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5 Places you should visit in Kyoto in 2021

Author: Tadao Suyama

October 7, 2020 | 12 min read

Konnichiwa / Konbanwa (depends on where you live), everyone! Today, I would like to introduce you to one of the best destinations in Japan, which by the way was the capital of Japan before Tokyo. I am talking about the beautiful city of Kyoto!

I recently went for a trip to support local businesses in Kyoto and I LOOOOOOVED IT very much. Their “Omotenashi” (simplified to English as high level of hospitality) was extraordinary and 3 days were definitely not enough to see everything Kyoto could offer. If you want to enjoy the authenticity of this city, showing some respect and learning Japanese are the must. Here are the 5 places I highly recommend you to visit!

1. River boat ride in Hozugawa

If you like nature, you will love this gorgeous experience for sure! Kyoto’s historical “Kawakudari” (a boat ride down the river) will take you down 16 km on a 2 hours journey from Tanba-kameoka to Arashiyama.

The Sagano Romantic Train, this old-fashioned trolley train “Torokko” will take you from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko station, where you can ride a river boat. You get to enjoy 25 mins of breath taking views along the Hozugawa river on the ride.

Once you hop on the boat, super entertaining and athletic riverboat pilots will take you for a ride. It is a very relaxing and soothing ride that will help you forget any complications in your life. With occasional splashes, both intentionally and unintentionally, you get to enjoy the dazzling nature of Kyoto. “Sakura” Cherry blossom in spring, “Shinryoku” lively greens in summer, “Koyo” autumn-colored foliage in fall, and “Yuki-geshiki” glorious snow in winter.

After the ride, you can enjoy sightseeing around a pleasant Arashiyama area filled with touristy destinations. This is a must do experience when you visit Kyoto!

For more information, you can visit the links below:

Hozugawa River Boat Ride: https://www.hozugawakudari.jp/en/

Sagano Romantic Train: https://www.sagano-kanko.co.jp/en/

2. Spiritual experience in Fushimi Inari Taisha

An Inari shrine “Oinari-san” is the most familiar kind of shrine to Japanese people. However, this one has a totally different level of magnificence and it actually is the head shrine for over 30,000 Inari shrines located across Japan.

Fushimi Inari Taisha was founded in 711 a.c and celebrated its 1,300th anniversary in 2011. When you enter this historical heritage, you will be welcomed with more than thousands of red “Torii” gates, and statues of a fox which is the Inari God’s messenger. People come and pray from all over Japan for business successes, good harvests and many more to have a miraculous blessing.

I was spirited away, another way of saying got lost, and ended up climbing Mt. Inari which is called “Oyama Meguri”. After 3 hours and about 5km of hiking, I could see not only those famous “Senbon Torii (one thousand Torii gates)”, but a lot of little shrines “Otsuka”, and waterfalls “Otaki” for an ascetic practice.

You will enjoy a very spiritual, soul cleansing experience with a bit of exercise in Fushimi Inari Taisha. Here is the tip of visiting a shrine. Before you walk through a Torii gate, you should bow respectfully and enter through the right or left side. Why not through the center of the pathway? It is reserved for the guardian deities. 

For more information, you can visit the links below:

Fushimi Inari Taisha: http://inari.jp/en/


3. Enjoy seasonal views from Kiyomizu Temple

Kiyomizu temple was founded in 778 a.c. and added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. This most-visited temple in Kyoto is very famous for its wooden stage. 

There is a popular “Kotowaza” expression in Japanese “Kiyomizu no butai kara tobi oriru (to jump off the stage of Kiyomizu temple)”, which means similar to “shoot Niagara”. Local people believed that jumping off from this stage will make their wish come true without getting injured, or at least they will rest in peace (I am not sure if it is a good thing or not to be honest). There was a record from the Edo to Meiji period; 234 people jumped off (or attempted to jump) this 12m high wooden stage. And surprisingly, 85% of them survived! Hence people use this saying when you take the plunge and try something important. If you were thinking about doing the same, let me tell you that nowadays a fence has been installed to avoid daredevil people doing so. 

When I visited the temple, it was a week away from the thousand-day pilgrimage which is called “Sennichi Mairi”. It is believed that one day of prayer is equivalent to a thousand days worth of prayers, especially if you visit during the period when the innermost sanctuary is open to the public.

After you enjoy the beautiful colours of nature (in any seasons) and the view of Kyoto city in the distance, you get to enjoy the local shops down the street for souvenirs and specialties of Kyoto. Purifying your energy in this stunning temple will give you more vitality for walking around the area! 

For more information, you can visit the links below:

Kiyomizu Temple: https://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/

4. Feel the history from Sanjo Ohashi Bridge

Over the Kamogawa river, there is a bridge called “Sanjo Ohashi”. This bridge is well known for an art series by Utagawa Hiroshige, The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. Sanjo Ohashi was the ending location for journeying on the “Nakasendo” route and the “Tokaido” route. Both routes were very important “Gokaido (five routes)” for long distance travelers in the Edo period.

It is unclear when they built the bridge, but Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered it to be repaired in 1589. It was repaired again in 1950, but some of the “Giboshi (onion-shaped ornamental cap)” is from the Tensho period. 

Along the Kamogawa river, there are tons of amazing restaurants where you can taste Kyoto’s specialties while admiring the view of both modern and old-fashioned Kyoto.

While I was enjoying walking the riverside by myself, I had a great encounter and made some friends. We held a little night picnic there, and one of them told me the history of the bridge. You could see a deep scar on one of those Giboshi, and it is said that it was marked at the Ikedaya incident in 1864. Yes, this is a sword scar and samurai from “Shinsengumi (Edo period police)” might have done that! Such an interesting story, isn’t it? Not only those beautiful views and natures, you get to see and feel the history everywhere in Kyoto.

For more information, you can visit the links below:

Restaurants at Kamogawa river: https://yuka-kyoto.com/


5. Luxurious experience in Ishibe-koji alley

On this narrow alley with continuous stone fences and cobblestones, which look very chic and impressive, you will be able to enjoy “Ryotei” styled restaurants.

After we visited Yasaka Shrine (famous for their God of matchmaking), we went to “AWOMB Gion Yasaka” for lunch. You must make a reservation in advance to enjoy lunch or dinner in this very stylish yet comfortably traditional Kyoto house. Vividly colourful and carefully created, “Teae Sushi” is the main dish, which was remarkably interesting. I have never seen anything like their food concept.

You will be served 9 small dishes with fresh Kyoto vegetables and seasonal fish, along the side of vinegared rice, shredded Matcha flavoured omelet and “Dobin Mushi” dashi both. You enjoy tossing the delicious ingredients on perfectly cooked rice and freely create your own sushi bowl. You can change the flavour with tasteful Dashi jellies or pour savoury broth into the rice bowl, like making an authentic Japanese risotto; Dashi-chazuke.

Each dish was very delicate, and I could feel their technique and passion in all of it. As much as I enjoyed it with my eyes, my stomach was super satisfied with a variety of traditional yet very unique Japanese cuisine experience. Their service was exceptional as well. When we left the restaurant, the manager was sending us through to the entrance and bowing until he could not see us anymore on the alley. I had such a great afternoon!

For more information, you can visit the links below:

AWOMB Gion Yasaka: http://www.awomb.com/

Yasaka Shrine: http://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/


Final Comments

After I spent 3 days in Kyoto, I really wanted to move there. Not only were their historical heritages and architecture sensational, people were truly kind and thoughtful. This was the greatest domestic trip I ever had!

The year 2020 has been such a difficult time for all of us, and some people might say this is not the best time to travel. I agree that we should not spread COVID-19, but we have to find a way to live with the virus and support the economy as well.

When I visited several restaurants and shops in Kyoto, I could have a chance to speak with their staff. They are very heartbroken that small businesses cannot continue under the circumstances of COVID-19. Because sightseeing businesses are supporting the city, they are in a seriously tough situation right now.

I would say that Kyoto has been one of the best places I have been to in Japan and I truly wish all the best and success for the city. In the future, if you could, I would like you to appreciate and enjoy the local businesses wherever you visit. That is the best support we can provide. Finally, for sure you will make the most of your travelling experiences when you can speak Japanese and interact with all these local people who can share with you these kind of magnificent stories. So what a better time to learn Japanese than now! You can do it today here in Japademy.

Stay safe, everyone.

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