Kyoto, Japan is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve visited. As the former capital city of Imperial Japan, it has a rich history; and with mountain ranges on three sides and a river bisecting the city from North to South, the scenery is also attractive. These are photos I took on two trips to the city. Altogether there are 394 photos, so I have divided them into a series of albums.
Album 1: All Photos
If you want to see everything!
View Album: Kyoto; All Photos (394 photos)
Album 2: Chion-ji Handicraft Market, Shimogamo Shrine, Tadasu no Mori
2.1 Chion-ji Handicraft Market: On the 15th of each month there is a local handicraft market (Chion-ji Tezukuri-ichi) at Chion-ji temple. There are around a hundred stalls around the temple, with vendors selling goods such as jewelry, dolls, clothing, kitchenware, rattan baskets, artwork, hand-carved boxes and homemade pastries.
2.2 Shimogamo Jinja: Shimogamo Shrine is situated on an island at the fork of the of the Kamogawa and Takanogawa rivers and is one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines. When I was there, the shrine was hosting a light festival designed by Teamlab, which was really quite magical. I’ve described the two-part exhibition in more detail in an article on my art blog: Light Festival at Tadasu no Mori and Shimogamo-jinja.
2.3 Second-hand Book Market in Tadasu no Mori: To get to the shrine, you walk though a primeval forest known as Tadasu no Mori, where many of the trees are between 200 and 600 years old. It is said that any lies told within the forest will be revealed. In Tadasu no Mori, there is an annual used book fair— The Shimogamo Noryo Furuhon Matsuri. A book market in a mythical forest! That is something you don’t see every day.
View Album 2: Chion-ji Handicrafts Market, Shimogamo Shrine, Tadasu no Mori (88 photos)
Album 3: Fushimi Inari Taisha & Tofuku-ji
3.1 Fushimi Inari Taisha: features thousands of vermilion torii gates snaking up a forested hillside. Fushimi Inari Taisha It is conveniently located just a couple of stops south of the main Kyoto train station. The shrine complex is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Along the trails and in the smaller shrines, you will often see statues of Kitsune (fox spirits), which are thought to be messengers of Inari.
3.2 Tofuki-ji: Not far from the north exit of Fushimi Inari Taisha is Tofuki-ji, a thirteenth century temple. This temple is best visited in autumn, when the leaves change color. It has viewing platforms and balconies for this purpose.
View Album 3: Fushimi Inashi Taisha & Tofuku-ji (77 photos)
Album 4: Arashiyama
4.1 Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: This is just what the name says it is—a large bamboo forest. There is a 500-metre path through the grove.
4.2 Tenryu-ji: Nearby is Tenryu-ji, a large zen temple and the other main attraction in the area.
4.3 Floating Lantern Ceremony: In mid-August in Kyoto, the annual Obon festival— a major festival for remembering and honoring one’s ancestors—is celebrated. It is normally held around the 15th of August, but the exact date is based on the lunar calendar and changes from year to year. On the night of Obon there is a lantern floating ceremony on the Katsura river by Arashiyama. Family members use the lanterns—known as toro nagashi—to symbolically send off their ancestors. On the river bank, the atmosphere is quite festival, with food stalls selling things like corn on the cob, dumplings and candied apples.
View Album 4: Arashiyama (29 photos)
Album 5: Ohara
Ohara is a farming village about an hour by bus north of Kyoto. Besides the rural scenery it is famous for its temples and shrines. I visited three of them:
5.1 Hosen-in: At Hosen-in you can drink green tea, admire a beautiful view an ancient gnarled tree and contemplate your existence all the while sitting beneath a ceiling stained with the blood of fallen warriors. The ceiling is made up of the floorboards Fushimi Castle, where the last defenders loyal to Ieyasu Tokugawa, committed ritual suicide when the castle was taken in 1600.
5.2 Sanzen-in: The temple of Sanzen-in is the main attraction in Ohara and is famous for it’s beautiful garden.
5.3 Jakko-in: This is another temple associated with a tragic story. Jakko-in is the convent where the Empress Dowager Dowager Kenrei-mon In retreated to after the sea battle of Dan-no-ura, which she managed to survive, but only after the loss of her child and all of her immediate family
View Album 5: Ohara (39 photos)
Album 6: Gion & Higashiyama
These two adjacent districts are probably the most famous areas in Tokyo, renowned for their traditional architecture and culture. Gion is also well known for its nightlife. I didn’t spend long exploring this area so I will have to spend more time there on my next visit to the city.
- Yasaka Koshindo Temple: The is a small but really colorful temple in Gion. Worshippers write their wishes on a fabric balls called “kukurizaru” and hang the up with the other balls. It is believed that if you give up one of your desires, one of your wishes may come true.
- Yasaka Pagoda. This elegant structure, more formally know as Hokan-ji, is one of Kyoto’s main landmarks.
- Yasaka Shrine: Also known as Gion shrine, it is one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines, dating back to the 7th century.
- Maruyama Park. I want there at night during Obon and all the paths were lit up with lanterns, many of which had been hand-painted by children. If you are in Kyoto in early April, you should go to the park to see cherry blossoms.
- Otani Cemetery: Following the lanterns through Maruyama park, I ended up at Otani Cemetery. That was the night during Obon when families place lit lanterns on the graves of their ancestors, so lanterns dotted the hillside like stars in the sky.
- Nanzen Ji: A large temple complex in Higashiyama (the picture at the top of this article was taken there).
- The Philosopher’s Path: A path beside the canal, which is a nice place for a stroll.
- The Studio Ghibli store in Gion.
View Album 6: Gion & Higashiyama (44 photos)
Album 7: North of Kyoto
This album includes photos of two hikes north of Kyoto, so there is a lot of I scenery and (being around Kyoto) some picturesque shrines and temples.
7.1 Kurama to Kibune: These are two small towns north of Kyoto. They are in valleys separated by a small mountain, Kurama-Dera, a temple offering fabulous views. Once past the temple, there is a spooky area where most of the the tree roots are exposed. Then there is a downhill walk to Kibune, which has its own shrine and which is famous for its riverside restaurants.
7.2 Kinkaku-ji to Jingo-ji: I started at Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion ) and wandered around the hills northwest of Kyoto. Unfotunately, I didn’t get any great pictures of Kinkaku-ji. It was overcast when I was there and to really appreciate the temple in all of it’s glory, you would want sunlight glittering on the temples golden roof and eaves. The last place I visited was Jingo-ji. At this temple, you can buy small clay discs that represent your misfortune and go to where the couple in the above picture are standing and hurl them into the valley below. It felt good to do that.
View Album 7: North of Kyoto (44 photos)
Album 8: Ponto-chō, Kamogawa, Ichihime Shrine, Nishiki Market, Kitano-tenman-gu
This album focuses on the area across the Kamo River from Gion. The Kamo River is worth a visit. People come here on weekends, after work or after school to hang out (or even do things like trombone practice). Just beside the river is the narrow alley of Ponto-chō, famed for its exclusive restaurants. Nishiki Market is a famous shopping arcade specializing in food. Ichihime Shrine is one of many small shrines in Kyoto. This one mainly focuses on the protection of women (and uses daruma dolls for fortune telling. Kitano-tenman-gu is a temple with a bi-monthly market and fair—Tenjin-san Market.
View Album 8: Ponto-chō, Kamogawa, Ichihime Shrine, Nishiki Market, Kitano-tenman-gu (64 photos)
Album 9: Osaka & Nara
9.1 Nara: A short train ride from Kyoto is the small city of Nara, which is famous for its Sika deer. Sika deer from this area have long been protected, first as sacred animals and then as national treasures. There are over a thousand deer roaming around the park.
9.2 Osaka: I just spent a day in Osaka, so the photo album is quite small. It features views of the city, Osaka Castle, the obligatory shot of the Glica billboard an shots of a rock band doing a promotional performance.
View Album 9: Osaka & Nara (47 photos)
Here is a short time-lapse video I made showing the Osaka skyline
What I didn’t see
Quite often when I travel, I am looking to get away from the crowds (as I live in ultra-densely-populated Hong Kong), so sometimes I will skip top attractions and spend the morning or afternoon look at someplace a little more out of the way. Consequently, I still haven’t been to some of Kyoto’s most famous landmarks: the temples Kiyomizu-dera, Nanzen-ji, Ginkaku-ji as well as Nijō Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace. I’ll check them out when I revisit the city in future.