Kyoto was the capital city of Japan from 794-1869. It is a place where ancient traditions meet modern technology. Famous for it's vast arrays of Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines, Palaces, Traditional Houses, Kimonos, Arts, Crafts, Tofu, Green Tea, and Geisha. It also has some amazing modern buildings. A number of High Technology companies have their Headquarters in Kyoto such as Omron, Rohm Semiconductor, Kyocera, Murata Manufacturing, and Nintendo.
My aim is to provide you with images and information to help you make the most out of your visit to Kyoto.
I have lived in Kyoto prefecture since 2008. Prior to my move here I visited Kyoto as tourist in 1998, 2005, 2006 & 2007. While the majority of the photos I'm planning to post will come from 2008 onwards, occasionally I'll post some older photos.
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There are various kinds of traditional dining options in Kyoto from the simple udon or soba meals for those on a tight budget to expensive Kaiseki restaurants. However the table setting in today's photo comes from a place called Ryoan-ji Yudofu. Technically this place is not classified as a restaurant, it is a dining area of a sub temple building of the Ryoan-ji temple complex. They also didn't have a cash register, I remember my wife's aunty placed the money in an envelope and gave it to one of the ladies working there. As with any place my wife's aunty has taken us in Kyoto it wasn't cheap.
The kind of food they serve is a special Zen Buddhist Vegan cuisine know as Shojin-Ryori. The food is basically boiled tofu and vegetables with various herbs. Everything was exquisitely made, the vegetables were cut into various shapes, with the famous Japanese attention for detail. Not only was the food and table setting beautiful, the whole dining areas decor and the view over the koi carp pond made it a relaxing dining experience. Definitely worth trying once to experience some Japanese culture, but to get the most out of it, it's probably best dining with someone who can speak Japanese well.
We dined at this place after viewing the famous rock garden at Ryoan-ji (temple). I'm planning to post a blog on the rock garden sometime in the near future.
Ryoan-ji is located near Ritsumeikan University and Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The Keifuku Kitano line has a station called Ryoanji which is about a 7m walk from the temple, we got a bit lost of the way to the temple as the the signs weren't so clear and that was with two native Japanese speakers!
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 camera and the kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55f/3.5-5.6G lens.
The West Gate of Yasaka-jinja
As far as I can remember I think that Yasaka-jinja (Yasaka Shrine) was the first Shinto shrine I ever visited. The first time I went there was in January 1998 and I remember being shocked at how mercantile it was, although it was free to enter it seemed everything was on sale there. Over the years I've seen plenty of Shinto shrines, but there's not many like this one.
This West Gate is probably the best looking structure in the whole complex and it's architecture is different from the rest too. Upon entering the west gate you find that the path up to the main court is filled with "temporary" food stalls that never seem to leave the place. These food stalls sell typical Japanese festival foods (eg Takoyaki, Yakisoba, corn cobs, fried pork ribs, toffee apples, etc) and a staffed by loud bleach blonde spiky hair colourful clothing types.
The main court area is nothing much to look at, but the things that happen on the stage in the centre and around can create some photo opportunities. There's wedding's, there's plenty people in Kimono's, the Geisha like to frequent the place. There's even Geisha dance performances at certain times of the year.
Yasaka-jinja is at the very Eastern End of Shijo-dori (one of the main streets in Kyoto). The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo on the Keihan Main Line and Kawaramachi on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. There are probably buses that will get you closer, but I don't recommend catching buses around the centre of Kyoto.
About this photo: I took this photo during the Higashiyama Hanatouro in 2010 which is a special event in March when they light up the roads with lanterns and some of the temples and shrines have special light ups. However as far as I know these west gates are flood lit every night. You might notice the lanterns along a red fence, these where part of the Higashima Hanatouro. I used a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G lens on a tripod to take this photo. I enhanced this photo in the Gimp to bring out the detail in the shadows which gives it a slightly HDR look, but it is only one image.
The Station that's a Destination
Where I come from train stations aren't that interesting. Sure some of them have moderately nice architecture, but there's not much else there to keep you lingering any longer than it takes for your train to arrive. On the other hand Kyoto station is almost a small city! No kidding there have been times that I've caught the train to Kyoto and spent a few hours at the station and then gone back home. It has everything: a tourist office, a cultural centre, a Japanese language school, 100s of shops including a department store and supermarket, 100s of restaurants, cafes, even a wedding chapel and a hotel.
The other thing about Kyoto station is the amazing architecture and engineering of the building. You could spend quite a few hours just investigating these things. One of my favourites is an area known as the sky walk, where you can get some pretty amazing views of the city, for free. Another cool place is the passage that runs from the area near the Western Ticket Gates of the JR Station to the Hotel Granvia, passing right over the top of the Central Ticket Gates. It's definitely a place to bring a DSLR with good high iso and a Wide Angle Lens.
Kyoto station is also good for a myriad of train connections. There are so many JR lines coming through the station. There are JR trains to Osaka, Kobe, Sagano (and further north), Uji, Nara, East Shiga, and West Shiga just to name a few. There's also the Shinkansen if you want to travel further and faster. The private Kintetsu Lines can take you to parts of Southern Kyoto prefecture and Nara for cheeper and faster than JR (especially useful if you don't have a Japan Rail Pass). There are Ticket Gates for the Kyoto Subway Station on the Karasuma Line directly outside the Eastern Ticket Gates of the JR station.
Other sites of interest nearby the station (if you feel the need to explore further) include the Kyoto Tower, Nishi-Hogan-ji (temple) and Higashi-Hogan-ji (temple), the Kyoto Branch of Yodobashi Camera, a couple of Huge Shopping Malls (if the shops in the station aren't enough for you!).
I've been to Kyoto station countless times now, but today I chose a shot from my first visit there. It seems that the fresh eye often catches things that familiarity makes us blind to. This shot was taken with a Nikon D50 and the kit Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-55 F/3.5-5.6G lens. Maybe later on I'll share few more shots I've taken in various parts of the station over the years.
Koyo in Arashiyama
With Koyo (Autumn/Fall colour change season) approaching in another 3 to 4 weeks in Kyoto. I though it was time for a Koyo image to whet the appetite. Today's photo is from Arashiyama an area to the North West of Kyoto where it is possible to step back in time and see a bit more of the traditional side of Japan. However it's quite easy to get to from the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, meaning that on weekends and national holidays it can get quite crowded. I find it's best if you want to really take in the scenery without the crowds to arrive early in the morning and leave at 10am! Although if your prepared to hike a bit further from the trains stations and away from the tourist strip you can still find places of tranquility at anytime of the day.
It's possible to take a special "Romanic Train" from Torokko Saga in Arashiyama to Kameoka then take a boat down the Hozu River back to Arashiyama. It's a very popular thing to do in the Cherry Blossom and Colour Change seasons. It's also possible just to get a boat from Arashiyama and cruise up the river a little and back again. The boats from Kameoka have to be returned their by truck as it's not possible for them to head all the way back to Kameoka on the river. Most locals I've spoken to say Arashiyama is better in the Colour Change season than in the Cherry Blossom season. I would say though there are things to see there at all times of the year, so it's worth placing it high on your itinerary when you visit Kyoto.
Access to Arashiyama: There are three railway lines going to Arashiyama the Hankyu Arashiyama Line, the Keifuku Arashiyama Line and the JR Sagano Line. The Hankyu Arashiyama Line is a good choice if your staying in South Western Kyoto Prefecture (like me) or for day tripping from Osaka or Kobe. The Keifuku Arashiyama Line is a very fun, but slow way to get there in it's light rail cars departing from Shijo-Omiya station in downtown Kyoto. If you're staying near Kyoto Station or Transferring from other parts of Japan via the Shinkansen or other long distance trains then the JR Sagano Line is the best option.
I've been to Arashiyama at all different times of the year, so I'm planning to share with you some more images of this wonderful location later on.
The image I'm sharing today was shot on Fujichrome Velvia 50 film with a Nikon F80 and a Nikon AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
Let's Start with Kinkaku-ji
Since it was one of the first places I visited in Kyoto.
Also know as the temple of the Golden Pavilion. Originally this place was a wealthy person's tea house, when he died he gave it over to become a temple. The main building is a modern reconstruction as the original was destroyed by fire. The current building has much more gold coating on it than the original.
This photo was from my visit to Kinkaku-ji in 2007 when I came here as a tourist. Since moving to Kyoto I've been back to Kinkakuji twice, however on both those times I was more busy showing friends around the temple than getting photos, so this photo is my favourite. I also went to this temple on my first visit to Kyoto in 1998, and got a few shots then with my trusty Canon Prima AF-7, I might post one or two of those sometime later.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 and a Sigma 10-20f/4-5.6 lens.
Ignore all the travel guides which tell you to catch a bus from Kyoto Station to this temple, you'll waste half your day on crowded buses. The quickest buses to Kinkaku-ji go from near Hankyu's Saiin Train Station or from near Nijo-jo Mae Station on the Subway.