Sayonara, Kyoto!

I still can’t believe that the time passed so quickly and that tomorrow is our last day in Kyoto.

I’ve been very nostalgic these past days, taking long walks and late-afternoon rides with my bike, trying to keep every detail in mind. It still feels strange to think that so soon we’ll no longer eat ramen and sushi, hear the chicken waking us up at 7 am, take the bike for every visit in the city or any hike, being greeted with the ubiquitous “Irashaimasse!” (Welcome!) whenever entering a store, a restaurant, a bar.

So, dear Kyoto I write this to you to say that I’ll miss every part of you and every single day spent here, but mostly I’ll miss:

– your calmness and your 2,000 temples full of history and tradition

– your lush green hills and mountains, so close to the city and with some of the most lovely hikes 

– go running in the evening by the river banks and take a glimpse of the beautiful geishas, sitting graciously in the fancy restaurants that line the river

– being surprised at the sight of the deers that would sometimes appear in the evening in the middle of the river

– riding my bike home from an evening in the city and having to stop suddenly to let a snake cross the narrow path along the river

– the hundreds of public workers that just stand near the crossroads or construction sites to show you the way, with a deep bow

– the ceaseless afflux of traditional greetings that you hear when entering every store or restaurant

– your always on-time buses and their drivers wearing white gloves

– your quiet streets and quiet people; I’ve never heard any car honks or people quarelling or shouting to each other. Never.

– the beautiful Japanese girls, stunning and elegant sometimes, cute and childish at times,  loud and colorful some other times, always wearing  their high heels proudly

– the arts and crafts stores where you can spend your entire day

– the beautiful and elegant kimono’s and yukata’s that color every corner of the street

– exploring your narrow, quiet stone streets with Minty ( my bike:))

– savouring your delicious sweets, bizarre at first but so good after you get used to the red beans taste, matcha or mochi texture

– admiring your stunning crafts and beautiful patterns  in any form (from pottery, to paper objects and delicate artifacts such as fans, textures, or adorable chopsticks rest).

Until we meet again, I take a deep bow and I whisper ‘Sayonara, Kyoto’.

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Best Hikes in and around Kyoto

What I love about Kyoto is that the nature is very close. The city is surrounded by mountains, and the best hikes are only a short bike or train trip away. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the city and still have a brilliant hike.

One of the hikes I love, is the Fushimi Inari circuit. Fushimi Inari, one of my favorite temple complex in Kyoto offers a beautiful 4km hike dotted with small shrines, beautiful brigh orange torii gates, tea-houses and shady trees. The hike is quite easy if you’re moderately fit, we did it in 1.5 hours although the official time would be 2-3 hours.

Best hikes Kyoto

Mount Atago-san 

With its 924 meters high, Mount Atago is the highest mountain in Kyoto and has a great climb route. The mountain is steeper than I imagined, and quite challenging. The hike lasts for 3-4 hours and it’s about 6km.

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At the top of the mountain, after some rough climbing you can rest and enjoy some peaceful moments at Atago Shrine,  founded more than 1300 years ago.

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Mount Hiei

Mt. Hiei is the second highest mountain in Kyoto, and is one of the best trekking routes near Kyoto. Great wildlife (deer, monkeys, etc), beautiful old trees and wonderful views of the city.

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The top of the mountain features a World Heritage temple, Enryakuji Temple, which is famous for the “marathon monks”. The practice of walking is called Kaihōgyō (circling the mountain) and is performed by monks in training at the temple (belonging to the Tendai Buddhism school), in their quest for enlightenment. The Kaihōgyō is completed in 7 years and it consist of walking 40km a day for 100 consecutive days for the first 3 years, 40 km a day for 200 days the 4th and 5th year, 60km per day for 100 days in the 6th year and in the last year, 84 km per day for 100 days, followed by 40 km per day for another 100 days. A total of 1,000 days. It takes an amazing spiritual strength and devotion to complete this grueling training.

Best hikes Kyoto

When descending, it’s better to take the route on the other side of the mountain, that leads to Sakamoto. There is also a cable car that connects the top of the mountain with its base, but walking is really the best option: the view over the lake Biwa is simply amazing.

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Kurama-Kibune

Finally, this hike is a great Sunday trip, just half an hour ride from Kyoto ( from Demachiyagi Station). The hike starts from Kurama station, it goes up to the temple, then it continues down to Kibune Shrine. During the entire hike you can feel a mystic vibe, given by the strangely twisted root trees and the highest trees I’ve ever seen (on the way to Kurama Temple).

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Once in Kibune the atmosphere gets traditional and cozy, with restaurants suspended above the river (they are called Kawadoko) and traditional Japanese Inns all along the way.

Best hikes Kyoto

Image source – Japan Guide

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There are 2,000 Temples and Shrines in Kyoto

Yep, that’s true and that’s also a bit discouraging, as I realize I can’t possibly visit each and every one while I’m here. Tough life :).

In Japan, the two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism coexist happily. Usually, the temples are Buddhist, and the shrines are Shintoist, with their architecture being quite similar.  There are a few elements that distinguishes them: at a Shinto shrine you enter through a torii gate (it’s often painted in bright orange) which marks the transition from the profane to the sacred, a pair of guardian dogs, or lions, or foxes sit at the entrance and there’s a purification stream near the entrance where people cleanse their mouth and hands before prayer. The Buddhist temples display images with Buddha, in their main hall there is always a huge incense burner whose smoke is believed to be healing and you can often see a pagoda close to the temple.

Up to now, I managed to visit around twenty something of them, so I have so far a list of my favorites. But I’m sure my preferences will evolve by the time we leave Kyoto.

Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) 

The golden image of the temple reflected in the serene pond is one of the famous images from Kyoto. The temple displays three distinct styles of architecture: palace style (first floor), samurai house (second floor) and zen (the third floor). The peaceful gardens are also a delight.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Is one of the most touristy temple in Kyoto, always packed with tour groups and school children. But it’s beautiful and you can have a peaceful walk down the  forest and just enjoy the silence. An incredible thing about this temple is that it was built without any nail, everything being held in place through impressive tall wood pillars.

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Fushimi-Inari

When I learned we’d gonna move to Japan, the image of Fushimi-Inari was the first thing I came across when I googled Kyoto. It was impressive in the pictures and it remains impressive in reality. There are thousands of bright orange torii gates that keep going up through the forest, into the mountain. For about one hour they keep you company on the quite steep way, until you reach the top of the mountain. During the night it gets even more beautiful, with the tourists gone and the gently lit torii gates, reflecting in the forest.

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Nanzen-ji

What I love about this Buddhist temple is the surroundings. It’s a good place to get away from the noise of the more touristic places and take a walk on the 19th century aqueduct you find within the temple complex.

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Shimogamo Shrine

Much like Nanzen-ji, Shimogamo is surrounded by a peaceful forest and it’s one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. When I first discovered it, I fell in love with the leafy road that leads to the shrine. Perfect for biking, running, reading, dreaming.

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Yoshida Shrine

Though probably this is not on the must-do list of the tourists, let’s say it’s my guilty pleasure :).Yoshida is a complex of small shrines that you discover one by one on the small hike that gets you on the top, oferring a nice view of Kyoto. Or you can just linger in the woods, with a book.

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Another Week, Another Festival

Yesterday we took our bikes and rode to Arashiyama, a beautiful part of Kyoto, well-known for its beautiful Bamboo forest.

Japan, Kyoto

Besides the nice ride and stroll through the forest, we took part as well at another festival in Kyoto, the Mifune Matsuri, the Boat Festival. May seems to be one of the busiest months in terms of festivals in Japan, or at least Kyoto. It all starts with a range of festivals during the Golden Week ( 1st-6th of May), it continues with the great Aoi festival, which gathers over 100.000 visitors and ends with the Boat Festival, every 3rd Sunday in May.

Arriving too late, we missed the beautiful scenes of the boats floating the river, carrying beautifully clad people, with their colorful garments from the Heian period (Images credits: Matsuri Times)

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But we found some interesting scenes happening on the ground as well. My favorite ones are the adorable kids, all dressed-up and anxious to take part in the festival and the nice costumes of men :).

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