Kyoto is a place like no other. If you ask me, it’s not the main attractions that define this city, it’s rather the things that are easily overlooked if you are there only on a short tour. After Osaka, I spent a total of eight days in Kyoto, merely enough time to gain a little understanding of the place. I didn’t fill up the eight days with activities one after another, I thought about taking my time, to be with this beautifully aged city, to do one thing I excel at most – enjoying the quietness.
Day 1: Arriving in Kyoto, stumbling upon Kennin-ji
Day 1: after dropping off my luggage, I walked around the neightbourhood and came across Kennin-ji, the oldest buddhist temple in Kyoto.
Day 1: sliding doorway paintings of a dragon in clouds (unryuu, 雲龍) in Kennin-ji.
Day 1: I sat in the cloister under the sun. You can only enter temples after taking off your shoes. It was very comfortable walking on wood in socks.
Day 1: twin dragons on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall of Kennin-ji. It took the artist two years to complete the painting.
Day 1: the 〇△▢ garden and a curious girl. Circle – water, triangle – fire, square – earth.
Day 1: the peaceful cho-on tei garden.
Day 1: tatami and wood, in my opinion the best kind of floor.
Day 1: on the other side of the garden in Kennin-ji. Day 2: Hiking through Fushimi Inari Taisha, alone in a tearoom
Day 2: I thought I could use the nice weather to visit Fushimi Inari, the well-recognized shrine dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. The entire route (up to the mountain and down) took me roughly three hours. The area on ground level was full of tourists, but the crowd thinned out as the pathway winded upwards.
Day 2: the white fox – messenger of Inari, can be spotted in various forms at this shrine – from lucky charms to stone sculptures, or ema like in this photo.
Day 2: Miffy and tori gates.
Day 2: the air was cold as ice, I was in a long wool coat climbing upwards and was still freezing! I started noticing that one could not feel temperature of the sun in Kyoto.
Day 2: Fushimi-ookami.
Day 2: never ending tori gates.
Day 2: after a small prayer at the top of the mountain, I began to descend and came across a staff member painting on a new tori.
Day 2: by the time I got to ground level, it was, not surprisingly, even more crowded than in the morning. I quickly slipped out and marched to a much quieter area where the next temple I’d like to visit was located, but before that, a tea break would be nice. I stopped by this beautiful house just opposite from Komyo-in. I was the only guest there, I had some cake and matcha and enjoyed the scenery from the garden.
Day 2: from the inside of Komyo-in. The dry landscape garden.
Day 2: the cloister facing the dry landscape garden.
Day 2: afterwards, I went to Tofuku-ji around the corner. It was one of the largest temples I visited in Kyoto. What’s pictured here is the Sanmon Gate (三門), the oldest Zen main gate, which had been rebuilt several times because of fire. The architectural style is unique and gorgeous, like a piece of manually assembled wooden art.
Day 2: walking around Tofuku-ji.
Day 2: such nice weather. Though I still couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun.
Day 2: when I was about to leave Tofuku-ji. Day 3: Slow walk in Gion
Day 3: it was again a beautiful day, and mornings on the weekend tend to be more calm than those during the week. I was in the mood for a slow walk in Gion, which is known as the Geisha district. It was not the performing season yet, so the streets were nice and quiet, occasionally I saw people coming out to sweep the front area of their houses.
Day 3: there were some road constructions going on. A machiya (traditional Kyoto townhouse) around the corner.
Day 3: unlike in Osaka, where I walked among busy commuters almost everywhere I went, in Kyoto you will always find people who are enjoying a nice stroll – even when the weather is suboptimal.
Day 3: a lady dressed as a Maiko for a photoshoot next to the Shirakawa river.
Day 3: white ume (plum) flowers.
Day 3: the calm Shirakawa and machiya (Kyoto townhouses) on the river bank.
Day 3: some sort of formal arrangement between two families, I guess.
Day 3: it’s never too early for matcha sweets! I stopped by Yojiya for a matcha cappuccino and a parfait. Both were incredibly delicious and most importantly, not too sweet.
Day 3: vending machines. Ordnung muss sein.
Day 3: after passing the Gion area, I headed towards downtown (Kawaramachi).
Day 3: getting a mid-day snack at Nishiki Market. Mmmm, fish cakes.
Day 3: I like how calm it felt on a Saturday afternoon. If I actually lived in Kyoto, it would be time to grab a cup of coffee and sit next to the window with a book or nothing at all.
Day 3: my third snack of that day was at a Chinese dumpling restaurant. I had gyoza and pig ears, how can they taste so good?! I took this photo when I was crossing the Kamo river. In my opinion, the view of Kyoto is not impressive from far away, as there are no actual signature buildings. Its true beauty is to be observed up close.
Day 3: in the evening I took another long walk towards the Kyoto station. What you see here in this photo is the Kyoto Tower and Higashihongan-ji.
Day 3: at last, on my way back to the hotel. Day 4: Rainy day in Arashiyama
Day 4: on Sunday I met up with Maeda-san and went together to Arashiyama, a scenic suburban district in the west of Kyoto. Last time we met was on a day trip to Bremen from Hamburg last autumn! I usually don’t take my camera with me when I have company. So here’s a collage of some photos from the phone. We visited Tenryu-ji, the bamboo grove, Jojakko-ji, and had amazing tofu dishes for lunch. Day 5: An overcast day in Higashiyama
Day 5: it was Monday. I had an appointment for a painting workshop in the morning, where I spent two hours with a nice couple at their home painting patterns from a Kimono sleeve. Afterwards, I was on my way to Kodai-ji. There are usually always people dressed-up in Kimono in this area. You can rent Kimono easily from a shop, such as the one in this photo. That’s one thing I didn’t manage to do this time, I thought it would make more sense if I were not travelling alone.
Day 5: streets with cafes that offer local dessert and drinks.
Day 5: just arriving at Kodai-ji. Pond, garden, covered bridge and Kaisan-do on the other side.
Day 5: more plum flowers, the combination with the thick and strong branches is so beautiful.
Day 5: Camilia flowers fallen on moss, a special sight to be found at this time of spring.
Day 5: walking through the bamboos.
Day 5: a charming small alley leading to Ninen-zaka.
Day 5: at Ishibei-koji, small but surreal.
Day 5: I stopped by a teahouse for some matcha and snacks. What I didn’t expect was such a magnificent garden with giant Koi (carp).
Day 5: I had Kusawarabimochi, which is a type of mochi dipped into soy bean flour. It is a refreshing dessert, I finished it off with a perfect cup of matcha.
Day 5: the utensils were pretty as well.
Day 5: after eating, I went to check out the garden.
Day 5: nice and quiet, such an amazing tea house.
Day 5: in the afternoon I visited Shimogamo-jinja, which is in the northern part of Kyoto. A 2000-year-old shrine surrounded by trees and streams. I came to know this place from the TV series ‘The Secret Lives of Kyoto Folks’. A great place for taking a nice, long walk.
Day 5: I had a quiet time there, far away from the touristy part of town. Day 6: Peaceful morning walks in temples
Day 6: I started the day fairly early and planned to head straight to Shoren-in on foot. Just around the corner to the south of Shoren-in, I came across Chion-in and a group of visitors lined up in front of it snapping pictures of the gate. It was quite an interesting sight. Well then, I might as well pay Chion-in a visit.
Day 6: view of the gate from inside after a long, steep flight of stairs.
Day 6: morning tranquility inside Chion-in.
Day 6: symmetry and the light blue sky.
Day 6: I entered Shoren-in and Kacho-den was the first stop – a room with Fusuma paintings and painted furniture.
Day 6: the tranquil landscape garden. I could sit there forever, if it weren’t biting cold in shaded area.
Day 6: inside the main hall. A corner.
Day 6: five important mindsets.
Day 6: another angle of the pond and the garden. I love mornings like this. I sat in the small hall for quite some time.
Day 6: a peek of the bamboo forest from the main hall.
Day 6: and the sun was out briefly.
Day 6: walking around in the garden.
Day 6: if you are also a fan of ‘The Secret Lives of Kyoto Folks’ (京都人の密かな愉しみ), you’d be wondering like me where the confectionery shop is actually located. It wasn’t difficult to find out after a bit of googling. The actual shop – Tawaraya Yoshitomi, serving traditional Kyogashi, is currently ran by the 9th generation heir. I stopped by and picked up some Kyogashi. As I stood outside, I thought about the scenes in the series, Kyotojin living their lives just the way they have been used to.
Day 6: these are some candies I bought from the shop. Day 7: day trip to Uji
Day 7: Uji has been on my list of places to visit since long. Before this trip, I planned quite a few day trips outside Kyoto, but when I actually arrived and found out that there were so many things I’d like to see in Kyoto itself, I thought it wouldn’t matter if I put other towns on hold until another time. However, Uji is a little different, I persuade myself finally to make it out of Kyoto just for half a day, for the love of matcha!
Day 7: one of the bridges crossing the Uji River. There were a lot of constructions going on in and around the river, I guess due to the hurricane last summer.
Day 7: my first stop in Uji was Uji-jinja. A mini-sized (in comparison to the ones in Kyoto) shrine a short walk away from the river.
Day 7: rabbits are a symbol that can be spotted almost everywhere in Uji. An old tale has it that a rabbit once guided the local god of Uji when she became lost on a road of rabbits. A good place to take a few photos of the Miffy I always carried in my backpack 😉
Day 7: at Ujigami-jinja, a larger shrine further up the hill. Rabbits, and rabbits.
Day 7: shimenawa on an old tree.
Day 7: Miffy in Ujigami-jinja.
Day 7: fruits of Nanten 南天.
Day 7: fruits of Manryo 萬兩.
Day 7: my first matcha snack in Uji was a cup of matcha shredded ice plus senzai at the bottom. It was delicious, but a bit cold for the day.
Day 7: the second matcha place I wanted to visit took quite an effort to find, but the garden and the space inside the shop were very nice.
Day 7: this time I ordered something warm, matcha with senzai made of red beans and something else I can’t remember anymore. Oh I love senzai on cold days! Day 8: a day reserved for Kiyomizu-dera
Day 8: in case you haven’t noticed, up to now I still hadn’t visited Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most significant temples in Kyoto. I had my reasons for this. First, it is always incredibly crowded there during the day, making it quite impossible to enjoy the tranquility it is supposed to offer. And second, I found out by accident (thanks to the beautifully designed website) that there would be a festival on March 14th, the so-called Seiryu-e, a parade of the blue dragon coming out of Kiyomizu-dera. So here goes my plan, I would enjoy some quiet time at the beloved temple in the early hours, walk around sannen-zaka and ninen-zaka before tourists started to pour in. In the afternoon, I would come back for the blue dragon. An ingenious plan (lol)! I captured this photo on my way to Kiyomizu-dera. The sun had just risen above Higashiyama and the city was just beginning to wake up.
Day 8: Kiyomizu-dera in the finest hours, overlooking the basin of Kyoto.
Day 8: dragon, the god and the guardian of the East.
Day 8: mixed tones of the cool and the warm.
Day 8: the Otowa-no-taki water fall, where visitors can drink the sacred water with a cup attached to a long pole (I did).
Day 8: after I finished my visit at the temple. I proceeded to enjoy the emptiness of sannen-zaka. Only some coffee shops were open.
Day 8: a jellied dessert I bought two days ago. I ate it with a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Never would I expect to visit a Starbucks in Kyoto, but the one in ninen-zaka had such nice traditional, wooden interiors. So I thought, why not.
Day 8: Yosaka-no-tou, the five-story buddhist temple.
Day 8: ninen-zaka, quiet and empty.
Day 8: in the afternoon I made it back to Kiyomizu-dera for Seiryu-e, the blue dragon parade. It looked quite dramatic under an overcast sky.
Day 8: the dragon was preparing to leave the west gate of Kiyomizu-dera.
That was basically everything about my trip to Kyoto. It took an extra long time for me to put this post together, but I hope I’ve presented Kyoto in its true form, and not just brief impressions from the eyes of a tourist. I hope you had fun reading.
Last but not least, some more food from Kyoto… Till next time!