Kyoto is considered the most beautiful city in Japan by many. It was Japan’s capital for a very long time, so there are lots of temples, pavillions and gardens that refer to that period. Kyoto is packed with unesco-heritage spots! Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the city is quite relaxed.
It’s only a 2.5h drive away. I have no idea why it took us almost one year to visit this magnificent place for the second time. Last summer it was in the midst of a heath wave. This time we took our umbrellas out. The rain definitely didn’t spoil the magnificence of the temples and gardens and probably freed us from the crowds.
This time we would start in the south, stay the night in the center and visit the north part of town on the second day.
First day: south Kyoto
First stop was daigo-ji. This temple probably isn’t on a lot of bucket lists. It’s famous for its five-story pagoda, which is the oldest in Japan. We were more impressed by the lovely restaurant/tea house hidden alongside the pond in the park. The garden of the subcomplex Sanbo-in is a must see!
Sanjusangen-do is rated 3*** in the Michelin guide and we totally agree. Even if you’re not so familiar with buddhism (like we are), this collection of statues is breathtaking. Too bad you can’t take pictures of it. You’ll have to go see for yourself I guess 😉
I had rather skipped this next, very tourtistic attraction, but in a marriage you have to compromise :-). In full it’s called Fushimi Inari Taisha, it’s a Shinto complex famous for the thousends of red torii. (Red torii are the gates to a shrine.) It was very crowded indeed; lots of posing and selfie sticks, but that phenomenon decreases the longer you walk. It’s a 50 minute walk to the top and few people actually reach it. They say the view from Inari Mountain is rewarding. We didn’t go all the way to the end. Our time was limited and we didn’t feel like walking two hours in the rain with a child that only enjoys getting wet.
We stayed in a great hotel by the way, the best price-quality we had so far. A nice, big room for only 65€ (no breakfast though) situated in the Ginza area. They also organise geisha performances. We didn’t go to the show -I’ve seen one before- so I don’t know if it’s good.
Second day: north Kyoto
We started the day at Kinkaku-ji, the famous Golden Pavillion. I had seen many pictures of it already and again, I was afraid that it was going to be too touristy. We arrived just before opening time to avoid the crowds. That worked very well. The rain probably contributed to that. Surprisingly, we were truly moved when viewing the golden pavillion. You really have to see it with your own eyes, because pictures fail to express its true beauty.
Ryoan-ji is known for its rock garden, one of Kyoto’s symbols. Fifteen rocks are carefully placed in sand, surrounded by an earthen wall. The garden around it follows the zen principles and expresses harmony. We weren’t really impressed by the rock garden, though, but that is personal.
We had a quick ramen lunch nearby.
Time to escape the rain and look for souvenirs! Kyoto handicraft center is not too far from Ginkaku-ji, our next stop. The collection of Japanese souvenirs is large and spread out over two buildings. Unfortunately I found the items a little overpriced. The upside is you can find almost anything here: kimono, samurai swords, calligraphy, art, glassware, pottery, kokeshi dolls, … and a very nice bookshop. Books happen to be my weak spot. I couldn’t resist buying a nicely edited sumo book, to prepare for our visit to the Nagoya sumo tournament in a few weeks.
Ginkaku-ji (or silver temple) is the counterpart of the golden one. The name is a bit misleading, because the Shogun’s ambition to cover it with silver, was never realised. We didn’t go inside, because we were too busy being amazed by one of Kyoto’s finest gardens. Worth the visit!
Filosopher’s path is a traffic free path alongside a canal, that leads up to Ginkaku-ji. It is said to be a very relaxing 30 minute walk, because of the beautiful flowers (and cheery blossoms in spring). I, on the other hand, was destracted by the nice shops across the street 😉
On the way home we visited the Miho-museum. It’s about 20km southeast of Kyoto and can be reached by train and bus. We went by car. It had been on my wish list for quite some time. It’s built in the mountains and mostly underground to preserve the landscape.
The architect of the museum is nobody less than I.M. Pei, who also created the glass pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris. It was sponsored by one of the richest women in Japan: Koyama Mihoko. When you see this building and visit this museum, with pieces largely coming from her private collection, you cannot help but wonder how much money went into it! I will dedicate another post to this museum.