Kyoto is renowned for its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, tranquil gardens and elusive Geisha – offering a quieter side to Japan after two frenetic weeks in Tokyo.
Part of the joy of visiting Kyoto from Tokyo is riding the bullet train. ‘Shinkansen’ trains epitomise Japanese efficiency, zipping along at 320 kilometres per hour. They are also insanely good-looking.
We arrived at Tokyo station with just enough time to grab a tasty bento box for the ride. Bento boxes are an upscale Japanese lunchbox, perfect for hungry travellers. Delicious bento places are dotted all around the station, and it sure beats crisps and an apple as far as travel snacks go.
We get to our platform and the gleaming white Shinkansen positively slinks in – on time, of course – to greet us. Bullet trains are renowned for offering a world class service – fast, punctual and super-efficient. In just over two hours, we arrive at our destination.
Kyoto is old-world Japan and quickly charms with its rich traditional Japanese culture, from zen gardens to majestic temples.
When we arrive, busloads of tourists are spilling out to witness the famous Kyoto changing leaves, heralding the arrival of Fall.
Near the Gion district, home to Japan’s few remaining Geisha, is the Ryozen Kannon Temple. Here a 1.5 metre giant Buddha sits atop a lotus throne – a memorial to the fallen on both sides of the Pacific in World War II.
There are over 1,000 temples in Kyoto, making it hard to narrow down choices. Day two, we head to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
This is a dramatic and impressive temple – thousands of blood red Torii gates along the mountainside marking the presence of sacred ground.
The gates create a blood-red tunnel that takes three to four hours to trek through on foot. Shrines and shops along the way offer rest stops for quiet reflection, souvenirs and food.
Our final port of call in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, the ‘golden pavilion’. This Zen Buddhist temple gleams in golden splendour.
It’s reflection shimmers gently in a peaceful pond reminding me of the tale of Narcissus – a vain river god’s son who wasted away gazing at his own watery reflection.
The temple suffered a similar grisly fate in the 14th century when it was torched by a young, apparently schizophrenic, monk who believed such beauty should not exist. It has since been fully restored to its former golden glory.
We’ve spent nearly a month in Japan, absorbing its fascinating culture, both past and present. However, the bullet train back to Tokyo is calling and its nearly time to move on.
There’s so much to see and do in Kyoto, we only had time to scratch the surface. Tell me – what are your favourite spots to visit?