Temple fatigue is a real thing when you’re travelling throughout Asia for an extended period of time. It’s easy to become blasé about some of the most beautiful sights and holy shrines, simply because there are so many that they become your new normal.
How do you avoid this? Intersperse Kyoto temple spotting with relaxing afternoon tea stops, visits to bamboo groves, and night-time wanders down Gion alleyways full of izakayas and the shadows of geishas.
Take an early morning stroll up the hill to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, founded in 780, and appreciate the fantastic panoramic views of the city before the crowds get too busy.
The temple complex contains the Jishu Shrine. In front of the shrine are two love stones, placed 18 metres apart. If you can successfully find your way from one to the other with your eyes closed, you will be lucky in love.
There are also stalls selling offerings and prayers for different aspects of life: health, wealth, good luck in exams, good luck moving house, good luck getting married.
You can pay 200 yen (approx £1) to receive your fortune which was good fun: better results for some more than others!
Once you’re done, wander back down the hill through the pretty streets of Higashiyama, with shops selling Japanese souvenirs, green tea ice cream and whole minted cucumbers on sticks.
We were approached by some school children who were practising their English at tourist spots and asked us about our thoughts on Japan and life in the UK.
We had a good chat, they took our photo, and very kindly gave us bags of sweets and origami paper cranes (a symbol of good luck) as a thank you for our time.
We were asked the same questions by another two groups as we walked down the hill, and didn’t have the heart to say no. As a result our, photos will appear on the same classroom wall three times, and we were given enough sweets to not need any lunch!
Path of Philosophy
From Kiyomizu-dera, walk past the Chion-in Temple, which is unfortunately under construction, and on to the Path of Philosophy (named in honour of a Kyoto University professor who took his daily walk down this pretty canalside path).
If you time your visit right, you will be lucky enough to see this lined with cherry blossom trees in the spring. You will find some traditional tea houses scattered along the path; we enjoyed a cup of refreshing green tea.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
We made our way to the Higashiyama metro and onto Kyoto station before transferring to the JR Line and making our way to Inara to visit the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine.
Probably Kyoto’s most photographed site, the ‘arcades of Torii’ features rows and rows of red Torii Gates; it’s a must-visit.
By the time we got back to Kyoto station and jumped on the Tozai metro to get to Nishiki Market (Kyoto Shiyakushomae Station) it was getting late. We found the market as it was closing, but we still managed to grab a few much-needed street snacks and have a good wander around the many stalls.
We weren’t tempted by the stinky pickled cucumber, though.
The geisha district (Gion) was only a short walk from our Airbnb. The best streets are Shijo Avenue and Hanamikoji Street, both lined with expensive restaurants and bars. If you walk these streets for half an hour or so you should catch a glimpse of the elusive geisha as they run between geisha houses. They are very shy though and don’t like being photographed – I just managed to take a blurry snap.
We walked a few streets over and stumbled upon Chao Chao, an award-winning gyoza shop (voted the top gyozas in Japan for the past two years). The queue of people snaking round the corner told us this place was good. We had a brief look at the menu before deciding it was worth joining them, and after half an hour a space was ready at the bar around the open plan kitchen.
We ordered a vast array of gyozas, including the award-winning pork and shrimp, pork with yam and wasabi sauce, shrimp, mushroom, and sides of pickled cucumber and cabbage topped with sesame seeds.
The kitchen staff explained how to mix soy sauce with bean paste for a gyoza dipping sauce. We even had chocolate stuffed gyozas with ice cream for dessert – delicious!
Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
The next day it was back to the temples. We visited both the Gold and Silver Temples and in the afternoon took a trip to the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves.
The bamboo groves are a great way to spend an hour, walking under the bamboo canopies and listening to the wildlife that live in the forest, including monkeys. We could hear them but only caught a fleeting glimpse of one as it swung through the groves.
We had some time spare in the afternoon to look through the antiques stalls and art shops in the Higashiyama district.
We picked up some vintage silk kimonos for only £6, as well as some silk prints from a local artist.
For our evening meal, we decided to try a Japanese takeaway. We picked up some gyozas, soy sauce and a cabbage salad from a small vendor on our street in Higashiyama. Phil swears that they beat the championship ones from the day before at a fraction of the price.