Kyoto is a fusion of antiquity and progression: ancient temples and Zen gardens are the fabric of this imperial capital of yesteryear, whilst the skyline is scattered with modern skyscrapers and complexes. Knowing full well that it would be impossible to see everything, only two more noteworthy attractions made it into our itinerary: Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the mesmerising hilltop Shinto shrine, and Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Golden Pavilion.
We set off early from K’s House Kyoto and arrived at Inari station a short train ride later. Hundreds upon hundreds of striking vermillion torii gates wound up the mountainside; Fushimi Inari-Taisha truly was a sight to behold.
Passing the opening shrines, we made our way towards the seemingly endless torii arches, engraved with kanji characters.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha predates Kyoto’s status as the imperial capital of Japan and is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Since foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers, numerous fox sculptures can be found across the hillside.
As it was still fairly early, we had sections entirely to ourselves – and the further up the hillside we went, the more the crowds thinned.
Alongside passing dozens of stone-carved foxes and trinket shops, we passed a particularly ridiculous group of people who were mewing at a cat perched on a rooftop. I mean, I love cats but… really? We weren’t the only ones who were confused by this behaviour, judging from the strange looks on the faces of other passers-by. Eventually, the torii gates cleared to reveal a panorama of Kyoto – a valley filled with a sprawling mass of skyscrapers interspersed with green spaces and age-old temples.
Following the torii-lined trails further into the dense woodland of Mount Inari, we bumped into a couple who had also stayed at Matsumoto Backpackers! The farthest part of the torii trail was almost devoid of visitors – so if you’re hoping to escape the crowds, it’s well worth sweating it out and walking a wee bit further uphill.
Hopping and skipping down the hillside, Laurence came a cropper, tripping over, tearing a large chunk of skin off his knee and twisting his ankle. Feeling more than a little embarrassed (and probably more so now), he picked himself up and limped down the hillside with blood trickling down his leg, attracting some curious looks en route. Sitting down at the bottom, several women came to his rescue offering plasters; you’d be hard-pushed to find more hospitable people than the Japanese when you’re in need of a helping hand.
In August, Kyoto’s subtropical climate is unforgiving. The relentless heat and stifling humidity had left us feeling a little worse for wear, so we decided to head back to the hostel, eat lunch and rest up before venturing out to Kinkaku-ji.
After checking the bus number with the hostel staff, we tootled off to Kyoto Station once again, this time bound for the most glorious temple I have ever set eyes on. Entry to this dazzling temple was ¥400 (£2.95) and it was most definitely worth it. Extravagant? Yes. Lavish? Certainly. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe this splendiferous structure.
Granted, you can’t go inside the temple, but that’s hardly an issue since it’s the exterior that’s worth writing home about. Smothered in gold leaf and glittering in the sunlight, Kinkaku-ji is a commanding sight and one that’s worthy of a spot in any Kyoto itinerary, if only to marvel at how Ashikaga Yoshimitsu had enough money to cover two-thirds of his retirement villa in gold leaf.
We then followed the path through the gardens – admittedly not as impressive as the temple itself – and saw lots of people trying (and mostly failing) to toss coins into a bucket. Contending with swarms of selfie-stick wielding tour groups and being hit in the face by someone’s umbrella spike were the only downsides, but such inconveniences are part and parcel of visiting one of Kyoto’s star attractions.
- To get to Fushimi Inari-Taisha, take a local train (as opposed to an express service) to Inari (JR Nara line); the journey costs ¥140 (£1.04) and takes approximately ten minutes.
- Several bus routes serve Kinkaku-ji; a forty minute ride on the n°205 from Kyoto Station set us back ¥230 (£1.71).