The next stop on our brief journey through Japan was in the city of Kyoto. The city is of great cultural and historic importance, having been the capital of Japan for over a thousand years until the title was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
Unfortunately the weather was rather mixed for our two nights in Kyoto, however we still endeavoured to see as much of the city as possible. We arrived after a very short train journey from Osaka, and after checking into our hotel immediately set about exploring.
Our first stop was at Maruyama Park, which is well known as one of the best places in the city for cherry blossom viewing. We wandered around the large park, entering through the impressive Yasaka Shrine. As with Osaka the sakura trees were in full bloom, and there were crowds of tourists admiring the beautiful pink and white blossom.
The centrepiece of the park is a huge weeping sakura tree, and this suddenly lit up as the light began to fade. There were various other light instillations and lanterns in amongst the trees, and a number of locals were setting up elaborate looking picnics beneath the blossom. We later learnt that these Hanami, or viewing parties, are an important traditional custom during the cherry blossom season.
After leaving the park, we wandered through the narrow laneways of the Gia district, before stopping for some dinner at Musoshin. The extremely popular ramen shop had a long queue outside, however the tasty food was definitely worth the wait.
We finished the day by sampling some delicious Sake at the nearby Jam + Sake bar. The fermented rice drink has become increasingly popular outside of japan in recent years and it was easy to see why, with the smooth and warming drink bridging the gap between wine and stronger spirits.
Given the wet weather we had a lazy start to the following day (for us anyway), before purchasing a cheap umbrella and making our way to the Nishiki market. The large market is mostly covered and as we reached the entrance it quickly became apparent that we were far from the only tourists to have decided on a visit.
We wandered very slowly through the narrow and crowded market, only stopping briefly to purchase some Japanese rice crackers. There was a huge array of food on offer with most of it looking delicious, however it was far too busy for our liking. After eventually pushing through the throng of people, we decided to find somewhere for lunch in the much quieter narrow lanes that surround the market.
This took us to Nandattei, a cosy ramen shop with just a few seats around a high counter. I chose the Curry Tsukemen which, although delicious, was hard work and having to first dip the cold noodles in the broth was more than a match for my basic chopstick skills!
We took a bus to the north of the city, to visit the Philosopher’s Path. The path runs alongside a canal for several kilometres and is another of the city’s most popular sites for viewing the cherry blossom. The narrow and relatively hidden path is lined with hundreds of sakura trees and it was a beautiful walk despite the rain.
We followed the route along the canal, stopping for lots of photos, before arriving at Ginkakuji which is one of the Kyoto’s many historic temples.
We had a brief look around the grounds before taking another bus all the way back across the city to Fushimi Inari Taisha. After the ease and convenience of travelling around Osaka, the public transport in Kyoto did seem a little more effort, although the heated buses were a nice break from the cold and rain that we were thoroughly unprepared for.
The Shinto shrine is dedicated to the god of rice, and dates back to the 8th Century. It is made famous by the thousands of orange torii gates that line the winding paths leading from the shine to the summit of Mount Inari. At the start of the trail the gates are so densely packed together that they almost form a tunnel, and this section was packed with tourists trying to get the perfect photo.
There are around 5,000 gates in total, with these having been donated over time by Japanese individuals and corporations. We followed the trail higher through thick woodland, with the gates and people quickly becoming fewer and further between. It was a beautiful and peaceful walk, and we were disappointed when the rain hastened our return to the shrine.
We ended the evening with a walk around the busy shopping district of Kawaramachi, stopping for a dinner of Japanese dumplings at Gyoza no Ohsho.
The next morning we awoke to considerably better weather, and decided to make a visit to the Kinkaka-ju. The iconic Buddhist temple is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and as we arrived there was already a huge queue forming prior to the 9am opening time.
The top two tiers of the lavish temple, which are covered almost entirely in gold leaf, were glistening beautifully in the early morning sun. We sat and admired the reflection in the surrounding lake before continuing to explore the rest of the site.
Unfortunately, we only had time for a brief visit before it was time to make our way back to Kyoto station for our next train. This time we would be taking one of Japan’s famous bullet trains to Tokyo, where we would be spending the rest of our time in Japan.