Last year, I wrote an article on The Saint sharing my trip to Tokyo in December 2017. After two days in the cosmopolitan hub, I decided to explore Kyoto, another major Japanese city and tourist centre. Steeped in local customs and traditions, the sharp dichotomy between the two cities was glaringly apparent. Kyoto offered a different, more intimate, and historical view of Japan. Here are some of the highlights I enjoyed during my five-day sojourn in the cultural capital of Japan.
As mentioned in my article detailing my trip to Tokyo, any travellers decided on exploring Japan should invest in a Japanese Railcard (known as a JR pass). An exclusive product to tourists, this offers unlimited seven-day transportation on any train throughout Japan for £196 (approximately the same prices as a regular return ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto). To make their way to Kyoto, travellers can hop on the famous Japanese bullet trains. With a travel time of 2 hours 20 minutes, they are the quickest mode of transportation from Tokyo to Kyoto and their sleek design and rotating seats offer a modern and futuristic transportation experience.
Kyoto Station itself is an attraction worth devoting some time to; as one of the largest buildings in the country, it encompasses a shopping mall, a cinema, a hotel and a department store. You can sample various local delicacies from the plethora of restaurants and enjoy a choreographed fountain show. It was here that I stumbled upon Eirakuya Hosotsuji-Ihee shoten, a store which has practised the traditional Japanese art of Furoshiki (fabric wrapping) since 1615. Customers can choose from a wide array of colour rectangular fabrics which are then hand-wrapped into bags in front of them, making for the perfect souvenir from their trip. This is only one of many unique traditional shops, allowing travellers to peruse through local products such as chopsticks, dolls, sake and samurai swords.
Kyoto Station is also in close proximity to various other sites such as the Kyoto Tower, The CUBE shopping mall, the Kyoto Museum of Art as well as several stunning Buddhist temples. When travelling to Kyoto it is definitely worth stopping by one of the sites of Buddhist worships and its accompanying Zen gardens. Also known as Japanese rock gardens, Zen gardens originated in Kyoto over 700 years ago and are miniaturised landscapes that serve as tranquil environments for meditating and connecting with nature.
Another religious tourist attraction is the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine that dates back to AD 711 and is internationally recognisable thanks to its bright orange Torii (gates). Tourists can hire bikes from around the local area of Fushimi to make their way to the shrine. Along the way there are various local handicraft stores to explore, displaying traditional practices such as shibori (tie-dye). There are also costume rental places where tourists can hire traditional Japanese kimonos and have their hair and make-up professionally done according to local fashion. You can see many locals and tourists alike dressing up as such and making their way to Fushimi Inari Taisha to take Instagram-worthy photos. It is also worth stopping at one of the many stalls selling street food such as fried chicken, dumplings and fortune cookies. The shrine itself is a 2.5-mile uphill hike and offers a beautiful view of the town below as you make your way up.
The Arashiyama district is a wonderful tourist hub with its famous stunning cherry blossom trees, boutiques and cafes. Here you can find the Togetsukyo Bridge crossing over the Hozu-gawa river, historically a transport and cargo route but used in contemporary times for leisurely river boat rides. Most significantly, it is home to the globally renowned Arashiyama Bamboo Forest which can often be found at the top of every traveller’s list. Visitors can lazily meander along the purpose-built pathway, sheltered from the outside world by the stalks of bamboo. While in the area, it is also worth hiking to the Iwatayama Monkey Park where visitors are granted a stunning, unparalleled view of the city and can observe and feed over 170 wild Japanese macaque monkeys.
Much like my trip to Tokyo, my stay in Kyoto remains one of the most exciting experiences of my life and was dramatically different to any city I had explore before. I have compiled my highlights to serve as a guide to budding travellers and to emphasise some of the unique, unparalleled experiences that can be enjoyed in the city.