After spending the early part of our morning getting done up at Yumeyakata, the boyfriend and I were finally ready to venture out into Kyoto!
Higashiyama District (東山区)
We spent a good portion of our day wandering though the narrow cobbled paths of the Higashiyama district. This area was formed back in 1929 and boasts beautiful late 19th to early 20th century architecture. It’s like a living time capsule of times that have long since passed. In fact, it has been designated by the Japanese government as an “Important Preservation District for a Group of Historic Buildings.” This being said, the locals have put great effort into preserving the historical and tradition feel of the area. They even recently removed all the telephone lines.
There was so much to take in and discover, including some beautiful shrines and temples we stumbled upon hidden among the homes. Of course we also browsed through the various traditional shops and snack vendors. I found myself constantly drawn to these cute little chirimen dolls. Chirimen is a traditional Japanese weaving technique developed in the late 16th century. The silk fabric that is made from this technique is also called “chirimen” and though it is often used to make kimonos, it is also used to make charms and these cute colorful dolls.
Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社)
After wandering around Higashiyama and stopping for lunch and tea at Hello Kitty Saryo, we made our way over to the Gion District. This is a famous entertainment district known for its geisha and Kabuki Theatre, but also Yasaka Shrine. This is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto, founded over 1350 years ago. Though we were a bit pressed for time, we knew we wanted to walk around and take in its beauty if only for a little while.
The grounds looked like a sea of beautiful autumn colored trees. Hidden amongst the vibrant leaves was the entrance to the temple which had 2 sone carved Korean lion-dogs (koma-inu) protecting the stairs that lead to the main part of the shrine. All the lanterns and various structures were painted in vibrant teal, red, orange and yellow colors. It compliment the autumn background so perfectly, it almost looked like an oil painting.
Nishiki Market (錦市場)
Known to locals as “Kyoto’s pantry,” Nishiki Market was a place I was dying to explore. This narrow, five block long shopping street is lined with more than 100 different shops and restaurants. Many of these places have been family owned for generations, with the first shop opening around 1310! It was a bit crowded, with tourists and locals alike, but it was definitely worth it. Of course we didn’t have time to go through the entire market, but we did get to check out some more chirimen doll shops and try some of the snacks at the food stalls. I loved the Mitarashi Dango (grilled mochi covered in a sweet soy sauce), while the boyfriend raved over the Tako Tamago (skewered candied baby octopus stuffed with a quail egg). We also picked up some amazing handmade green tea (matcha) mochi to take home. It was so soft it literally melted in my mouth. I kind of regret not buying more while we were there.
Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社)
Fushimi Inari is a shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It’s famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which first caught my eye in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha.” As a movie set it was amazing, so I couldn’t even begin to fathom what it would be like in reality. It did not disappoint. The Shrine encompasses a massive area which includes several smaller shrines, hiking trails and an entire mountain. The grounds are littered with fox statues, charms and mini shrines, since foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers. Many people leave real food out for the foxes to eat.
We arrived in the late afternoon so we didn’t have much time to check out the area in the daylight. However, by night all the lights in the temple and shrines turn on along with several lanterns to light the the paths. It looks hauntingly beautiful. It’s definitely a place worth revisiting.