Things To Do in Kyoto 京都

Monday, July 04, 2016

Also known as the thousand year capital, Kyoto to me is the ultimate side-trip from Osaka if you want to experience old Japan. It is the land of geishas, countless temples and shrines, traditional Japanese gardens and houses, and other historical structures that survived the bombings during the war.

This is already my second time in Kyoto, so naturally I was craving for something new. But since it's the first time for both my travel buddies Pax and Sarah, I let them choose where we're going for our two-day Kyoto itinerary.

We chanced upon this list at the train station, the Word Art is on-point! Hehe.

It was also rainy the whole time we were there, as expected. The upside is that you can see so many of these beautiful hydrangeas (or Ajisai) flowers in almost all temples and sites that we visited. The Ajisai in Japan symbolizes that winter este.. summer is coming!

How to go to Kyoto from Osaka

We saw a bullet train from Osaka to Kyoto, but we still opted for the more affordable regular train (560 Yen / Php 252). Travel time is around 30 minutes only via JR Railway towards Kanazawa. Drop off is at Kyoto Station.

Going around Kyoto

Throughout our two-day stay, we only maximized Kyoto's railway system. Sarah said she saw bus stops right outside Kyoto Station, something to consider next time.

During our tour, we always ask directions from the person manning the counter. One time, they even printed out the complete stops and transfers for us to our destination! Hightech!

Even with just two lines, it was in Kyoto where we got lost! We were on our way back to our guest house, rode the train heading to the right direction, when suddenly it skipped several stations including our stop! I was looking through the window, and it was nothing but pitch black outside. KATAKOT! We went out on the next stop, and navigated our way back by asking the train personnels again, before the subway closes. Magastos i-Taxi parang ang layo na namin! 

So make sure to double check before riding a train, it turns out we rode the express train na nag-sskip ng stations!

Our Guesthouse in Kyoto

We booked our guesthouse via Airbnb, where Pax stumbled upon this treasure. Located in Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto-Fu, we stayed in a traditional tatami-style Japanese room where the group only paid Php 4600+ (or Php 1500+ per head) for two nights.

Like any place in Kyoto, our guesthouse has a nice, old Japan vibe. To add to its traditional traits, it is located right next to a public bathhouse!

The Down-Side:
- It is a far walk to the train station (Emmachi)
- Not so clean, Sarah and Pax said nangati sila sa bed sheets
- Even restrooms are not so clean, but bearable.
- You have to go down to use the public toilet / bath
- Patay ang area sa gabi
- Thin walls, minor kwentuhan can disturb people next room

The Up-Side:
- WiFi is fast
- Spacious
- Free coffee in the common room
- There's a walking distance Lawson minimart
- Japanese tatami experience, sliding doors, wooden windows, and all!
- Super affordable, worth the price

View the listing HERE.

The clean room next door (before it had occupants):

Our actual room, hehe!

Now that we're done with the basics, off we go to explore Kyoto!

A Curry Cafe

During our first day, with super jumbled itinerary, we went out just in time for lunch. It was rainy on our way to the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, then we saw this quaint guesthouse with a cafe. 


I call it the curry cafe because they only serve, well, curry! From chicken, to beef, and even vegetarian. It's not even Japanese curry, but more of Indian. It went well with the Japanese rice. Sarah said it's a taste she will not easily forget.

Social media time! Hehe.
Visit for more information on Gojo Guest House.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple 清水寺

I remember getting lost looking for the Kiyomizu-dera Temple last year with my Ate, because we opted to go there at night for the illumination. A Buddhist temple, Kiyomizu-Dera is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Kiyomizu-Dera Temple at night:

For this trip though, with time constraints, we went there early on our first tour day.

There's a crowded road lined with souvenir shops heading to the temple:

And on the other side is a less crowded road. This was where we saw a stall that offers to carve your name in wood using traditional Japanese writing (Kanji):

Mine and Sarah's. I had one made with wood from a cherry blossom tree!

Sarah also bought Japanese porcelain bells from one of the stores. Everything looks intricately handmade.

Even though I have been to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, there's still so much to experience in the compound. One of this is Pax's discovery through reading blogs - The Zuigu-do.

Usually ignored by tourists heading to the famous temple, the Zuigu-do is a memorable, and more solemn experience to me out of all the temples we went to for this trip. We were required to pay 100 Yen to enter, were given these plastic bags so we can take off our shoes, and then went down the stairs that you can see at the left of this photo.

I went in first. I had no expectations, and didn't realize I had to stay close to the hand-rails. The path was suddenly pitch-black. As I went in further, and close to having a combination of claustrophobia and panic attack, I realized that the one-sided handrails were formed as if they were prayer beads.

So we were walking barefooted, in the dark, air was cold, while holding on to these giant Buddhist beads. I decided to close my eyes and pray.

After that, we headed straight to the Kiyomizu-dera and had our usual photos taken.

A scary trivia: During the Edo period, it was a tradition that if one were to survive a 13m jump from Kiyomizu's stage, then his wish would be granted. There's a 234 recorded jumps, where 85% survived! Good thing bawal na siya ngayon, that would have been crazy!

We also passed by the Otowa waterfall, where visitors can drink water believed to grant wishes:

Encountered around two restaurants on our way out:

Final souvenir before leaving the vicinity. These are either prayer or fortune cards, but the writings were in Japanese so I just took a photo of it. Before leaving, we wrapped the paper around designated bars, then walked away from the souvenir shop.

Gion 祇園

Gion is Japan's Geisha district, a memorable area from my last year's trip where my sister and I caught a Geiko (Kyoto's local term for Geisha) on her way to work.

It is now a popular tourist destination where you can spot Geikos and Maiko (geisha apprentices) just by strolling around the streets from 6pm onwards. To spot the difference between a Geiko and Maiko, the former wears a wig while the latter style their hair naturally and with more ornaments.

A couple dressed in kimono while strolling around Gion:

Gion is also lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, mostly converted into expensive restaurants. There are wide streets and narrow alleys, so we decided to just go around since the area is not that big.

I remembered going down this road the last time I was in Gion, before encountering the legit Geiko:

Gion's popular Hanami-Koji Street where we passed through. TAKE NOTE OF THIS STREET GUYS. We had no idea, but this turned out to be a right move.

Rules and etiquette when encountering a Geiko or Maiko. They usually brisk walk to avoid the cameras of tourists, so it is just right to not stop them or directly point your camera to them as these are deemed rude.

We stopped our strolling for a while, almost hopeless to bump into a Geisha. We saw the Gion Center, which turns out to be Kyoto's cultural and arts theater.

I turned around, and then spotted.. A REAL LEGIT MAIKO! ("Sarah! Tabi!" Haha).

Clueless si Kuya, hahaha!

Out of excitement, we went inside with the crowd, and learned that you can watch Maiko dance (among many other performances) at the Gion Corner. It was a spontaneous decision, but a good one!

Beside the line is a mini gallery where you can see the hair accessories worn by Maiko:

Ticket price is at 3150 Yen (or Php 1417).

This is how the theater looks like. It was filled with tourists; market is mostly at their 30s and above.

They allow photos and videos during the show, yey! But madalas may nagaaway pag may tumatayo to take photos. Medyo nakakatawa kasi we were the younger ones na sa group, but sila pa ang war freak! Haha, guys, chill!

Aside from the Maiko Dance, we also witnessed 6 other snippets of traditional Japanese performing arts:

Tea Ceremony:

Flower Arrangement + Koto Zither:

Kyogen Theater (Comedy)

Bunraku Puppet Theater:

Gagaku Court Music:

And of course, the Kyo-mai Dance - an elegant performance by Maiko Dancers in beautiful dresses:

The Maiko in purple is the same one we bumped into at the entrance! Hehe!

There are different time slots, so make sure to check their website if you're planning to watch! It lasts for about an hour. A visit at the Gion Corner is new to me, so I enjoyed it as a one-time thing. In a way, it's a different exposure to Gion and Japan's rich culture.

Photo op at the stage after the program:

It was night time when we went out, perfect timing for dinner. I was hoping to have a meal with Geishas (Can't get enough! Haha!), but sadly most of these restaurants are by reservations or too expensive for my budget. Sarah and I opted for one of the wooden machiya merchant houses. We walked around Gion to spot the perfect one, but it's so hard to judge since all houses just look alike - and you can't even see what's going on inside.

We went for this place because they have vegetarian set in their menu:

The place looks cozy and neat. It is like entering a Japanese movie! In sight are wood interiors and furnitures, calming yellow lights, and Japanese decors:

Sarah was super excited and enthusiastic about the whole dining experience! She ran upstairs right away. We were still guessing if a Geisha will serve us our dinner, but there are no signs of them in the restaurant, huhu.

All good, though! Upstairs are two rooms with this wonderful set-up. I am ready for my meal!

I had the Vegetarian Dinner, while Sarah had the Tempura Dinner set. It seems expensive at 4000 Yen, but converted into Peso I just paid Php 1800 for this authentic Kaiseki Ryori experience in Gion, no less!

A pleasant lady in kimono served us our dishes. She was very graceful, setting down our trays was like an art form on its own!

Our multi-course cuisine, or kaiseki:

A centuries old tradition, the kaiseki multi-course Japanese dinner has a prescribed order to the dishes. Preparation for each uses common techniques of Japanese cooking. For my vegetarian set, I had differently cooked tofu, vegetable tempura, and Japanese rice. Finished everything with tea.

Honestly, I can't identify everything that I ate, haha! But down to the dessert--everything's lovely!

Kept their calling card for future reference. The restaurant is called Gion Mitoko. 

When Sarah and I went out, she told me how nice it is to just stand there in the middle of Gion, people watch, and enjoy the good overcast weather in old Japan. Right there and then, another Maiko passed by in front of us. We were too stunned to take a decent photo. The whole Gion experience felt other-worldly, and with another Maiko sighting, it felt that our mission in this district has already been fulfilled.

Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社

The next day, we went to one of Kyoto's popular tourist destinations: the Fushimi Inari Shrine,  dedicated to Inari - the Shinto god of rice. This is the land of thousands of orange torii gates, a long pathway leading up to the wooded forest of Mount Inari. Nobody I knew really went all the way to the top of the mountain, a glimpse of the torii gates is enough.

Even the Fushimi Inari Station is decorated to resemble the orange torii gates:

Had delicious omurice in a nearby restaurant:

Fushimi Inari is indeed a tourist destination, ang daming tao when we went there. A lot went in their rented kimonos, as the compound is a good backdrop for your photo ops. 

Make a wish! I can't imagine how many prayers are said in Fushimi Inari everyday.

Prayers are expressed in different forms: From wooden planks to miniature torii gates, crane origami, written in papers attached to lanterns, and clanging of bells.

But the highlight, of course, is going through the torii gates. These are donated by businesses, thus the donor's name and date are inscribed on each gate. A small sized torii starts at 400,000 Yen!

Arashiyama 嵐山

When you ask for Kyoto tips, I doubt that not one will mention Arashiyama. Now also a tourist destination along with Fushimi Inari, Arashiyama is a bigger compound that houses the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge), Tenryuji Temple, Iwatayama Monkey Park, and their popular bamboo groves - our first agenda.

The Bamboo Forest Trail:

Saw more hydrangeas during the long walks:

A strong rickshaw worker pulling tourists around the bamboo grove. I can't imagine taking this mode of transportation, nahihirapan ako for kuya!

Also met two cute furry friends during our trek. One is a sleepy fat cat balancing in this thin log fence:

And the other is a furry white Akita (?) in a bicycle's basket:

And a Ghibli-ish railway, surrounded by greeneries:

A Japanese cemetery:

Stop-over in Kaede Cafe, found in the middle of Arashiyama's trail!

I was expecting a tea and mochi menu, but they actually serve one of the yummiest cheese pizza!!! After the walkathon, we finished two plates, hehe!

Jojakko-Ji Temple is a surprise turn of event during our Arashiyama tour. I was half expecting that the group will decide to go home after seeing the bamboo forest, but I am glad they were game to check out this less touristy site.

Entrance is at 400 Yen, they close at 5pm.

Jojakko-Ji is a 1596 temple in the mountainside, surrounded by maple trees and moss-filled upward pathways. We all want our photos in every corner, but sa dami ng maganda, you'll realize na "quota na ako sa picture!"

It is easy to go around the compound, an hour is enough time to explore the pagoda, temple, and the view from the top. What I like about our visit was the serene and quietness of the area at that time. The potted bonsai and hydrangeas are also beautiful - maple trees can be found everywhere. I imagine this as a destination for autumn.

We even saw a preview of fall through this lone tree:

Manhole cover with maple leaves design on our way back to the train station:

In this Kyoto tour, I think I had to go back to almost ALL same places I've been to already during my last trip in 2015. But with this I was lead to new travel realizations: To find the Gion Mitoko in Gion, the The Zuigu-do in Kiyomizu, and the Jojakko-Ji in Arashiyama. In short, to open my eyes and find the new in the old.

You'll never explore a place so extensively in one trip, that you won't find anything exciting in it when you go back. I guess it's still a matter of perspective? Also, this taught me to be more selfless. In traveling, people usually just care for what they want to see or do. But through this trip, I find joy in experiencing something preferred by others, or the old as if it's the first time again through the eyes of my friends. I guess it's called maturity in traveling? Haha!

The world is a big and beautiful place, and I can't get enough of it! I hope to have more travels soon, and I hope you find a bit of inspiration to go out there also - even with this long, exhausting post! :D

Next up, all roads lead to Tokyo!
To be continued...

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  1. Day made with this post. Thanks bff!

    1. Thank you Bff, comments mean a lot - Writing machine uli ako! Hehe

  2. naiyak ako when i started reading about gion. i remember the feeling of just standing there. wow talaga. its only now, after reading about it again, that i realized how strong its impact on me was and yes zuigo do. one of the best experiences of my life.

    1. Hahaha on period or wala, IT IS one of the best experiences we had in Japan! Ang saya :) <3

  3. or baka period lang kaya emotional ako, 2nd day e. hahaha jk


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