Kyoto Highlights

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Historic, mysterious and magical - Kyoto is a very special place. It is steeped in culture - you cannot go far without passing by a temple or few. Each of these temples is unique in its architecture, philosophy (although largely Shinto or Buddhist in terms of religion) and its history. There's also the famed geisha district, still very much preserving its culture the old-fashioned way. Then there's the beautiful countryside - Arashiayama and its bamboo groves being a huge favourite. Kyoto also has great food scene and is renowned for its kaiseki (or Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants. With so much to do, we weren't sure where to begin!

We stayed in a Ryokan not far from the city centre and figured the simplest thing to do would be to work our way through a few temples nearby. Kiyomizu Dera was the quickest to reach from our 'inn' and so we started from there. We happened to get there just in time for the a prayer ceremony which was fascinating to watch. Other temples we explored, in between matcha and kakigori breaks, include those within walking distance of the Kiyomizu Dera in the Higashiyama district.
In between our temple hopping we were accosted by a bunch of school kids who were on a school trip and part of their homework was to interview English speaking people. Ed and I dutifully answered their questions and we were rewarded with a photo with the group which will now no doubt be on some Facebook page or school noticeboard in the Kyoto area!
The most magnificent of these temples was the iconic golden temple - Kinkaku-ji, a zen Buddhist temple that exudes calm and opulence, two qualities that don't often go together. You will find many Kyoto temple photos on my Instagram page- this blogpost will be incredibly long if I added them all here! Worth mentioning that we bought a day ticket for the buses which meant you could travel around Kyoto's numerous temples inexpensively and efficiently.
Of all the places in Kyoto, Gion was the one I was most excited about. Having read the Memoirs of a Geisha many years ago and watched the movie (both more than once, which is unlike me), I was very keen on seeing the places and characters described in the book first-hand. I didn't realise that geisha spotting was actually quite rare and a sport of sorts - there were cameraman with the biggest lenses I've seen waiting outside the geisha houses for a glimpse of one as they headed to one of the many tea rooms for an evening entertainment session.
We decided to walk down one of the quieter alleyways and were lucky to spot a beautiful young maiko ( apprentice geisha) scurrying past us. It was so fascinating to watch! A lot of serious business (big business and political deals) happens within these tea houses and 'managed' by the geisha. We happened to see a very expensive car with tinted windows in one of these alleyways...I wondered who was in that car and why?!

The lesser known geisha district is Pontocho, a short walk from Gion. We weren't quite as impressed by it - quaint as it was, it was also a little bit seedy and noisy. We walked up and down the streets of Pontocho a few times and then headed over to the river bank - popular hangout for young couples and teenagers, before making our way back to the Ryokan.

I must also mention our fabulous kaiseki meal in Gion but that needs a blogpost in itself. As does Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari. Our Ryokan experience was also very interesting but unfortunately for my super tall husband, it was a wee bit challenging! That said, we were both pleased we did it!
So there we are, a few snapshots from our Kyoto trip!
Hope you are all having a lovely weekend! Ann x
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