Takaragaike Park features a small, man-made lake with lovely trails that are laced with cherry blossoms in the spring. Though not a destination in and of itself, it’s great for a quick, refreshing nature fix or run if you’re staying at the Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto (made my top pick list) or attending a meeting at the Kyoto International Conference Center.
One of the more unusual sights I saw was a woman mediating in the park with a goose at her side. If you look closely in the top featured picture you can see them in the bottom left corner. The convention center is the large building in the background.
Apparently, there’s an iris garden here that I somehow managed to miss despite the obvious sign.
Some photos from my Kyoto walkabout – such a picturesque place!
Temples and shrines
A day spent strolling anywhere around Kyoto is a day well spent. Beauty abounds and it’s all so wonderfully clean everywhere.
Getting to the park, convention center or Grand Prince: Kokusaikaikan Subway Station, on the Kyoto City Karasuma subway line, which is located right outside the north entrance to the park. It is also about 10 – 15 minutes north on foot from Matsugasaki station on the same subway line.
Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on three sides so the opportunities to hike abound. I haven’t been able to locate my trail notes on this one so I’m just going to post some photos from my Kyoto walkabout for now.
Most would agree that a trip to Kyoto isn’t complete unless you visit the Nishiki Market. Known to locals as “Kyoto’s Pantry”, the traditional, four-centuries-old Nishiki Food Market is a feast for the senses. The narrow, five block long shopping street is jam-packed with exotic (to the Westerner) items and approximately 130 food stands and restaurants. Bring your appetite to try something new for an unforgettable foodie experience. There are plenty of opportunities to taste samples or to buy snacks as you explore. Expect to be elbow to elbow with a big crowd of locals and tourists alike.
The origins of the market date back to around 1310 when it was established as a wholesale fish district. Over time, it evolved into the bustling kaleidoscope of colorful stalls, shops and restaurants that it is today.
Less than a five minute walk from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (4 minutes, ~$2 from Kyoto Station) or via Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line. The market is parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of Shijo Avenue in downtown Kyoto
Whether you explore the historic Arashiyama District by foot, bike, boat, rickshaw or all of the above—it’s a Kyoto must do. Along the lovely scenic paths are temples, shrines, a bamboo forest, artisan shops and restaurants. Read on to discover the top 3 things to do in the area.
Many of the signs are also in English so it’s easy to navigate.
You’ll pass through residential areas as well and see people going about their daily routines, sweeping the streets with handmade brooms, tending their gardens, etc.
I love that the Arashiyama District is very walkable and bikeable with something new to see around every blossom-lined corner. It easy to see why this charming area is one of the most popular sightseeing districts in Kyoto.
Plan on spending a half or full day here, soaking in the sights, shopping and getting a taste of the culture and cuisine. If you only have time for two quick stops, you’ll want to check out the Bamboo Forest and the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple. If at all possible, make the time for a leisurely explore and include an excursion on the Hozu River. You’ll be glad you did.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Disapproving mother-in-law lurking in the background?
While many say that this bamboo forest is the “star” attraction of the Arashiyama District, I was a bit underwhelmed by it (crowds and a path running through it).
Tenryu-ji Zen Temple One of the Top 5 Zen Temples in Kyoto, this temple has an amazing Zen garden that dates back to the 14 Century. The beautiful garden features a pond that is framed by maple trees, rocks and mountain views. Admission Fee: ~$5
Hozu River You can take a short scenic boat ride here or start from nearby Tanba-Kameoka (16K away) and embark on a leisurely two hour boat ride that takes passengers down the winding Hozu River to Arashiyama. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time, but it sounds like a wonderful experience – self propelled on a rental canoe or escorted.
Cheers to another memorable day in Kyoto.
Getting there: Take the JR Sagano (also known as JR San-in) Line from Kyoto station to JR Saga-Arashiyma station.The local and express (or limited) lines are on platforms 32-35. The express makes 3 stops, local makes 6. It approximately a 15 minute ride and costs ~$3.
Yes, another temple to put on your list of top 10 things to do in Kyoto. Kiyomizudera is a must see historical monument of ancient Kyoto and an UNESCO World Heritage site. (TripAdvisor rates it as the #3 thing to do in Kyoto.)
Founded in 780, Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) is an independent Buddhist temple and one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. The magnificent Hondo or main hall is built on a cliff on the eastern hills of Kyoto, halfway up Mt. Otowa on the site of a waterfall (hence the name).The temple is dedicated to the diety, Kannon, and continues to be a pilgrimage site. Kannon is depicted with 11 faces and forty arms, and revered for his mercy and compassion. It is said that Kannon is the embodiment of each person’s “invisible heart of gratitude”.
A message from the temple:
Happiness for all via a greater sense of gratitude for your everyday life.
How’s that for a timeless message that we can all strive to achieve?
The buildings and grounds are breathtaking, but the crowds can be overwhelming. I later learned that it opens at 6AM so it might be that the early risers have the place to themselves then. I imagine experiencing a sunrise here would be enchanting. That being said, night viewing, while extremely crowded, was undeniably magical. Three times per year in the spring, summer and autumn, the temple buildings are open at night and lit so artistically – the effect is extremely dramatic and beautiful. Check schedule for night viewing dates.
Nio-mon, the main entrance (above), was burnt down during civil war (1467-1477) and rebuilt in the 16th century.
The cliff-side, Hondo was rebuilt in 1633. It features ancient Japanese construction methods and was built entirely without nails (like ancient jenga). It is an impressive architectural wonder. I’m not sure my feature picture captured the massive size and intricacy of the wood construction so here is a picture that does a much better job. Photo Credit: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp
The views from there to Kyoto city below are quite lovely. (Understatement.)
Note: The main hall is under construction between February 2017 and March 2020 so some viewing areas may be covered, but the building will still be open to visitors.
Hours: Open 6AM, closing time depends on the season. See schedule. Open: 365 days per year Admission: ~$4
Make a Day or Night of It
If you have time, you’ll want to explore the Higashiyama District itself, it’s one of the city’s best preserved historic districts, just outside the temple grounds. Here you can experience the charm of old Kyoto. Narrow lanes and traditional architecture transport you back in time. Take it all in as you stroll by quaint shops, cafes and restaurants that have been catering to tourists and temple pilgrims for centuries. Pick up some souvenirs here and stop in for tea, a snack or a meal.
Note: This Higashiyama District closes down early in the evenings, except during light festivals, such as the night viewings at Kiyomizudera so inquire and plan accordingly.
Looking for other cool things to do in Kyoto? Check out Nijo Castle. Ready to get out of the city and into the countryside – maybe take a dip in an onsen (hot springs)? Consider exploring the country hamlets of Kibune and Kurama.
Put Nijo Castle on your list of the top 10 things to do and see in Kyoto. (While trip Advisor lists it as #40 of things to do, I’d say the evening viewings during the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival in the spring are well worth the visit.)
Visiting the Kyoto residence of Japan’s first shogun circa the Edo Period, you will be transported to another time and palace. Built in 1603, the castle was completed twenty-three years later by his grandson. The castle and its grounds (including picturesque cherry and plum tree orchards) are surrounded by stone walls and moats.
When the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace. Eventually, it was donated to the city as a historical site and opened to the public.
Designated an UNESCO world heritage site, the castle’s buildings are some of the best surviving examples of the Japan’s feudal era palace architecture.
The 36,000-square-foot Ninomaru Palace consists of five buildings and is built almost entirely of Hinoki cypress, much of which is adorned with gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings.
Interesting fact: The nightingale wood floors of the palace were constructed to squeak as a way of announcing intruders.
During the Sakura Festival in the spring, the castle offers special evening viewings. It mesmerizing to walk under the dozens of cherry trees with their bountiful blossoms dancing in the breeze against the night sky. And the castle, with its moat and fortified walls, is much more impressive glimmering in the moonlight. It’s quite a magical experience.
I’ve always been captivated by the idea of hiking from village to village – anywhere. When I was researching things to do near Kyoto before my trip, I learned of the short hike from Kibune village to Kurama village and decided it was a must do.
It was so much of a “must do” squeezed into my tight itinerary that I went ahead with my plans despite the downpour that day. Who knows when, if ever, I’ll return to Japan. (I was prepared with rain gear and warm clothes and no doubt the conditions would make the reward of the soaking in the Kurama Onsen even more decadent – it did.) Perhaps the title of this post should be : “Hike, get soaked and then soak.”
It didn’t take me long to explore the quaint, tiny hamlet of Kibune. In the heavy rain, few people were out and all the buildings seemed sealed tight against the elements. The only exception was the Kibune-jinja Shrine on the left hillside near the road.
Apparently there are some amazing restaurants in Kibune with open dining platforms that extend over the rushing river below. Sadly, not today. After I checked the shrine out, I walked down steps, crossed the street, and walked over the river on the vermilion bridge to the trail head.
After paying the ~$3 entrance fee to the attendant in the little gate house and being warned of treacherous, muddy trail conditions, I cinched up my rain jacket hood and set out. (The attendant did not stop me or tell me that the trail was closed so I figured it would just be a muddy, slippery slog that would make me appreciate the onsen at the end even more – it did.) The hike is a mere 3.9km / 2.4 miles, but the mud and slippery conditions made what would have been a 40 min walk, much longer. It’s single track through the forest with Shinto shrines to discover along the way. You’ll know you’ve reached Kurama when you encounter picturesque Kurama dera, Buddhist temple.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures on the trail as it was raining so hard, I didn’t dare take my camera out. At the trails end, you have just 1 kilometer to go to reach Kurama Onsen.
At the Onsen, you have the option of soaking in an indoor spa or outdoor pool. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. (For scoop on Onsen etiquette, see my previous post on the Fukuzumiro Ryokan.)
I soaked in the serene, lush mountain scenery, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops on the leaves, watching the mist rise from the hot pool as the cool rain kissed my face and shoulders. I was transported to a different time, a different place, a different life. (Calgon eat your heart out.) And no, I don’t have pictures of this incredible setting – no cameras allowed for obvious reasons, but there are a couple of pictures on TripAdvisor…
Reluctantly leaving this scene behind, I enjoyed a sumptuous feast at the inn’s restaurant before returning by train to Kyoto.
Notes: You can hike the trail in either direction, but Kurama is a preferable end destination because it has more restaurants and is home to the Kurama Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and Onsen (hot spring/ bath house). Apparently, this is the easier direction as well. Highly recommend this as a half day , full day or over-nighter out of Kyoto.
I imagine these villages are even more scenic in the fall with the red maple leaves and in the summer, when everything is green and glimmering.
On October 22, Kurama has a Fire Festival is that involves men and children carrying torches. It is a rite of passage for the town’s youth. I’ve read this is so overrun with tourist now that it’s difficult to see anything due to crowds.
Held in November at various Inari shrines on different days, including Kibune, the Ohitaki rice harvest festival is a thanksgiving event.
Distance: Relatively easy 3.9km / 2.4 miles – not quite as easy when muddy & slippery.
Getting there: It’s just a 30 minute train ride to Kibune via the Eizan Electric Railway from Demachiyanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto (each ~$4 one way). You can catch the Eizan Electric Railway train back in Kurama.
Top Pick: While I didn’t stay overnight at Kurama Ryokan, I can speak to my Onsen and restaurant experience, both of which were superb.