Kyoto is pretty damn amazing. It’s complete cultural overload, from the architecture to the people to the food. Famous for being the ancient capital of Japan, its obvious that the people who live here have done everything they can to preserve the historic beauty of this city. It has all the modern shops and facilities that anyone one would require, whilst maintaining an illusion of being an older, less developed town. There were three highlights of Kyoto that really stood out to me, the Arashiyama area, the Golden Pavilion, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Before visiting all of that though, I met a lovely girl named Robyn on my first morning at the hostel. It just happened to be her birthday, so we treated ourselves to a big delicious Western breakfast, followed by a bike ride through the city in attempt to burn off the excessive calories consumed. In the afternoon we went to see a show called Miyako Odori. Robyn had pre-booked her ticket but I was hoping to get one at the door. We showed up only a few minutes before the show was due to start, to be told that all the door tickets had sold out. After explaining to the ticket lady “but she’s my new friend and its her birthday please let me go nice lady pls pls pls” she managed to work some magic and give me a cheeky ticket to the show. Once again the Japanese proving they are some of the kindest people on the planet! The performance was a traditional Japanese song and dance by geishas to welcome in the spring. The costumes were a beautiful collection of colourful kimonos and the instruments played were old school Japanese guitar-like things called koto. Unfortunately there was a strict no photography policy inside the theatre and the security guard was lurking around behind me for the entire show, so I don’t have any photos to prove how great it was. The whole show was mimed, with the lyrics in the songs being the only explanation of the storyline. These lyrics were in Japanese so most of the time we had absolutely no idea what was going on. I think it was about this guy not liking this girl during the winter but then spring came and then he was like “damn gurl you mine” or something. Out of my five months in Japan, this was definitely the most cultural experience I had, and I think it was a pretty good one.
The next day, Robyn checked out and headed for Miyajima so I was all on my own again. I headed for the first highlight on my list, Arashiyama. Arashiyama is a village just outside Kyoto, situated near some very pretty mountains and a river. The area is home to a popular bamboo forest, quite a few temples and shrines, many restaurants, souvenir shops and a monkey park. YES PEOPLE, A MONKEY PARK. The area is a bit of a mission to get to, if you get on the wrong train like I did. I accidentally got on the middle of nowhere express, and was told in broken English that I had to wait for half an hour at this random station in the countryside before I could get a train back in the direction in which I came.
The Arashiyama area is completely gorgeous, even if it is swamped with selfie snapping tourists. The river is lovely and I was in perfect timing with the cherry blossoms. The area does have a very nice feel to it but I can’t help thinking how much more enjoyable it would be if it wasn’t so crowded.
So to get away from the other tourists, I wandered off the beaten path and walked uphill for about half an hour. I ended up with an amazing view, looking down at the river below and over at the cherry blossoms on the mountainside opposite. Sometimes wandering off can be really worthwhile.
Following that, I went to see the bamboo forest, officially termed “The Path of Bamboo.” The path isn’t very long; I think it’s less than a kilometer. It’s dark in there, and a nice relief from the heat. The sun shines between the bamboo trees, creating shadow patterns that I’m sure a much better photographer than myself could capture and make look awesome.
After the bamboo forest, I walked along the river, crossed the bridge to the other side and began my ascent up to the monkey park. It takes about ten minutes (feels like an hour) of non-stop uphill leg power to make it to the area where all the monkeys are. These monkeys are actually wild, which means they’re free to roam all over the mountain but of course they stay near the top because that’s where they get fed. In this case, visitors enter a large caged room where they can buy some really cheap fruit or peanuts, and then feed the monkeys from behind bars. The fat lazy monkeys just sit in the one spot and wait for people to hand them food, whereas some of the little ones go totally ape-shit (see what I did there) chasing kids around trying to snatch the food out of their hands.
The monkey park also serves as a lookout point to an amazing view of Kyoto.
Here she was, the big one, the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. It’s only one train ride (and a long walk) from Arashiyama, making it easy to visit both places in one day. Again, manic with tourists, which was, again, expected. In my head, this particular temple is the icon of Kyoto. It’s both stunning and massive, but I’ll let the photo speak for itself.
At every temple I visited in Tokyo I had been tempted to buy a candle or some incense to burn at the shrine but I had been saving that privilege for Kinkaku-ji.
I also bought a fortune, and for obvious superstitious reasons I’m not telling you what it said.
My final stand out attraction was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The thousands of red tori gates are a famous icon of Kyoto, and of Japanese culture in general. I didn’t realize, but the gates form a trail up a mountain. Stupidly, I thought it was just an 800m or so long path through these gates leading to a temple or something. Nope. A 4 kilometre hiking trail up and down Mt Inari is what these lovely gates form. Thinking the top of the mountain would boast an amazing view, I was sorely disappointed when I got to the summit after an hour and a half of walking, only to be heading straight back down again. No lookout, no big amazing temple, nothing. Oh well, the gates were still cool.
Fushimi Inari Shrine was actually my last stop in Kyoto, before I jumped on the train to Nara to be licked and head butted by deer.