Leading up to winter vacation, I hadn’t really planned much of anything. However, as the time drew closer, I decided to take some of my nenkyū (paid holiday days) to extend my otherwise short break and do a bit of sightseeing. I ended up planning a rather last-minute trip to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, and I’m really glad I did—I got to see a bunch of really neat things, eat delicious food, and pamper myself for almost a full week before coming back and getting back into the swing of things with a new semester.
As I was going through all of my pictures, I quickly realized the necessity of letting Kyoto have a post all to itself. I also realized that, although it would be easy just to talk about things in the order I saw them, that would be incredibly boring—both for me to write and for you to read. On the other hand, I really, really like lists. Like, really like them.
So, without further ado: the ten things I saw during my three days in Kyoto, ranked from cool to awesome. 🙂
10. A temple whose name I don’t know
When I first saw this temple, I thought it was pretty awesome because I came across it by accident. I had just finished lunch after arriving in Kyoto, and I was walking toward my first destination when I saw this and decided to pop in. It was only my second time visiting a Buddhist temple, so at the time it was fairly interesting. It’s pretty big, and the prayer rooms are set up nicely. Looking back, however, I realize that it’s rather unremarkable for a temple, especially in light of the other things I saw.
[Note: I don’t know the name of this temple because 1) I found it by accident, 2) it’s only in Kanji on Google Maps, and 3) their website is less than helpful.]
9. Shōsei-en Garden
From the unnamed temple of #10, I went to Shōsei-en because there were signs that were like, “Hey, while you’re here, you should go check out this garden!” So I did.
It was actually quite pretty, and there were still some colorful leaves and plants, even though it was the end of December. I enjoyed walking around for a while and taking nature pictures. There was a big pond there, and as soon as I walked closer to check it out, I was greeted with this sight:
Obviously they get fed there a lot, because they all started swarming to the shore as soon as they saw me. I guess they expected me to do the same. (Sorry, guys.)
8. Heian Shrine
From what I understand, this is a pretty big-deal shrine in the Kyoto area. The shrine itself is fairly large compared to other shrines I’ve seen, the grounds are quite expansive. There was a huge garden around and behind the shrine that was beautiful, even though it’s winter and most things are dead (though I’m sure it’s gorgeous in the spring).
My favorite part was this bridge:
I’m kind of obsessed with it. I could stare at this thing for hours.
7. Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”)
Arashiyama can be described in one word: bamboo. Everywhere. It’s pretty neat cause you get to walk through a bamboo forest that’s cool and quiet and peaceful, and it also happened to be snowing the day I went, so that really added to the experience.
Unfortunately, my knees were really hurting and giving me lots of trouble that day, so I didn’t get to go to the monkey park or do any of the other really cool things this area has to offer. If I had, I’m sure Arashiyama would have ranked higher on the list. 🙂
6. Rengeō-in / Sanjūsangen-dō
This place was really cool. It’s a temple that has this super long hall filled with one thousand statues of Kannon (“Goddess of Mercy” – incredibly popular and widely worshiped in Japan). They’re set pretty close together and in multiple rows, and they just keep going and going and going. There are also 28 guardian deities, but they weren’t as interesting to look at. 🙂
(Unfortunately, pictures were forbidden here, and they reserve the right to check cameras as you leave in order to enforce this rule. You can see some official pictures if you do a Google search, though.)
This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto, and I can certainly see why as Kinkaku-ji (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) is literally covered in gold. There were swarms and swarms of people all trying to take pictures and selfies at the same time, but I managed to snag a few people-free pictures.
As you’re leaving after walking through the whole area, vendors sell special souvenirs that you can only get inside the temple. My favorite was a bottle of sake (Japanese alcohol made from rice) with small flakes of gold floating inside. I kind of regretted not getting one just for the fun of it.
(Although, now that I think about it, maybe that’s a good thing. The vendor told me that it would “make [me] into a gold man.” I’m quite happy in my non-gold, non-male body. ;))
4. Fushimi Inari Taisha
Inari is this really cool shrine set at the base of a small mountain. It actually continues all the way up the mountain, and the path (~4km total) is lined with thousands of shrine gates, and there are hundreds of smaller shrines set up along the path.
I went toward the end of the day, so I got to see it both in daylight and in darkness. I also started talking to another tourist on the way up and we had some cool conversations, so that made the experience really fun. Also, we saw this cat hanging out on one of the shrines on our way down:
To start, this temple was beautiful.
Also, it had several really fun parts that made it quite an enjoyable experience. First, for the bargain price of 100 yen, I was able to walk through a curving pitch black tunnel using only a beaded handrail to guide me to a glowing stone thing where, if I touched it and made one and only one wish, Buddha was guaranteed to grant it. I’m not sure why I thought this would be a fun experience given my claustrophobia, but I managed to make it through without panicking (and without the much louder, much faster group of guys behind me running over me).
Back in the nice, open outside world, I saw this Love Fortune Telling Rock, where you would close your eyes and walk from Rock #1 (pictured) to Rock #2 (not pictured but almost identical to Rock #1):
(It was really fun watching people try to do that.)
This was a Zen Buddhist temple with multiple rooms all connected by small bridge things that you could explore as long as you were wearing socks (but not shoes). Many of the rooms had very intricately paneled doors, and the amount of detail on them amazed me.
The highlight, though, was in the building across from the main section (you have to put on special slippers so you can walk across the way). On the ceiling is a painting of twin dragons commemorating the 800th anniversary of Kennin-ji’s founding:
(Sorry for the crappy lighting. The ones taken without the flash are much better in terms of color, but some spots are blurry cause I had to try to hold the camera still for too long.)
Last but certainly not least is Ginkaku-ji (“Temple of the Silver Pavilion”), which is by far my favorite spot in Kyoto. This was another Zen Buddhist temple, but unlike the previous one, this temple was pretty much exclusively outside and had a gorgeous garden (including Zen sand designs) that you could explore.
When I went, it was early enough to where there weren’t many tourists until about the time I was leaving, so it was really quiet and peaceful, and it had been raining before I got there, which really added to the peaceful atmosphere. I got lots of pictures of colorful flowers and bamboo rails with raindrops.
I also (of course) got some pictures of the Silver Pavilion for which the temple is named:
I really like this place, and I really hope I can go back someday. I don’t think it will ever get old.
All in all, this was a really awesome first part of my trip, and I saw so many amazing things. I really enjoyed being able to go by myself and just escape for a little while while exploring Japan. If you ever get the chance to go to Kyoto, I’d highly recommend it. 🙂
(Fun note: When I got back home and told the teachers at my school that I prefer Ginkaku-ji to Kinkaku-ji, they were really surprised, because most foreigners usually prefer Kinkaku-ji. I explained that I like how quiet and peaceful and meditative this place is, and they agreed and told me that, in this regard, I’m very Japanese. So that was a fun bonus. :))