Thousands of torii gates behind Fushimi Inari shrine. Photos: Tan Hock Chuan
The city, with 17 Unesco heritage sites, is the only city I visit in different seasons. Hotel room rates may be exorbitant during cherry blossom season and in autumn, but Kyoto is at its most beautiful during these times of the year, creating memories that last a lifetime.
Kinkakuji, the famous Golden Pavilion, is Kyoto’s most iconic sight, but my favourite is Kiyomi-zudera because it offers better experience of the old Japan. Matsubara-dori, the access road itself, is an attraction. If you take Bus 100 or Bus 206 from Kyoto Station (it takes about 15 minutes), get off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, one stop after Gojozaka bus stop. Most tourists get off at Gojozaka stop because it is the first stop to get off for those going to Kiyomizu temple. However tour buses also take Gojozaka road to the temple, causing congestion and heavy pollution.
The narrow Matsubara-dori is wide enough for pedestrians and cars only. It takes about 10 minutes to walk to the temple from the bus-stop but most people take much longer because they get distracted by the beautiful wooden houses, traditional teahouses and shops selling souvenirs, traditional wares and foodstuff along the street. Not to be missed is Sannen-zaka (on the left, when approaching the entrance gates), a steep downward-sloping pedestrian street that leads to Yasaka Shrine in Gion.
Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) Buddhist temple was founded in 780CE (more than 1,200 years ago) and houses the 11-faced, thousand armed Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) The main focal point of most tourists is the wooden stage at the main hall, which offers a nice view of the cherry blossoms during spring and the red maple leaves in autumn, below. When we were there in November 2015, some parts of the temple were under renovation, but it did not impact much on our visit. (The renovation will go on till 2019.)
Arashiyama, a small and quaint town famous for its Bamboo Forest, is the place to enjoy the natural beauty of Japan. It is only 17 minutes by train on the JR Sagano line from Kyoto Station. It is easy to get to the Bamboo Forest.
After exiting Saga Arashiyama station, take the lane (between the station and some houses) on the right to the Bamboo Forest, 800m away. The Bamboo Forest is located between Tenryuji temple and Nonomiya shrine (dedicated to the Shinto god of matchmaking). We were at the bamboo grove before 9am and the tour buses had not yet arrived.
The whole place was so serene with soothing sounds of rustling bamboo leaves It was so therapeutic. The gardens in Tenryuji and the other nearby temples are popular during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons. This time around we did not go into any of the temples partly because we already had an overdose of man-made (landscaped) autumn scenery and partly because of the gloomy sky.
By the time we reached Togetsu-kyo bridge, the sky had opened up and we did not have the chance to take nice photos of the bridge with the natural autumn colours of the forested mountain in the background. If we had not gone to another “forest” in the town centre – the Kimono Forest (pillars wrapped in kimono fabric) in Randen Arashiyama station (Keiku-fu Arashiyama line) – we might have had the chance.
For fans of the movie Memoirs Of A Geisha, it is unthinkable to leave Kyoto without visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine. The shrine is only five minutes from Kyoto Station by local train (rapid train does not stop at Inari station) on the JR Nara line. The shrine, dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, is steps away from the train station. All over the shrine grounds are sculptures of foxes, the messengers of Inari. Behind the shrine are thousands of orange-coloured torii gates which straddle a trail that leads into the forest of sacred Mount Inari, 230m above sea-level.
Kyoto is certainly enchanting!