Kyoto: the Western Capital

This morning we woke up late and we realised that we forgot to describe what happened yesterday after we arrived in Kyoto.

After checking in our nice Airbnb in Gion we decided to go out and have dinner, since we’re always hungry as you already know from our previous posts.

Our room for the upcoming 4 nights
Toilet with sink on top

We walked around Gion and eventually ended up in the Geisha district close by. We had the chance to see some of them walking around, taking taxis or getting off them. Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures since it is prohibited in that district, but believe me they really are beautiful creatures.

As for dinner, we decided to follow a blog article from Inside Kyoto which suggested a sushi place called Ganko sushi.
Even though the place looked quite touristic, we spotted a lot a locals when inside. Sara was exhausted and took a child menu with grilled eel, while I went with a adult sushi set.

Antonio’s sushi set
Sara’s children menu
Detail of Japanese Sushi

On the way home we stopped on the Family Mart just below our apartment to buy something to chew in the morning for breakfast. As we hit the bed Sara fell immediately asleep while I stayed awake until 2 to write the previous post.

When we woke up we had nothing planned. Kyoto is said to contain the essence of Japan and we didn’t even know what the main attractions are beside the thousands gates in Fushimi Inari.

Walking towards the Kyoto station to catch the Nara line to Fushimi Inari, we noticed an huge pagoda, so we took a detour.

The huge pagoda ended up being one of the most important attractions of Kyoto, the Ninenzaka temple complex.
The road is an imperial era shopping street. Is narrow, crowded, and with hundreds of little shops on the sides exposing their stuff. To make matters worst, a legend has it that if you slip and fall, you’ll be dead in 2 or 3 years.

We sweetened the pill with some matcha and sesame ice cream

We’ve never been so carefull while walking a street.
We paid our 100¥ (90 euro cents) each to visit a sort of underground level of a minor shrine. The tour was in complete darkness. We felt totally blind, in the sense that we had to find our way out in a pitch black corridor until you find a sacred stone. When you finally find it you have to touch it and make a wish, and when you go up the stairs it’s said you have been reborn.

After this mystical experience, we went to the main shrine. Useless to say, we didn’t feel reborn at all.

Small pagoda next the shrine

We moved to the main shrine. We initially thought it was still under renovation, but the forest of vertical and horizontal trunks around the temple were actually part of it.

The “work in progress” bamboo structure

Among the tourist, there were lots of student groups visiting the site. We were stopped by a group a group of them. Shily they asked if they could ask some questions, and we agreed with no hesitation.
They asked us where we are from, and to tell them things about our city. And told us something about theirs. When we were done, to thank us for the time we dedicated them, they offered us a present: a small plastic fun with a message written in one side.

So sweet…
We decided to try heading to our initial destination again, and on the way we bumped to another main Kyoto attraction!

This is the biggest torii we’ve seen we are in Japan

It is said to be the Vatican for every Buddhist monk, what a luck! Kyoto has more than 1600 shrines, so it’s very easy to find some on your way to something else.

Heian Shrine

The shrine is Chion-in inside Maruyama Park. We were welcomed by some female monks and invited to see some kind of ceremony inside a smaller temple.

The Sanmon, gate to Heian Shrine

Inside there was a monk repeating some mantra, such a shame we didn’t get a word of what he was saying, but the old lady sitted next to us looked very absorbed.

We then wandered inside the park for a while, visiting Heian Shrine, eventually ending our walk at the station.
This means it’s Inari timeeeeee!

But first, snack with a jumbo pork bun…

The icon of Kyoto, and maybe the most crowded place of all the city!

Believe me or not, this is the first (and probably the last) attraction in Japan we didn’t have to pay to enter.

It felt like taking a tourist shower and then entering a tourist steam bath with a hiking course in it.

The number of people attracted by this place is amazing. Especially if you think that half the visitors won’t even make it to the top of the mountain.

Before starting the torii walk we were greeted by to big Kitsune (fox) statues.

Kitsune at the entrance of the thousand gates

A little digression

The Kitsune statues guarding the entrance of a Inari Shrine are always two, a male and a female. These statues always hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw, and are highly individual in nature: it is said that no two are quite the same in all Japan.

Down the Torii’s path

I won’t lie here: getting to the top was hard. We walked, we panted, we sweated, we rested. Again, and again, and again. The entire path is no more than 4.5km long, but with thousands and thousands of steps, and with each step different in size to the previous, it was a nightmare.

The only thing that kept us walking was the mistic beauty of the gates towering the path.

This is where the torii are cultivated

Once in a while we would spot a small shrine on the side of the path, all of them adorned with small torii. I like to think they are there just to give an excuse to the exhausted visitor to take a break from the main path.

Halfway to the top there is a resting area with some benches giving the breathless peregrine the chance to rest while watching the city of Kyoto. From this point, the main path forks in two, going around the mountain and forming a loop reaching the highest walkable point.

In total it took 45 minutes to track the view point, and another 30 minutes to walk the loop, at a leisurely pace.

Despite not offering much in scenic view, the loop is highly recommended to those who wants to enjoy the Inary walk in the quiteness of the forest.

We got back to the view point just in time for the sunset. As it was really crowded at that time, we looked for a better place to enjoy the moment.

Sunset over Kyoto

Just behind a small shrine, which looked more like a maze of rocks and pillars, we found a short path that took us to a elevated point from which the entire city was visible.

The view from there was something amazing. Hit by the rays of the setting sun, the rooves glittered like gold, while the sky changed colours from blue, to gold, to red.

Torii walk by night

Before the sun set completely we left as we felt some drops of rain. On the way down the path was almost completely empty and we took our chance to take pictures of the torii in the dusklight.

Shameless torii selfie
Unusual view of the torii

To finish our tiring day we decided to give a try to tripadvisor again, going to one of the best ramen in town. Apparently also Chinese people use tripadvisor a lot, so we had to queue for a while before getting in.

We didn’t get a word of what the menu offered, so we ordered according to the most appealing pictures. We ordered a ginormous ramen with pork slices and a medium one with bamboo sticks.

Special large menu for me, medium for Sara

Antonio mistakenly ordered almost one liter of Asahi, for just 600¥.

Well… It is not gonna drink itself

Drunkenly satisfied we walked the 30 minutes home. As soon as we touched the mattress we fell asleep.

Tomorrow Nara.

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