Day 3: Kyoto, Fushimi Inari, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Winter Illumination

We knew that we wanted to plan a day trip to Kyoto but we weren’t sure on what day we should go. We finally decided on our Day 3 because the weather was supposed to be the best of the week (not as sunny as our first day in Osaka but at least it wasn’t expected to rain). Unfortunately, this coincided with Labour Thanksgiving Day in Japan… I know… I’ve never heard of it either before. It’s actually a national holiday in Japan that’s celebrated on November 23rd. In hindsight, we should have known that it was going to be a busy day. However, at the time, we were only concerned whether things would be open.

In any case, we began our day by enjoying breakfast at the St. Marc Cafe which was located right next to our hotel. If you’ve never had a choco cro before, make sure you stop by one of the many St. Marc Cafes that you’ll see in Japan.

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Our first stop in Kyoto was Fushimi Inari-Taisha, which is only about an hour away from our hotel in Osaka. This Shinto shrine is located in southern Kyoto and is known most for the bright vermillion torii gates that dot the trail up Mount Inari behind the shrine.

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At the entrance to the shrine, you’ll find the large Romon Gate (donated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589) that frames the shrine’s main hall behind it.

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Inari is the Shinto kami (spirit or deity) of rice, fertility, foxes, and prosperity. You’ll notice many statues of foxes around the temple, sometimes holding a piece of inari (deep-fried tofu).

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As you walk past the shrine, you’ll come across the entrance to the torri gates which are densely spaced and almost form a covered hiking trail. The torri gates are donated by individuals and companies and can cost hundreds of thousands of yen for the small gates and over one million yen for the larger gates.

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It was seriously crowded here even though we arrived around 9am. It might have been due to the national holiday but I would highly recommend that you plan to go here early if you want to avoid the even larger crowds that arrive later in the day.

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Don’t expect to get very many pretty pictures of the torii gates at the entrance due to the number of people here. Just keep shuffling along the pathway as people tend to not venture all the way up the trail. Also keep in mind that you’re climbing a mountain so the weather along the trail can be a bit wet and damp. There were definitely parts of the trail where our legs were burning as we climbed the mountain. In addition, the stone pathway was slippery in many parts due to the mist.

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As we got closer to the half-way mark, the number of hikers peters out and that gave us the opportunity to take some nice shots of the vermillion gates without tourists.

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There’s also a small viewing area near the mid-way mark where you can get a view of Kyoto in the background. Make sure to take notice of the pretty flowers that dot the trail.

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We decided that we’d stop when we reached the mid-way mark because we didn’t want to spend the whole day here. Instead of tracing your path back down the mountain, there’s a path that leads down the mountain that exits just north of the temple grounds.

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This is an interesting pathway because it brought us past some vibrant autumn foliage.

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After leaving Fushimi Inari-Taisha, we took the train to Gion-Shijo. The narrow paved streets of Kyoto is definitely something you want to check out when you visit here.

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One of the things that I really liked about Kyoto is that you can see lots of people dressed up in kimonos and yukatas (they have many rental shops, especially in the Gion district).

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You might even see an actual geisha here as Gion is known as the most famous geisha district.

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Yasaka Kōshindō is a tiny but colourful shrine that we came across along our way to Hokan-Ji. Worshippers write their wish on a colourful ball of cloth called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. It is believed that if you give up with one of your greeds, your wish may come true. The most well known divine favour of this temple is the “love knot”.

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Hokan-Ji is a picturesque 5-story Buddhist pagoda that’s well known in the area and provides for a dramatic backdrop to the narrow streets.

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After walking north to Yasaka Shrine, we decided to do some exploring on Shijo Dori along our way to Nishiki Market. Shijo Dori is one of the main streets in the area and was quite busy with tourists checking out all of the shops.

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This is where we came across Kyo-Baum Gion North which served up beautiful matcha and soy baumkuchen on a stick (make sure to check our link for more details).

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Nishiki Market is supposed to be known as a famous covered shopping street filled with tons of food (similar to Kuromon on Osaka). Unfortunately, it was so busy at this market (probably due to the national holiday) that we could barely move in this market, let alone try any of the food stalls. It didn’t help that many of the tourists were rude and pushy, primarily the ones from China (I’m Chinese so it’s okay to say that, right?)

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Instead of enjoying the food at the market, we had to console ourselves with lunch at a restaurant located just outside of the market called Kinnotsubasaerudoru.

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After lunch, we planned on heading to Arashiyama to check out the famous bamboo forest. To get there, we headed to Shijō-Ōmiya Station which is the eastern terminus of the Keifuku Randen Tram Line. The Randen tram is the last of a network of trams that used to serve Kyoto and ends at Keifuku Arashiyama Station.

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Arashiyama Station was quite busy with tourists heading to nearby Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Knowing that it would be next to impossible to find any restaurants in the area that weren’t completely busy, we decided to grab some quick food at the station instead. One of the popular items here is siu mai on a stick. These gargantuan dumplings were okay (not as good as what you’d find at a dim sum restaurant) but helped to build up our strength for the journey that awaited us.

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Did I mention that it was busy at Arashiyama? It seemed like everyone in Japan was here on this day. Eventually, we reached the small entrance to the bamboo grove as we shuffled along with the rest of the crowd. I’ve heard from friends that bamboo grove is actually quite peaceful when there are fewer crowds so I’d suggest picking the right day and time to visit.

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In the beginning of the grove, there were still plenty of tourists so we couldn’t get much in terms of a pretty picture.

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Apparently, you can pay for a rickshaw tour of the bamboo grove which lets you skip the lines and they take you through a separate trail which is blocked off from the rest of the pedestrian traffic. I’m not sure how much it costs but I think it would be well worth the money.

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We eventually came across the Tenryu-ji Temple which is the most revered temples in the Arashiyama district. Built in 1339, most of the original buildings have been rebuilt over the years due to fires and wars.

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Unlike the bamboo grove, there is a small entrance fee to get into the temple grounds but it is well worth it. The landscape garden has a central pond and you can really appreciate the zen-like atmosphere with the foliage and mountains reflecting in the water.

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The reds, oranges, and yellows of the fall colours were a bit dull during our visit – it might have been because of the time of the year that we visited or the overcast sky. Nevertheless, it was quite pretty and even more so when you can frame your shot with a tourist dressed up in a bright kimono while admiring the foliage.

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After we left the shrine area, we headed back through the bamboo grove which had gotten a bit quieter.

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If we had enough time, we had planned to head over to Kinkaku-ji (the famous golden Buddhist temple in Kyoto) but it was getting dark and we decided to head back home via the Hankyu line. There were lots of people headed back to Osaka at night (possibly due to the national holiday) and we had to switch trains a number of times before we made it back to the hotel.

After a short respite, we headed back out to take a look at the Osaka City Central Public Hall which is located about 5 minutes north of our hotel on the Nakanoshima sandbank that divides the Kyū-Yodo River. The Neo-Renaissance building made of red brick was built between 1916 and 1918 and houses two concert halls. It’s especially pretty when you visit at night as it’s lit up with lights.

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They were just starting to set up the winter illumination lights along Nakanoshima with alternating coloured lights. We had to wait for a while before we could get a nice shot of the blue lights as it seemed like they kept turning the lights off every time we were getting ready to take a picture.

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Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours getting lost exploring Osaka at night. By the time we made it back to our hotel, it was late in the night and we were still famished (we hadn’t eaten since our dim sum on a stick at Arashiyama). We had noticed a small Vietnamese restaurant near our hotel the other day and decided to pop in and grab a quick bite before turning in for the day. I’m not sure if it was because we were so hungry or not but the food at Cam On was really good. We especially liked the crispy spring rolls that we started our meal with.

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