Geishas or not (including the Geishas for-a-day) Kyoto is near the top of my list for all time favorite cities. Steeped in history and culture and surrounded by natural beauty, Kyoto is graceful, walkable, and fascinating.
Some of the highlights of our three plus days in Kyoto.
- Philosophers Walk (also known as the Path of Philosophy) — a bucolic, tree-lined pedestrian path that runs along a canal from Ginkaka-ji shrine complex (also known as the Silver Pavillion) at the north end almost to Nanzen-ji temple to the south. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other and another 10 minutes through narrow city streets to get to Nanzen-ji. Unless you stroll slowly like we did and stop and contemplate at every opportunity (it isn’t called “Philosophers Path” for nothing). It took us a lot longer. After about 10 minutes south of Ginkaka-ji, we almost had the path to yourself. Our favorite stop along the way was at Honen-in, one of the most atmospheric temple sites in the city, with a Buddhist cemetery that reeks of eternal peace. There is a great restaurant just off the Path on the way to Honen-in. Tofu never tasted as good (sorry, I don’t have the name…).
- Randen Railway through the outskirts of the city to the Bamboo Forest — an old fashioned street car line that winds past backyards to the beautiful but crowded Tenryu-ji. The main highlights, beside the street car route, are the traditional gardens of Tenrryu-ji and the Bamboo Grove. We spent most of our time looking up at the dense, tall stalks of bamboo than at the crowds walking through the forest.
- Kappa Gion — a teeny restaurant, more like a three sided counter, that serves izakaya, the Japanese version of tapas. The couple sitting next to us at the counter kept on feeding us and filling up my glass with beer. Maybe the friendliest people I have ever encountered in a restaurant. They knew as much English as we know Japanese, but we managed to have a great time together. The beer and sake helped. And the food was great. All of our meals in Japan have been excellent, but this was the best so far. Wish I could describe what we ate, but I was too buzzed to remember and having too good of a time to bother taking photos or notes.
- Fushima-Inari Taisha — a shrine complex known for the thousands of red torii gates that wind up the hill to Mt Inari. Walking through the gates is like walking through a red tunnel broken up by panoramic overviews of the city. Like most of the other famous tourist sites in Kyoto it is crowded, but the visitors are largely Japanese. So far we have yet to run into large tour groups of Germans, French or Americans, which makes the crowds feel like an intrinsic part of the experience.
Another highlight for me was figuring out the intricate network of trains, subways and street cars. Well, maybe not “figuring it out” exactly, but well enough to get around without too much difficulty.
Speaking of figuring out how to get around, that is when the adventure really began, after we left Kyoto for the Kumano Kodo trail. More on that in a couple of days. Right now we are in Yunomine Onsen, a small village of natural hot springs. The spring-fed hot baths have been a highlight on the trail. Soaking in the baths at the end of a tough day on the trail (and that is not a throw away cliche — the trail is tough), rejuvenated us and helped us get back on the trail the next day. Our walking is now over, but the baths still beckon. Enough for now — its time for a soak.
(Don and Katherine’s trip was organized and hosted by OKU JAPAN)