Tips For Traveling In Japan

Advice, recommendations, and tips for anyone traveling in Japan.

I Can Go The Distance – Rebun Island Day 2

I have often dreamed of a far off place, a tiny slice of paradise called Rebun Island. In this reoccuring dream I’m standing at the top of a lush green craggy cliff which is covered in wildflowers of yellow, white and purple. I slowly lift my gaze to look out at clear sapphire-blue waters stretching endlessly out as far as the eye can see. I turn my face up to the sky to feel the warm sunshine and a cool ocean breeze comes out of nowhere making my hair swirl majestically the way it only does in dreams. I’m on a wandering path, but in that moment I know I’m standing exactly where I’m meant to be. That’s all the dream is, a perfect moment in paradise…but it’s enough to bring me a great feeling of peace. The best part of this dream is that it’s a real memory, which makes it all the more vivid.

Hiking and admiring the beauty of surrounding nature has always been my way of finding harmony in life. This hobby adds balance to my otherwise busy life and it’s a means by which I make my own happiness. Being surrounded by nature always feels so right, more so now that I’m an adult and spend most of my days caught up in the rush of everyday existence and to-do lists. In moments where I’m stressed I have taken to closing my eyes and recalling that perfect moment on Rebun Island.   The serenity in that perfect memory gives me strength.

My second day on Rebun Island I had originally planned to hike the famous 8-hour course. Unfortunately for me I injured one of my knees prior to departing for Hokkaido, too much running had resulted in a synovial fluid deficiency lubricating my knee joints. This is turn caused the bones in my knees to rub against each other painfully. You can see my white knee-brace in most pictures in this post. I was heartbroken to have injured myself only a week before the trip of a lifetime, but at the same time I was very lucky because my doctor told me that if I was careful I could still do some hiking in Hokkaido. She told me very strictly though that I would have to prioritize which hikes were the most important and only do a few, and while I hiked them to be very careful, going slow and not pushing myself too hard. Taking my time wasn’t an option for hiking the 8-hour course however, so my hostel strongly recommended I chose the 4-hour course which is the first 12 kilometres of the 8-hour course. A perfect compromise! Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.05.22 PM

If you want the beauty of the 8-hour course but lack the time, the 4-hour course is a beautiful and very scenic subsection of the most famous hike. It begins at the same place as the 8-hour course, Cape Sukoton, but ends halfway along the full course at the Hamanaka Bus Stop, from where you’ll take a bus back. They told me to budget about 5 hours for this course, but I hiked it in about 5.5 hours because I wanted to take so many photos!

The hike begins at Cape Sukoton, the northernmost point on Rebun Island. It gets pretty windy here so be sure to bring a warm jacket, even in the summer!

rebunislandhike2 rebunislandhike1 rebunislandhike3 rebunislandhike4rebunislandhike6There were quite a few other people from the hostel doing the same hike so we all started together, but eventually drifted apart. I did the hike with one other young lady from the hostel who spoke English very well and had been road tripping around Hokkaido like myself, but on a motorbike which sounded amazing. After 2 weeks of being alone I had a great time hiking with, her swapping stories and chatting about life.

The beginning of the hike starts along a paved road that will eventually lead you to the beginning of the hiking path. The hiking path then leads you up the coastal ridge overlooking the ocean. It was pretty nippy and windy which was better than a cup of coffee to wake me up. I loved seeing the beautiful lily wildflowers in this area so keep your eyes peeled!

rebunislandhike7 rebunislandhike8 rebunislandhike9Soon the path turned into a steady incline up the cliffs from which the views just got better and better. On your right side you have the deep blue waters of the ocean and on your left the rolling green hills of the island.

rebunislandhike10 rebunislandhike13 rebunislandhike12 rebunislandhike14See the cute dog in the last photo? That poochie, dear readers is the luckiest dog in the whole world. Why? He is spoiled positively rotten. Every single day one of his family members takes him for a “morning walkies” up this ridge. They walk all the way to the best viewpoint (about 1.5 hours up) and then back down resulting in about a 3-hour long walk! If I am ever reincarnated I hope to have this dog’s life!

From the top of Cape Gorota was a view so beautiful I couldn’t believe I wasn’t dreaming. In Canada you typically have to work your little butt off and climb to the top of a mountain to get the beautiful view, I hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and I was being rewarded with views of clear sapphire waters and the island’s lush green hills below!

rebunislandhike11rebunislandhike15 rebunislandhike17 rebunislandhike19 rebunislandhike20 We followed the trail down and began our descent towards Gorota Beach, a sandy beach along the western coast.

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We reached the beach and I stopped for a bit to rest. My knee was tired and I wasn’t able to keep up with my friend’s pace any longer, so I encouraged her to leave me and I would see her at the bus stop perhaps. By this time the sun was out in full force so I stopped to apply more sunscreen, drink a lot of water and eat a snack. After my break I was feeling much more optimistic.

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance! And I’ll stay on track; no, I won’t accept defeat! It’s an uphill slope, but I won’t lose hope, till I go the distance and my journey is complete…” I put on some of my all-time favourite hiking music and with the powerful words of Michael Bolton singing “I Can Go The Distance” from Disney’s Hercules began my journey again. It is such a perfect motivation song when you’re not feeling like you have the power to finish something. Incredibly cheesy I know, but it’s what I was in the mood for!

After Gorota Beach it was another steep trail up to the most breathtaking view of the entire hike in my opinion. It is on the top of this craggy cliff I’m standing in my dream. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect place in all its wild and majestic beauty to dream of. I took a moment to truly savour this moment, bask in the warm sunshine and breathe the crisp ocean breeze in. I couldn’t have been happier, and all my worries seemed to vanish. Perhaps that’s why my dreams bring me here, it’s a place with zero stress associated with it. My own little slice of paradise…

rebunislandhike24 rebunislandhike25After this cliff you’re almost finished, just a short walk back down and inland towards the Hamanaka Bus Stop. I had to stop and ask for directions in the little town, but eventually made it to the bus stop with about 20 minutes to spare before the bus arrived. (Be careful to not miss the bus as I think it’s about a 2-hour wait until the next one!)

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On the bus ride home, I squealed with glee because out on the water was a harem of seals out on the water. Talk about a great name to describe a group of seals, harem! Aren’t they just adorable floating around like that! rebunislandhike27rebunislandhike28

If you ever visit Rebun Island, please enjoy this hike, as with the Flower Hike it’s suitable for all levels! It’s not too difficult of a climb, but I do strongly recommend wearing solid hiking boots. It was a superb day hiking and one day I hope to go back and do the 8-hour hike. Until then I’ll just have to content myself with my dreams of paradise.

  • For more general information about Rebun Island click here.
  • To read about my adventures on Day 1 on Rebun Island click here.

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Kenninji Temple, Kyoto

Kenninji Temple is one of my personal favourite temples in Kyoto, surprisingly though, it’s not a temple that many foreigners know of.  This Zen Buddhist temple was founded in 1202 CE and is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto! It is nestled in the heart of the Gion district, at the end of Hanami Lane, and is an oasis of calm, home to several beautiful gardens and full of stunning works of art. It is considered to be one of the “five most important Zen temples of Kyoto”.  Every screen door is painted with beautiful art so it’s lovely to wander around.

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This temple’s founder, Yousai, is reknown for introducing the Zen sect and the tradition of drinking green tea into Japan. It was because of my passion for studying green tea that I first discovered this temple.  My tea studies teacher taught me that he is recognized as the founder of tea ceremony in Japan because of his efforts to encourage the cultivation and consumption of tea, so I was curious to see the temple he founded when I traveled to Kyoto.

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There are 2 features that Kenniji is most famous for:

  • #1 – The painted screen made by the famous artist Tawaraya Sotatsu depicting the images of the wind and thunder gods

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  • #2 – The dragon-painted ceiling which was installed to commemorate the temple’s 800th anniversary.

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While at this temple I also recommend sitting a moment in silence and contemplating the beautiful symbolism of the “Circle-Square-Triangle” Garden. It’s a square-shaped garden and its design is based on a famous  work of calligraphy. The idea behind it is that all things in the universe are represented by these three forms.

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Tips For Visitors:

  • Tuck a pair of socks into your bag to keep your feet from freezing (if you’re wearing sandals) as you’ll have to take your shoes off to enter this temple.
  • Visit this temple towards the end of the day, just before it closes, and then stay in the area to explore the Gion District as the sun begins to set.

General Information:

  • Names: Kenninji, Kennin Temple, 建仁寺
  • Entrance fee: 500 yen
  • Opening Hours: (March-October: 10am-5pm, last entry 4:30pm) (November-February: 10am-4:30pm, last entry 4pm) *Closed Dec 28-31*

How To Get To Kenninji:

  • Note: not all tourists maps will list Kenninji. If you look for Gion District as a landmark to get to you’ll be ok, as Kenniji is in this area
  • By Bus: From Kyoto Station take either bus #100 or #206 to the Gion stop
  • By train: Take the Keihan line to Gion Shijo Station + 10 min walk

kenninji map

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Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. This Buddhist temple was founded on the site of the Otawa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and the name ‘kiyomizu’ is in reference to the pure, clean waters of this waterfall.  The most striking characteristic of this temple is the main hall which has an exceptionally large veranda, supported by tall pillars. Interesting to note, is that in the past this 13 meter tall veranda was constructed without the use of a single nail! From this veranda visitors can see an impressive view of the city, and the surrounding forests.

In my opinion the best time to visit Kiyomizudera Temple is during the spring when there is an abundance of cherry blossoms, or during fall when the leaves of the valley below the veranda erupt into fiery hues of red, orange and gold.

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An interesting fact is that there was once upon a time, during the Edo period, a tradition where people would jump from the 13 meter tall veranda to the ground. It was said that if one were to survive such a plunge, one’s wish would be granted. Of the 234 recorded jumps in history, approximately 85% surived the fall. The practice is now prohibited, with good reason!

Be sure to have you cameras ready because this temple is also a great place to spot Japanese women wearing traditional kimonos in Kyoto. My mom and dad loved seeing the young girls all dolled up in their kimonos and with their hair styled, and my dad was not shy at all about asking them if he could take their picture. He simply gestured to them smiling a big friendly smile and said “Beautiful!” and they simply beemed at him very pleased at the compliment.

*A word of warning and heads up to other guys reading this blog though, the funny thing was the girls were genuinely pleased when my dad complimented them and were happy to let my dad and I take their picture, but I saw the exact same group of friendly girls afterwards completely recoil when a young man tried the same thing a minute later. I think they are nervous of perverts.*

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One you’re finished exploring the balcony area, follow the path out from the balcony and you’ll see a flight of stairs that will lead you up to the Jishu Shrine. This small but cute shrine is dedicated to the deity Okuninushi, the god of love and matchmaking.

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There are lots of images of rabbits around because rabbits are the messenger spirits of the god of love. If you’re willing to make a small fool of yourself, which I of course totally was, you can try your skill at finding the love stone.  At first I was delighted to have spotted the stone, thinking that’s all there was too it. Trust me it’s not hard to spot, there’s a huge sign…Kiyomizudera11 Kiyomizudera13

If only it were that easy. You see the fun lies in that there are two stones which are 6 meters apart. What will bring you luck in love is finding your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed! It’s said that if you can do this without help you’ll find true love in your life without needing anyone else’s help, but if anyone has to help guide you from one stone to the other than an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well to meet ‘the one’. Being me, I just had to give it a shot.

It’s much harder than you think so do it in good spirits, you will probably make a huge fool of yourself like I did. In the end I did somehow manage to miraculously find the stone, but not before bumping into a couple other highly amused tourists, a shrine booth or two, listening to everyone laugh at me getting completely turned around (for the record I’m terrible with directions) and within a minute I had many people shouting ‘ganbatte‘ which is similar to ‘Good luck!’ in English.  I definitely recommend doing this, it was a great experience!

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If you’re interested in purchasing a cute souvenir this shrine does a booming business selling love charms.Kiyomizudera15

If you back down the stairs from the Jishu Shrine, head along a small path on your left for one of the best photo opportunities of Kiyomizudera with its balcony pillars visible (like the first photo in this blog post). Once you have that shot, turn and head back the way you came once again to the area right below the Jishu Shrine. You’ll see another set of stairs leading down. Follow these down and you’ll arrive at the Otawa Waterfall area, where you’ll see 3 fountains of water falling into a pond, and most likely a very long line up.

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It’s said that each streams water has a different benefit: health, success at school or good luck in love. However, only choose to drink from one or you’ll be seen as very greedy!

First step, wait in lin. When it’s your turn, choose a cup-on-a-long-stick-thingy from within the glowing decontamination cave behind.

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Choose one of the three fountain streams and reach out the cup. Fill it with water and bring it back towards you.

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Pour the water from your cup into your left hand and drink from that. Tada, hopefully I’ll be really healthy in my life!Kiyomizudera18

After you’ve done this, feel free to wander around the temple grounds a bit more exploring the other scenic areas. After you’re finished head back down towards the bustling lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama District. I think visiting this area is a huge part of the fun visiting Kiyomizudera Temple. The steep streets are full of great souvenir shops, green tea ice cream places, and restaurants. higashiyama street 2 higashiyama street

Be sure to try the yatsuhashi! Yatsuhashi is one of the most famous sweets produced in Kyoto. The outside of the sweet is made out of chewy mochi, sugar and cinnamon which encases a small bit of anko (red bean paste). There are a variety of flavours such as the classic cinnamon, matcha, strawberry, chestnut, pumpkin, yuzu and even a special chocolate mochi with chocolate on the inside! The stores will be happily handing out samples the entire way down.

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I also recommend popping into the Higashiyama District’s Malebranche Store so you can try one of their famous langue de chat. Often a sales lady is standing at the front of the store entrance handing out samples of this store’s most famous sweet.

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This ity-bitty-little cookie will change your world. I had never had one before visiting the Malebranche Store, neither had my mother, we both took one nibble and simulataneously our eyebrows shot up! It was fabulous and oh-so-good! My mom walked away with 2 boxes they were that good!

What you ask is this langue de chat? It is 2 melt in your mouth merengue-like matcha cookies with a piece of white chocolate lovingly sandwiched in the middle. Don’t miss your chance to try one while in Kyoto, because they can only be bought in this city and nowhere else in Japan, even though Malebranche is a national chain here in Japan.

malebranche langue de chat

Tips For Visitors:

  • *Get here as early as possible* as it is one of the absolute busiest temples in Kyoto (check out the picture below). The temple is open from 6am but you should be fine if you arrive before 8:30am.
  • Make a beeline for Kiyomizudera and bypass the Higashiyama Shopping District on the way to the temple.  Save shopping in the stores until after you’ve experience the temple.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as the streets leading up to Kiyomizudera are some of the steepest walking tourists have to do in Kyoto.
  • Also, during the spring and fall seasons an illumination event is held from 6:30pm-9:30pm for a fee of 400yen

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General Information:

  • Names: Kiyomizudera, Kiyomizu Temple, 清水寺
  • Open: 6am-6pm every day
  • Entrance Fee: 300yen

How To Get To Kiyomizudera:

  • By bus: From Kyoto Station take either #100 or #206 to Kiyomizu-michi bus stop (Price: 220 yen) (Check out the bus route map here) Walk 10 minutes up the hill to the temple.
  • By Train: take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. Walk 20 minutes to arrive at the temple.
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Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

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Kinkakuji is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and indeed all of Japan. It is the singular most beautiful building I believe in the entire city and therefore my #2 recommendation for places to visit when in Kyoto.

It’s name Kinkakuji means “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” and it is appropriately named because the top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf.

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About Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺):

Kinkakuji is an impressive Zen Buddhist temple built overlooking a large pond named Kyōko-chi, or in English “The Mirror Pond”.  This pavilion was built at the end of the 14th century and was originally intended as a villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the shogun at the time. After his death, it later became a temple.

Although the original building has burned down numerous times – once due to the Onin Civil War, and a second time in 1950 because it was set on fire by a fanatic monk –  is still breathtaking to behold.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, Kinkaku-ji is one of the historical buildings most representative of Japan.kinkakuji2Tips For Visitors:

  • The very best spot for pictures with the temple in the background is as soon as you enter into the garden.
  • At this prime photo location there will be hoards of tourists. It is always busy from open to close, it’s inevitable. Prepare yourself mentally to hold your ground, wait patiently and seize the moment when you get a chance to have that fence area all to yourself.
  • I can’t even begin to describe how crazy and pushy people can be here, the camera-trigger-happy visitors will make you want to flee as quickly as possible but try not to let them ruin your special moment viewing it. Laugh. Breathe. Smile!
  • After you finish taking photos, take a step back and savor the view. (For additional entertainment, watch the crazy camera wielding people!) Then when you’re ready, continue along the path into the gardens walking slowly.  kinkakuji3

Entrance Fee: 400yen

How to get to Kinkakuji Temple:*Note that getting to kinkakuji temple will take a while as it’s located far from the city center and other tourist locations. By bus is the easiest route, although it will take some time.

  • By Bus: From Kyoto station take bus #101, #205 until the stop “Kinkakuji-michi” (220yen) (time: 40-minutes or more if heavy traffic) (Check out the bus map here)
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Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This shrine is my #1 sightseeing recommendation in Kyoto. The reason being not only is it a spectacular view it’s also a magical experience to explore this shrine too. I’ve attempted to write down everything I have learned about this shrine to improve your experience when you visit and answer commonly asked questions. I hope it can help future visitors to Kyoto!

A long time ago I watched the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the scene where a young Sayuri runs through a tunnel of orange gates to make a prayer was imprinted in my memory. I promised myself one day I would see it with my own eyes.  fushimi inari memoirs of a geishaWhen I arrived in Japan and stood looking at the orange tunnel nearly 10 years later, I still remembered how I felt when I first saw it. “This must be a dream,” I thought to myself too stunned to take a step inside. My friend looked back at me, wondering why I had stopped talking and walking. As I slowly stepped under the first gate and into the tunnel that seemed to stretch on towards the heavens, I was very overcome with a wave of emotion. I couldn’t come up with the words to explain to my friend how magical the whole experience was.  It was the moment a childhood dream became a reality. Many people I’ve spoken to who have visited this shrine say similar experiences happened to them. I’ve witnessed tourists actually jump for joy when they first see the orange gates and couples hug one another. Clearly I’m not the only one for whom seeing the Fushimi Inari Shrine is a dream come true.fushimi-inari shrine kyoto5

About the Fushimi-Inari Shrine:

The Fushimi-Inari Shrine is a popular shrine for tourists located just outside the city center of Kyoto. It’s most famous for it’s orange gates, filmed in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, which form a tunnel that tourists may walk through.  These gates are called “torii” in Japanese. It is possible to walk under the torii all the way to the top of the sacred Mt. Inari, which is 233m high. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto8

When you first arrive you’ll see the largest torii gate of the Fushimi-Inari Shrine. I think this one of the best photo opportunities so be sure to snap a picture before heading into the shrine.fushimi-inari shrine kyoto6Take you time exploring the main temple grounds, and be sure to take a peak into a tiny temple located on the far right of the main temple area. It has thousands of paper cranes. The hopes and dreams of shrine visitors in a rainbow of offerings is always something I enjoy seeing.  According to Japanese legend, if you fold 1000 paper cranes your wish is supposed to be granted. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto4 Once you’ve finished exploring the main temple grounds, head up the stairs, and begin your hike through the torii tunnel.

fushimi inari2These torii gates, interestingly enough, are all donations by families or companies. On the back of the torii gates you will see written in black kanji the donator’s name and the date it was donated. A small torii is around 400,000 yen as much as 1 million yen!!!!Fushimi-inari shrine kyoto 10The further up you walk the fewer people you will see and the quieter it will become, the steep slopes effectively weaning out those unfit for the challenge of a climb (*cough cough* the women wearing stilettos never make it very far, never fear). This is where you’ll easily be able to get photos with just you and your companions, the real trick will be waiting for a friendly person to take your picture! IMG_8766

What’s With All The Foxes?!?

By the time you finish exploring the shrine, you may be curious as to why you saw so many statues of foxes.  This is because foxes in Japanese culture are regarded as messenger spirits. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto7The Japanese word for fox is “kitsune” and if you look carefully you’ll see many restaurants in this area serving kitsune udon. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not fox noodle soup! Kitsune udon is a delicious dish made with thick udon noodles served in a dashi based soup stock and served with a piece of fried tofu. Kitsune udon is named after the Japanese fox because according to legend fox spirits are big fans of abura-age, the deep fried tofu that gives all the flavour to this great food.kitsune udon

My 6 Tips For Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes! I really do mean this, wear running shoes or at least comfy sneakers.
  2. Budget plenty of time as it’s quite a long walk to the very top.
  3. Don’t let other people hurry you, walk at a slow pace and savor the moment.
  4. Be patient taking photos. If you’re patient and wait for the perfect moment you’ll be able to get great solo shots.
  5. Try and go early in the morning, or towards the end of the day (if possible) as the experience is more magical the fewer the people. If you do, you’ll also be able to get photos in the torii tunnel with only you!
  6. If you don’t have time to do the entire walk to the top walk as far as you feel comfortable, but be sure to at least reach the beautiful photography point where 2 tunnels appear!

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How To Get To Fushimi-Inari Shrine:

There are several ways to get to the Fushimi Inari shrine. I highly recommend traveling by one of the train lines!

  • By JR Line: Take the JR Nara Line train from Kyoto station to JR Inari Station (Time: 5 minutes, Price: 140yen, 2 stops later)
  • By Private Train Line: From Kyoto Station take the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station
  • By Bus: If you have the Kyoto Bus Sighseeing Pass you can access the shrine via the #5 bus from Kyoto Station. (See the map here) *I do not recommend this option as it take far too long compared to a train. It’s worth spending the extra money to get there quickly.*
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What To Do In Kyoto

If there is one city in Japan I wish I could spend more time exploring it’s Kyoto. Being an avid lover of traditional culture, Kyoto is the epitome of everything I love about Japan.

I think Japan is a very unique country for many reasons. One of the biggest being that Japan is fortunate to have not only a very strong traditional culture that is still alive today, but also a second evolving modern culture. If you’re looking to explore Japan’s modern culture I recommend Tokyo with its big city lights…. but if like me you’re looking to immerse yourself in the more subtle traditional culture, than Kyoto is where you’ll find what you seek.

Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 religious sites such as temples and shrines, and there are hundreds of beautiful gardens in addition to that! You could spend a month here and still have things to see! All in all, it can be quite daunting for a traveller to decide which places to visit, especially with only limited time to explore.

I have traveled to Kyoto six times now since I arrived in Japan two and a half years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have saved me a lot of stress when planning to visit this maze of temples with family and friends. This is why I’ve complied a list of the best things for Kyoto visitors to experience.  I wanted to share my recommendations so that you too can see the best Kyoto has to offer.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Kyoto

#1) Fushimi Inari Shrine  (伏見稲荷大社) – Choosing my #1 recommendation for Kyoto was tough. This one was the winner because it’s not just a beautiful place to see, it’s also an experience like no other in Kyoto. Nothing can compare with the magical atmosphere felt walking up the mountain passing under the orange torii gates for what feels like a small eternity. (More info here)

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#2) Kinkakuji Temple  (金閣寺) – The Golden Pavilion is hands down the most beautiful structure in all of Kyoto and absolutely can not be missed if visiting. (More info here)

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#3) Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) – One of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. The streets and shops leading up to it are very quaint.  Also, the trees surrounding the temple are breathtaking in spring during cherry blossom season & in autumn with the fall colors. (More info here)

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#4) Explore the Arashiyama area – There is SO much to do here, it’s the perfect day trip to escape the chaos of Kyoto. Be sure not to miss the bamboo grove! Check out the monkey mountain and some of the beautiful gardens if you have a whole day to spare.arashiyama bamboo forest

#5) Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) – Located in the heart of the Gion district, Kenninji has the most breathtakingly beautiful dragon ceiling and its calm, relaxing atmosphere makes it one of my favourite temples to wander around. (More info here)kenninji2

#6) Gion Street At Night Gion is the oldest district of Kyoto, the area you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of an elusive ‘maiko’.  At dusk (just after the sun’s gone down and the lights come on) is the best time to take in this area’s splendor. kyoto_gion_at_night_0701

#7) Sanjusangendo Hall (三十三間堂)A stunning hall filled with 30,000 golden deity statues is sure to wow any visitor to Kyoto. I love this temple because it’s very different from all the other temples and there’s nothing else like it in Kyoto, perfect for anyone who’s feeling a little “templed-out” or “over-shrined” sanjusangendo hall

#8) Nishiki Market  (錦市場) – This is a large covered market area with lots of local goods and foods (tempura chocolate anyone?). Grabbing lunch here one day is sure to be an adventure, and an excellent place to do a little shopping.

nishiki market

9) Shopping in Kyoto Station + Malebranche CafeAs powdered green tea is one of Kyoto’s specialties, visitors often want to try matcha and matcha sweets. My favourite hideout is the Malebranche Cafe which is located on the bottom floor of Kyoto Station. These desserts are seriously Kyoto’s best kept secret.  It’s the perfect place to recharge after a little shopping in one of Kyoto’s coolest shopping centers, all of which is underground and therefore perfect if the weather’s not the nicest!dessert1

10) Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺) – This temple, whose name poetically translates as “The Temple of the Dragon at Peace”, is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful rock gardens. It’s one of Kyoto’s quieter and less busy temples, so feelings of zen and great tranquility can be felt here as you sit gazing out at the garden. Kyoto-Ryoan-Ji

If you have any other recommendations, or special little gems in Kyoto you’ve stumbled upon, I’d love to here them! I’ll be going to Kyoto for one last visit in May and I’m already excited!

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