3 days - December 2016
After 10 days spent at the snow in Niseko where we mostly met Australian and Chinese people (Not quite the culture shock we were expecting going to Japan!) , it was time to head off to the traditional Kyoto and discover what traditional Japan had to offer.
We've started the day taking a bus from Niseko to Sapporo Airport for 2,5 hours, then a 2 hours' flight from Sapporo to Osaka and then finally the train to Kyoto.
Kyoto used to be the imperial capital city of Japan for almost a century, until 1868 when Tokyo took over the title. Most of its traditional edifices have been preserved as Kyoto is not subject to as powerful earthquakes as other part of Japan and has not been bombarded during WWII.
A bit like Roma or our beloved Paris Kyoto is an open-air museum city with over 1400 Buddhist temples, 700 Shinto temple and around 20 recognised in the Unesco Worldwide Heritage list. (end to the little Wikipedia aside, back to our trip!)
After a long day on the road we arrived at night in Gion- the famous Geisha District. Cedric and I are still arguing about what a Geisha (or Geiko in Japanese) is (he has an interesting theory about this, ask him if you want to hear it!). Internet referring to Geisha as “female entertainers for men performing various forms of arts who act as hostesses”, I leave you and your imagination to decide what a Geisha is. One thing is for sure, they still fascinate me and I’m really happy we’ve been able to catch a glimpse of one of them by a cold December night.
It’s pretty easy to get around in Kyoto as the city offers a good network of Public Transport. We’ve spent 3 days walking around from temple to temple and discovering Buddhism and Shintoism.
We’ve started our trip at Fushimi Inari Taisha. This big Shinto Shrine - dedicated to Inari The Shinto God of rice- is financed by Business men or Companies buying Tori gates in hope of good fortune for the future. We can count today 10,000 gates and I definitely recommend you to do the full 5kms long walk and getting lost in the forest, far from the first Gates where hundreds of tourists try to capture the best Instagram picture…
We’ve then headed off to Kiyomizudera- a UNESCO world heritage sites. I could quickly understand why it’s part of the list. The main building was made with wood in 708 and sit quite impressively at 13m high, among the trees which would have amazing colours during Fall and Spring.
Well it was a bit too busy on that day for us as we were followed by hundreds of Asian tourists wearing Kimonos. I have to admit that for a minute I I thought they were all Japanese and were wearing beautiful traditional Kimonos on a normal day . But seeing all of them with duck face snapping the best Instagram picture made me realise that this was- again- not the place where we would meet authentic Japanese people. Anyway it was still worth it and we’ve continued our trip down to Kodaiji temple walking through really nice old streets (Sannenzaka) where you can buy traditional ceramics. Looked quite traditional but there is no doubt it is for tourists.
Kodaiji Temple was surprisingly really quiet. The gardens must be really beautiful during autumn (Cedric if you read this our next trip is already planned, Japan next October!). We’ve also discovered what a Zen rock garden was and couldn’t stop thinking about the poor gardener who have had to align all these small rocks every day! We kept walking ended up in an impressive bamboo forest- Mum the issue you have with your bamboo proliferating into your garden is not material compared to this dense bamboo forest!
This forest is way more impressive than the Arashiyama one which I don’t recommend by the way as this was infested by tourists and is not authentic at all.
We left the temple pretty relaxed and it might have been thanks to the Zen Garden which is supposed to help you with meditation or maybe because there was no tourist at all there :)
After a good night sleep in the beautiful old Gion where we saw another Geisha who disappeared as quickly as she appeared, we visited the Golden Pavilion- or Kinkaku-ji. This temple as its name mention is covered with Gold leaf. The structure is impressive and dominate a large pond, perfect for the gold reflections when it’s sunny!The temple has been renovated many times after being burned down by a crazy monk. (was he trying to rob the gold?!)
Over the 3 days we’ve also visited Sanjūsangen-dō another Buddhist temple built in the 12th century. Made from wood it’s apparently the longest wood structure in the world. Inside the temple we’ve counted 1,029 statues and around 5,200 arms! (Yes i can be quite obsessed with figures sorry, my background in finance is not helping). The biggest one represents Kannon and has 1,000 arms. The statue is guarded by an army of 1,000 life-size statues (ready to attack Cedric who hadn’t seen the no photography sign and started taking pictures!). This is a must-do in Kyoto.
Next to Gion you can also find Yasaka-Jinja (another temple told you had around 2000 temples in Kyoto!), not as touristy as the others and really nice with the traditional lanterns and big bells to be ring before praying.
A good spot for lunch or dinner is the Nishiki Market where you can find vegetables you've never heard of. (Let's be honest our vegetables culture is quite limited!)
We’ve loved Kyoto for its traditions, the many temples, the amazing Ramen, sushis & Tempura and its size making it easy to walk around :)
# Gion is a good base to rent an Airbnb as quite central and well connected
# Most of the temples are between 200 to 700 Yen
# We were really disappointed by Arashimaya invaded by tourists. Go to Kodaiji Temple instead
# There are only 200 Geisha in Kyoto but most of them live in Gion. The best moment to see them is when they leave their place to meet their clients after the sun gets down
# Most of the temples are connected by buses. Unit price for a ticket is 230yen but you can buy a daily pass for 500 Yen for the city or 1200 including the suburbs.
# Google Maps is your best friend when it comes to know which bus to take
Marc & Elise
Nov 21, 2017 - 02:57 AM
Absolutely love ❤️ your article, video and pictures. I️ have never been attracted by Japan but I️ have to say, after reading your article it’s definitely somewhere I️ would love to go one day. How long would you recommend to stay there? Was 3 days a good timing?
Christelle & Cedric
Nov 21, 2017 - 01:47 PM
Thanks for the sweet words :) A minimum of 3 days and probably max of 5 days (except if you are obsessed with temples !) And a total of 2 weeks is the minimum to discover all the contrast japan has to offer!