For this trip to Japan, we kept the itinerary simple with three nights in Osaka and four nights in Kyoto. If you want to read about the Osaka leg, you can click here. With our shopping mostly completed in Osaka, we focused our time in Kyoto on re-visiting sites from our previous trip and seeing others for the first time. The focus for Kyoto was to take lots of images, so I hope your bandwidth is topped up!
Having taken the train into Kyoto station, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and headed straight out to Maruyama Park, one of several parks in Kyoto known for Sakura and people doing Hanami (viewing the flowers and in more modern times, picnicking under the cherry blossoms). The blossoms were not yet fully bloomed, but we did get to watch a lovely sunset with the famous weeping tree as the foreground.
There were perhaps hundreds of people in various stages of intoxication eating food and drinking under the cover of the cherry blossoms. There were several groups of business people having a great time and roaring with laughter and drinking. We decided to join the crowd and had some fried food and drinks under the cherry blossoms.
Sakura in Gion
After experiencing hanami, we headed out to the famous Gion area of Kyoto to walk around. We were surprised to find some fully bloomed Sakura trees, perfectly positioned to reflect in the waterway that runs through Kyoto next to Kiyamachi-dori.
During our previous visit to Kyoto, we spent a short amount of time at the amazing Fushimi Inari, the fox shrine with the 10,000 orange gates. We wanted to spend more time at this amazing shrine and during a time of the day where there were likely to be less people. We got up bright and early and arrived at the shrine at 8am. The shrine is open 24/7 so there were already some people coming back down when we arrived!
We took the route up to the peak and down the other side. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning. The only negative is that I wonder when the locals get to enjoy this shrine without too many tourists, as it became busy very quickly after 9am.
Fushimi Inari was even better the second time than the first and I’d highly recommend including it in your itinerary, but I recommend going early in the day as the shrine gets busy very quickly as the day goes on. I’d love to see a sunset there, but I bet it’ll be jam-packed full of people, so we headed over to the Kinkaku-ji.
The golden temple is as beautiful in real life as it looks in pictures, but the reality is that it was overwhelmed with tourists and the grounds were mostly closed due to the wear tourism is putting on the delicate fauna. Due to the closure of the grounds, there was only a small area that we could experience the temple; the entrance and exit are the same route so it got pretty challenging to get through it all.
After leaving Kinkaku-ji, we accidentally took the bus in the wrong direction and ended up in front of Ryoan-ji. Since we were there, we thought we might as well go into the park to walk around, and we’re so glad we did, because it’s beautiful and was void of tourists. We spent an hour walking around and taking in the perfect landscaping. We totally forgot to go into the rock garden which is one of the key attractions of this site.
After the great park experience, we headed over to Byodo-in in Uji to watch the sunset with the Phoenix Hall as the foreground. Much to our chagrin, we found out that the temple closes at 5:30pm, which would be right before the sunset. Fortunately, the golden hour still made for some good lighting for photos and enjoying the environment.
For the next day, we headed over to the Philosophers’ Path in the Higashiyama district were so glad that we did. The Sakura had gone into full bloom that day and it was spectacular to experience it for the 2km walk.
After the walk, we headed over to the Kiyomizu-dera temple prior to our scheduled dinner at Premium Pound, one of the best steak experiences of my life. We had visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple on our previous trip and it was under heavy restoration; I had also wanted to take a particular image again, but using the GFX50R this time. Sadly, the temple is still under restoration, with the target completion before the 2020 Olympics.
People Mountain, People Sea
In China, during the holidays, there’s a saying that people have regarding the huge number of people at popular sites; they call it “People Mountain, People Sea” which is a play on the desire to see beautiful sites that are usually near a mountain or the sea, but instead you find a mountain or a beach full of people. I’d have to say that Kyoto has now become like that too, as can be seen from the image below.
Even after all these years and with so many new countries expanding their tourism capabilities, Japan as a tourism destination is pretty much unbeatable. While tourism has picked up a lot in Japan, the numbers are still very low for what Japan has to offer. I’ve now visited five cities in and still have several more that I want to visit including Fukuoko, Hokkaido, Mt. Fuji and many, many more. I can’t wait to come back to Japan again!