When it comes to Japan, visiting Kyoto was always my biggest dream.
To my small disappointment, the opportunity to visit Japan came with the Student Exchange Programme with prearranged placements. Instead of my dream Kansai area, I got to stay in Tokyo and Nagoya. While the first city was too far for a cheap excursion, the second one turned out to be the perfect base for a weekend trip to Kyoto. I invited a friend to join me, and on our free weekend we set off to explore my dream destination.
Here’s how the first day of our weekend trip in Kyoto went!
Getting to Kyoto
Kyoto is only 135 km from Nagoya, so getting there isn’t difficult nor especially expensive. As students traveling on budget, we decided on the local train which takes less than 2.5 hours and costs about 2.500 yen one-way. On the previous day, we packed our bags and went early to sleep and set off right in the morning. Although our plan to spend a weekend in Kyoto was fixed days before, we left Nagoya without any itinerary. The morning train ride let us plan our first day and reach Kyoto Station. Before 10 am, after one or two changes, we could finally set our feet in Kyoto.
To the hostel!
After arrival, we took the free city maps and bought the 2-day pass, which gives unlimited rides with Kyoto buses. Later, we took a walk to our hostel with a short visit to our first Kyoto’s temple. It was the Buddhist Higashihonganji Temple, which we spotted on our way. The whole walk to the hostel took us a bit over 30 min. We were staying in the, located 1 km from the Kyoto Station, K’s House Hostel which offers good standard at a low price. When we arrived, it was too early for the check-in, so we left our bags in the deposit and set off for sightseeing.
The draft plan for our weekend trip in Kyoto included four main destinations. The first one was Fushimi Inari Taisha – one of the most famous Japan’s attractions. Despite its enormous popularity, the entrance to the Shrine and surrounding grounds is free of charge. To get there, we took a short train ride from our hostel. From the station, finding the way to Fushimi Inari was easy, as there were lots of signposts with small foxes showing the way.
Why foxes? You may ask. Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to Inari – the god of harvest, fertility, and industry, whose messenger is one of my favorite animals – the fox. Despite the lack of live animals, it’s a small paradise for every fox-lover. While strolling around the shrine and its grounds, you can see numerous stone fox statues. They are presented in various poses, with symbolic items in their mouths – keys, jewels, scrolls, rice piles. While some statues may look similar, they’re never the same, so admiring them and searching for these small differences never gets boring. Also, most of the memorabilia sold in the souvenir shops are fox-related – keychains, magnets, figures, mascots, charms, fox-shaped cookies.
Although the whole hike to the top of Inari mountain takes only about 2-3 hours, we decided to do only a part of the trail. The temperature was very high, as usually in August, and the crowd of tourist was destroying the charm of this place. We strolled among the torii gates, visited few smaller shrines and went back halfway.
After getting down from the hiking trail, we decided to eat a late lunch in the restaurant near Kyoto Station and headed back to our hostel just after the meal. It was already time for check-in, so we finally could move bags to our room and take a short rest.
Historical districts of Kyoto
Our next stop was the famous geisha district – Gion. From there we planned to stroll through the nearby Higashiyama district to another ‘must see’ temple – Kiyomizu-
On the way to the Kiyomizu temple!
I’ve always been against using maps and worse, GPS in this kind of places. Enjoying the surroundings by taking random turns and checking what’s behind the corner is so much better! Therefore, while our main aim was supposed to be the Kiyomizu-
After visiting the Yasaka Shrine we took the way through the Maruyama Park which in spring is a popular cherry bloosoms viewing (hanami) spot. During summer it wasn’t very crowded, so we could leisurely enjoy nature. Besides numerous walkways, ornament bridges and ponds with koi carps and turtles, we stumbled across a statue of two samurais – Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro. After exiting the park, we spotted the roof of Hokanji Temple and decided to go further in its direction.
Hokanji Temple and Ryozen Kannon Statue
On our way to the Hokanji Temple, (known as Yasaka Pagoda), we had also spotted the giant, white Ryozen Kannon Statue. It wasn’t far, although it was getting late, therefore we decided to skip it and only take a look from the distance. The whole walk was quite tiring, so we took a short break in the small cafe. We ordered cold coffee and finally took out a map to check the way to the Kiyomizu Temple. We were heading in the right direction and our destination wasn’t far!
With regained strength and planned route, we finally reached our main destination – the Kiyomizu-
One of Kiyomizu’s most famous spots is the Jishu shrine, with a pair of “love stones”. The legend says that if you can walk from one to the other (18 meters) with your eyes closed, you will find your true love. Another interesting place is the Otowa waterfall, whose water is believed to have wish-granting powers. The entrance to the temple and its grounds is free of charge, you only have to pay to enter the main hall.
End of the first day
After the visit in Kiyomizu-dera Temple, we were planning to see also the famous Nishiki Market. Unfortunately, it turned out to be already closed. A bit disappointed and exhausted with the whole day of sightseeing and walking, we decided to eat dinner at the nearby ramen bar and go back to the hostel. We had to take a good rest for the next day of our weekend trip.
Want to know what were we doing on the second day of our weekend trip to Kyoto? Here’s the part 2!