Location: Kyoto, Japan
Date: August 2015
B&N: "Which temples should we see?"
Concierge: "There are a lot of temples in Kyoto, you will have to be more specific."
B&N: "We would also like to climb Mt. Fuji."
Concierge: " Well thats great, do you guys have time, like a week? How much time do you have? What type of gear did you bring?"
B&N: "Oh, we have one day. And we brought sneakers and yoga pants."
Concierge: **Silence and blank stare**
So much to see and such little time. “A lot” (of temples) is kind of an understatement considering that there are over 1600 temples and shrines in Kyoto.
Give me 30 seconds:
- Make sure to have your pocket Wifi with you to help navigate to all the temples.
- Don't get overwhelmed with the amount of temples.
- Don't stay in a typical hotel, try to find a traditional Ryokan to stay at during your time in Kyoto.
- Wear comfortable shoes, you will walk. A LOT.
- No need to walk the entire Fushimi Inari Shrine. If you walk halfway up, you will have seen it all.
- Try to book to have dinner with a Geisha. Otherwise they are pretty hard to spot.
- Top suggestions: Fushimi Inari Shrine, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Gion District, Ginkaku Temple, Tenryuji.
Classic Ryokan experience in Kyoto
This is a traditional ryokan in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto (district east of Gion). The most outstanding thing about this inn was that everyone made you feel very welcome. It’s a magical sanctuary that you’ll never want to leave.
We stayed at Sumiya Ryokan, which really does feel like a hidden refuge in the city. Located only 2km from the Kyoto Imperial Palace the rooms look out over a fantastic inner garden and the decorations are museum quality. Our hosts were so accommodating, kind and very generous with their time. After checkin, the hosts tell you to get undressed and they redress you in a kimono so that you are more comfortable. Who knew a kimono had so many ties and wraps and knots! We were served the most delicious traditional Kaiseki ryori meal which took around 3 hours to be served and eaten and consisted of fish, sashimi, noodles and much more! Once done with dinner in the room, they would remove the dinner table and move our mats in and arrange our sleeping beds. We slept on traditional Tatami mats on the ground and showered in deep bathing tubs with handheld shower heads over a little wooden stool. Our room had a private bathroom, but we also opted for the group bathing room as well. The group bathroom room is one massive bathtub in an open room with several shower heads and stools all around; interesting experience.
Pros: Brilliant location, excellent food, huge rooms, traditional, authentic Japanese experience, accommodating staff
Cons: Very expensive (around $800 USD a night)
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)
If you have seen "Memoirs of a Geisha", you will immediately recognize this place. Famous for its thousands of torii gates which straddle a trail leading into a wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. The torii gates along the entire trail are donations and inscribed from the gifting companies or individuals. Before even realizing that this was a hike, Britt and I thought this was something we could see in less than an hour, we had made dinner plans. Lets just say, the actual hike time to the summit and back is about 2-3 hours. I also forgot to mention it was about 80*F with extreme humidity and we were carrying about 5 pounds of souvenir mochi. Insert stunned emoji face here.
Along the path to the summit, there are plenty of small shrines to offer prayers and shops to get water and snacks. At the Yotsutsuji intersection, roughly halfway up the mountain, you will find a few benches and a stunning view of Kyoto. This is where most people stop to rest and some people turn back around. Most people not including Brittny and I. Of course we had to venture all the way up to the top. It does get a little steep and it all starts to look similar after a while; the stairs, the trail, the surrounding trees. We started getting nervous that we were walking in circles and thought about going back at times, but we eventually made it. Needless to say we missed our dinner plans and it was pitch black by the time we got all the way back down. But well worth being able to say we climbed the entire torii.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is located outside the JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. See, I told you you would get plenty of use from your JR Pass!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto
No picture can capture the feeling of standing in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove – the whole thing has a palpable sense of serenity that is quite unlike that of any normal forest we know of.
10 min walk from Saga Arashiyama Station, JR Sagano line
Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
Not even the crowds of tourists, and they come by the thousands, can detract from Kinkaku-ji's undoubted splendor. In 1955, the reconstructed temple was unveiled with golf leaf coating, hence its name, The Golden Pavilion. The 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple's monks. Admission is 400Yen.
Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto
By far, my favorite temple in Kyoto. Unassuming from the outside, you might pass this by as "just another temple", but please, if you get anything from reading this, please go inside this temple. The experience will transform you, I promise. And then you can leave me a note in the comments of how incredible it is. The temple was founded in 780 and its main hall has a magnificent view of Kyoto. Leading up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is Zuigudo Hall, which is dedicated to Buddha's mother, and after paying a small entrance fee, you will wander a pitch black basement that symbolizes a mother's womb. Its an emotional awakening experience and I highly suggest it!
Ginkakuji ( 銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion)
Ginkakuji is a Zen temple and it consists of the Silver Pavilion, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden. Its calming sand garden can be seen from all around the pavilion area and its a peaceful area to take a book and read or spend some time reflecting.
Tenryuji Temple (天龍寺)
Tenryuji is the most important temple in Kyoto's Arashuyama district and is also an amzing place to go to feel Zen. There is a beautiful garden and picturesque landscape to walk around and enjoy. Spend some time sitting down on the mats and looking out on the water and reflecting, its absolutely amazing! This is very close by the Bamboo forest so I highly suggest doing this around the same time as the forest.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous Geisha district and while you may not spot any Geisha's, there is still plenty to do in the area like eat, shop, or sit in a teahouse. While I myself did not see any Geisha's, I must say I tried really hard to spot one. However, in the Gion district, there are many other things to see and do, but if you happen to see a Geisha on their way to work, you are in luck!
Our time in Kyoto was bittersweet to say the least. It was one of the most magical places I have ever been and could have honestly spent another week or two exploring its beauty, wandering the streets of Gion and soaking in more serenity at the temples. I promise, I'll be back Kyoto!
I'd love to hear what your favorite places in Kyoto are, share in comments below.
As always, go JETSETAWAY!