Japan – Kyoto North East

Today I ended up heading to the north east region of Kyoto with the intention of simply walking around and seeing what I found.  I’ve pretty much done away with the list of temples and shrines I want to hit and have decided it just more fun to bounce around a certain area of the city to see what it turns up!

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Heian Shrine

I ended up starting my journey at Heian shrine, to get there I ended up stumbling across a massive red torii gate, which apparently is one of the biggest in Japan!  The shrine itself was a few minutes walk ahead and the gateway stood out clearly as you approached.

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The shrine itself was very quite as I had arrived quite early in the morning, it almost felt deserted, strange for one of the most popular places in Kyoto.  Through the main gate was a huge open courtyard area, again fairly empty, but it gave a certain perspective of scale to the buildings.

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So far all of this access had been granted for free, the gardens however were about 500 yen.  I was actually a bit hesitant about going in as knowing that the Sakura still hadn’t bloomed I suspected there might not be a lot to see, however I took the hit and proceeded forward.

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The first few areas of the gardens were actually quite plain, just empty trees waiting for the Sakura to bloom, I can certainly imagine it will be impressive when they do.  Further through there were some nice large ponds, one of which had a really stylish walkway going across.  The water was clear and reflected the scenery well in the water, large koi carp fish swam happily up to greet me as well.

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The zoo area

After exiting Heian shrine I headed further east which led me to Kyoto Zoo, had I been with other people I would have gone in, but to be honest on my own I couldn’t really see the point.  Outside the zoo there is a large waterway with a big fountain and a few boat tours.

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A bit further on were a few hidden little gems, like a pair of abandoned tracks that used to cart large boats up the hill with cargo for lake Biwa.  It was a nice short walk up the hill along the tracks lined with trees.

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Nanzen-Ji

Eventually I ended up at another temple, I believe it was Nanzen-Ji.  The most impressive part of this area was a large gate in a dark wood stain finish, the unique thing about this one is that you could actually go up to the top of it!  So far all temple gates have just been for show.

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Climbing to the top was fun, it was only about 22 meters high, but the staircase was narrow, steep and old, an experience in itself.  The top of the gate had smooth wooden floors and amazing detail on the rails that lined the sides.  The view was great seeing down on the temple area below and out to Kyoto city in the distance.

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Heading back down there were more temple gardens, a large incense pot like the healing one at Toji, I lit my incense and again covered myself in the smoke before offering my clap and bow to the temple.  Exploring the grounds more I then found another hidden gem in this area of the city, an ancient aquaduct!

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Honestly Kyoto seems to always have a new surprise in store for you whenever you think it can’t show you something new.  The aqua duct was really an impressive work of art, best of all it was still functional and you could see the top of it.

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The top of the aqua duct still had water rushing along it, small access paths lined each side to walk along as well.  I followed the path along the aqua duct which was a nice walk for a while, but eventually the water went into the side of a mountain and the path ended.  I did then follow some tracks up the mountain, this ended in a really nice long hike through mountain woodlands!

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After lots of hiking around mountain woodlands I emerged back in the city, I ended up in some city side streets, the streets were lined with small storm drains, I decided to follow these and see where I ended up.

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Walking along the water channels was really relaxing and a great walk in the warm Kyoto sunshine.  I passed a pair of ducks who were happily sleeping in one of them to, the ducks do seem to like it here!  Soon I found myself back near one of the main roads, noting a few landmarks I worked out I was probably quite near the famous Philosophers Path.

Philosophers Path

Turns out my bearings had been correct as a couple of minutes later I passed a sign that pointed down a side road stating the Philosophers Path was only a few minutes away.  Now this area is regarded as one of the best places to see the Sakura, however as I’m still a week or two early I knew it was unlikely to yield anything to impressive.

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The path is a narrow path that runs alongside a water channel, the water is quite shallow, but still has lots of large fish just below the surface.  The walk was really nice, only a couple of Sakura were in bloom, but plenty of other plants and flowers were providing some colour.

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The Sakura that were visible were simply beautiful, I will certainly come back here in a weeks time!

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I followed the path to the end and ended up heading back toward the north of the city.  However rather than follow the main streets I took a detour up a small track that seemed to lead up a hill.  I had no idea where it would go, but my logic is that if it’s a path in Kyoto then it probably leads to something cool.

This logic was rewarded when after climbing up a dirt trail of makeshift steps I reached the top of a massive hill in the middle of northern Kyoto!  From the top of the hill I could see out across the city, one section even had a compass or sundial on the floor with a view of where the mountains where lit on fire during a certain festival.

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More wandering the mountain top and I ended up coming across an abandoned shrine area, it was a complex with lots of small shrines all crumbing down, one even had one of the statues missing.  Having played lots of games I half expected something to happen, or a passage to open if i found and placed the missing statue there, though after 10 minutes searching I was unable to find it and had to assume it stolen.

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Heading down I passed through an current shrine, eventually I made my way back through more side streets descending the hill.  A great area as the paths and steps were all crumbling away and looked really run down, I love this older side of Japan!

Having time to burn I passed back through Maruyama Park in the evening and stopped at a coffee shop chain (Trullys), which get my vote over Starbucks, better price and nice coffee.

In the evening I did some shopping around Gion, dinner ended up being a Hawaiian place as I was practically dragged through the door into the place!  I still can’t get used to the fact all food places have someone outside persuading you to come in, it’s really annoying.  As it turns out though the place was ok price (about 700 yen), the food was fries with a bbq chicken, bacon cheese melt, which was pretty good as it happened.

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