If you could live in any foreign city for a year, which one would it be? For me, it would have to be Kyoto.
The first time I got to set foot in this Japanese city, I was smitten. Centuries-old heritage sites, picturesque tree-lined paths, charming alleys lined by traditional wooden houses, idyllic-looking neighborhoods–every turn seemed to reveal something old and beautiful. The former imperial capital also sits close to nature, surrounded by many mountains, but like other Japanese cities, it maintains the usual modern trappings (all you need to do is arrive in Kyoto Station to see it). And while it can get crowded during spring and autumn, Kyoto still possesses a relaxed atmosphere, a calm murmur compared to a frenetic throb of a metropolis like Tokyo.
On our fourth day in Japan, in our trip last month, we took the train out of Osaka to spend the entire Saturday in Kyoto. The two places we didn’t get to see the first time we went there were the Fushimi Inari shrine and the Arashiyama area, both places that do nothing to diminish Kyoto’s reputation as one of the most culturally-rich cities in the country.
Arashiyama area (or Sagano) is a charming district that lies at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains. The charm sets in the minute you get off the Hankyu Kyoto Line and go out of the Hankyu Arashiyama Station. It’s a small town train station and when you get out, the streets are pretty quiet and empty except for the throngs of tourists such as yourself spilling out of the station. There’s a tree-lined avenue to the side, which you take on foot or with a bike to lead you to a small bridge. After you cross the bridge, you face a riverside park covered in pebbles. (So wear comfy walking shoes and not heels as I saw some tourists were wearing. Eeep!)
From there you can cross the Togetsukyo Bridge and see the mountains as its backdrop (they’re said to look prettier during autumn when the foliage changes in different colors). Across the bridge, just cross the road straight ahead. The streets on this side of the bridge are, like other streets leading up to popular temples and attractions, predictably lined with several shops and restaurants. It was such a cold day that P and I decided to have a bowl of hot udon soup and onigiri (rice ball) before making our way to the bamboo groves.
From the western outskirts of Kyoto, we head down to Kyoto Station for a ramen lunch in its Ramen-koji (street) recreation on the 10th floor (more about it on another post). Afterward, we took the JR line down to Inari station, which is conveniently located right across Fushimi Inari Shrine. Dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice of the Japanese, the shrine has been around since 794.
If one of the most recognizable (and photographed) places in Arashiyama is the bamboo grove; in Fushimi Inari Shrine it has to be the thousands of very photogenic vermilion torii gates. The torii gate covered pathways are located behind the shrine’s main grounds and lead up to Mount Inari, which is considered sacred by the Japanese. All those torii gates are donations with the donor’s name inscribed on each gate; the small sized gates already fetch hundreds of thousands of yen and the bigger gates run to the millions.
How to get to Arashiyama: Since we were staying in the Kita-ku area in Osaka, we went to Umeda (Hankyu) station and took the Hankyu Kyoto Line, which ends at the Hankyu Arashiyama Station. It takes almost 50 minutes and if you’re also coming from Osaka, is the better option than taking the JR Kyoto line as the Hankyu Kyoto line is a more direct route.
From Kyoto Station, the most direct option is to take the JR Sagano line and get off Saga-Arashiyama station. You can also take bus no. 28 from Kyoto Station, or from Keihan Sanjo Station, take Bus 11
How to get to Fushimi Inari: From Kyoto station, take the JR Nara line to the JR Inari Station, which is just right across the shrine. If you’re coming from the Higashiyama area, you can take the Keihan Railway and get off Fushimi Inari station.