One of my destinations were the Japanese Alps but since I wanted to visit Kyoto too, the best option for me was staying in Nagoya. That meant I only had one day to visit Kyoto and that it was impossible to see everything.
The top 4 obvious things I wanted to do:
- Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
- The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Gion (Kyoto’s most famous geisha district)
- Tetsugaku no michi (The Philosopher’s Path and one of the cherry blossom viewing spots)
Doing the top 2 was pretty evident and if we weren’t too tired, we could’ve added the geisha district too. That was the plan however this trip taught me that plans were made to be broken: I went to the Ginkaku-ji temple (Silver Pavilion) and not the Kinkaku-ji temple. Make sure you do your research as one letter can make all the difference.
The blessing behind my mishap is that it immediately brought me to the Philosopher’s Path to see one of Kyoto’s cherry blossom viewing spots. This path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees and it may have been #4 on my list but it sure went up 2 spots after witnessing the real deal.
This same path had also led me to the Honen-in temple which wasn’t on the plan but ended up being my #1 in Kyoto. One thing I’ve noticed once I’ve set foot in Japan is that there’s a lot of people everywhere, all the time. I’ve found peace for the very first time in Japan thanks to the Honen-in temple. This small temple wasn’t crowdy and gave me time to meditate and pray in front of the Amida Buddha statue.
For the second half of the day, I had to choose between the Golden temple and the Bamboo Grove and since I already had my moment of peace at the Honen-in temple, I decided to go to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
The fact is that the deserted pictures of the Bamboo Grove we see everywhere are very misleading. This place was so jam-packed with tourists I hadn’t enjoyed it as much as I wanted to. It is unique and something I’ve never seen before but don’t get your hopes up too high and hopefully your expectations might still be met.
If I were to ever have a do over again in Japan, I’d spend the night in Kyoto. The Golden Pavilion and the geisha district are still places I’d want to view and perhaps if I went really early in the morning or stay very late in the evening, I might have a shot at having a picture of an empty Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.
Here’s an useful tip in case you’d end up at the Ginkaku-ji temple instead of the Kinkaku-ji temple like I did: there’s a direct bus that goes from the Silver to the Golden temple: bus 103 (keep in mind the 10 minute walk to the bus stop).
Me next stop: Japan 2016 Part III: Shirakawa-go