Everyone I talked to before our visit to Japan, or even travelers I met in Japan for that matter, raved about Kyoto as an absolute must see for its quaint streets and serene temples. The former capital of Japan (794 to 1868) is all that, but these days you will be enjoying the main sights with all the other foreign travelers and Japanese who also love Kyoto. That said, it is still possible to find quiet moments earlier in the morning or at lesser known temples.
I visited Kyoto twice during my seven weeks in Japan, once with my Aunt Jan in the middle of September and again with Don the first week in October. For the blog I will be combining the two trips by destination rather than posting them chronologically.
I’ll begin these posts with the Lonely Planet walking tour I did with Jan our first morning in Kyoto. A nice introduction to what Kyoto has to offer.
The start of the southern Higashiyama walking tour, the corner of Higashioji-dori and Gojo-dori, was just a ten minute walk from the Seikoro ryokan where we were staying.
We arrived at the Kiyomizu-dera temple at around 9:30. The bright orange complex was already buzzing with visitors on a Friday morning. Some of the buildings were covered in scaffolding and construction cloth diminishing the overall spectacle of the place.
The guide book recommends it for the views overlooking the hills and city and the variety of activities such as drinking from a sacred pool and walking stepping stones to find your true love. For garden lovers, though, the hillside temple doesn’t have the impressive grounds that some of the other temples do.
The next part of the walking tour is through the area’s shopping streets. The streets closest to the temple were packed with tourists and school groups but once we reached Sannen zaka the crowds quickly diminished and Ishibei-koji alley was virtually empty. This narrow lane is considered to be one of the loveliest in Kyoto.
It’s beautiful in its simplicity; old style Japanese homes with elegant entrances donned with only a few plants and so forth. I realized halfway into the walk that there were signs posted prohibiting photos. Overhearing a local guide we discovered that it gets quite busy at tea time.
A flight of stone stairs leads to Kodai-ji temple. Much less crowed than Kiyomizu-dera, the interiors of the new section were adorned with the works of a contemporary artist who has a relationship with one of the temple directors.
Flashy in bright primary colors the artwork is in sharp contrast to the traditional temple’s structures. One the curators commented that the locals find the placement of the works here controversial.
The surrounding gardens are quite pretty and peaceful despite a rather murky pond. Be sure to check out the stunning interiors of some of the older temples. Unfortunately no photo are allowed in them.
Next we headed to Maruyama Park stopping at the Otani cemetery. You are not allowed into the section of individual graves sites but it is an impressive sight from the gate. With the markers crowded together up the hillside, it was one of my favorites of the day. The Otani tomb located next to the cemetery is open to the public, but for me not as interesting and the individual graves.
For lunch we stopped at an udon noodle place near the Yasaka shrine for a relaxing bowl of noodle soup and a beer. Hit the spot after a long morning’s walk. LP suggests you can do this walk in four hours, but only if you don’t spend much time at the temples. We still had a couple more to go after lunch.
We decided to continue north past the park to Shoren-in. A very picturesque and worthwhile stop. We walked around the inside of the temple and then back to the front to collect our shoes for a loop around the garden and pond. I especially liked the walk up to the hilltop shrine and back through the bamboo grove.
Nearing 4 p.m., we didn’t have much time for Chion-in, just enough to walk through the enormous gate to a temple set in the trees just past the steep stairs beyond the gate.
At this late hour the tour groups had gone home leaving the grounds quite peaceful. The temple visit is free. A fee is charged at the entrance to the gardens.
September 15, 2017
For links to all the posts in this series see the Japan page.