The last stop on my solo trip this Spring was Kyoto. Similar to Nara, Kyoto is rich in Japanese history and culture. I have wanted to visit Kyoto for as long as I can remember. Kyoto is home to Higashiyama Ward, which is a historic district that has traditional wooden structures creating a uniform look of dark brown buildings. This area is designated as a World Heritage Site and has been a tourist destination for over a thousand years!
Kyoto was easier to navigate than Nara. It has many railway lines and bus routes. It wasn't until Kyoto that I learned that most of the bus routes accept IC card as a form of payment. This would have been extremely helpful in Nara because I was constantly making sure I had enough coins. I guess better late than never!
I started my first day at the Kyoto National Museum. Japan is really good about posting signs where you can and can't take pictures in museums. This particular museum had signs that said not to take pictures except in one small room where they said it was okay. So I took out my camera to take some pictures and video. I was instantly greeted by a woman who came running in and told me to stop. I quickly apologized and put my equipment away. For the rest of my time there, I didn't bother trying to take out my camera again, since that one area was so misleading.
The Kyoto National Museum had fliers for events, exhibits, and other museums in the area. The day that I was there, they had a "Spirited Away" exhibit that was within walking distance of the hotel I was staying in. So I first checked into my hotel and then headed over to the exhibit. Unfortunately, when I got to the exhibit, it was already closed for the day. However, right next door was the Museum of Kyoto and they were hosting Kyoto Graphie. Kyoto Graphie is an annual international photography festival. This year they were honoring the French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. Since I didn't get to see the "Spirited Away" exhibit, I decided to go to the photography exhibit. It was my first time attending a photography exhibit since I began my own photographic journey in the fall of 2020. I have a new appreciation for photography and enjoyed myself at the exhibit more than I thought I would.
Day two was my favorite day in Kyoto. I got up bright and early and took a trip to Kinkakuji temple. I got there so early that I was first to enter the temple grounds that day. Kinkakuji is my favorite temple I have visited since living in Japan. The second and third stories of the temple are painted gold and the whole building sits on a pond - very picturesque.
After Kinkakuji I took a bus to Nishikyo Ward. In Nishikyo Ward there is a place called Arashiyama Monkey Park. Monkey Park was my favorite experience in Kyoto, and one of my favorite things I have done since I have been to Japan. To get there, you first pay ¥550 (about $4.13) and then you hike up a very steep dirt path. Everywhere online says it is a "short hike". However, the path is pretty steep, so it ended up taking about 20~25 minutes (with a short break). Let's be real, I am not much of a hiker, but I was not the only one who walked at a slow pace. I actually got excited when I passed a couple in front of me. For the last five minutes of the hike, they have audio playing over a speaker encouraging guests to continue walking. It said things like "you're almost there!". I wonder if some people give up right at the end?
Once you get to the top you are immediately greeted by a large population of Japanese macaques roaming and laying about. You can feed them from a "café". It is kind of like a cage for humans that you can go inside and safely hand the monkeys some food with a barrier in between. I didn't feed the macaques. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with monkeys. But I am also very aware that monkeys are unpredictable, sassy, and strong. When around the macaques, it's important to keep food and drinks hidden and to avoid eye contact. So, I was equally excited and nervous to be around them. I did my best to take pictures while also paying attention to my surroundings.
About a month ago, a story about Japanese macaques made global headlines. Monkeys in Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi, Japan have been attacking locals more than normal. There were more than 50 attacks over a short period of time. Initially, the monkeys were attacking children and the elderly, but in this particular case, adult women and men were also at risk. Authorities tried to set up traps, but the macaques weren't interested in food. The monkeys seemed to be attacking people just to be violent. So, instead, authorities have been patrolling the area with tranquilizing guns. I haven't read any updates since the original story came out, but this story must be the beginning of Planet of the Apes. I mean, look at how scary they are:
After descending the mountain, I tried to find a restaurant where I could have lunch. This particular area is extremely touristy, so unfortunately all restaurants were either reservation only or had a long waiting list. So instead I just purchased some street food. I purchased some kushiyaki, which is just a generic term for grilled meat and vegetables on a skewer. I grabbed a variety of foods and enjoyed my lunch on a bench alongside a river.
That evening, after enjoying dinner at a Mexican restaurant (that had tapatío!), I headed over to Higashiyama Ward. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I got there that I found out the area closes down really early (around 5 or 6pm). I would have loved to go shopping in the area, however it's closure might've been a blessing in disguise. While the area is opened to tourists, the streets are absolutely full of people, but since everything was closed there was no one around. It allowed me to take my time and find a perfect place to take a night picture of Yasaka Pagoda, the famous landmark in Higashiyama. This picture might be my favorite picture I have taken in Japan:
I haven't felt confident in many of my low light pictures. Partially, I think it's because I am still learning the best camera settings, but also because my camera doesn't like going above an ISO of 800. For this picture, I used my wallet as a makeshift tripod and literally set my camera in the middle of the road. I had to move it a few times for oncoming cars and I got a lot of weird looks from a few passerby, but in the end it worked out. This is my first evening picture I have taken that hasn't turned out grainy. I really need to get out more to practice night time photography, and seriously invest in a tripod!
On my last day in Kyoto, I visited Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi Inari is the most famous and traveled to Shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of rice: Inari. It is believed that foxes work as messengers for Inari and are thus placed throughout the shrine. There are thousands of torii gates that span 4km (or about 2.5 miles) and there are multiple routes you can take. I decided to hike through the entire shrine which took about three hours to complete. I will say, the further you get from the main shrine, the less people you encounter. It is quite peaceful walking through all the torii in the mountains with only the sounds of nature (and your heavy breathing). Here's the view from somewhere in the middle of the hike:
I finished off my day by enjoying dinner in Pontocho. Pontocho is a narrow stretch of road along the Kamo River that has many restaurants and bars. It has a great atmosphere and it attracts young people (both locals and foreigners alike). I ate dinner at a Thai restaurant and watched the sunset.
The following day I headed back home. My flight was scheduled out of Osaka in the late afternoon. So, before heading to the airport I decided to visit the Osaka Museum of Natural Science which had a lot of dinosaur fossils! I also stopped at the Nagai Botanical Garden which was massive. Many families gathered and enjoyed picnics surrounded by the various flowers and plants.
By the time my plane landed in my prefecture, the buses had stopped running for the evening so I took the train back to my city. It was the first time I took a train in Kyushu. This time I was not nervous to find my way back home, a huge improvement from the beginning of my trip. Overall, the best thing that came out of this trip was gaining the confidence to navigate around Japan despite my very limited knowledge of Japanese.