An hour away by train from Osaka is the sublime city of Kyoto. After a crazy few weeks in Osaka I felt like Kyoto would be a bit of a detox for the body, and due to all the temples…the mind.
I hopped on the train and arrived at a train station that took my breath away! Opened in 1997, this station serves as the main transport hub, and is one of the largest buildings in the country. It’s futuristic design with a helipad on the top level in which you can lookout over the entire city, however, I’m not entirely sure it’s open to the public. Myself and two other backpackers noticed a door open so…..
The city is extremely easy to navigate as the transport system is well designed, but me being me hardly used their transport system and took to walking nearly everywhere as I didn’t want to miss anything. Whether this was brave, stupid or both, I wasn’t the only one who thought this way. On my second day in the city I befriended a frenchman, Phillipe, who was travelling alone due to his ex-girlfriend finishing with him a week before they were both to go on this epic trip around the world. Instead of wallowing in self pity back in France, he decided to do it on this trip, but after a relatively blunt conversation with him he snapped out of it!
There are SO many temples, and there are SO many temples with a fair few steps leading up to them. I visited at least thirty shrines in my first couple of days, I made the 90 minute trek up a substantial hill from where I was staying (close to the train station) to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple).
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Golden Temple is one of the most famous in Japan and was very much worth the hike. Unfortunately as Phillipe and myself arrived at the gates, so did four or five coach loads of Canadian students who, judging by their t-shirts were part of an orchestra.
The journey back to the hostel was quite different as we both agreed that a bus would save our legs, nothing like Anglo-French diplomacy. Sitting down for the first time in about five hours was a godsend, but on the next stop a handful of old and extremely small Japanese women climbed on board so in true fashion we stood up and let them have our seats..this led to an embarrassing situation of them being so gracious they were bowing for the next five minutes.
Like nearly every tourist who plans a trip to Kyoto, Memoirs of a Geisha sticks firmly in the mind which meant a visit to the shrine gates. I was slightly disappointed I did not see any Geisha’s at this point, but that would have been too easy.
One evening, after a day in the city I returned to my hostel to find two more Brits had checked in. Two lads from Birmingham who were also backpacking around Japan and we quickly became friends and together we planned a trip to the bamboo forest situated a small train ride away in Arashiyama. Armed with a packed lunch, fully charged cameras big bottles of water (it was bloody boiling), we made the quick journey to the forest.
One thing I will say is that although I consider myself competent with a camera, photos will never quite reflect the beauty of the bamboo forest. It brought a sense of calm as we wandered the walkways through the forest. Even the small children we encountered behaved, stretching their necks to look up at the stunning green bamboo.
Arriving early worked in our favour as it was very quiet, and the expected mass of tourists had not landed. At this point as we walked around some tiny cobbled side streets I encountered my first Geisha and I have to say it was quite magical. Dressed in colourful cloth, face made up entirely white, she was enough to stop the small amount of people around us in their tracks, myself included!
I spent a total of 6 days in Kyoto and left fully refreshed, even though I had a few nights out with my fellow Brits. It is a beautiful city with a mixture of modern and traditional Japan, and definitely needs a few days to take in the everything the city has to offer.