not students of Shinto, we found the walk to be spiritual in a naturalistic way.
Plus, we could not help but think of the similarities to the 2005 Gates exhibit in New York’s Central Park. Modern artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were inspired by the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha with its infinite bright orange entryways that seem to wind into infinity.
Another priority was seeing Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. The original Kinkaku-ji, built in 1397, burnt to the ground in 1950. The gold plated temple glowed, casting a serene reflection in the surrounding pond.
We arrived at the popular temple along with many school groups and other tourists.
There’s lots more than temples around Kyoto of course. We dined at a kaiseki restaurant and shopped at the fabulous, 400-year old Nishiki Market. We also shopped at the two century old Takashimaya department store.
Final Thoughts on Kyoto
Although we enjoyed the slower pace of Kyoto, not to mention the shopping, sites and foods, we regretted leaving Tokyo since Tokyo has more to offer then we could accomplish in our relatively short trip to Japan. So, we switched to an earlier train back to Tokyo after visiting Kinkaku-ji, just in time to enjoy Ramen for lunch and then check into our new hotel in Akasaka.
One thing about Kyoto, though – it’s where we got the money shot.