Kyoto is the favorite city of many adventuring around Japan. The old capital is a charming city bringing some of the best scenery, modern city living, ancient temples, arts, culture and food together in one place. We stayed in Kyoto for a week, attempting to time our stay with the peak of the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. Instead the sakura came around four days later than expected, but still in time for us to capture it at it’s best towards the end of our stay.
Our first stop was the Golden Pavilion, a short walk from our awesome accommodation in Northern Kyoto. It’s a beautiful sight and the building is maintained daily before the crowds arrive, painstakingly ensuring the pavilion is at its golden best. This isn’t just a shiny paint, it’s actual gold leaf applied in a way that I have not yet comprehended. As you can see, it’s also really busy. Anecdotally it’s best to come as the gates open in the morning.
My favorite shot from Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) was of a small stone pagoda on an island behind the temple. I observed this scene for a while, noting a cormorant that was in the water. I hoped that the cormorant might come into the composition and I was not disappointed! It flew straight to this rock, posed for a moment, and then flew off once more.
Shiba Inu are adorable but also have strong protective instincts. This one thought maybe I looked a little shady! Or perhaps it doesn’t like photographers =P The Lady laughed off the situation and moved her pup on.
Arashiyama bamboo grove is a must-do in Kyoto, however it’s incredibly crowded. Unfortunately we weren’t too well, so organising a visit here at first light was out of the question, but what I would recommend for anyone wanting to take classic shots of the area. Because it was so busy I focused more on what was going on above the crowds and my first shot taken in infrared.
Our hosts Isao and Kana took us to a special annual ceremony which symbolises the start of the sakura season at local Hirano Temple. The temple is a 17-century Shinto shine on a site established in 794. That’s one of the things I love Kyoto, that the old and new are so blended, and that the old is from a time so beyond our experiences.
Kyoto is great for street scenes and photography. Many of the houses and old shops are full of character.
There are temples everywhere, leading to the term ‘temple fatigue’, which describes travelers becoming tired of seeing temples! It’s possible I guess, but there is so much to see and visits to temples can be mixed in with many other activities.
A visit to ‘the smallest museum in Kyoto’ is an interesting experience! We ate cake while sitting in a room choc-full of fine art reproductions from all styles, genres and eras of art, mashed together. I love this eclectic side of Japan.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is without a doubt the most popular shrine in Kyoto. It’s famous for its thousands of Tori gates, positioned in various configurations all the way up the mountain where you are greeted with views over Kyoto. I recommend coming an hour before sunset, walking up the mountain and enjoying the sunset, and then making your way down by lantern light in the dark. Probably wouldn’t hurt to bring a torch for your own peace of mind too! Lighting is available on the main paths but it’s not exactly bright and it would be easy to misstep.
Photos from the Yasaka area of Kyoto, well known for its pagoda and old town feel.
Random scenes from near the Kamo river nearby Yasaka, including the white tiled entry way to the train station.
Kasuga-taisha was one of my favorite places in Japan, at least as an animal lover. The temple, over 1300 years old, sits behind the Nara Park area which is famous for its deer. Don’t be tempted to stick around in the park however. Most of the deer there are well fed and relatively disinterested. If you want to interact more with furry friends then a pack of deer crackers (or more!) and a walk from the temple up the mountain is very worthwhile.
It’s true that the deer here are conditioned to bow for the special deer biscuits, and although it’s novel, I found myself a little saddened that the deer were so physically conditioned to acting against their nature for food. It was clear that they did not understand the gesture they were making, as the deer would bow over and over and over in the hope of food. Still, the deer are in good health and the surroundings are beautiful and well worth visiting.
Walking along the Philosopher’s Path is one of the premier cherry blossom spots in Kyoto. It’s lined with small boutiques, restaurants and a few temples, making it a worthwhile walk.
A gentleman from Kyoto feeds local cats, which often find themselves living around Kyoto’s temples and public spaces. His generosity helps the cats stay in relatively good health.
Close up of the detailing on one of Kyoto’s temple buildings.
Youth meets tradition. Kimono hire is hugely popular in Kyoto. Kimonos and services around them such as photography are a huge business.
People take photos at the old aquaduct near Nanzen-Ji. It’s a great place to people watch as the public interpret the aquaduct and take photos in their individual ways. The archways also provide a layered effect.
This is an area of Nanzen-Ji that is pay-to-access. I think it was around 800yen which was well worth it for the preservation of the garden, as well as some peace away from the crowds!
Finally our lovely hosts Isao and Kana took us out for the sakura festival, now in full bloom, at the Hirano shrine before we left. It’s really quite beautiful and you can see why hanami (flower watching) and eating festival food under a canopy of cherry blossom is so popular, and a part of the Japanese culture and lifestyle.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Kyoto and Japan in general, be sure to read Ten ways traveling Japan surprised me, linked below.