Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, so it’s easy to find historical sights and there are temples and shrines absolutely everywhere. Even in the immediate vicinity of my hostel I walked to see Nishi Hongwanji, Higashi Hongaiji and Shoseien Gardens – all of which were impressive and gave me a good initial impression of the city on my first day. The weather was set to be warming and I could see more blossoming trees emerging as I went between places.
The next day, with a fresher mind and rested legs, I set out to the city equipped with an all-day bus ticket and a list of places to visit. Nijo Castle was a great way to spend the morning, wonderful old structures set in beautiful gardens all encircled by the castle moat. Afterwards it was a day full of temples, it’s hard to remember all of their names but all were spectacular no matter the size and some in the quieter neighbourhoods were extremely peaceful. Kinkaku-ji, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, was very crowded but understandably so with some great views of the lakeside gilded building. I also visited my first zen stone garden, calm and raked to perfection but I still think I prefer real gardens. However I do really love the subtle minimalistic painting style used on the walls and screens inside the buildings.
One evening in Kyoto was magnificent; by chance I was around for the springtime event of ‘Hanatouro’, where a whole district of temples are lit up at night and all the streets illuminated with thousands of lanterns. The temples that were open later than normal allowed for a whole different visual experience. Women were dressed in traditional Kimono, shops opened late and street vendors handed out various samples of foods. There were some processions of sorts too, not entirely sure what they were about but it was all part of a wonderful evening.
I did have to have a lazy day in Kyoto, either I’ve done too much walking or am getting too old… or perhaps both, but aches and pains in knees and ankles led to a day of people watching from a cafe and relaxing in the hostel. The standard of hostel in Japan has been amazing so that wasn’t really much of a problem and I definitely felt better for it the following day.
My final day in Kyoto gave me enough time to make sure I visited some more of the must-see temples whilst generally exploring the city a bit more. In the south my favourite was Fushimi-Inari-taisha, a temple complex where they have gone mad with thousands of red torii gates, using them to create pathways and tunnels up the hillside. The site was also filled with dedications to the Japanese fox goddess, but I never did learn why particularly. It would be possible to get a bit ‘over-templed’ with any more time here, but tonight I get my final overnight bus to Tokyo and leave with fond memories and a growing appreciation still of Japan.