Postcard from Kyoto
Kyoto was cooler than I expected. Everyone will tell you Kyoto is Japan’s traditional city and they’re not wrong, but where traditional can often seem stuffy, Kyoto still possessed an endless scene of curiosities and quirks. Here are just some of my favourites:
You will see Kimonos everywhere. At first I thought that maybe this was what Japanese girls did on a Sunday afternoon at the city’s many temples. Like when Caribbean ladies get dressed for church in London. When we met with our private guide though she assured me that these weren’t local Japanese girls, but Korean and Chinese girls looking to Instagram some Geisha realness. While I didn’t go that far, I was inspired to buy a beautiful parasol as a geisha-style souvenir.
Kyoto has many temples. Over 1600 in fact. As Kyoto was the final stop on our trip, I had grown a bit tired of temples – especially when it’s usually just the outside of the building that you only get to see. That and they usually require walking up a GIANT hill. But our first temple we visited in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera, was my favourite. The structures in the complex were really striking, but it was more the scenery, lush and overlooking the city, that was the best part. Watching the sunset there was really magical.
This was taken infront of Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s most photographed temple. We were lucky enough to arrive at the temple early with the help of a private guide. The temple was truly beautiful but the surrounding grounds were even more picturesque. My favourite part of the visit was going inside one of the ancient complex buildings and hearing the floors squeak – a feature that was purposely built so the Emperor and his men could hear when intruders has entered.
My favourite walk of the whole trip was up to the top of the Arashiyama Monkey Park where you could admire a 180 degree view over Tokyo AND get up close to monkeys. What more could you want in life? We ventured up the hill early on our day in Kyoto and it was a great place to end our trip. The park is fully supervised by staff, and there is an air conditioned room where you can buy apples to feed the monkeys which of course we did. The monkeys here are the same as the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani – but much easy to get too.
As part of our Inside Japan itinerary, we took part in a home-cooking class where we learnt how to cook authentic chicken teriyaki which I absolutely loved. I’m not much of a cook at home but cooking classes when travelling are such a great way to get to know a place and the locals. Plus you get to eat the best food.
No this is not wood – this is fermented fish! Tuna in fact. Known as Katsuobushi, this fish is shaved to become kombu, which is the key ingredient in miso soup. Our guide pointed these out while taking us through the Nishiki Market – Kyoto’s famed food markets. While the market’s were somewhat touristy, our guide told us it still had some great finds and locals still often ate there quite a lot. Kinda like what Borough Market is to London I guess.
Of all the places I loved in Kyoto, if I had to choose a favourite it would be the Fushimi inari Taisha shrine – also known as the red gates. They really are as spectacular as the appear in the pictures. And they really do go on and on and on. Once again to avoid the crowds I recommend going early or late in the afternoon which is what we did. Visit around sunset and you’ll get the most beautiful light peering through the tight gaps of the gates, and you’ll probably fall in love with Kyoto like I did.