We could not visit Japan and not take the world famous Shinkansen. The bullet train (JR Tōkaidō Shinkansen line from Shin-Osaka station) reaches up to 200mph and had us in Kyoto in 15mins from with an unreserved seat (a reserved seat costs twice as much), you can just see a blur of rooftops and cherry blossoms in front of the mountains for the duration, it cost us 1420 Yen for the bullet train or you can pay a little less and get the JR Special Rapid for 560 Yen and will still get you there in a modest 29 mins and you may not have to peel your face off the headrest after the Mach 3 speeds. It’s a far cry from the graffiti laden trains back home and was no “Big Davey was ere 07” scrawled on the back of the chairs. Be aware these trains are ridiculously punctual, the Japanese do not poses the mañana attitude of the Mediterranean or the south East Asian.
We got lucky with the weather in the former Imperial capital of Japan, (Kyoto literally translates to ‘capital city’ when it was named in the 11th century), it was a beautiful crisp winter day but makes the place look pretty spectacular through the cold sun rays. We opted not to get a couple of pushbikes but looking back it might not have been a bad idea as Kyoto was a little bigger than we had thought and most of the things we wanted to see were pretty well spread out across the town. It was pretty busy with tourists with quite a few buses constantly dropping people off (another way to reach Kyoto from Osaka albeit a bit slower) but it’s pretty understandable why it’s a tourist hotbed as its steeped in beauty, history and traditional Sake brewing.
Our first stop off was the Arishiyama Bamboo grove which is thousands of bamboo shoots towering overhead as you walk through the middle of them bumbling into people while gazing upwards in awe. We strolled around for a while following the paths not caring really where it takes us then we stumbled across the Ōi river with its vivid green colour and decided to follow it downstream to the Hōrai bridge. Despite not having a great deal of time in Kyoto you just can’t bring yourself to rush around, we were walking that slow that a 90 year old Japanese woman offered us a shot of her Zimmer.
We found ourselves at the foot of Arishiyama mountain which is covered in monkeys at the top, you can never see enough monkeys and the beautiful panoramic views are just a bonus. You pay a toll of 550 Yen and then start your ascent up to the top to Iwatayama Monkey Park, it’s not quite scaling K2 but it’s still quite a climb which the heavy smokers and sedentary life stylers may feel a bit. Totally worth is though when you stake your claim at the peak and are surrounded by the mountains residents, 170 Japanese macaque monkeys. The animals are wild but can be fed food purchased at the site.
There are over 400 shrines in Kyoto. Perhaps the single most impressive sight in all of Kyoto, bar none, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is the most important shrine in the entire city. Don’t miss it! They don’t make Shinto Shrines more attractive than Shimogam-jinja Shrine. The main hall of the shrine is approached by a long pedestrian walkway through a forest of broadleaf trees known as Tadasu-no-Mori. Broadleaf trees are something of a rarity in Japan, where so much of the original mixed forest has been cut down and planted with sugi (cedar or cryptomeria) trees, making this forest even more special.
We completely misjudged our time in Kyoto and could easily have spent a decade there let alone just one half day. There is so much we did not get to see and do and probably our biggest regret on our travels so far was not being able to spend longer here.
Fortunately it just means we get to go back to the ancient city and explore it again. If you are ever in Japan make sure you venture to Kyoto, even if you have rob, pillage or stow away on the underside of the train for lack of money, you can’t miss the chance to see this place.
Useful Phrases: Arigatou (Thank You) Yoros hiku (Please do your best to help me) Naiho n Daiskee ( I love Japan) Konnichiwa (hello)
Free stuff to Do: Nishiki market – This 400 year old traditional food market is built on a stone paved lane above Kyoto’s groundwater spring system. There are over 100 small stalls, shops and restaurants to explore along this 400 metre alley way at Philosophers path – Take a stroll along the stone path alongside the banks of Lake Biwa canal. Imperial Palace – The Imperial Palace in Kyoto was home to the emperor of Japan during the Heian period and this impressive palace and gardens remain from that time and get a FREE English guide. Shrines – no trip would be complete without taking in the culture and history of all the shrines in Kyoto. There are over 400 of them so too many to list but pick your favourites, (Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine & Shimogam-jinja Shrine) were ours, and enjoy.