Japan / Travels

A Day in Kyoto

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I must admit, when planning our visit to Kyoto I have underestimated its beauty and the number of activities one can undertake in the city and in its surroundings. As a result we spent three nights there, but only one whole day. After the day in Kanazawa, we arrived to Kyoto late in the evening. Having had our late dinner at a Yoshinoya next to our hotel, we went straight to bed. My jet lag started to diminish, however, my cold got worse. In the middle of the night I woke up because of a terrible cough, and taking into account the thin hotel walls, I am afraid so did the whole hotel. 

I woke up being very tired. It was a grey windy morning with occasional bursts of rain. Not the best weather for a sightseeing tour, but our trip itinerary didn’t leave us much choice. We left the hotel quite late and went to the bus stop. The first location on our agenda was the famous Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji.

Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji, or Rokuon-ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple originally built in the end of 13th century. Interestingly, it the beginning it was a part of a villa belonging to some wealthy family. It was purchased in 1397 by the shogun Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. After Yoshimitsu’s death it was converted into a Zen temple by his son.

In 1950, a young monk burned down the temple and attempted suicide on the hill behind the building. He survived and was sentenced for seven years, but was released after five years because of mental illness; he died of tuberculosis one year later. The pavilion was rebuilt in 1955. It’s believed that the present version is very close to the original, however, some people doubt, that the gold-leaf coating was that extensive in the original structure.

The gold-leaf coating wears down and has to be renewed once in a while. Besides the truly amazing look, which the gold-coating provides, it also has a symbolic meaning, since gold is believed to mitigate and purify pollution and negative thoughts and feelings towards death.

Having taken a thousand of photographs of the temple from different perspectives, we had a little walk around the pond and in the surrounding gardens. 

Having visited the temple we had a lunch in a kaiten restaurant of a chain brand Hamazushi. The fun part was that we were welcomed and assigned our seats by Pepper, the humanoid robot. 


Our next stop was Ryoan-ji, the temple with the most famous Zen garden in Kyoto (and probably in the world). It’s known as one of the finest existing rock gardens. There are many theories about who has built the garden and when exactly was it built. According to the different sources, it dates back to the 14-16th centuries.

There are 15 boulders of different sizes in the garden, which are surrounded with small polished river rocks arranged by monks into linear patterns. The big stones are composed into five groups surrounded by patches of moss. There is a trick in their arrangement which prevents seeing the whole composition at once: when looking at the garden from the side, only 14 of the boulders can be visible at one time. It’s believed, that the one who reaches enlightenment will see the 15th one.

When we arrived, the place was crowded, and I have to admit I failed to feel the spirit of its sacredness and could not appreciate its wabi-sabiness. What’s cool is that at that place we discovered an interesting custom of signing a goshuincho, a special temple stamp book. In Japan, if you go to shinto shrines and buddhist temples you may find a special kiosk where people are lining to get a stamp and a calligraphic signature in their small colourful notebooks. These are special books holding memories and proofs of your pilgrimage. It used to be something only the older people or the especially devout did during specific pilgrimages, however, this tradition is gaining its popularity among younger people and foreign tourists.

Downtown of Kyoto

Having visited the temples, we headed to the downtown of Kyoto. I must admit the public transportation system in Kyoto is not the best. There is a subway, but to reach many distant locations one has to take a bus. From our experience, it is sometimes hard to find a correct bus stop (especially if you are a gaijin and your skill of reading kanji is limited), and it seemed that the buses and their schedules are not perfectly aligned. Furthermore, when a bus comes, it is almost always heavily packed with people, which is of course not very comfortable.

We were planning to have a kaiseki dinner in one restaurant I read about in some travel guide. So, having found its address on Google maps we walked towards it along the famous Philosopher’s Path. This route got its name because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for his daily meditation. It’s a very nice pedestrian path along a cherry-tree lined canal. We were lucky to see the blooming. I wish I had taken some photographs there, but because of the pouring rain I had to keep my DSLR camera in my backpack. We reached the restaurant, but it looked as if it was closed for good. Google knew nothing with that regard.

So, we had to execute the Plan B, involving walking all the way back to the downtown and trying to find a nice restaurant somewhere in the Pontocho street. That street turned out to have an amazing atmosphere! It became especially cozy after the sunset when the lanterns went on.

If lucky, in that area, one can spot a geisha or a maiko walking out traditional tea houses. We got a glimpse of one walking towards a taxi.

It was not very easy to select a restaurant. There is such a big choice of places! We ended up having a dinner in a BBQ place Yakiniku Yaruki and were very happy with the choice. After the dinner we headed back to our hotel hoping to get more sleep that night.

Photos taken in March 2018

About Author

Hi, I'm Katja! I'm a computer scientist, who loves photography and traveling. Welcome to the visual diary of my adventures!