Kyoto in one day? How far can one go?
One fine Saturday in April, while in Osaka for a 2-week stint, I and my co-facilitators in a spring English camp for adults set off on a day-long journey.
Mission accomplished. Yes, but, boy oh boy, it was a feat!
Osaka (Umeda) –> Arashiyama Bamboo Grove –> Kinkakuji –> Gion –> Fushimi Inari –> Osaka (Yodoyabashi)
Start-off: 8 AM
How can this be so complicated?
Wait until your Japanese friend looks at your itinerary and says Eehhh?! Take it positively, pat yourself on the back and say Girl, you’re off to an exciting adventure!
Let’s look at the map.
Image credit: Traverse World
Reality (follow the red line).
Image credit: Japan Dreaming
First stop: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
More or less fifty minutes from Umeda station to Arashiyama station by train. Not bad, we still have a long day ahead of us. No reason to fret at all, so I confidently walked slowly and took everything in leisurely just like how I languidly savor each little sip of my morning coffee on a Sunday. This has been my initial approach to this day’s tour. Relaxed, unhurried, and poised for the whole day of spot hopping.
From Arashiyama Station we have to walk for about 20 minutes , passing Togetsukyo Bridge, to get to the bamboo forest (grove).
Beauteous yaezakura blooms greeted us at the Arashiyama station. Yaezakura is a late-blooming cherry blossom variety, anticipated each year at the tail end of the sakura season for its large, multi-layered, and 10 to 20 count of petals.
A group of pigeons chilling under the shade on the way to Togetsukyo Bridge. These tourist-loving pigeons are unmindful of people getting cozy with them.
The scenic Hozu River from the Togetsukyo Bridge. I can imagine how splendid the scenery is in autumn.
The pathway to the bamboo forest is serene, breezy, and refreshing. It’s a glorious feeling closing my eyes and breathing the freshness and greenness in. However, deeper into the grove is this reality– on a regular weekend, it’s swarmed with tourists.
It’s almost lunch time when we got out of the forest. Realizing how much time we have left before sunset, we started to hurry things up. I wanted to buy the famous matcha (green tea) soft ice cream at a store near the grove but I was taken aback by the crowd of tourists wanting to do the same. I thought I would have enough time for it when we get to the next destination, so I opted to hold off the craving.
To complete our short but sweet experience in Arashiyama, we didn’t pass up the chance of indulging in home-style tofu-based meal called Shojin ryori (Buddhist monk food). Home-style cooking is called obanzai. We took pleasure of the obanzai lunch set from Saga Tofu Ine Kita Restaurant — truly Japanese, pleasing to the eye and a feast for the senses.
The road leading to the bamboo forest is teeming with food and traditional & novelty souvenir shops. If only I had the luxury of time, I would have wanted to stop at each store and relish sifting through and tasting the products each had to offer.
The facade of the Chirimen Craft Museum is an eyeful. Spend some time in this museum-cum-store and prepare to be charmed by a wide array of scrupulously hand-crafted baubles and souvenirs that are made from traditional silk fabric material.
Second Stop: Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion)
From Arashiyama, the fastest way to Kinkakuji is via the Randen (Keifuku) Line. It is the only streetcar (a.k.a. tram) left in Kyoto. We got off at the Kitano-Hakubaicho station, the nearest station to Kinkakuji. The tram ride takes approximately 20 minutes. Then, we walked our way to Kinkakuji. According to the convenience store staff, who we asked directions from, it would only take 5 minutes to Kinkakuji. However, with our tourist pace, it took us three times longer.
Image credit: Randen (Keifuku) Line website
Kinkakuji is a UNESCO Heritage Site. Being one, it is a crowd drawer. So be ready for other tourists photo bombing your selfie or groufie photos. I had fun giving in to other tourists asking favor to have their photos taken, and I got the advantage of enjoying the same in return.
Kimono-clad Japanese young ladies are a common sight. If you ask for a photo with them, they will graciously oblige.
Ema or wooden votive plaques, where Shinto worshipers write down their wishes and prayers.
Third Stop: Gion
A few steps away from the Kinkakuji entrance is the Kinkakuji-mae bus stop. We took bus number 12, which final stop is Gion. The bus is cramped with both locals and tourists, so we had to endure standing up en route to central Kyoto. Thank goodness to yaezakura-lined Kamo River, a palliative to my aching feet. That lovely sight of serenely flowing river and a riverside embellished with lush pink blooms, on a sunny spring day, made me temporarily forget my pain. Due to the moderate traffic flow in some busy areas, it took an hour to finally reach Gion.
Follow the crowd and you’ll never get lost– so we did! The throng brought us right smack in the middle of the famous geisha district. With barely a few hours left before sundown, one more spot to visit, and the feeling of exhaustion slowly creeping in, we started looking around for our target right away — a geisha in full regalia walking nimbly to her appointment. But luck was never on our side that day. Instead, we ended up looking at and getting impressed by how the machiya (old wooden houses) was restored and preserved throughout the years.
This old-fashioned Japan Post mailbox is fully functional and a sight to behold.
Final Stop: Fushimi Inari Taisha
A short distance from Gion’s main street (Hanami-Koji Lane) is the Gion-Shijo train station. It’s just a short 10-minute train ride from Gion-Shijo to Fushimi Inari station.
There’s not much time left, so we hastily walked from Fushimi Inari station to the shrine.
This portion of the trail is, for me, the most photogenic, a tunnel of low red torii (gates). There are two rows, the one on the right is where people should pass to reach the other end of the pathway. The left row, for coming back or exit, an unobstructed view of the tunnel– walk a few steps inside and have your picture taken.
These wooden votive plaques are too cute to miss.
Sunset on our way back to the train station.
Unfortunately, we are unable to complete the trail since it was already getting dark.
My friend, Imee, who lives in Osaka, played the role of a trusty tour guide. She made sure that everything is accomplished as planned. Thank you so much, Imee-chan! Otsukaresama deshita.
Our route back to Osaka.
(Note: All the train routes shown in this entry are from HyperDia.)
Imee wanted to take me to her favorite restaurant by the Yodo River, so we got off at Yodoyabashi station, while our other companions got off at Umeda.
All beaten up from the day’s activities, Imee and I sat by the river while we wait to be seated in the restaurant. As we recall the highlights of our sightseeing trip, we burst into laughter upon realizing how unforgiving our itinerary was, how we were so in a hurry the whole time that we never even had a moment for snack or coffee, and how consistent I was with my craving for matcha soft ice cream yet I ended up never having the time to buy it. Oh, what an eventful day!
We capped off the night with a superb Italian dinner at Garb Weeks. Look at how the menu is neatly hand-written in pencil — the personal touch made it a standout.