Kyoto in cherry blossom season

by - October 30, 2016


The next weekend after Hakone, on Friday after work we took the shinkansen from Tokyo. The first night was uneventful, we were tired and went straight to our accommodation by taxi since it’s already quite late at night.

The next morning, it all began. Turns out the neighbourhood we stayed was Gion, the famous geisha area and touristy spot. Sakura was blooming everywhere, it was so serene and beautiful, we saw few other people… the city was still asleep. We had a very good feeling about this.


We started a little early to beat other tourists. Since it was during cherry blossom / sakura / hanami season, there were bound to be loads of other people there, so we dedicated our top lists for early morning.

Arashiyama

Our first stop was Arashiyama bamboo forest. The bamboos started quite sparse, but became denser as we gradually walked in… It was otherworldly. Such a contemplative place (only if there were fewer people…).



It was not exactly planned but we dropped by the nearby temple Tenryu-ji, which had a beautiful Japanese garden and lake. With loads of sakura, of course.

 
It calmed the soul.


A real life zen garden! Bigger than 30cm x 30cm! So neat and tidy and perfect.


Kinkakuji

Then we went to Kinkakuji / The Golden Temple. It was around noon by then and of course there were already loads of people. It's a beautiful, picturesque, and insta-worthy temple, unfortunately a place where the enjoyment was spoilt simply by having too many tourists. Note that you won't be allowed to get into the temple itself.



Still, I witnessed a serene moment of a gardener tending her garden, away from the crowd.



Nishiki market

So bustling and full of life and inviting! We had so much random snacks including warabi mochi, and even unexpectedly running into familiar faces from Sydney / Jakarta! Unfortunately I forgot to take any good photos here (too busy sightseeing + eating).

Gion

Simply strolling around the famous cultural neighbourhood, old wooden buildings, narrow alleys by the river, slowly enjoying the blooming mankai (full bloom) sakura trees all around us. This is the real charm of Kyoto.


Absolutely gorgeous. Even Japanese people themselves can't stop taking pictures every year; we understand why. 


In the evening, we went to Gion corner, a Japanese Culture 101 show where they showcased several traditional Japanese cultural highlights such as the tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), a puppet show, traditional court music, and a traditional comedic skit.


The puppet show was a stand out, a little eerie but enchanting.


And of course the maiko / apprentice geisha dance, in their best demure pouts and small movements.


Fushimi Inari


Another early start to the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha the next morning, again, to beat the crowd. It was a beautiful complex, with proud Oinari fox guards.

It will take about 1 hour to complete the hiking course.


The rows of red torii gates were indeed worth the hype. Beautiful, bright and vivid; picturesque and a pleasant walking experience. 



Walk far enough and wait patiently to get pictures sans the crowd.


And then, our Kyoto weekend was over; it’s time to return to Tokyo.

Places we visited

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  • Tenryu-ji
  • Kinkakuji
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Gion
  • Nishiki Market
We missed Kiyomizu Dera in this trip, but I also highly recommend this temple!

Tips

  • If there are 4 of you travelling, you could consider taking a cab to get around. Kyoto isn't that big a city, so splitting the cost wouldn't be astronomical and you could save considerable sight-seeing time. 
  • Of course public transport is still the most economical. The system is tourist friendly and the city bus provides a good coverage; Kyoto bus and subway pass is of good value. You can find more info here.
  • Kyoto during cherry blossom / sakura season is amazing, but the sakura season is unpredictable and very short. Another season that's more forgiving because it lasts longer and therefore easier to plan is to travel during the gorgeous autumn leaves / kouyou season. On both seasons, expect lots and lots of tourists though.
  • Take your time and don't hurry. Savour the moment, rather than quickly ticking temple after temple off the touristy list. In my opinion, Kyoto is best enjoyed with a quiet, serene, zen mentality. 
  • Do early mornings do beat the crowd where possible.
I love Kyoto. I looove Kyoto! It’s choke-full of beauty, traditional architecture and culture. Of course it’s doubly amazing with the fact that we were there right at the peak of hanami season.  Yes, there were lots of tourists, but for good reason.

Til next time, Kyoto!

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