When Monday rolled round it was time to move on to our next destination: Kyoto. After an early alarm, a speedy automated checkout and a breakfast pastry we bought tickets for the 08:05 Thunderbird Ltd Express service to Kyoto. It wasn’t long before we arrived in the cultural centrepiece of Japan, home to hundreds of ornate temples and shrines, the former imperial palace and a horrifically humid sub-tropical climate.
After a short and sweaty walk to K’s House Kyoto we dropped off our luggage and paid for the postage of our umbrellas – we’d left them behind at K’s House Mt Fuji, but luckily they were happy to forward them on to Kyoto for us. Following our jubilant reunion with our umbrellas, we set off for a day’s temple-hopping.
We made a short detour via Hokoku-jinja Shrine to see a local market, before continuing up a street lined with stalls selling beautiful ceramics and pottery towards Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Up the hill we went, following hordes of tourists in the sweltering pre-midday heat to one of Japan’s most celebrated religious sites.
Though the gateways and shrines at the entrance to the complex were bright and colourful – vermillion, scarlet, ochre – the rest of the complex had a rather neutral colour palette, which I imagine is offset by the vivid autumnal hues at this time of year. At ¥400 (£3.10) the entry price was by no means expensive, but the heaving crowds made us reluctant to stick around for long.
Tiring of the crowds, we wandered off down Sannen-zaka, a charismatic street bordered by old wooden abodes, traditional tea houses and shops selling everything from chopsticks to matcha.
Laurence bought a small bottle of matcha – I wasn’t too keen on the aftertaste – before continuing to our next stop, Kodai-ji Temple. Having already explored one temple complex, we simply admired its exterior before moving on.
Lonely Planet’s Southern Higashiyama Walking Tour then led us to Isihibei-koji, reputed to be Kyoto’s most beautiful street. We felt it was a little bit of an exaggeration – indeed, when we reached the street we even consulted the map, convinced that it couldn’t possibly be referring to this rather nondescript pedestrianised street. It was pleasant enough, but it highlighted how accolades such as “most beautiful street in Kyoto/Japan” have the potential to set viewers up for disappointment.
As the afternoon was ticking by and our stomachs rumbling, we spent half an hour or so lunching in air-conditioned bliss before completing the temple tour. Passing through Yasaka-jinja Shrine, we strolled through Maruyama-kōen, a shaded oasis in the midst of Kyoto’s blistering summer sun. Having had our dose of temples for the day, we decided not to enter Chion-in, Shoren-in and Kennin-ji Temples; to avoid a severe case of temple-overload, I’d recommend identifying which temples pique your interest the most in advance so you can prioritise them effectively.
We ended the afternoon with a stroll through Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. It was teeming with tourists that were seemingly oblivious to oncoming traffic, so it was no surprise there were signs prohibiting selfie sticks!
En route back to our hostel we passed the street lined with craft shops again and decided to peruse the wares at length. After touring both sides of the entire street, we came away with plates and bowls for ourselves and a selection of hand-carved chopsticks for Laurence’s sister. We then briefly stopped at the hostel to move our belongings into our room, before setting off for Daiichi-Asahi, a recommendation of K’s House. Though there was a lengthy queue, the food was absolutely delicious – and they even had options for non-noodle munchers, i.e. me. Laurence had ramen with dumplings, while I opted for the roast pork (which was essentially Laurence’s ramen minus the noodles) – sadly we didn’t manage to fit in a return visit, but I’d highly recommend a trip there!
- The Japanese Thunderbird Ltd Express service offers both unreserved and reserved seating, with a notable price difference between the two. When we travelled from Kanazawa to Kyoto it was ¥6380 (£49.42) for unreserved vs. ¥7100 (£55) for reserved – since our journey began at the start of the line we saved ourselves a handy ¥720 and bought unreserved tickets.
- Located a stone’s throw from Kyoto’s main station, K’s House Kyoto is a budget-friendly hostel which is well-connected to the rest of the city; we paid ¥10,032 (£77.72) each for four nights in a four-bed dorm.