On my first attempt to get to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, being a bit of an idiot I ended up 40 km away, in Nara. But I found my way to the shrine later that day. *
The distinctively orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari are paid for by companies or individuals — their names are etched on the back of the gate they donate. Torii gates in Shinto shrines usually mark the entrance to the shrine. In Fushimi Inari, there are two parallel rows of gates going uphill, a long procession of orange and black, shadow and sunlight. *
The Higashiyama ward is home to many temples and shrines. The Kodaiji Temple isn’t the most famous — that distinction goes to Kiyomizudera — but it’s also worth a visit if you are in the area. It was built in honor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a badass feudal lord in the late 1500’s whose list of accomplishments include (randomly): reunifying Japan, forbidding samurai from farming, forbidding farmers from owning swords, persecuting Christians, patronizing the arts, ordering his master of the tea ceremony (and one of his closest friends) to commit suicide, and attempting to conquer China by way of Korea (didn’t work). A complicated man, shall we say, but he was a peasant who worked his way to becoming Imperial Regent of Japan so…that’s something.
This is the main hall of the Kodaiji Temple. *
Beside the main hall is Kodaiji’s rock garden — the raked gravel is intended to represent the ocean. *
There are iconic images of Kiyomizudera Temple — images of the World Heritage Site’s wooden platforms and graceful dark roofs wreathed in cherry blossoms or maple leaves — but you will not find them here. Other things caught my eye, other markers of the passage of time, and although they can’t quite be called iconic, these are some of my favorite images from my entire visit to Japan last November.
SGMT – 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. *
Before I left for Japan last year, I made all these quick notes on places that I thought would be interesting to see. In this post, I’m sharing my Kyoto notes. There are 5 places listed here, though I only got to visit two — the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kiyomizudera Temple. The latter is in Higashiyama, one of Kyoto’s most preserved historic districts, which I recommend spending some time in. (Better still, stay in the area. I stayed at the Gion Ryokan Q-beh and I highly recommend it.) From Kyoto you can also go on a day trip to Nara — I found this out rather accidentally (tell you about it later) and I recommend it as well.