We visited Kyoto in July when the weather was hot and humid. Kyoto is a study of past and present. Around the very modern Kyoto Station, there are skyscrapers and office buildings, but we decided to stay around the Gion and Higashiyama districts where narrow streets and alleys are lined with more traditional Japanese style buildings called machiya.
The house we rented was walking distance to many of the temples and shrines that have given Kyoto the nickname "the city of temples." We toured in the morning (most shrines open very early) and retreated to the cool house during the day before heading out in the evening for dinner. We explored Pontocho Alley next to the west bank of Kamo-gawa River. The pedestrian friendly alley is lined with traditional shops and restaurants. Most restaurants have tables overlooking the river. After dinner, we walked through the Gion area and glimpsed a few maiko (apprentice geisha) walking gracefully in the machiya-lined streets.
The nearby Kiyomizu-dera Temple is located on the slope of Mt. Otowa affording those who made the climb a great view of Kyoto. The temple is dedicated to Kannon, the deity of mercy and compassion. Close to the temple is the Sannenzaka, a picturesque shopping street and perfect area for souvenir shopping or treats. About 4.5-kilometers from Higashiyama is Fushimi Inaritaisha Shrine. An early morning visit awarded us a crowdfree walk and a peaceful atmosphere befitting this beautiful shrine. We wandered through 10,000 vivid, red-orange torii gates – a photographer's dream. The shrine is dedicated to the god of rice and sake and features statues of foxes that were believed to be messengers of the harvest god. Another morning, we ventured to the western part of Kyoto to visit the Bamboo Grove of Arashiyama that was 13-kilometers away. Walking in the early morning amongst the bamboo was surreal. The morning light filtering through the bamboo was dreamlike. There are many temples around the area. Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located next to the bamboo grove.
On our last day in Kyoto, I convinced my two teenage daughters (or maybe it was the other way around) to rent kimonos for the day. Many tourists, both Japanese and international, opt to dress up. It costs about 2,500 yen to be kitted out in kimono, obi, undergarments, handbag, tabi (socks) and zouri (sandals). Hair styling, makeup, and a photo shoot are also available for an additional cost. A woman at the shop expertly dressed my daughters, folding the fabric just so here and there then tying the obi in an intricate bow. The girls were transformed! My husband and I enjoyed sauntering with the girls to Yasaka Shrine where we enjoyed a refreshing macha ice cream sundae in one of the teahouses. Also known as Gion Shrine, Yasaka Shrine is very popular, especially in the evening when hundreds of lanterns are lit. If the daytime temperature is stifling, a walk in the evening after dinner around the shrine is a great option. Travel note: Nozomi train (Shinkasen or the bullet train) from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station takes just under 2.5 hours. From Osaka Station, it’s about an hour.
By Shelda Chickles