After Tokyo it was time to make my way to classic Kyoto in search of some traditional Japanese culture. I hopped on one of the Shinkansen bullet trains which got me 230 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. When you’re on a bullet train you do not feel like you are going upwards of 150 odd mph at all. I was looking out of the window at first thinking “isn’t this what a normal train feels like?”. But then I properly looked at how fast the outside world was whizzing by, and it’s actually pretty crazy! You do truly get the feel for how fast they are when you’re sat on the station platform and one of them flies by in a couple of seconds.
The Japanese eticate on the trains was funny to see too. The conductors will repeatedly walk the length of the train and each time they enter and leave a carriage they turn around and bow to everybody. There are stewardesses with trolleys full of snacks etc going around too just like on a plane, and they bow to you as well when you buy something.
My Kyoto hostel – Piece Hostel – was pretty near to the central Kyoto station which was handy. However without internet it was pretty tricky to find at first, I had to go into another hotel and ask them for directions, so they kindly printed some off for me which was nice! I very much liked this hostel, lots of privacy and a big bed in my own bunk. They also had a bar that was pretty cheap especially for Japanese standards! I tried my first Saki here – it was so disgusting. It’s like a mixture between wine and pure spirit, not a fan! I washed it down with a good ol’ G&T.
Soooo Kyoto has around 1600 temples scattered about and unless you have unlimited time and money or a teleporter, it would be impossble to see them all, so you have to pick the handful that you want to see carefully. When I first got to Kyoto I decided to knock a temple off of my list that afternoon: Toji Temple, which was only one stop on the train and a little walk away. However when I got there it was just before 5 and it was all closed up. Gutted! However I could still pretty much see the temple from outside of the grounds anyway, so I sat for a while and just took in the scenery with a little bit of bird company…
The second temple I visited was Tenryu-Ji Temple which ran alongside the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and, like the majority of Japanese temples are, it was very picturesque. You have to pay to get in but it wasn’t very expensive, entry to the majority of Japanese temples are usually reasonably cheap. You wander around the gardens first taking in the pretty plant life, before emerging out to the main temple and it’s lovely pond. It would have been very peaceful, had it not been the Saturday before Japan’s famously chaotic Golden Week. Golden Week is a period in Japan where they have a cluster of national holidays all in the same week, and everywhere is absolutely chaotic as most people have time off of work and school. Lucky for me I was there during this wonderful (not) period, yippee! I obviously knew before coming that it would be busy, but I didn’t realise quite HOW busy until I was drowning in bodies everywhere I went. Ah well, it was still beautiful!
My third day in Kyoto was definitely a temple hopping day, I got through quite a few of them this day despite the crowds. I don’t spend too long at each temple either, as it is very easy to feel “templed-out” because of the sheer amount of them you visit in Japan! But my first stop this day was Kiyomizudera Temple which has a cluster of buildings sat on the hillside with spectacular views of Kyoto and its gorgeous green hills.
As in Tokyo, I was doing a looooot of walking. Breathing through the foot pain and trudging on like a faithful hobit to my next destination – Kodaiji Temple. The walks around this area of Higashiyama and Gion were particularly lovely and very traditionally Japanese. Quaint little higgledy-piggledy, brick streets with classic store fronts and plenty of food stalls and quirky little shops everywhere and a lot of good view points. I grabbed a frozen, coke slushy thing on the way which was a good way to cool down as it was very hot whilst I was in Kyoto!
I stumbled across a gorgeous view point and also a big Buddha on the walk to Kodaiji, I was planning to go and explore it afterwards but I forgot; whoops. You have to remove your shoes to walk inside the temples, but they provide little bags for you to put them in to carry around with you which is cute.
Next up isn’t a “Temple” per se as it is called Yasaka Shrine. So more of a shrine than a temple, but to be perfectly honest I really don’t know the difference! This one had loads of pretty lanterns decorating it which I loved.
The next temple I frequented, Kenninji, was very beautiful on the outside, but even more impressive on the inside. It had probably my favourite interior of any of the temples. The famous twin dragon ceiling mural, and it is pretty spectacular – way bigger than I was expecting!
They had a whole art gallery type thing going on in Kenninji where they were displaying drawings and paintings by various different Japanese artists. Some of them were quite classic, others more anime style which was cool. They also had screens showing videos of the artists doing the paintings.
I saved the most famous temple for last. Little did I know I would not be there long at all. Fushimi Inari Shrine is one you may have heard of, it has lines and lines of torii gates climbing up the hill that you can walk underneath for a few hours. However when I got there it was RAMMED. I walked up through the torii gates for about 10 minutes, but I decided to turn back because it was just so crowded, it felt like being in a herd of cattle moving so slowly doing tiny little footsteps (thanks Golden Week). I saw enough of it anyway as I have heard once you have seen the torii gates it is pretty much just more of the same all the way up. On the way back down I bought a little torii gate of my own to hang up back at home!
The best part of Fushimi Inari for me was the food stalls! They had so much yummy street food lining the roads and it just had to be done really didn’t it. I settled for a barbecued chicken skewer, some crispy chicken chunks and Taiyaki, which is basically a thick, custard pancake in the shape of a fish. All very delicious!
In every temple I visited, I noticed that there were various actions and symbolic practices people would always do. You can buy incense to burn in little miniature shrines, and all of the Japanese people would stand by it and wave the smoke over themselves (they did this in Hong Kong too). I assume it’s to wash away the bad energy or absorb the good energy or something along those lines! There are also bells hanging up attached to rope – similar to church bells but on a much smaller scale, and people would queue up to ring the bell twice. I didn’t actually know what this symbolised at the time but at one of the temples I gave one of the bells a cheeky ring as there was no one waiting. I later looked it up and saw that the bell symbolises Buddha’s voice and calls for the protection of heavenly deities. The sound of the bell equals the sound of the Dharma, or the entity or law, which sustains the order of things in the universe. Now hopefully my travels will all stay in order! At a few of the temples I also saw pales of water with a little ladle type thing and people would also queue up to scoop out the water and either pour it over themselves somewhere, or lob some of it over religious statues. Whatever floats your boat!
I visited some stunningly beautiful temples whilst in Kyoto, each one unique in its own way. I will admit that you do get to a point where you crave doing something different than visiting temples, as there are just so many of them to see! But obviously I would highly recommend fitting in as many as you can enthusastically visit because they are iconic.