This was almost a homecoming for me, as Kyoto is where I’d spent so much time last year, and the place that really is home to me. I love everywhere I’ve been in Japan, but Kyoto still holds a special connection for me. Sadly though I didn’t get a chance to catch up with my students from last year as they were busy on the only two days I would be in Kyoto.
Arriving at Kyoto main station just brought back a lot of memories, everything around the station felt homely to me, even the train I was on was the S-Rapid bound for Yasu, the same train I’d have taken back everyday to my home in Shiga. Two more stops and I’d have been back in Otsu!
This time I didn’t head out into the main station plaza outside Kyoto Tower (I’ll be back there), but straight into the subway and up to Shijo (just a couple of streets from one of the schools I taught at, though I didn’t get to visit), again the layout, the routes, everything was familiar like I’d never left.
The first port of call was Nishiki Market & Teramachi Street, again won’t go into too much detail as I’ve written about it (Here) along with Maruyama Park. The short version is a Nishiki Market is a long narrow, atmospheric shopping street full of various fresh foods, groceries and sweets. Teramachi Street is one of the main shopping street areas in Kyoto, with a range of shops, food places, arcades and a cinema.
The small stall that was selling the ultra cute doughnut I’d brought last year was still there, and the shop with the really cool looking cake making machine was selling small individual samples for only 50 yen each! Obviously had to buy one, tasted amazing!
Heading toward Maruyama Park, we passed over the Kamo River, my favourite river of all time, with it’s wide pathways and sloped banks either side.
Through Gion, making a slight detour via Kennin-Ji temple to admire it’s grounds. A small interesting store nearby was a quick pit stop to have a look around for things to buy. It was attached museum which had a rather elegant solution for a TV screen, in the form of a series of Japanese folding dividers playing an animation on them. I picked up a nice calligraphy pen while there.
With some shopping done, it was finally time to get to Maruyama Park! For me the best park in the world! Entering from the Gion side meant heading through the colourful gate of Yasaka Shrine, and of course passing through the shrine itself. With the sakura in almost full bloom there was a very festive atmosphere, lots of food stalls lining all the pathways up to the park.
The area behind the beautiful main tree in the park was covered with mats on the ground for people to sit, eat and drink under the many sakura trees. Naturally we grabbed some takoyaki and drinks to join the party, there really is no way of describing the atmosphere of hanami (cherry blossom viewings) where groups of friends end up just drinking and having a laugh under the sakura. You just have to go and experience it!
Of course the area Higashiyama was a must while in Kyoto, I’d of course been last year during Hanatoro (see Here), this year that event had finished as it was early April, but the charm of the traditional streets and buildings in Higashiyama is still great whenever you go there! And whilst there, the daylight faded and transitioned into the darker evening skies, which brings a warm glow from the soft lamps around the district, making it more magical than in the daytime. The steady, but light rain that had started also added to the visuals of the place.
At the top of the winding paths of Higashiyama is the iconic temple of Kiyomizu-dera, entry though had closed by the time of reaching it this year, as Hanatoro was finished the temple wasn’t open quite as late. (see Here for when I last visited and did go in during Hanatoro)
The view out from just outside Kiyomizu-dera was as spectacular as ever, seeing the glow of Kyoto Tower against the backdrop of the distant mountains. Heading out and down the side streets back toward Kyoto led to one of the most amazing coffee shops I’ve ever been to!
It was a small little place, with incredible eco friendly décor, things like the lightbulbs were biospheres with their own plants and environments growing in them! And the coffee is in the top 3 of best cups of coffee I’ve ever had! Little known fact, but Japan is ranked very highly in the world of coffee! Often rank 1 or 2 in lots of competitions!
The walk back to the station was great, as the rain had given a great shine to the now empty Higashiyama district streets. This city is the most relaxing and peaceful city to walk around at night, it’s so quiet. And the traditional style lanterns around the side streets really add a unique look and feel to the place. Even walking down the Kamo river, along the unlit pathways is a great nighttime walk, just using your natural night vision to see while listening to the river flow past. (No need to worry either, Kyoto is one of the safest cities ever!)
Of course when you hit the nightlife area of Gion the city springs back to life, with lots of bars, people bustling around in search of their next drink, and taxis everywhere in the roads. With a lot of ground covered during the day I opted for taking a train direct from Kawaramachi along the Hankyu line toward Umeda rather than heading back to the JR Station.