Kyoto is chill city in the central-western part of Japan on the island of Honshu. It is a city of history and culture. Also, Kyoto used to be the capital city of Japan before it moved to Tokyo in 1868.

Inari shrine main gate. One of the main highlights in Kyoto
The Inari shrine, one of the main highlights in Kyoto.

Moreover, the city itself is well served by a good network of underground metro subway and above ground buses. Buses are also particularly useful when travelling out to cultural areas not served by the Kyoto subway system. Also, these buses serve several ancient popular shrines are usually located on the outskirts of the city center. Hence, given the travel time, this usually involves the need for a half-a-day commitment for trips out of the city center. Notable sights includes a bamboo forest, an Inari shrine and a golden temple I shall cover later in this article.

Geishas are a common sight in Tokyo, though most are tourists
Geishas are a common sight in Tokyo, though most are tourists.

Additionally, besides public transport, Kyoto city is also very walkable. This is especially so in the Kyoto old town area which I shall cover bit later in this article. Also, this is where you can find most of Kyoto’s old historical buildings preserved till today. Notable these buildings stood the test of time surviving till today and the world war.

Kyoto city center and shopping district

The Kyoto city center is where the main central station is. It is located just in front of the iconic, but not-so-tall Kyoto tower. Also, given the close proximity of Kyoto is to Nara city and Osaka, it is not uncommon for Kyoto main train station to run frequent regional district trains between the 3 cities. This is notably much cheaper than taking the Shinkasen bullet train, especially for a day trip to Nara

Kyoto tower at the front of Kyoto main train station
Kyoto tower at the front of Kyoto main train station.

Moreover, there is a shopping district in the Nakauoyacho city center area. It is near the Karasuma and Shijō metro station district area. Also, here, you can find large malls by Daimari, Tokyu Hands and Takashimaya. It is enough to keep the most demanding shoppers satisfied for your short stay here.

Kyoto shopping districts, such as Teramachi Shopping District
Kyoto shopping districts, such as Teramachi Shopping District.

Interestingly, there is even a large Pachinko parlor here too. It is a quirky metal-ball arcade meets gambling machine. Though it is pretty much for lols on my visit.

Pachinko machines are rather popular here in Kyoto, or Japan for that matter.
Pachinko machines are rather popular here in Kyoto, or Japan for that matter. Its a lifestyle thing.

Nishiki Market and Teramachi Shopping District

Additionally, the city center highlight here is Nishiki Market. It is a spacious Shijo Street with long rows of shops lined along a sheltered pedestrian street. Also, it is a thriving shopping street and is largely frequently by locals and tourists.

Food stores in Nishiki Market
Food stores in Nishiki Market.

In the day, you can find stores hawking fresh and preserved produced such as dried good and fresh seafood. By night, the Teramachi Street Shopping District area transforms into rows of night life shops, bars and restaurants. Additionally, do check out Pontocho Alley here. It is home to many geiko houses and traditional tea houses.

Teramachi Street Shopping District at the evening. Another buzzing entertainment and shopping area near the Kyoto old town
Teramachi Street Shopping District at the evening. Another buzzing entertainment and shopping area near the Kyoto old town.

Furthermore, the nearest metro station to the Nishiki Market Shopping District is Karasuma Station. There are several notable lines of shops here.

Shopping
Teramachi Street Shopping District
Owl cafe!

Gachapon and Affordable Kobe beef

Miscellaneous musings include a Samurai & Ninja Museum with Experience, and an Owl café where you can dine with the birds. Also, if you are a Gachapon lover, you are in luck as there are rows and rows of shops hawking the capsules here.

Gachapon fan will be delighted at the number of capsule machine stores here in the shopping district
Gachapon fan will be delighted at the number of capsule machine stores here in the shopping district.

Additionally, I also had the chance to try affordable Kobe and Wagyu beef at a table BBQ restaurant here in the Kawaramachi shopping district. Not bad I say.

You can find several Kobe and Wagyu BBQ restaurants offering the deal at reall good prices
You can find several Kobe and Wagyu BBQ restaurants offering the deal at reall good prices.

Notably, Kyoto has sights on pretty much all areas of the city. It is a rather sleepy town in comparison to Tokyo and Osaka. With most shops closing by 9-10pm. Also, Kyoto is a small city compared to other major Japanese cities. The city center is walking distance to Kyoto old town.

Kyoto old town, a walk through history

Moreover, Kyoto is famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. You can find several of them right in the heart of Kyoto old town. The best part is that it is within walking distance across Kamo river from Nishiki Market and Kyoto central shopping district.

Old town Gion area
Old town Gion area.

Additionally, this walk is what I like to call an ancient walk back into time. Old town Gion area is home to the Kanikakuni monument, Gion Shin Bridge and a Hardrock café. Also, if you come in March, this passageway is filled with nice rows of cherry blossom blooming over the river bridges.

Kanikakuni monument
Kanikakuni monument.

Hanamikoji and Sanneizaka Street

Moreover, do check out Hanamikoji and Sanneizaka Street. These old streets are literally live history books. Much had been done here to preserve the look and feel of the buildings here.

Aged old wood walls lined along cobblestone pathways, it is like a journey into time
Aged old wood walls lined along cobblestone pathways, it is like a journey into time.

Rows of shops sit behind aged old wood walls lined along cobblestone pathways. The alleyways are narrow and buzzling with shops at every corner. It does have an old trading town feel to it. Do look out for shops selling spicy peppers (Shijimi).

Kyoto ancient old town
Kyoto ancient old town.

Notably, most of the Geishas you see on the streets are tourists. You tend to see more local Geishas on the spring months. Also, you can dress up as one too by renting one at one of the many costume shops here for 3000 yen per day.

Yasaka Shrine grounds
Yasaka Shrine grounds.

Also, you can visit a number of notable shrines and temples in Kyoto old town in costume. These temples are dedicated to Buddhist and Shinto religions.

Yasaka Shrine
Monkey god
Pagodas

Kiyomizu-dera temple

The highlight of Kyoto old town will be the Kiyomizu-dera temple. It is a UNESCO world heritage historic temple built in 778 AD with a Japanese Buddhist architecture style. Also, it offers picturesque views from a hill and an all-wooden pavilion building.

Front courtyard
The wooden pavilion
In the pavilion

Entry costs 300 yen (about S$4) allowing you to enter the central building and a walk through the temple park and pagoda area. There is also a tiny Otowa Waterfall which you can use long cups to catch the water for holy blessings.

Altars
Otowa Waterfall
Disinfect station

Also, do also check out in the heart of old-town Kyoto at the east end of Shijō-dōri, the Yasaka Shinto Shrine in the Gion District. It is also known as the Gion Shrine with the Yasaka Pagoda.

Taisanji Temple Pagoda in Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Taisanji Temple Pagoda in Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Moreover, the Shrine was erected in 656 A.D. & is home to one of the most famous festivals in Japan. Topping up, we also have, the Hōkanji Temple, 5-story Buddhist pagoda temple. You can get pretty good sweeping views of the town from the top.

Taisanji Temple on the hills viewed from Kiyomizu-dera
Taisanji Temple on the hills viewed from Kiyomizu-dera.

Additionally, you can get pretty good scenic views of a hill side from Kiyomizu-dera Temple. You can see the Taisanji Temple Pagoda sitting on the forested hill. Also, you can catch views of Kyoto city from the vantage point too.

View of Kyoto city from the temple viewing point
View of Kyoto city from the temple viewing point.

Is that a Starbucks?

Peculiar sights in old town Hashimotocho area includes a Starbucks Coffee shop which is so well hidden with the olden façade. Called the Starbucks Coffee Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya, it takes a keen eye to actually notice it’s presence.

Can you tell there is a starbucks in there
Can you tell there is a starbucks in there?

This also does not stop patrons from packing this otherwise rather popular old town coffee break destination. Inside, the story is consistent, with traditional tatami mats which guest can sit on with their shoes out. There are also traditional tabled seating available too.

Ordering counter
Inside the Starbucks
Shrines wash

North Kyoto Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

On North Kyoto we have the Kinkaku-ji Temple. Also known as the Golden Pavilion, this iconic, serene, gold-colored temple offers a tranquil view with a reflecting pond. It does give it one of the most picturesque views you can obtain in Kyoto, and well worth the 400 yen entrance fee.

The Golden pavilion is small temple shrine spot with an eye-catching unique pavilion
The Golden pavilion is small temple shrine spot with an eye-catching unique scenic pavilion.

Moreover, if you are lucky at times you can find a nesting crane or two on the grass verges within the temple grounds. It goes in a linear fashion through the temple grounds. Also before leaving, do check out the various Omamori lucky charms sold at the temple gift shop near the exit. There is one charm for every occasion.

Kinkaku-ji Temple reflecting lake with a hilly background
Kinkaku-ji Temple reflecting lake complete with a picturesque hilly background.

Getting to the Kinkakuji Temple in west Kyoto involves a direct bus from the city cente. It goes straight to the temple. It costs about 230 yen for a single bus trip on Kyoto City Bus services no.204, 205, 101 or 102.

Pavilion rear
Kinkakuji Temple gardens
Kinkakuji grounds

Additionally, if you have time, you could consider visiting the sister pavilion to the gold pavilion. Called the Higashiyama Jisho-ji shrine (East) Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), though the beautiful temple not actually covered in silver, and does not look as impressive as the golden one. Also, alternatives also include the Ryoanji Temple (stone garden Zen temple temple) down on the east-side of Kyoto.

Kinkaku-ji Temple large entrance ticket
Kinkaku-ji Temple large entrance ticket.

South Kyoto Fushimi Inari Taisha

Furthermore, down south of Kyoto, a highly recommended attraction is the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. It is a Japanese Shinto fox shrine with famed gates which seem to go on and on.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Archways lit at night
Fushimi Inari Taisha Archways lit at night.

Moreover, getting there involves a direct metro ride to Inari Station down south. Giant gates, a couple of night food stores and a temple shrine area greets you at the entrance. Also, notably, it beckons you on what to expect on the journey ahead. Here, you can find a row of steps at the back of the temple are where the frramed archway reside.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Grand entrance
Fushimi Inari Taisha Grand entrance.

Notably, the Fushimi Inari Taisha is free to enter and open 24 hours a day, allowing you to explore the gates at night. However, just keep an eye out and distance yourself from wild boars as I saw a couple of them foraging for food in the forest.

The iconic path split in the archway frames at the early point of the mountain climb
The iconic path split in the archway frames at the early point of the mountain climb.

Also visibility is still good at night with pathways regularly lit by lamps, and devoid of tourist crowds. This offers great clear photo opportunities where you can photograph rows of the gates devoid of people. Additionally, when navigating stairs, the use of light shadows on the steps is a good way to predict the height and depth of the steps, especially when abseiling the mountain.

Food stores back at ground
Climbing up!
Shrines in the mountain

Up the Inari Mountain!

Each of the famed gates size at the Shinto shrine were erected based on a monetary contribution from its owners. Hence, the larger the gate the more expensive it is. Also, it is not uncommon to see a varying and disparate degree of archway sizes on your climb up the pathways.

There is a nice element of visiting the place at night. With the place devoid with tourists too.
There is a nice element of visiting the place alone at night. With the place devoid with tourists too.

Moreover, a leisurely climb up the top of the Fushimi Inari mountain takes about 2 hours up and about an hour down. Also, the climb is not physically exhausting as most of the steps are low and shallow.

The only viewing point of Kyoto city on Inari Mountain, about a 3/4 way up the mountain
The only viewing point of Kyoto city on Inari Mountain, about a 3/4 way up the mountain.

On your way up, you pass by several tiny little shrine pockets, each with their own altar. You find a reflecting river midway up the climb as well as a viewing point with great views of Kyoto and Yotsuji city.

The summit shrine. Quite anti-climatic for being at the top of the mountain. Also there are not much of a view from up there too
The summit shrine. Quite anti-climatic for being at the top of the mountain. Also there are not much of a view from up there too.

Additionally, there are notably no views up at the summit, but a small shrine pocket. A summit sign distinctively marks your achievement of reaching the highest point of the mountain. Also, the climb runs in a loop with you returning to the market place and temple shrines at ground level.

Stairs up
Summit marker
Shrine at top

West Arashiyama Bamboo Grove forest

The last of the recommended areas in Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in west Kyoto, located in Susukinobaba-chō, Ukyō Ward, Kyoto, Japan.

At the Path of Bamboo in Arashiyama
At the Path of Bamboo in Arashiyama!

It is also known as the Path of Bamboo and is one of the chill little towns with a bamboo forest and temple. Also, the forest is also known to be home to monkeys, though I didn’t see any on my visit.

Tall bamboo
Yay!
Its path of bamboo alright

Moreover, Arashiyama is a 15 minute walk from the Saga-Arashiyama train station which you can take from Central Kyoto after a 30 minute train ride. You enter a trail pathway with tall Bamboo plants growing along the path side with ungulates into a forest. Here, the path however is just under couple of hundred meters in length, and not as spectacular as Chinese Panda bamboo forests. But offers great photo opportunities and many, many crowds of tourists. Crowds are generally thinner in the early morning.

Arashiyama town
Arashiyama train
Tenryuji temple garden

Tenryuji Temple

Furthermore, in the Arashiyama area is the Tenryuji Temple which I recommend visiting on your trip here in West Kyoto. Also, the temple has a nice zen garden which you can tour as part of the steep 500 yen entrance fee, as well check out the central building and reflecting lake.

Tenryuji Temple grounds and fantastic reflecting lake
Tenryuji Temple grounds and fantastic reflecting lake.

Also, the temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji in 1339, and subsequently opened in 1345. Notably, Tenryū-ji is a branch of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

Tenryuji temple lake
Chill gardens
Temple grounds

All in all, Kyoto is an enjoyable small sleepy city of culture and history. It is a good break of tranquil away from the buzzing metropolis of Tokyo and Osaka. There is plenty of culture in every corner.

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