Japan 2015, Episode 4: Kickin’ in Kyoto

You may have noticed that I’ve returned to my old naming convention: goofy and rife with alliteration. I suppose it just didn’t feel like “me” with all of the overly-philosophical banter. Am I an introspective person? Certainly. But this pot needs a few other flavors in order to keep stirring. So, I hope we’re happy with me going back to more “old” IC (having a message paired with plenty of oddly-placed humor and lengthy descriptions), because that is what decidedly works for me.
Anyway, I couldn’t have felt more thankful to have snagged two incredible accommodations in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. I felt even more thankful when I attempted to book a return trip for this weekend (after my romp on Naoshima Island) only to find that the city was, according to one booking website, 99% booked, most likely due to cherry blossom season. I nearly found myself in a situation where my only options were knocking on doors, doing karaoke by myself (they let you stay overnight in some places if you’ve had too much to drink), or pulling all nighters in the train station. I was relieved to have found backup accommodation in Hikone, about 20 minutes by train from Kyoto. I’ll start today’s entry with an important lesson learned: know the accommodation options of where you’re traveling at the times you are traveling. Letting the wind take you on its course is undoubtedly awesome, but when your overall schedule or too much convenience/time is on the line, it’s best to go the planning route.

And now we move onto the fun stuff. Ahhhh, Kyoto. So many temples, so little time. No, really, there are over 1,600 temples in the city of Kyoto alone. I opted for Kiyomizudera Temple near my guesthouse in Southern Higashiyama, Kiyomizudera Sannenzaki, and the outside of Nanzenji Temple near my hotel in the Norther Part, Kyoto Traveler’s Inn. I’m going to start reviewing as much as possible on TripAdvisor for this trip, as I usually do this with most of my international trips. If you do plan to visit any specific sites, I suggest you refer to my reviews here as I am quite detailed and give as objective of a view as I can. See below for links to reviews.
I spent Monday night and all day/night Tuesday just walking around the area near my respective hotels. To enhance the experience and allow myself to just sit back and “explore” more, I abandon most of my Google maps usage and relied on – GASP! – paper maps and signs to get me to interesting places. The results were spectacular and I was able to eat at two amazing restaurants, see the exterior of several shrines and temples, visit a hidden cemetery, and attend the awe-inspiring Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art for their ParaSophia exhibit. I’m even about 95% convinced that I saw a real live geiko (geisha) in a taxi Tuesday night in the Gion district! All in all, I was proud of the amount of ground I covered on foot and felt exceedingly more confident about my abilities to do so anywhere. The message here is that it’s okay to drop the tourist gig once in a while. Don’t Google every step you take. Walk around and see what looks interesting in a given area, much like you would do in your home city.
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Maruyama Park on a cloudy day.



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A subsection of the large Three-Tiered Pagoda near the ticket stand. Workin’ that emerald green, girl.
Jishu Shrine, aka the “matchmaking shrine”. Had to give it props for sending Ocampo my way.
The main view of Kiyomizudera that is often seen in Google images. Infinitely more majestic during high spring and fall, but stunning nonetheless.

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Favorites from the ParaSophia exhibition at the Municipal Art Museum:

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Hey! It’s me!IMG_3375 IMG_3376


Heianjingu Shrine doused in rain.

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Scenery near Nanzenji Temple. Made me less bummed about the fact that it was closed.

The Nanzenji aqueduct, the highlight of the surrounding area.

The Nanzenji aqueduct, the highlight of the surrounding area.




A poor picture of the Gion District at night. Yes, I’m pretty honest with my occasional lack of portrait skill.

Kaiseki in Gion. I was in heaven and my photography skills improved drastically here.
Observations about Kyoto
  • As would be expected, the vibe is much, much older and more “classical” here compared to Tokyo. The nightlife, although there is some, seems to be pretty low-key.
  • Admittedly, many of the temples do look similar and if you’re going to see any particular ones, I would recommend the “stand out” ones of Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), the Philosopher’s Path leading to Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), and the Kiyomizudera as starters if you’re staying in Higashiyama. Granted, I have an incredibly limited view of Kyoto and readers are more than welcome to provide supplementary suggestions. Remember, I’m ignorant. 🙂
  • I was surprised to hear that Geisha culture is alive and well, and is one of the many traditions that has been willfully preserved over the centuries.
  • I made a complete fool out of myself on the bus by attempting to put money in the slot above the “ticket hander” function of the ticket machine in the back. Coins do not fit there. Apparently I had it backwards – you get a ticket when you first get on the bus, then pay later as you’re coming off. Whoops. I then proceeded to try and bring my gigantic bag of luggage up the small stairs to sit in one of the seats up there. This did not go well, as I ended up temporarily lodging myself in between a metal pole and my bag. I returned to my seat on the lower floor and just…looked away. The schadenfreude was plentiful here, but everyone in the train was super polite and no one laughed. If you’re going to look stupid, Japan seems like the place to do it!
Places Stayed/Things Done/Places Eaten
Night 1 accommodation: The Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Guesthouse – click here for a description/review.
Night 1 Dinner: Abura Soba Nekomata. A short walk from my first hotel. Specializes in a type of warm, spicy soba noodle that allowed me to flex my spice muscles. Great for a casual meal.
Night 2 accommodation: The Kyoto Traveler’s Inn – click here for a description/review.
Day 2 Lunch: Udon Gontaro (right near the Kyoto Zoo).
Kiyomizudera Temple (approx. time: about one hour) 
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art for the Parasophia Exhibit [note: this only goes until May 10th, 2015, so hustle over!] (approx. time: at least 1.5 hours)
Heianjingu Shrine (approx. time: 30-45 minutes – though my time here was cut quite short due to the rain)
Nanzenji Temple (approx. time: at least an hour if the temple is open; it was closed when I found it)
Gion district (approx. time: up to you – come here for dinner and walk around afterward for a couple hours.

Things I Missed/Things to Do Next Time

The Golden Pavilion. Dangit, this is the most important one and I missed it! This will be priority #1 for my next visit to Kyoto, which will hopefully be in a couple of days.

The Kokodera (moss temple). Read about the reservation procedure here and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Nonetheless, a must see if you have at least a few weeks before your next planned trip to Kyoto!

Arashiyama. A lush, slightly less urban side of Kyoto known for its bridge and colorful natural setting.

The Fushimi-Inari-Taisha shrine. Absolutely stunning and another thing I have on my list as a must.

and many more…

Stay tuned for the Episode 5, where I “bougie” it up on the mini art Mecca of Naoshima Island!
– H

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