My first TOKYO.IG blog is going to be about Kyoto. Not Tokyo… Well, this is just because I wanted to share with you some photos from my recent trip to the ancient capital. I posted some of the photos from the trip onto my Instagram @tokyo.ig so please check them out.
Kyoto is about 2 hours 15 minutes away from Tokyo by Shinkansen. I actually used to live in Kyoto for a few years before and really love its vibes that I still go back there quite often. Although not comfortable as Shinkansen, I took the night bus from Shinjuku Bus Terminal this time because it arrives in Kyoto very early in the morning, which is good for photographers who got to do some work before people wake up. The decent night bus costs around 7,000 – 8,000 yen while the budget night bus is about 3,000 yen.
Table of Contents
- Purpose of the Trip
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Day 5
Purpose of the Trip
The purpose of my recent trip was to take photos in three different themes – “Everyday Kyoto”, “Touristic /traditional Kyoto” and “Fall Colours”.
Let me explain Everyday Kyoto.
As one of the most popular cities in Japan or maybe the world, tourists come from all over the world to visit Kyoto. They visit famous tourist places like Kiyomizu Temple, Fushimi-Inari Shrine and Gion and take numerous pictures. That’s great, I love to take pictures at those places as well. They are definitely beautiful. But when I lived there, they were not what I was seeing every day. Locals do visit those beautiful temples and shrines from time to time, but the images that come to mind when I think about Kyoto are people riding bicycles along the Kamogawa, commuters crossing the Shijo Bridge and a couple sitting together on the river bank. I call them Everyday Kyoto and that’s what I wanted to capture this time as I believe there is so much beauty in those everyday moments
- SONY a7rii
- SONY SEL24105g
- SONY SEL55F18Z
- SONY SEL1635Z
- a tripod
I stayed in Kyoto from Nov.19 to Nov.23. This is a very high season there and accommodations are accordingly priced. It is even difficult to book a room so if you would like to visit Kyoto at this time of the year, plan ahead.
I stayed at Glansit Kyoto Kawaramachi (capsule hotel) for 3 nights and Len Kyoto (hostel) for 1 night. Both are budget accommodations with clean facilities and friendly staff. I booked them a couple weeks prior to my trip and all regular hotels were fully booked. I usually prefer more spacious places, but it was OK with me as I spent most of the time shooting outside.
If you are a first time visitor, I recommend you stay near from Sanjo-Keihan, Shijo-Keihan or Shijo-Kawaramachi.
Day 1: Fushimi-Inari Shrine/伏見稲荷大社
So I took the bus at Shinjuku Bus Terminal around 9:30pm and arrived at Kyoto Station around 5am. It was dark, chilly and raining a little bit. I stored my luggage in a locker and headed to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, which is located only a couple stations away from Kyoto Station.
I have been here many times and particularly love the summer festival held in July. I wish I had been interested in photography at those times as there were a lot less crowded before. My goal this time was to capture the shinto priest walking under the famous torii gates in the morning so I needed to get here early.
So Fushimi-Inari Shrine at 5:30 am is like this. It’s pretty dark. (The video was taken casually so not of high quality, but I posted it because I thought it might be interesting to readers.) There were almost nobody, but honestly I was surprised to see some serious early birds. It was dark before 6am at this time of the year, but I recommend you come here early, like before 7:30am to avoid crowds.
Since I have seen a priest moving from the lower level to the upper before, I waited at the start point of the 1,000 torii gates. And waited and waited… It was cold…
So I spent some time taking photos like the following. Since there were few people, you could easily get a clean look. But the priest did not show up after a few hours of waiting so I gave up.
Day 1: Imakumano-Kannon-ji/今熊野観音寺
Before I went back to Kyoto Station to pick up my luggage, I stopped by Imakumano Kannon-ji , which is one JR stop away from Fushimi-Inari Shrine. It was gorgeous with beautifully coloured leaves both on the trees and grounds. And free admission!
Then I went back to Kyoto Station and had a lunch at my favourite restaurant Hashitate (はしたて) located inside SUVACO at the station. They serve authentic Kyoto cuisine so I do recommend it.
By the way, I relocated to Kyoto for work assignment in 2006. I took the subway on the first day of work and I thought “Gee, so crowded. Almost as crowded as Tokyo!”. Kyoto is one of the largest cities in the country with a population of about 1.5 million. With so many tourists on top of that population, places like stations and shopping streets often get really busy.
For people like me who went back and forth between Kyoto and Tokyo, Kyoto Station is part of Everyday Kyoto. So I did some shooting after lunch.
If you have the time, take the escalator to go up to catch a city view. This is a kind of view I used to see. If you walk around, you get to see historical sites here and there, but for those of you who come to Kyoto by train, it may look quite modern at first glance. Not the kind of views you expect from the ancient capital.
Then I rested at the hotel and went to Gion in the evening. Nothing to write home about. I had a dinner at my favourite restaurant Watatsune (わたつね). This is a place completely for locals so it may be difficult to get what you want if you do not speak Japanese.
Day 2: Arashiyama/嵐山
I woke up before 5am, somehow won the battle within myself and headed to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. It was to check how early in the morning I have to be there to do a portrait session. By the time I got there before 6am, there were already quite a few photographers and visitors. Could you hear the sounds of the shutter in the clip? My hat’s off to those serious early risers. Be there at 5am if you want a clean look. Even if you are not into photography, it’s very quiet and calm and on a sunny day, the morning tender sunlight that filters through the bamboo forest is really beautiful. It’s worth it.
There are some of my favourite places in the Arashiyama district such as Gio-ji(祇王寺), Jojakko-ji(常寂光寺) and Tenryu-ji(天龍寺). If you would like to discover Arashiyama, renting a bike is highly recommended. This time I visited the World Heritage Zen Temple of Tenryu-ji(天龍寺). It is said to be one of the most important temples in Arashiyama with a vast elegant garden. You can enjoy a beautiful reflection on a sunny day.
Day 2: Rokkaku-do/六角堂
On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by Rokkaku-do, which was located on Rokkaku Street in the business district. This temple is hexagon shaped (Rokkaku means six angles) and known as home to ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Although not known to tourists at all, it is a popular spot for some photographers because the view from the West18 building next to the temple is photoworthy.
Day 2: Nishiki Market/錦市場
If you are planning a trip to Kyoto, Nishiki Market is probably in your itinerary. Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, this street food market is full of shops and restaurants and a great place to get an exposure to authentic Japanese and Kyoto cuisine. The site has been here for more than 700 years and has more of a local, Everyday Kyoto feel even though it is filled with tourists. I used to stop by after work to buy something to eat when I did not want to cook.
This is a must-visit place for foodies. Stroll and taste what each store offers. Some stores even offer free samples.
Day 2: Gion-Higashiyama-Pontocho/祇園-東山-先斗町
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Kyoto? Take a walk in Gion and Higashiyama districts, and you will see pretty much everything that you can think of. I guess the following pictures describe them a lot better than words.
These districts look very different during the day, dusk and night, giving you great photo opportunities.I like the dusk in particular because that is when people get to prepare for the night. Lanterns lit. Geishas heading to their clients.
Some tips for photographers. If you would like to get a glimpse of geishas, go to Gion-Higashi or Gion-Kobu (both near the Shijo x Hanamikoji crossing) before 5:45pm. You get a better chance to see them on their way to work. Please don’t get in their way, though, as you are not their clients.
Day 2: Night Walk
If you do not have anything to do at night, how about strolling around to see everyday life of the city? After I had a ramen dinner at Namae-no-nai-Ramen-ya (meaning No Name Ramen Restaurant), which is highly recommended for ramen lovers despite its hard-to-find location, I walked around and took some photos.
Day 3: Fushimi-Inari Shrine/伏見稲荷大社
Yes, Fushimi-Inari Shrine again! The reason I was obsessed with a shot of the priest is that in addition to the aesthetic of the subject, this must be a daily routine for hundreds of years. Maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors, but it’s a part of everyday life in Kyoto and that goes with my photography theme. That’s why I really wanted this.
So anyway this time I got there around 7am and again patiently waited… Then shortly after 8am, he showed up! Yes! There were many tourists already walking and stopping to taking pictures under the torii gates and it was really hard to get a clean look. And you know what, he walks pretty fast! Me and other photographers followed him all the way down and I kept releasing the shutter while looking at the LCD display to check framing. The result? Most of the photos were a junk, but I am happy with this one.
Day 3: Kamogawa/鴨川
Having been satisfied with my effort, I felt like capturing more Everyday Kyoto moments. I think the best spot for it is Kamogawa, or the Kamo River. It runs right through the middle of the city with the fairly spacious banks on the both sides. This is a popular spot for locals to hang out. My personal best part is that you can move all the way up north or down south without being bothered by traffic, especially by bicycle. I used to ride my bicycle to commute along the river and it feels really great on a sunny day. Before relocating to Kyoto, commuting meant pushing your way through the crowd to get onto the train and getting so frustrated even before starting your work. The commuting I experienced in Kyoto, however, was so exhilarating and invigorating. I will never forget those warm spring days where I commuted by bicycle under cherry blossoms. I hope you will have a chance to feel what I felt. That was awesome!
Day 3: Nanzen-ji/南禅寺
Next I went to Nanzen-ji to catch some fall colours. I think everyone who has visited has their own favourite temples or shrines. For me, it’s Nanzen-ji. Regardless the season, every time I come to Kyoto, I feel like visiting this zen temple and it’s particularly beautiful in fall. For those of you visiting Nanzen-ji in fall, I would really like you to visit Tenju-an (天授庵) which is a mini temple located inside Nanzen-ji because its small garden is extraordinary.
Check out the following pictures from Nanzen-ji and Tenju-an. I tried to frame the kind of beauty that appeals to the senses of Japanese people. The kind of beauty that has been discussed in haiku poetry, for example.
I went to Cafe Bibliotic Hello! which is one of my favourite cafes to have some coffee and then got together with friends for dinner.
On Day 4, I had some work to do in Shiga.
Day 5: Enko-ji, Manju-in, Shisen-do/圓光寺、曼殊院、詩仙堂
On the last day of my trip, I decided to do my fall routine of visiting Enko-ji (圓光寺) in the north east of the city. This district boasts small temples and shrines with beautiful gardens like Manju-in (曼殊院) with gorgeous fall leaves and Shisen-do (詩仙堂) with cute jizo stone statues, to name a few.
This is one of my go-to spots for fall leaves. Although Enko-ji was packed, it is relatively quiet so if you like places with more of a suburb feel, you might want to add it to your itinerary.
My favourite time for capturing fall colours is a little bit later when the ground is covered with fall leaves like the following photos. Maybe next year.
Thanks for having reading till the end. Check my Instagram @tokyo.ig for more pictures from Japan and feel free to contact me if you have any question, inquiry or comment.