Things to See in Kyoto (Part Three) – Just my Travel Notes

If you have spent a little bit of time in Kyoto you will no doubt soon suffer from temple fatigue – sometimes referred to JAFT “Just Another F@#@! Temple”. My advice to you with regards Kyoto (which has almost 2,000) is don’t try and see them all (you won’t). Kyoto is a city best seen slowly by wandering around. Yes there are the #1 Must See Insta Worthy spots but really it doesn’t matter if you miss them.

In our travels there are probably amazing Kyoto things that we didn’t see and overall I am not sad about that.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)

The famous torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Bring your walking shoes and be prepared to wait out the hordes of tourists to get a nice clean shot.

If the Golden Pavilion was the #1 most recognised image from Kyoto the Fushimi Inari Shrine has to be a close #2 or a tie for #1. The famous torii gates provide some iconic postcard worthy images of Japan.

The main gate as you approach the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

Located within the Southern area of Kyoto the Fushimi Inari Shrine is a Shinto shrine sitting at the base of the Inari Mountain. The shrine has it’s origins from around the year 794. Dedicated to the God of rice and sake you will see lots of statues of foxes. The fox is seen as the messenger of the god of grain foods.

As you walk through the complex you will notice there are gates of a wide variety of sizes – some of them are quite large.

The main attraction here is of course the beautiful torii gates that lead you through the mountain trails. There are thousands of these gates that cover almost 4 km of trails up the mountain. Each gate has been donated by Japanese businesses or individuals (costing a minimum of 400,000 Yen)

Once you can get away from the crowds you will get plenty of chances to get some classic images. The shape and angles of the gates leads to some great compositions.

This shrine is popular – it gets extremely busy. If you want any chance of taking a photo that is remotely clear of people you need to be patient and also smart about what time you choose to visit. The shrine is always open and admission is free – my advice would be to either come early in the morning around 7-8am or later in the afternoon just before sunset.

As you can see the complex is quite large. If you can give yourself the time try and go all the way to the top, you are rewarded with a glorious lookout – and also very few tourists go all the way to the top.

Also most of the visitors don’t venture too far up the mountain, with a return journey through all the trails taking almost 2-3 hours not all tourists are dedicated enough to go all the way to the top of the mountain. This means that the further into the trails you go the less people you will encounter.

Again I can’t help but love Golden Hour in Japan. Taking photos around Sunset is just magical and allows you to play with shadow and light in a very cool way.

Access: You can find the temple a short 3 minute walk from the JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line. The journey from Kyoto station is only about 5 minutes and 140 Yen. As I mentioned it is open year round and never closes. There are lanterns on the gates which illuminate in the evening making another amazing vista to explore.

Also don’t get too hung up on just checking out the gates, the temple and shrine complex is also really lovely with some amazing buildings and designs worth your time.
When taking your travel photos try to look for different angles of buildings, likewise look for texture and light in different ways. Always take the classic photo then go looking for something different.

Pontocho Alleys

One of the most atmospheric streets in Kyoto, especially in the evening, is the Pontocho Alley. Between Shijo-Dori and Sanjo-Dori just west of the Kamogawa River.

The Kamogawa River in Kyoto, on the banks are the restaurants of the Pontocho Alley. Some offer amazing outdoor dining allowing guests to watch the sunset while enjoying amazing food.

Pontocho is packed with restaurants on both sides offering a very wide array of options, from low cost Izakaya style food to extremely high end and exclusive options. There are a few restaurants here that are not available to tourists…unless you have the right connection (and money).

Dark, tightly packed laneways, subtle lighting – would be amazing – as you see though when jam packed with tourists it isn’t as easy to just wander.

That said there are plenty that have English Menus available and offer a great range of dining options. It is certainly better to visit of an evening as the atmosphere in the low light is amazing.

Take the time to look in all the windows and watch the chefs at work.

There is also a chance that if you are here of a Friday/Saturday evening you may see a maiko (apprentice geisha) or a geiko (giesha) as they move between appointments.

Couldn’t resist this photo – as a secret fan of the Movie I loved the name of this Jazz Bar in Pontocho Alley, Kyoto.

Just A Travel Tip: Please please respect the privacy of the Maiko and Geiko within Kyoto. You will see and read about some truly embarrassing behaviour from tourists (Both Japanese and International) when they see a geiko/maiko in public. Some have been chased, surrounded and injured by tourists clambering to get a photo of these famous ladies.

Kyoto tourist organisations are working to try and get the message through to people to not harass the ladies and to show some respect. Sadly the message isn’t necessarily getting through.

If you are reading this – I know you will not be THAT TOURIST – getting “the” photo from Kyoto is not as important as showing respect to the culture and city that you are visiting.

Nishiki Market

Kyoto’s Kitchen – has been feeding locals and visitors to the region for centuries. Spend time exploring and tasting the local produce.

Covering a five block strip parallel to Shijo-Dori is the Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba). Know as the kitchen of Kyoto this street has been a produce market for centuries. Some of the stores have been operating here for over 7 generations with the first store opening around 1310.

Amazing local fresh food abounds here at the Nishiki Market

You will find an extremely wide array of food on offer here of so many different varieties. Nearly all of the food, if not all, will be local to the area and locally produced.

Don’t come here after you have eaten, for such a small price you can sample this amazing food. Sorry I can’t for the life of me tell you what we ate – mostly cause I am not 100% sure, but it looked and tasted good.

Many of the stores will provide you with free samples, or sell a small sample plate so that you can try their food on the spot.

So much food to see and taste – most vendors will be able to sell you (or provide free) samples of their food for you to try.

Nijo Castle (Nijojo)

The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu the first Shogun of the Edo Period and regarded as one of the most powerful Shoguns. The Tokugawa Shoguns ruled Japan for almost 250 years.

The karamon main gate to the Ninomaru Palace at Nijojo

The Nijo Castle was also used as an imperial palace before becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The castle is divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defence), the Niomaru (secondary circle of defence), and the gardens that encircle both areas.

The Ninomaru Palace covers an area of around 3,300 square meters consisting of five connected buildings.

The Ninomaru Palace has survived in it’s original form and consists of several buildings that are joined together by the ‘nightingale’ floors. These floors are designed to squeak when stepped on as an added measure of security to the occupants that would warn against intruders.

The Ninomaru Palace of the Nijo Castle, the residence of the first Edo Shogun – Tokugawa Ieyasu

Yes – I certainly did try to walk lightly to see if it was possible to not trigger the squeaky floors – and No I couldn’t do it. The palace rooms are covered in tatami mats and the ceilings are decorated in intricate detail.

The Honmaru palace is not usually opened to the public, however you are permitted to wander the gardens and the grounds to see the buildings.

Photography was not permitted inside so I don’t have any photos of the internal structures sorry.

The castle walls and fortifications are still mostly in great condition and really illustrate some of the defensive design structures in the complex.

The gardens surrounding both palaces are full of several cherry and Japanese plum trees. You can also walk along the castle fortifications to the top of the former castle keep and get a glorious view of the castle grounds.

Viewing the Honmaru from the former castle keep

You can get to the Nijo Castle via a short walk from the Nijojo-mae Station from the Tozai Subway Line. A number of the Kyoto City Bus routes also pass the castle so if you have your one-day pass for the bus this might work as well.

It costs 600 Yen to enter the castle grounds and then a further 400 Yen to access the Ninomaru Palace. The castle is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm most days however check online for details as there are various closed periods and renovation works occuring.

Not sure what the impetus for this sign was but it gave me a laugh. Make sure you don’t scribble!

There you go – that was just my main notes for our stay in Kyoto. These last few posts really don’t even scratch the surface of what is around and available to see in Kyoto.

Have you been to Kyoto? What were your favourite sites? Please feel free to leave me a comment below as I always love to hear from you.

Thanks as always to those of you who follow along with my blog, it is most appreciated. I really do value the likes and comments you leave for my posts. This blog started as a way to record my notes from my travels so I am always happy to hear if others have found them handy.

Thanks again and see you tomorrow!