Travel Diary: 7 Places You Need To See In Kyoto, Japan

By Real Talk by Alex Castillo - 6:08:00 AM

On the final leg of my Japan travel diary, I will be taking you on the journey my family and I went on in the beautiful  and cultural city of Kyoto. 

3rd Stop: Kyoto
Among all the cities that we went to, Kyoto was the best for me. The city, I felt, had the perfect balance of modern and traditional Japanese culture, which I thought was really amazing. Also, it was incredible to see and experience all the scenic spots via the very organized transportation system—a really nice experience, compared to the messy and competitive transportation we have back home. Of course, it is unavoidable to get lost, especially if you are a tourist, but hey, you learn a lot more about a country’s culture when you get lost in it.
  1. Fushimi-Inari Shrine

Lost in translation

The architecture of the shrine and the whole compound of Fushimi-Inari is so beautifully Japanese. It’s one of those places that you expect to see when you’re in Japan; and when you do see it, it seems a little surreal because, in a city already built on modernism, you find this piece of history and tradition that’s so well preserved. It’s amazing.
Travel tip: There’s going to be a lot of walking when you’re here. Luckily, if ever you feel thirsty or hungry, you can find some food stalls and random vending machines just outside the walkway towards the shrine. Don’t forget to get some Takuyaki!
  1. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Photo taken by my sister, Cristina Castillo

Now, this is located on the veeery far end of Kyoto. More or less, it will take you about two hours to get here from Kyoto station, but it is definitely worth the wait. There is a pathway on the side of the road (don’t worry, there are signs) where you can just walk through the forest at your own pace.

One of favorite shots

Travel tip: Be sure to make it to the end of the path to see the railway that cuts the two sides of the forest. It’s a great place for photo opportunities. ;)
  1. Nijo Castle

What’s cool about this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was also a former imperial palace, is that you actually get to tour the inside of the castle where the former emperor used to live and go about his business, barefoot, might I add. Not to mention, you get to pass by a beautiful expansive landscape.
Travel tip: Since you’ll be taking off and putting on your shoes in this venue, make sure to wear comfortable, yet easy-to-take-off closed shoes because you’ll be stepping on a lot of stones, and soil when you're here.
  1. Kinkakuji Temple
Even with the rain, the temple looks just as beautiful

Otherwise known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’; meaning that a pretty big chunk of this famed temple’s exterior is made of actual gold. Not all of it, though.
Travel tip: After walking all over the compound, you might want to freshen up with a drink. At the end of the trail, you can find a small restaurant that lets you experience a traditional tea ceremony for 500-700 yen per head. If ever you don’t want to do that, there’s a souvenir shop just right beside it. They’ve got pretty nice stuff in there. *thumbs up*
  1. Ginkaku-ji Temple
Of course, it is custom for the Japanese to surround a temple with a garden just as beautiful and tranquil

So just like the Kinkakuji Temple, the GINkakuji Temple has a special element (literally) to its structure, only this time, instead of gold, it’s silver. The real star of this scenic spot though, is the sand sculptures, beautifully laid out around the compound. Definitely worth seeing.
Also, the pathway you’ll walk through after entering looks like a part of the maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie. Even my sister felt the Cedric Diggory vibes in there.

Travel tip: Like everywhere else in Japan, there’s going to be a lot of walking here, but do make sure to wear comfortable and very durable walking/running shoes when you go here. It’s not all just going to be flat roads and pathways, but you will be going up and around a lot of uneven steps. It’s more of a hike than a walk through, really.
  1. Gion

Keeping an eye out for geishas 🎎
Remember: you can't take a picture of a geisha unless you have her permission

This area in Kyoto is most famous for shopping and the very touristy geisha district. There is one particular alleyway in Gion that looks like a very well-preserved historical Japanese street, where you can see geishas, if you’re lucky. You’ll usually just see the them walking around the area in their kimonos, parasols, and traditional Japanese sandals.
Travel tip: If you’re feeling up for a deeper immersion into  Japanese culture, you can rent a kimono for the day and walk around/tour Kyoto, just like locals did back in the day.

  1. KYK Restaurant, Porta Dining, Kyoto Station

Okay, I know this isn’t really a scenic spot, but this is one restaurant you CANNOT miss going to while in Kyoto. They had the best katsu (deep fried breaded pork) I have ever tasted in my life. Not to mention, you can get unlimited rice, cabbage, and miso soup! What could be better than that?
Travel tip: In this particular branch, there is a ramen restaurant right beside it that serves really good ramen, as well. I forgot to take note of the name, but it definitely should be on your food trip bucket list. There is a higher food culture in Kyoto than in Nara and Osaka. Everything is just soooo good!
There are plenty of other places where you can go and visit when you’re in Kyoto. There’s the Imperial Palace, the Kiyomizudera Shrine, The Philosopher’s Path, and so many others. Sadly, my family and I were only able to go to these places, as we were only there in Kyoto for 1 ½ days. Twenty-four hours isn’t enough to go and see it all, so make sure to book at least a three day stay when you go on your trip.
I’m not gonna lie, but there was a part of me that was really stressed during this trip. What with the language barrier and getting lost on occasion, plus the exhaustion you feel at the end of the day…It can get really draining.

It takes a lot of research, work, and patience to be a tourist in Japan. But, despite all that, I am truly grateful for everything that my family and I experienced when we were there. Sure, it was stressful at times, but to be truly immersed in one’s culture—like commuting to tourist destinations via train, interacting with people like transit personnel, random passers-by, the people who work in the restaurants we ate in, or at our hotel, or even the old lady who helped us on the way to Umeda when she saw that we were lost—it’s amazing how much you can learn about a country and its people and culture, even after just staying for a week.
It will probably be a while before we go back, but I am looking forward to learning more from the Japanese and experiencing more of their culture.
‘Til next time, Japan! Sayonara for now. :)

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