Kyoto, Japan Day One: Higashiyama & Gion Districts

March 15, 2019

I have to be brutally honest with myself, I’ve been slacking a little bit with my Japan series. I wrote about day three of my time in Osaka back at the end of January but a mixture of life and laziness has meant that I’m only just moving onto Kyoto. If you haven’t read any of my Japan posts yet and would like to start from the beginning, just click here.

After being in Osaka for the last three days, we were now moving onto Kyoto to explore another city. We checked out of our lovely Osaka Airbnb that I almost didn’t want to leave as I’d really warmed to the place. I won’t lie, I really wasn’t looking forward to hauling all of our cases and bags around on the tubes. Something I’ve learnt about Japan is there aren’t really “quiet” times as far as travelling goes. Of course, there’s the horrendous rush hours but even if you go out super early or really late into the night, there’s still quite a lot of people around. Although we did travel during rush hour a few times during our trip, luckily it was never when we were hauling suitcases around. Once we got into Kyoto, we found baggage storage facilities and dumped our things off there so that we could explore around the area before checking into our second Airbnb.

We started off by having a little walk around the Higashiyama District. There were plenty of shops and food places located along different narrow walkways throughout the district. Charlie suggested that we all try steamed buns, I’d seen these before from doing Google searches for the best Japanese foods to try but I hadn’t actually tried one yet. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the exact place we got our buns from but what I can definitely say is that they tasted absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t even get a picture of the bun as I was too excited to eat it. Mine was filled with ground pork and was absolutely full of flavour. The bun was really bouncy and fluffy and although they were quite small, one bun filled me up decently which is just the fuel I needed as I knew we were in for a lot of walking. Steamed buns are one of the things I miss the most about Japan, it makes my mouth water just thinking about them.

We then moved onto Kiyomizu-dera Temple which is such a huge place with so many things to see. They were doing construction work on the main hall when we visited which will be continuing until 2020, but thankfully we were still able to go inside. This is a huge wooden stage from which you can see the most gorgeous view of hundreds of cherry and maple trees with the city of Kyoto in the far distance. The hall is home to a small statue of Kannon, who has eleven faces and thousands of arms. There was also a stall inside the main hall where you could pay to have your luck predicted. Apparently my luck is fairly high, so I’m still wondering where my lottery winnings are.

There are various places located around the main hall that are said to bring different kinds of luck. Behind the hall was Jishu Shrine which is dedicated to love and matchmaking. I didn’t know until after we’d visited but there were two stones placed 18 meters apart where you’re supposed to walk from one stone to another with your eyes closed. If you reach the other side successfully, this means that you’re supposed to gain luck in finding love. There was also a waterfall called Otowa Waterfall with three different streams of water that are meant to provide different benefits depending on which stream you drink from. One supposedly increases your life span, one gives you success at school and one gives you a fortunate love life. Just don’t drink from all three as this is considered to be greedy. There was also Koyasu Pagoda which is three stories high and paying a visit to this is said to bring about an easy and safe childbirth.

After walking for so long around this area, we made our way back towards the way we came as we’d spotted a restaurant called Takinoya that served flavoured ice. We’d been walking around in the heat for ages so we definitely needed to cool down and chill for a little while. There were lots of different flavours to choose from like Ramune, matcha and strawberry. I was so spoiled for choice but I ended up going for lemon which was so refreshing and perfect after all the walking we’d done in the heat.

Following a well deserved cool-down, we made our way over to Kodai-ji Temple. This features a main hall surrounded by the most stunning zen gardens, complete with two tea houses. There were maple trees scattered all around the gardens; we were slightly too early for prime maple season but luckily some shades of orange and red had already started to appear. The zen gardens have the most stunning lake that you can walk across via a small path, this is where most of the maple trees seemed to be and I got some lovely photos of the Autumnal colours. My personal favourite part about the visit to Kodai-Ji Temple was the steps exiting the area (Nene’s Path) as it features a bamboo grove where I couldn’t help but end up having a mini photo shoot as it was such a beautiful and calming area.

Whilst walking back through the area of Higashiyama and moving on towards Gion District, we managed to see Hokan-ji Temple and Yasaka Shrine. It was still day time when we saw Yasaka Shrine but it’s supposed to be particularly spectacular of an evening as there’s a stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit up at night. The lanterns also feature the names of small businesses surrounding the area that pay donations to have their names displayed which I think is a really nice touch. Charlie also hunted down Yayoi Kusama’s Forever Museum of Contemporary Art; I wasn’t familiar with the artist and we didn’t actually go inside the museum but I was immediately intrigued by a sculpture situated outside the entrance which was basically a large yellow pumpkin with black polka dots. I can imagine that this is a reflection of some amazingly creative work featured inside the museum. Given a bit more time in Kyoto, I would love to go back and have a proper look around inside.

After a long day of exploring, we went back to the station to retrieve all of our luggage and check into our Airbnb. If you’re interested in knowing more about where we stayed, I have a whole detailed post on this. We noticed that there was a huge grocery store nearby to where we were staying so we spent the evening munching on microwave meals and Japanese snacks. The microwave meals in Japan are such a huge step up from what we have in the UK; in most stores in Japan, it’s all made fresh that day and the quality of the food is amazing. If it wasn’t for all the walking we did throughout the trip, I’d definitely have put on about a stone as I got completely addicted to beef and rice bowls.

Where would you want to visit most in Kyoto?

19 comments so far.

19 responses to “Kyoto, Japan Day One: Higashiyama & Gion Districts”

  1. Hi Alice! I saw your blogpost retweeted on Twitter. Japan has always been on my bucket list. Your photos were stunning. I wish you included a photo of the steamed buns you enjoyed! I wanted to tell you I enjoyed reading your post, it was well-written and I can tell you put a lot of effort into writing it. I also really like the layout of your blog! I’m going to check out your other Japan posts 🙂 I know what it’s like to take ages to blog about a trip. I went on my first solo trip to NYC in April 2017 and have only posted about day 1!!!

    • Thank you so much! You should definitely go to Japan if you ever get the chance, it’s an incredible experience. I wish I took a photo of the steamed bun too, it was super yummy. Thank you for your lovely words, you’ve absolutely made my day and I hope you enjoy reading the rest of the series. Oh wow, I’ll have to have a read, I’ve heard NYC is meant to be incredible too x

  2. Al this all looks SO incredible!! I always find it absolutely fascinating looking at pictures of oriental places as their buildings are so damn different and wonderful. The steamed buns sound right up my street and honestly ready meals that have been in the fridge for a few days make me feel a little ill so fresh ones sound PERFECT as I’m a bit lazy hehe. I also find it so interesting that they have these rituals that are supposed to bring you this or that, we only really have superstitions in the UK but I know so many other cultures and countries have things similar where if you kiss a stone or go into a certain cave its supposed to bring you love or happiness! I am loving this series so much girl.
    Alice Xx

    • It’s incredible to think it was all made from scratch as everything was SO beautiful and detailed. Our ready meals here just don’t seem to be very filling or fresh whatsoever, the Japanese ones are a whole different ball game! I think it’s really lovely that they have things like that to believe in, I’m not sure I really believe in things like that myself but it was really interesting to learn about. Thank you so much Al, I’m glad you’re enjoying it xx

  3. I’m so sad that I missed out on walking about the Gion districts, and reading this makes me want to hop on a plane and taste some of that flavoured ice (another thing that I never had the chance to try). And I feel you on the lazy thing – I went to Japan about 2 years ago and there’s so much I haven’t written about!

    • It was really lovely to walk around, if you ever go back then I’d definitely pay a visit. It was so refreshing, I really want to try more of the flavours they had. I know, I feel like it will take me forever to complete the series! x

  4. I’m definitely going to go back and read your other Japan post. I’d LOVE to visit Japan – it just looks stunning from every single photo. The temples are breathtaking and all the serene gardens… so dreamy! I’d definitely be a bit worried about using the tubes though with all the people!

    Jenny in Neverland

    • I hope you enjoy reading them, thank you so much Jenny! It is absolutely beautiful, I’d love to go back again. The gardens were definitely one of my favourite parts of the trip. Yeah they can get pretty hectic sometimes, it was definitely a test of my anxiety but I powered through luckily x

  5. Aaliyah Hunt says:

    Your photos look incredible, Japan has always been somewhere that I’ve wanted to go and this post has made me want to go a lot more! The temples look like such a lovely and peaceful place to go and visit! And also so gorgeous! Great post x

    • Thanks Aaliyah! It’s incredible, you should definitely visit if you ever get the opportunity. There are busy places as well as peaceful places, I definitely preferred the quieter ones but everything was just amazing x

  6. This is such an awesome and thorough post, lovely! I’m actually going travelling around the world next month starting in NZ and Australia but we’ll be eventually making our way to Japan so I’ll definitely refer back to this at a later date as well to get some tips and advice! xx

  7. Japan honestly looks incredible!

  8. Japan looks so beautiful and it’s somewhere you’ve made me want to visit! I’d love to visit in cherry blossom season (imagine the pics for Insta?!)
    The food sounds amazing and I’d love to walk around the lake and would definitely be up for visiting the shrine at nighttime – it reminds me of a festival we were in Thailand for where you get a little floral shrine, light a candle and let it drift into the lake for your wishes to come true – I love the legends! I’m also massively impressed with how much you remember from your trip! I never remember that much from my trips! 😂❤️❤️

    • I honestly need to go back during cherry blossom season, I can’t even imagine how beautiful it must be. I definitely enjoyed the start of maple season too though as I’m such an Autumn lover. That sounds so beautiful! I’d love to do that. Haha I’m surprised too, luckily I have a lot of photos to jog my memory when I get stuck xx

  9. I’ve really enjoyed reading all about your trip to Japan! It sounds like such a once in a lifetime experience and you really did jam pack your trip full of fun things and lots of exploring! Also, all of the food sounds incredible and now I’m super hungry haha xo

    Char |

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the series! We were determined to cram in as much as we could. The food was definitely one of the highlights, I miss all of the amazing meals and snacks so much xx

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