Kyoto the beautiful was D-travel 2016 Fall Tour to Japan last place of stay. Kyoto was once the Imperial capital of Japan, is now the 7th largest city in the country and the capital of Kyoto Prefecture. It’s famous for its many old Buddhist temples, gardens, Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, Machiya wooden merchant townhouses and traditions such as green tea ceremonies, kaiseki dining that is the multiple courses of Japanese dishes, and Geisha, the female entertainers in the Gion district. And with so much more other amazing landmarks to visit.
We arrived at Kokyo on the Shinkansen, the fastest train in Japan that is also known as the bullet train. The Kyoto Station is jaw-dropping. It has a futuristic appearance with its roof made of steel beams. We felt like we were traveling in spaceships. The station is also the city’s transportation hub, all trains, subways, city buses, long distance buses and taxis all stop at Kyoto station to pick up or drop off their riders. We stayed in our hotel near Kyoto station and started our tour each morning at the station.
Upon arrival to Kyoto, we went to the famous Kiyiomizudera Temple, one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It’s an old temple founded in the year 780. Kiyiomizudera is listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. The temple is best known for its wooden stage that sticks out from the temple and that the stage was built without the use of nails. There are various of other temples and structure buildings on the same grounds that stand for different purposes.
Though the fun part of visiting Kiyiomizudera is the approach of the steep and busy street of Higashiyama District. It’s a street but no cars drive on that lane. The lane contains many Machiya that are the Japanese wooden merchant townhouses converted to modern-day stores. Walking down the lane you see many sweet and pickle shops, souvenir shops, ochaya (tea houses), galleries and kaiseki or soba restaurants. And there were many green tea ice-cream vendors along the sides of the street. Many other smaller temples, shrines and historical landmarks along the Higashiyama district can be seen. We walked down different lanes right and left through preserved historic streets, passed the old Yasaka Pagoda, a famous landmark and icon of Kyoto and stopped by the Kodaijii temple for the gardens, bamboo grove, and autumn illumination before walking through the Maruyama park that is the centerpiece for public gatherings. There saw more light shows and many vendor stalls selling Japanese foods such as imagawayaki, grilled squid or okonomiyaki. Finally, we reached the Yasaka Shrine, known as the Gion Shrine. It is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine is adjacent to the Maruyama Park and is situated between the Higashiyama and Gion districts. Many tourists walk through the shrine and park to or from the districts. We had finished the Higashiyama district and were on our way to visit the Gion district.
The Gion district is another fascinating place to visit. It is Japan’s most famous geisha district. It’s the place where geisha and maiko live, practice arts and entertain their clients. The district is lined up with old and well-preserved machiya townhouses that now function as fine ryokans, teahouses, restaurants, and kimono dressing shops for those who want to dress up like a geisha or maiko and walk down the same streets. The establishments in the Gion District are the most exclusive and expensive in Kyoto. It’s a tourist area even though that there are about 200 homes that still remain as residential and training quarters for the geisha and maiko. With good knowledge and understanding what a geisha and maiko might look like and behave, you could capture a real one getting in a cab on her way to an appointment. Real geisha and maiko rarely walk around the Gion in their kimonos. And so a lot of tourists mistaken dressed up in kimono and maiko hairdo and makeup as a real one. But anyway it’s fun to assume if you are not serious about finding the real one.
Following the Gion District, we crossed a bridge to a more current day atmosphere and walked through lovely Poncho, an atmospheric narrow alley packed with fancy restaurants that look out to the Kamogawa River and izakayas (Japanese pubs) that stand right across these fancy restaurants in the alley. Some of us decided to stay behind for a few drinks and small dishes at an izakaya. Others went back to the hotel to rest their feet for the next day’s tour in other areas of Kyoto.
The next morning we almost couldn’t get out of our hotel. The hotel was so busy with people checking out and the elevators were always full. We were in Kyoto for the weekend and at a busy time too. The stairways could be only used for an emergency. It was the rule of the hotel. It was an odd rule, we thought and it caused us to fall behind our schedule. We were running late but luckily we caught the express bus to the Kinkakuji known as the Golden Pavilion.
A visit to the Kinkakuji is inspiring because of its gold temple. The gold temple was actually a pavilion in the beginning and it belonged to a religious shogun who collected Buddhist sculptures and artifacts. He stored them in the pavilion. After he died and in his will he asked that the golden pavilion is changed to a Zen temple. Now it is called a temple but it doesn’t look like any other Buddhist temples or shrines in Japan. It’s special one. The golden outer walls earned the temple a place as world heritage site. It is beautiful in all seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn. And it is listed as the most visited temple in Kyoto. We enjoyed our time there and took many pictures. A few of us enjoyed a tea ceremony there while others went on a sake and pickle tasting with vendors. We met at the end of the gate in time for lunch.
We decided to stop for a quick lunch at a very small pizza shop where the pizza crust was made from Yuba, that is tofu skin. It was a very low carb lunch. It was very crispy and tasted pretty good. The shop also sold gold ice-cream that Peggy had decided to have instead of pizza. After our pizza. we moved to the ice cream polar in the shop and watched the restauranteur prepare vanilla cream into a waffle cone with sweet azuki red beans and mochi balls sprinkled with green tea and Kinaku (soy bean powder) then topped it with an edible gold wrapper. It was real gold that was wrapped in the ice cream. We all wonder how the gold wrapper on the ice cream would taste. We went outside of the small shop for the taste. Of course, Peggy had her first bite. The gold glittered on her teeth and lips. Then the rest of us took spoon bites. We thought that the gold didn’t have any taste but the ice cream was creamy and good.
Following, we took a local bus to the Nijio Castle that was the residence of the first shogun of Edo period (1603 ~ 1867). When the Shogunate fell the castle was used as an imperial palace for the emperor before they build a new palace. This Niijo castle is truly fascinating. The rooms in the castle have different purposes for people of different ranks. The walls and ceilings are beautifully decorated with paintings that also have a purpose too. The corridors, the “hallways” of the castle squeak when stepped on. We didn’t hear it as we’re Deaf but we did feel a squeak and noticed how hearing people would tilt their head to listen for a squeak. It was designed as an alarm system to warn security of intruders or Ninja who are professional assassins. Interesting! Outside the castle has three sections with lovely gardens. We walked through two gardens to exit the grounds and met with another guide for our next activity, kimono dressing.
We got into a taxi for the site of our kimono dressing. We entered the kimono dressing building site that was five stories tall. The first floor was the register office with shoe lockers across the room. The second floor was kimono section, the third floor was shoe and bag selection, the fourth floor was the dressing rooms for men and women and fifth floor was the hairdresser and make up rooms. Peggy had to run between each floor to help interpret information. Finally, after we were dressed up beautifully, we went outside in those fancy flip flops like shoes and walked to a shrine that was nearby for some photo sessions. We laughed at ourselves as we tried to walk in t these “sandals” and pose gracefully for photos. Then we returned back for our normal clothing and headed out to the famous Nishiki Market in our direction.
The Nishiki Market is over 400 years old. It is rich with history and tradition. It is also known as Kyoto’s kitchen. The market sells all kinds of foods from fresh seafood, vegetable and fruit produce, knives, cookware and Kyoto specialties such as sweets, pickled and dried produce. Some shops freely give out samples or sell sample dishes. We decided our dinner there. We tried various kinds of foods from octopus on a stick, pickles, Kamaboku a kind of Japanese fish cake, Japanese croquette, yakitori, and sake made in Kyoto. And we were full by the time we reached the last food stall on the lane. Great dinner it was!
We returned to our hotel by subway and went straight to our rooms to prepare for the next day’s tour. It was going to be our last tour to in Japan.