Narrow lanes, lovely temples, traditional Japanese architecture and…free food! Why you should stay in — or at least visit — Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward.
(Plus: where to stay in Higashiyama)
I didn’t know Higashiyama was one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts when I booked a 2-night stay at the Gion Ryokan Q-beh last November. All I knew was that a ryokan was a traditional Japanese inn and that Gion Ryokan Q-beh was both well-loved by previous guests and easy enough to access by bus from Kyoto Station. That Gion was the one place in Kyoto where one might reasonably expect to see a real-life geisha (or maiko) was a plus but not the main pull — I really just needed a good, cheap place to rest my head for two nights.
Gion Ryokan Q-beh turned out to be perfect. It was just a short walk from the Higashiyama Yasui Bus Stop but in an alley off a quiet road so it was peaceful. I stayed in the 8-bed female dorm room, which turned out to be spacious. There was a big common area in the middle of the room, and on each side were 4 compartments, two upper, two lower. Each compartment had a foam mattress, a small table, a bed light, a peg and hanger, an outlet, and a curtain — basically, it was like having your own little room within a room. Other room options include a mixed 10-bed dorm, twin/double rooms, and a family room. Bathrooms were shared, and the toilets were those Japanese toilets that spoil every other toilet in the world for you because of all its nifty tricks. Plus, the ryokan had this room with a big pottery bath that you can reserve a 30-minute timeslot for every night — it’s not quite an onsen, but still wonderfully hot and private, and perfect after a day of walking.
The best thing about Gion Ryokan Q-beh, though, is undoubtedly its location. It’s smack dab in the middle of the historic Higashiyama district, in the carefully preserved streets between the Yasaka Shrine (350 m to the north) and the Kiyomizudera Temple (1.3 km to the south then east). The architecture of the wooden buildings, which are never more than two storeys tall, transport you to what it must have been like in Old Japan — an illusion unexpectedly complemented by the number of Japanese girls who dress up in kimonos. (There are even shops that will dress you up as a geisha for the day.) The streets get more crowded the nearer you get to Kiyomizudera Temple, but otherwise, Higashiyama pretty much retains an old village feel.
If you find yourself in Kyoto one of these days, don’t forget to set aside at least 3 hours of your time to explore the streets, shrines and temples of Higashiyama.
There are many food stores leading up to Kiyomizudera Temple and many of them give free samples. The Japanese have a ton of tasty, interesting snacks and stuff, so, if
you’re hungry you want to try before you buy, that’s where to go.
Where to Stay in Higashiyama (Kyoto)
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Old Japan in the Streets of Higashiyama (and Where to Stay in Higashiyama)
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