Kyoto, Japan

Man holding flag during Gion Festival

I really looked forward to my trip to Kyoto, especially because it started off with a ride on Japan’s Shinkansen, or bullet train. Expensive as hell, but totally worth the experience and the speed. The trip took about two hour, with the train reaching speeds of hundreds of kilometres per hour as we blasted through the Japanese countryside.

Boarding the Shinkansen

Boarding the Shinkansen at Tokyo Station

Upon arrival in Kyoto I headed straight to my hostel, a place called The Millennials Kyoto. Their standout features are the fantastic common meeting space on the top floor, the free beer hour every night, and the fact that each person gets an iPod Touch that controls their lights, fan, and even their bed angle. Futuuuuuuuuure

The Millennials Kyoto

My pod at The Millennials Kyoto

I got the opportunity to meet some super fun people while I was there. It’s amazing how free beer can bring people together! We grabbed an awesome dinner as a group, I think it must have been my third night? Regardless, we went to a place just down the street Chao Chao Gyoza Shijo Kawaramachi (say that 10 times fast!), where you order lots of small dishes. It honestly seemed like we were ordering an endless supply of food, we were so hungry!

Dinner at Chao Chao Gyoza Shijo Kawaramachi

Group selfie! Thanks for the great dinner guys

Kyoto was relatively untouched during World War II, so lots of its cultural heritage has been preserved, which makes for some fantastic visits to local temples and shrines. I especially want to highlight three of the ones I got the chance to see.

The first is Kinkaku-ji, meaning “Temple of the Golden Pavilion.” It is probably one of the most famous temples in all of Japan, and deservedly so. The primary building is covered in pure gold leaf and surrounded by water and woodland, making for a beautifully serene viewing experience. Despite the relatively large number of people, I didn’t feel that anyone was jostling to get photos, but maybe that’s just because the temple is gorgeous from any angle.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji over the water

I would have loved to spend more time there, but I had a tight schedule as I had booked a tea ceremony at Koto Tea Ceremony. Not only that, but I arrived at the temple later than I expected due to roads being closed for the city’s annual Gion Matsuri, or Gion Festival!

The next shrine I visited was another internationally renowned attraction, Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. The shrine is famous for its many, many thousands of orange torii, or gates, that visitors walk through. Even the small prayer locations off the main path had miniature gates on them! There were lots of tourists (and some locals) clamouring to get photos, but I found a 40 minute hike that fewer people seemed to be doing, especially since it was so hot and sunny that day. The hike took me to the top of a small mountain, which provided an amazing view over the city of Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

Gazing out over Kyoto at the beginning of the hike near Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

The final place I want to call out is Kennin-ji Temple. Still used day to day by local monks, this temple features various rock gardens, as well as a building with a painting of twin dragons on the ceiling. This was a much less touristy place than the other two mentioned above, and as such was so much quieter. We were given sandals to walk around in, so as to not track dirt into the temple, and exploring the grounds while it rained lightly outside proved to be a very relaxing experience.

Kennin-ji Temple

Who knew a pile of rocks could be so mesmerizing?

And that’s most of it! I did other things here and there while visiting Kyoto, including a day trip to Nara, but I won’t go into all the little details here. Instead, you can check out my experiences in Nara, or move ahead to the last city on my Japan itinerary - Osaka!

Want more? Check out an overview of my Japan trip here!

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