Quickly after arriving to Kyoto, Chelsea and I made some new friends in our hostel dorm room. Angela and Debbie are from Taiwan, and the four of us went out for some exploring for our first evening in Kyoto.
Yasaka is a Shinto shrine in the Gion district. Chelsea had taught me the correct rituals to follow prior to entering a Shinto shrine that we visited in Tokyo. For example, we had to cleanse our hands and mouths using these wooden water dippers. (Isn't the little boy next to me adorable btw!)
There were many beautiful paper lanterns here (and throughout the city), however, I found out that many of them are actually just random ads.
Here people ring the bells to make wishes.
We didn't expect the Yasaka shrine to be so big, so by the time we were finished walking around, it was already nighttime. We explored the Gion district, did some shopping, and then found a place for dinner.
For dinner, we had kushikatsu, Japanese fried skewers. I had vegetable ones, and tried fried lotus root for the first time - yummy! The traditional way to eat the skewers is to dip them into a sauce (no double dipping - it's a communal jar for all guests!) and then sprinkling salt on top.
We had a lot of fun with our new friends - they made me laugh when they ordered french fries and ate them with chopsticks!
Chelsea and I returned to the Gion District on the evening of our second day in Kyoto for some more exploring.
We continued to wander outside of the Gion area and found a cute little sashimi restaurant for dinner.
The restaurant was very small - it only seated a total of about 8 people. But the food was yummy! There was a large water tank inside to pull the fresh fish from!
I had a plate of mixed sashimi with rice, Chelsea had unagi (eel), and we both drank oolong tea.
Chelsea and I began our second day in Kyoto at the Otani Hombyo temple, and we watched people chanting inside.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Next, we visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We were surprised that there weren't very many tourists here. We walked along a quiet path up to the palace, and I thought this mother and her daughter looked so sweet playing in the stream on the palace grounds.
Before reaching the actual palace, we visited the Shirakumo Shrine, dedicated to the goddess of music, Myo-Onten.
Chelsea and I followed an audio tour around the palace grounds to learn about the history and importance of each building.
We especially loved the gardens here!
Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
Next, we visited Kinkaju-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf.
The surrounding area was also really beautiful.
Ryōan-ji is another zen temple and the site of a famous rock garden. This is probably my favorite place that we have visited in Japan so far. We came near the end of the day, so there were only a few other people here. It was so green and peaceful.
The Rock Garden was created around 1500 by a Zen monk.
The Ryōan-ji temple was originally a country house of the Tokudaiji Clan, but was later acquired by Hosokawa Katsumoto to use as a Zen training temple. We had to take our shoes off before entering, and then enjoyed wandering around the wooden building.
Behind the temple is a water basin made of stone, called Tsukubai. "I learn only to be contented" is written on the basin in Kanji. The concept of learning to be content is important in the Zen spirit.
Kyoto National Museum
Our third day in Kyoto was spent with two new Japanese friends that live in Osaka. They were amazing tour guides and showed us all around the city. We began the day at the Sanjusangen-do temple. There were no photos allowed there, but I highly recommend it as a good place to visit! The most impressive part of the temple was the 1,000 buddha statues! After visiting the temple, we went to the Kyoto National Museum, where we saw art from far back in Japan's history.
After the museum, we visited the Yogen-in Temple. This is a temple that had previously burned down, and then was rebuilt using wood from the Fushimi Castle. Soldiers in this castle had committed a ritual suicide when they were overwhelmed by enemies, and their blood soaked the floorboards. The floorboards from this castle are used in the ceiling of what is now the Yogen-in temple, and you can see the outlines of their bodies in blood stained there still today. It was kind of creepy to see, but very interesting to learn about the history.
For lunch, we went to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that the boys new about. We ate okonomiyaki, which we cooked on a grill at our table. So yummy!
Zen Garden and Tea House
Our friends then took us to a zen garden and traditional tea house. We drank green tea on tatami mats and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the garden.
Nanzen-ji and Surrounding Area
Next, we visited the Nanzen-ji Temple. The area around the temple is pretty cool as well, and we spent some time walking around here.
City Walk and the Kamo River
We ended the day with an evening walk through the city and then some hidden alleys and a picnic along the river. My photos didn't turn out well, but I highly recommend the Kamo River at night! It's a popular place for young people. The open-container laws are different than in the USA, so you can grab a beer and some snacks and sit along the water with friends!
I loved Kyoto! There is so much to see and do in this city! I would highly recommend making this your home-base for travel around the area. You can easily make day-trips from here to Osaka, Nara, and Kobe (we didn't make it here, but was recommended as an interesting place to visit!) If you're looking for a good place to stay in the city, Chelsea and I were VERY happy with our stay at Santiago Guesthouse Kyoto. It was walking distance from the train station and in a good location for exploring the city by foot. There are bus stops nearby as well, so you can reach places like the Golden Pagoda and the Imperial Palace. We stayed in a 12-person dorm room for $13/night. The beds were fantastic with big mattresses, privacy curtains, individual reading lights and individual electrical outlets.