There was no countryside to pass through on the quiet train journey from Osaka to Kyoto. The endless metro area makes it feel like one, enormous city which continues to disappear over the horizon in all directions.
Kyoto was the city I was most looking forward to visiting in Japan. The culture powerhouse, with rich, fascinating history through palaces and temples. In fact, there is so much to see in this small(er) city that it’s easy to get “templed out”.
Fushimi Inari-taisha is a stand out. It’s Kyoto’s most famous and the crowds reflect this. But the further ventured, the more steps climbed, the less crowded it becomes. At the top shrine I only saw two other tourists, a peaceful place with a great view over parts of Kyoto.
Tofuku-ji temple – an 800 year old Buddhist shrine – was wonderfully quiet in comparison. It had huge grounds to walk through, quiet paths to explore and a bit of shade from the blazing sun on the day.
My favourite part of Kyoto was the food. The tiny restaurants, the bar-style ones which sit a handful of people while food is cooked right in front of you, are wonderful. Kyonegi-Yaki Okhotsk Kiyamachi was near my hotel. Two friends, a drunken Japanese businessman who sparked up a conversation, and me, were the only people it could accommodate. I worked through the generous menu (pictures, thankfully) for dish after dish after dish until I had to admit I couldn’t eat anymore, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Another, which I can only find via 兎に角 on Google Maps, was outstanding. A larger venue, smaller menu, and even the fried rice side was mouth watering.
Pontocho and the surrounding area is filled with fantastic places like this. Popular with tourists and locals, including some restaurants which are hard to get into, it’s a dream for anyone fond of trying different meals.
My final day in Kyoto, a plan which included Monkey Park Iwatayama and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, was scuppered due to some awful weather. Instead it meant a wander around Nishiki Market – which is absolutely worth a visit for the food and shops.
The four days was a good amount of time to see Kyoto – certainly never feeling templed out – but a longer trip would certainly be worthwhile.
Next stop: Tokyo.