When someone talks about Japan, one would automatically think about shrines, kimonos, sakura, and sushi! And, when someone asks which part of Japan I love the most, I would always choose the old capital, Kyoto.
The Western Capital
Kyoto, which means “capital city,” used to be the capital of Japan before it was moved to Edo, later known as Tokyo, in 1868 during the Imperial Restoration.
It is interesting to note that during World War II, the United States of America originally planned to bomb Kyoto but dropped the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead because they considered Kyoto too beautiful to be destroyed.
Dress Till You Drop
During our recent stay in the land of the rising sun, we took a day trip to Kyoto to mainly visit Fushimi Inari Taisha. While we were there, I thought we might as well walk around in kimono during the trip. Kimono literally means “a thing to wear” but now refers to what we regularly see as Japanese traditional clothing.
We rented our kimono from Yumeyakata, a kimono rental store with probably the cheapest rate (3,500 yen per person or 6,500 per couple) in Kyoto and is located in Hosai Building around Gojo-dori.
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I couldn’t really take photos while we were inside because it’s not allowed and it was too hectic in there. To check out more details on how to rent a kimono from Yumeyakata, please click HERE. It’s best you book online because a lot of people use the services they offer and get a slot on the day you’re planning on going because they will refuse walk-in customers if there are too many clients during that time.
After about an hour inside (yes, it takes that long to get you dressed in a kimono), we had our lunch at Yayoiken which is near Hosai Building and right after, headed off to Yasaka Shrine. One would never understand why some would call the kimono an impractical kind of clothing when it’s such a beautiful and elegant thing to wear… until you actually wear one while walking a wore one while in a busy city like Kyoto. Trust me, it is a little bit difficult to walk around wearing Zori (traditional sandals but not the Geta kind) and wrapped up in so much clothing. Indeed, it is what you would call a ‘fashion over comfort’ moment.
Let Your Prayers Be Heard
On our way to the kimono rental shop, we stopped by Higashi Honganji Temple. It is a 750 year old buddhist temple and is one of the world’s largest wooden structures. Sadly, when we went there, part of it was under construction and only a little of the whole area was open to the public. However, the prayer hall was open during that time and we could see the monks doing their daily prayers. Visitors could also join if they wanted to. Others who would rather watch from the outside could check out everyone praying through peepholes on the doors (kind of sounds like a naughty thing to do. Oops! hahaha).
Higashi Honganji has a brother next door, Nishi Honganji. We wanted to go there but due to time constraints, we opted not to and just save it as another side trip for the next time we come back.
Yasaka Shrine is in the Gion district and is practically a few meters away from the bus stop. Just take the 100 or 206 bus and alightat the Gion bus stop OR take the train and alight at Gion Shijo station. It is a pretty famous shrine and is quite convenient to go to so there’s always a swarm of tourists there. The queue at the Honden (spirit hall) was so long, we figured we could just ask another God in another temple to hear our prayers. We went to around Murayama Park which is right beside the shrine grounds and bought icecream at a small shop run by an elderly Japanese couple.
We walked around Gion after our break at Murayama. I was a little disappointed to see majority of the areas being modernized and you couldn’t really catch a glimpse of a REAL geisha or maiko around the area (or you can’t tell because some kimono rental shops offer ‘geisha or maiko’ packages. So watch out because you might be taking a photo of another tourist instead of a bona fide geisha/maiko!).
We made a short visit to Kenin-ji Temple, considered to be one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto, but quickly left to catch a train going to Fushimi Inary Taisha.
Side note: We didn’t really plan on going to Kenin-ji Temple; we got lost and found ourselves there. Hahahaha!
Anyway, to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha from Kenin-ji Temple, you just have to backtrack to Gion Shijo Station and ride the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station. The walk from the station to the shrine would only take you about 5 minutes (or 10 minutes if you’re wearing a kimono like me).
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of Inari, the protector of grains or harvest. A lot of businesses pay homage to Inari as it’s also attributed as a protector of wealth and prosperity. The shrine grounds is huge and the red torii look amazing in person! The main reason I wanted to go here was because it was used during the filming of Memoirs of a Geisha and where little Chiyo was running around.
While the Go-Honden was at the base of the hill, you can go up to the top to see the main shrine. At Fushimi Inari Taisha, you’ll notice a lot of foxes instead of shishi (lion-dog) guarding the shrine; they’re considered the gods of the harvest. If you walk around, you can find a lot of food stalls that stell various traditional food such as the famous kitsune noodles, yakitori, and of course, takoyaki!
I bought an omamori (protective/good luck charm) for studying at Fushimi Inari Taisha because you’re never desperate enough when you’re in law school hahaha!
I would recommend that you go to Fushimi Inari Taisha during the early morning because by the afternoon it is full of people, locals and tourists alike.
Cats sleeping near the altars, cats playing around in the shrine grounds, cats eating near the stone steps, cats meowing on top of shilled roofs; cats everywhere! It’s amazing to see how these stray cats are so used to people visiting the shrines they spend their lazy days away hahaha!
Are You Gonna Stay the Night?
Truth be told, I felt bad for not booking a night at Kyoto beforehand. There was so much to see but you couldn’t really see all of what the place had to offer in just a day.
You cannot comprehend its full beauty and how humbling Kyoto is if you don’t spend at least two or three days in the vicinity. If you’re visiting the Kansai area, please do take your time in Kyoto. It is an experience you will never regret and forget!