Kyoto & Miyajima

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After short visits to Hikone and Mount Koya, I looked forward to a longer stay in Kyoto. The weather forecast for the four days promissed two sunny days followed by a strong typhoon. As I have never seen a typhoon before I was looking forward to watching it from the window of my comfortable hotel room while taking a day off. I also planned a visit of one, or a few, legendary cat cafes. However, the typhoon didn’t hit Kyoto very strongly and I was able to spend all four days sightseeing.

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Inari

My first destination was Inari. Located south-east of Kyoto, some 30 minutes on the city bus, Inari is famous for a thousand torii gates winding up to Mount Inari. Inari is also the name of my favourite kind of sushi, a rice ball in tofu skin, which, as I discovered, comes from here. So I couldn’t resist having a quick lunch before hiking up to the mountain. In a small japanese-style restaurant, I ate the best inari sushi ever while conteplating how my boyfriend will be jealous when I tell him about it because he loves this kind of sushi so much.

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According to Trip Advisor, Inari is the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto. And it truly is beautiful. The torii gates wind up to the mountain top, allowing for at least one hour walk. Heaps of tourists visit the place, including many young Japanese women dressed in traditional yukatas or kimonos – a beautiful fashion trend that I have seen all around Kyoto. I visited the mountain during “rush hour” on summer Sunday afternoon. Yet it was easy to take many beautiful photos of the gates undisturbed by the crowds.

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Half way to the top I took a well deserved break at a traditional tea house. Having already taken too many photos and sweating in 30+ Celsius, I decided to walk back down. It might have been nice to climb the whole hill, but I wanted to be back in town for sunset. On the way down I took even more photos and admired the gates, small shrines scattered along the path and little gates on those shrines. Orange gates are just everywhere, guarded by statues of foxes – patrons of the hill. However, I also happened to meet a first cat on my trip through Japan – a sign which I took seriously and decided to visit a little cat cafe below the hill.

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Cat Cafe Time

Japan is famous for cat cafes – and you can find many in any major city. Although I planned this for another day, I already missed my cat so much that couldn’t resist visiting Neko Café TiME conveniently located just below the hill. Their cats are adorable and the environment relaxing and sweet. If you love cats, it’s a purrfect place to stay and difficult to leave :-)

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Kiyomizu-dera

How many times in life do you visit two places in one day so awesome that you can’t decide which was better? Enter Kiyomizu-dera, a temple complex overlooking Kyoto.

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If you only have one sunset in Kyoto, Kyomizu-dera is the place to go. Not far from the city centre, it is easily reachable and offers stunning views. The most famous part of the complex, a temple with wooden terrace overlooking the city, is just undergoing some reconstructions but with sunset hour coming up, it was full of tourists anyway. Even more interesting were the orange pagodas and gates that looked like on fire in the evening golden light.

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The walk down from the hill goes through historic streets, mostly filled with souvenier shops which, just like the temple complex, close down after sunset. Don’t rush and the crowds will soon disappear, leaving the streets mystical and romantic. With enough patience and the right equipment, you can get a private date with the Yasaka Pagoda.

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Arashiyama

Kyoto is a city of temples and gardens. So where to go first? In the following days, excited about the previous locations, I decided to follow the crowd and visit places popular on Trip Advisor and various online guides. With mixed success.

The famous Arashiyama Bamboo Groove and Tenryu-ji Temple were both quite a dissapointment. The Tenryu-ji garden was cute, but much smaller than I expected. The famous lake photo is really all you can see there. The neighbouring bamboo groove was crowded with Chinese tourists and not too impressive either. Perhaps in early morning or late evening the atmosphere would be different. But to me, it just seemed small and colourless.

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Frustrated at the end of the Bamboo Groove I noticed an entrance to another garden where noone was heading. A quick online search told me that the Okochi Sanso garden has some beautiful views, plus tea and cake included in the ticket. And it turned out to be one of the best gardens I have seen in Kyoto. It was super silent, with almost no guests, and it was much larger than most temple gardens. It’s actually a private garden that belonged to a deseased actor who was a follower of zen buddhism. The garden thus has similar style as zen temple gardens, with the grounds covered with silky green moss. The path takes you uphill to a nice terrace overlooking Kyoto. And back down at the teahouse, not only you get a delicious tee and cake but also a direct view into the bamboo groove, without all the tourists.

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Northern & Eastern Kyoto

The Golden Pavilon, Kinkaku-ji, in northern Kyoto is perhaps the most iconic shrine in all Japan. It’s beautiful and photographed by many. However, photographers face a challenge here because tripods are forbidden. You need to get creative to make a photo like this.

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It’s little brother, the Silver Temple (Ginkaku-ji) never got its silver coating as planned. It’s beautiful anyway, located in a zen garden in north-east Kyoto. The famous Philosopher’s Path connects it to another beautiful area full of temples and gardens, such as Nanzen-ji and Konchi-in. I wish I had gotten up earlier and had the time to see all of them. This area is not at all crowded and very relaxing. You can also visit an ancient but still funcional water viaduct. All these gardens are supposed to get even more beautiful in autumn when leaves turn red. A good reason to come back again.

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The garden of the Heian Shrine offers scenic views of a lake promenade.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row admin_label=”Row” make_fullwidth=”on” use_custom_width=”off” width_unit=”on” use_custom_gutter=”on” gutter_width=”1″ padding_mobile=”off” allow_player_pause=”off” parallax=”off” parallax_method=”off” make_equal=”off” parallax_1=”off” parallax_method_1=”off” column_padding_mobile=”on”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_image admin_label=”Image” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” animation=”off” sticky=”off” align=”center” force_fullwidth=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” src=”http://hot-ice.eu/wp-content/uploads/japan-2015-527.jpg”] [/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row admin_label=”Row” make_fullwidth=”off” use_custom_width=”on” width_unit=”on” custom_width_px=”900px” use_custom_gutter=”off” padding_mobile=”off” allow_player_pause=”off” parallax=”off” parallax_method=”off” make_equal=”off” parallax_1=”off” parallax_method_1=”off” column_padding_mobile=”on”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]

Another lake is covered in lotus and you can enjoy them from a teahouse while eating a traditional green sponge cake.

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Culinary highlights

Food is delicious in Japan. Even the cheapest sushi from a supermarket tastes better than some “Japanese” food in Europe. Let me share an invitation to a sushi bar that I randomly visited and later found out that it’s very highly rated on Trip Advisor. Chojiro has an extensive sushi menu with any flavour you can imagine, and more. All fresh, made in front of you. It gets very crowded at night (people queueing all the way up to the street) but it’s easy to get in for lunch without waiting. With such great quality and prices, I never looked for another lunch place. (All the following photos are from Chojiro, except for the last one.)

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Miyajima

You shouldn’t leave Japan without visiting the Miyajima Island, the location of the famous Great Torii. It was my last stop before heading to the conference in Hiroshima.

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Many peple come here only for a day trip since it’s conveniently located only an hour from Hiroshima, but I wanted to stay overnight. My hotel was a bit dated but conveniently located just between the ferry and the gate. The island is primarilly a Japanese tourist destination, so forget about cash mashines and shops that accept European credit cards. Bring enough cash or you won’t be able to buy anything in the souvenier shops that line virtually all streets of the little village. They are fun to browse, I got a few fans and chopsticks here for a great price. What a great last day of my holiday.

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