Life has just been so busy; I am in shock that it is August and I am reflecting on my holiday to Japan in March. I really have saved the best until last however, Kyoto was truly amazing. I knew from the moment we started planning Japan that Kyoto was a must do and that I wanted to spend a night or two extra here and I am so glad that we did.
Again we used Airbnb for our accommodation and had a great apartment located near Kawaramachi, just a few train strops from the centre of Kyoto. The apartment was again simple but served our purposes brilliantly. The real winner for this accommodation was the provision of two bicycles that really made our trip to Kyoto. If you are going to do Kyoto I could not recommend enough that you do it by bicycle.
The day we arrived we set out on our bikes for the afternoon to two must see sites, Tofuku-ji Temple and Fushimi-Inari. Cycling from our accommodation to Tofuku-ji Temple was both exhilarating and nerve racking at the same time. It’s been years since I’ve been on a bicycle and I would never dream of cycling the Australian streets in the manner that we did in Kyoto. Without helmets, ducking and weaving between cars – parked and oncoming, other cyclists, up footpaths, across bridges, around poles and pedestrians. It took me a while to get my cycle legs back, but once I did it was just brilliant.
Tofuku-ji Temple, the first stop for our afternoon is a Buddhist temple and considered one of the five great Buddhist temples of Kyoto. The stone gardens were beautiful and well suited to a quiet moment of reflection before heading off again.
Next stop on our cycle tour of the area was Fushimi-Inari, probably the best known attraction in Kyoto. The orange torii that lead the way up the mountain are spectacular. One of those experiences that aren’t exactly how you first imagine it to be however, whilst Tofukuji Temple was quiet and reflective, the walk at Fushimi-Inari was far from that.
The photos that you see of torii stretching as far as the eye can see, free from people is far from the experience you will have. Damian and I had a lot of moments where we would run up ahead to get photos before a group would come through, we were trying desperately to create the illusion that we were the only ones on the pilgrimage at that time.
We arrived too late to make the pilgrimage all the way to the top, which was a bit of a regret but we knew that if we tried to push ourselves to the top we would lose the light coming down and we still had more of Kyoto that we needed to try and squeeze in that afternoon.
We made it around about the halfway mark where we stopped for some photos before beginning the descent to the entrance again. At the entrance there are a number of stalls selling food and souvenirs, we picked up some fried chicken on sticks (2 stars) and jumped back on our bikes for the afternoon.
The rest of the afternoon we cycled around Fushimi and followed the river back north to our accommodation. Cycling along the banks of the river with Damian whilst the sun set over our first night in Kyoto is my most treasured memory of the entire trip to Japan; Kyoto is exceptional.
We still hadn’t really mastered the art of finding places to eat, but we did find a great little dumpling restaurant which kept us happy. After dinner we were looking for somewhere for a drink and settled on the backpacker bar across the road from our accommodation. This ended up to be a great choice and we knocked back a few gin and tonics and made friends with Jules, Enzo and Corinne siblings from Manila who had also been travelling through Japan. We shared a few stories, a few laughs and a few more drinks. It was a great way to end our first night in Kyoto.
Our second day in Kyoto was an epic bike ride across town and back covering around 30km. First stop on our list was the Nazenji Temple, which was a bit of an “it’s on the way so we may as well” type trip. So thankfully, when we got completely disorientated, lost and started off our bike trek with a heated exchange around who knew which way to go more than the other and ended up kilometres past where we needed to be, it wasn’t that much of a big deal.
Our first stop ended up being Ginkaku-ji, or better known as the Silver Temple.
Again, getting photos of any of the sites was hard work with the amount of people visiting. We figured out that not only were we visiting on a Saturday, but it was also some kind of national holiday weekend as well so tourist sites were extra busy with national tourists.
The garden was well curated and quite pleasant to walk around, but we didn’t stay too long in this area after seeing the main sites, we had quite a bit of ground to cover before we would make it to our next stop which was Kinkaku-ji, or similarly better known as the Golden Temple.
Kinkaku-ji was exceptional, I think as far as traditional temples go, this was my favourite one in our visit to Japan. Despite the hordes of people there to see it at the same time that we were there, there was something really serene about the entire temple setting. The gold of the temple, (whilst this might sound really obvious) was just SO gold. It was stunning. The blossoms were in an earlier stage of bloom than those we had seen in Tokyo, but the budding trees were still beautiful.
It was at this point that I realised I had neglected to charge my camera battery and I was running out of battery, fast. There was still so much to see and capture I had to start being really selective about what I shot rather than being my usual trigger happy self. It ended up being really good for me. I find that when I have my camera I think about everything I am seeing in terms of how it will look photographed, sometimes it’s good to just appreciate the world you are surrounded by.
That being said, there was still one major attraction on the hit list for the day and we headed off to see Arashiyama via Ryoan-ji – a stone garden in a similar vein to Tofuku-ji. Arashiyama was again just absolute madness. The bamboo forest was beautiful though and the light filtering through the trees was majestical, we’d made it at just the right time in the afternoon to appreciate it.
The long ride home awaited us and we headed off, and lucky we did when we did as we got caught in the rain not long before home. We did manage another ride along the banks of the river before that stage and got to again see the sun going down over Kyoto, my favourite Japanese city.
Our final day in Kyoto we spent shopping in the city. We were intending on getting on a train early in the morning to visit Hiroshima but we needed a bit of a slow start to our last day after the massive ride the day before. The shopping was great though and whilst it was a shame to miss Hiroshima I think it would have been a shame to rush through that whole section of Japan. Next time, definitely. Next time will definitely also include a return to Kyoto as well, I don’t think I could get enough of this city and as much as we saw I feel like there is still so much more to see.
Kanazawa was our final stop on the rail tour of Japan before spending the final days of our trip in Kyoto. After Tokyo, Nagoya and Takayama, Kanazawa had quite a bit to live up to.
Our first impressions of the city were fantastic, we were picked up by our Airbnb host’s uncle and chauffeured to our accommodation. Which was just brilliant. The place was massive – and not just by Japanese standards, we would be happy in a one bedroom apartment of this size in any city in Australia. The apartment was modern, attractive and relaxing. The toilet was like something out of a science fiction film and in the bathroom there was a deep stone bath basin set into the ground from which a stunning view of the garden could be appreciated. Jackpot!
There were two main attractions that we came to Kanazawa to see, Kenroku-en – one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens and the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art. When I explained this to our driver there was a bit of a mistranslation as I thought he kept saying “No, No Museum in Kanazawa”, but what he actually meant was the “Noh Museum” in Kanazawa, recommending the Noh Museum of Dance. We left these sites to our full day ahead of us and spent the night wandering around the city.
There was a beautiful light display in the castle gardens where we took a few photos, before heading to Ippei Sushi, a restaurant that Damian had researched and was a real find. Freshly made sushi and sashimi served off the bench that was betwen us and the chef whilst being entertained by the most authentically nice hostess we’d come across our entire trip. We were happy to head back to our exquisite accommodation and jumped in the bath to drink the bottle of sake we bought in Takayama.
The next day we set out to see the rest of Kanazawa. We started our day in the castle gardens where we got a private tour from a very friendly local. After walking up to the window which said “English tour guide available”, we asked the lady at the window if she spoke English. After she responded with a “no”, she then informed us (after we asked for the English speaking guide), that that was her! Entertaining to say the least, her English was not fantastic but she did a really good job and it was a good experience for both her and I to practice each other’s language a little bit.
After the castle tour we headed to Kenroku-En. Now, I don’t want to sound unappreciative of Japan’s #2 most beautiful garden and maybe by this stage we had been spoilt, but unfortunately I didn’t think the garden was as enjoyable as Shinjuku Garden in Tokyo. Kenroku-En was most definitely a stunning and beautifully curated garden, but there wasn’t really much in the way of places to relax and enjoy your surroundings. Definitely the type of garden you walk through.
Despite this, there were plenty of opportunities for photos of the beautifully curated trees and bushes. We learnt from our Japanese tour guide that the strings held above the trees were not as we originally thought to help shape them, but rather to help protect the branches from the weight of snow in winter. We found ourselves to be somewhat of an attraction at one point with a group of traditionally dressed girls adamant that we get a number of photos with them. Of course we ensured the favour was returned.
Wandering the gardens took a good couple of hours, and it was definitely worth seeing. Again it was one of those experiences that you couldn’t help but wonder whether it would have been much more enjoyable a couple of weeks on when the spring blossoms were starting to come out in stronger numbers.
After Kenroku-En we headed to the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art… this was probably the only experience in the whole of Japan where we went to do something that we’d flagged as a point of interest and were actually disappointed. Aside from a few outdoor sculptures the museum itself was not very exciting. We paid to see an architecture exhibition which was very uninspiring and touted to be a reflection on green environmental living but was really quite unimaginative. We really didn’t mind though, we’d had such a busy time in Japan so far we were quite happy to head back to the accommodation again and enjoy some quiet time in a comfortable space. Final stop approaching: Kyoto.
Alright, so this is my own personal blog – usually reserved for my own writings and amateur photography.
The below is a photo taken by my brother, a professional photographer, of the recent cold snap that has swept through Hobart.
He has been doing some amazing things in photography around Hobart of late and chances are if you have looked up photos of any event in Hobart in the last 18 months, you’d see one of his images. This is the first photo he has put up on his online store and I would urge you to check it out.
The image will link through to his online store and other contact details can be found below.