If you have read the story on our visit to Grill Miyata you would know that the cook and I went to Kyoto in September 2011. It was a trip that we had been looking forward to since it was to be our honeymoon trip, and more importantly one that we have been dreaming of for quite some time. We both love a lot of things about Japan. If what we heard from friends and relatives was true, Kyoto represents a perfect blending of the traditional and the modern aspects of Japan. A great reason for us to go there. The cook was actually in Tokyo in 2009 for a 6-months support project and I went to visit her there for a week but we were not aware of how awesome Kyoto is so we didn’t visit it then. To tell you the truth, our first choice of destination for honeymoon last September was actually Europe, but taking care of the visa to visit Europe in the amount of time we had was too much trouble so we decided to go to Kyoto instead. And we were glad that we did (We still would LOVE to go to Europe though).
Kyoto represents a perfect blending of the traditional and the modern aspects of Japan
Anyways, we arrived in Kyoto on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning after staying overnight in Osaka. We deposited our luggage in our hotel’s concierge because the hotel could not check us in before noon (our hotel was Granvia Kyoto, which is conveniently located within the Kyoto Train Station). It was only about 8 AM in the morning and noon was still a long way off. We were feeling very fresh and eager so we decided to directly go and explore the city. Better than hang around at the hotel lobby doing nothing. The first place that we decided to go to was a shrine called Fushimi Inari.
There was a tourist information center located within Kyoto Station whose English-speaking attendants were very helpful in providing information on how to get to various tourist attractions located within and nearby Kyoto. We followed their instructions, and after roughly 10 minutes of travel from Kyoto Station to Inari Station using a train that ran on the JR Nara Line we arrived at our destination (for more info on how to go to Fushimi Inari check this link from www.japan-guide.com). Inari Station is only 2 stops away from Kyoto Station. We spotted the shrine’s main temple building right away after exiting the small train station. There was a renovation work being done around the entrance and the front part of the shrine ground. As far as shrines and temples go (and believe me, Kyoto has a lot of shrines), Fushimi Inari main shrine building was great, but not spectacular. We were not there for the shrine itself, however. We were there for the mountain trails that lies behind the shrine ground.
The mountain trails at the back of the shrine ground is covered in hundreds of torii gates, making the open-air trails often feel more like a series of interconnected tunnels
So, what’s so special about the mountain trails? If you are familiar with traditional Japanese buildings or Japanese culture in general then you might have seen or heard about those red-colored gates called torii gates. The mountain trails at the back of the shrine ground is covered in hundreds of them, making the open-air trails, with its multitude of paths, often feel more like a series of interconnected tunnels. The trails start with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii. As we walk along we realized that there were carvings in the pillars of the torii gates. It turned out that these torii gates were donations made by individuals and companies (we saw some big-name companies on some of the gates).
There were multiple branches in the trails. Most, however, converge at some points so they all lead to the same destination. Nearby many of the intersections we came across shops selling either souvenirs or snacks. After about 45 minutes of hiking we arrived at a large intersection roughly halfway to the summit. There, the trail split again and before we decide which one to take we rested a bit at a nearby shop and enjoyed one of Japan’s modern delicacy: soft cream. As we were enjoying our icy-cool snack a local was kind enough to offer to take a picture of us. The Japanese people are known to be kind and helpful, and I guess we were getting a taste of Japanese hospitality there and then.
And if you happen to be in Japan during summer, you just can’t go through a day without having at least a cone of soft cream.
Now, I just have to explain about the soft cream. This is actually ice cream, but they call it soft cream. We, up until today, also refuse to call it other than soft cream. The soft cream is served from a dispenser machine onto regular cones, much like ice cream served in many of today’s fast food chains. However, to us it tastes different, better than your regular ice cream. It’s probably because the cook and I are japanophiles. Or maybe because it was the heat that made it more delicious (it was still summer in Japan, and the temperature was pretty high, probably around 30-33 degrees Celsius). Or perhaps it was because we were enjoying the ice, I mean, soft cream as we admire the view of Kyoto from the high intersection. Or maybe it was because of all of the above. But whatever. Soft cream rules. And if you happen to be in Japan during summer, you just can’t go through a day without having one.
Anyways, back to the trail. We finally chose to go through the path chosen by many of the other visitors. It took us about an additional half-an-hour trek before we finally got to the summit of the hill. There is a small shrine at the top of the hill and there were some people paying their respect there. We were not sure whether or not to continue on or turn back when we got to the shrine. After asking a kind old lady who happened to be a shopkeeper there we found out that the trail to the summit was actually circular so that if we keep walking on we will find ourselves back at the Yotsutsuji intersection (where we had soft cream earlier).
Going back down to the hiking trail entrance took us slightly faster than going up. We were hungry and luckily there were a number of restaurants nearby Fushimi Inari-taisha (also some souvenir shops) so we chose one that we were most comfortable with. We had to do a bit of a guess work as the menu was written in Japanese. My limited knowledge of katakana, hiragana, and kanji helped a little, but not by much. Still, we ended up ordering what we thought we were ordering, so it was all good.
In the afternoon we head back to our hotel to check in and get some rest. All in all, I must say that our one week stay in Kyoto had an amazing start that Sunday morning.