Watch my Kyoto video here.
I stepped foot into Kyoto on the first day of the year. January 1st, 2017. This beautiful city is a hop, train ride and a bento box away from Tokyo and home to more than 400 Shinto shrines.
What I very soon found out is that Hatsumode festivities are held across Japan at the start of January which is a tradition for the first shrine or temple visit of the year. You’ll find streets foods, festive atmosphere, lucky charms and endless crowds at the shrines and temples around Kyoto during this time. What was really inspiring though was to know that I was surrounded by thousands of those wanting to make positive wishes for the new year ahead.
Fushimi Inari’s famously recognisable orange gateways are well worth the visit and in the first few days of the new year, can see more than 2 million people line up to get in. After a busy afternoon visit on the 1st, I snuck back again the next morning at 6am to witness this beautiful place without all the people.
There are more than 5000 of these orange vermilion torii gates that are spread up the mountain side. The shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century.
Nara Deer Park
A day trip from Kyoto, Nara is 40km away and was Japans first permanent capital which was established in the year 710.
This temple filled park is one of the most magical places i’ve ever stepped foot into. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure.
After wandering around and feeding crackers to the deer, I picked up lunch and too many cute souvenirs at the surrounding stalls. of all the places I visited in Japan, this was hands down my favourite.
Back in the middle of Kyoto, I loved wandering through the Shijo Kawaramachi area which has plenty of design and clothing stores and a real cafe culture. Two of my favourite brews were at Drip & Drop cafe underneath piece hostel and Kissa-Master which is located in the back of a men’s clothing shop on Sanjo Dori, just east of Teramachi. This tatami style cafe has sunken seating with big windows overlooking a Japanese style garden and the perfect place to rest tired legs.
Remaining well caffeinated, I explored the nearby Nishiki Food market which is a must for street food, shops and all the hustle and bustle. I kept myself busy here buying lots of little knick knacks and drooling over all the sweets. If you’re shopping here around New Years, you’ll see lots of Lucky Bags, traditionally known as Fukubukuro Bag, a Japanese New Years custom which is a sale bag and you’ll not know the contents until you buy it and open it. Stores of all different kinds do this- from beauty shops to tech stores and candy shops, too.
As the sun goes down and within wandering distance is Pontocho, a narrow, atmospheric alleyway running alongside the Kamogawa River which is lined with lanterns and restaurants. With most places opening from around 5pm, it’s a quaint area of Kyoto that I went back to after dinner every night of my three day stay here, just to soak up it’s charm.
Another area filled with bustle and just across the bridge from Pontocho is Gion, where tourists flock during dusk to spot Geishas on their way to work. The area has plenty of quaint homes, great shops and eats and a must try is Issen Yoshoku, who’s large a3 sized menu displays inside just one item- their infamous okonmiyaki. Served with worcestershire sauce and chopped onions, this is a Kyoto must try.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
If you’re wondering if all I did in Kyoto was eat and buy souvenirs in the shape of food, you’re not far from the truth. Aside from running around a supermarket like it was Disneyland and eating nearly everything in sight, I loved visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. This dreamy forest glimmers with dappled light and is an incredibly idyllic place, filled sound of leaves in the breeze and accents from all over the globe.
I spent a good couple of hours here wandering through the trees and loved the stroll back to the station through the township.
One of Kyoto's most famous shrine, I didn’t miss out on getting a glimpse of the Kinkakuji Shrine which means ’Temple of the golden pavilion’. It costs 400 yen to visit and the gardens surrounding the shrine itself are every little bit tranquil.
Kyoto was filled with everything I love- kind locals, charming laneways, too many cafes to fit into three days and street food for days. It’s rich in culture and history and a place that I can’t wait to come back to.