The previous day in Miyajima was the absolute climax of the trip, but now I still had an extra day in Kyoto and then a long trip home. I still had a ton of stuff I still wanted to see so this was great.
I would also be experiencing something new today; sleeping in a capsule-style hotel. After walking about an hour and a half to get to my Airbnb, I soon learned that it was modeled after the famous Japanese capsule hotels. This wasn’t a true capsule hotel, but it was basically a wooden box with a bed in it and then an additional 4 square feet of space at the entrance. This was barely enough space to keep my clothes while I was sleeping. I actually really liked this setup! It was much cozier and quieter than I thought it would be and I actually felt pretty safe in here.
After dropping my stuff off, I headed over to Kinkakuji, the famous golden temple of Kyoto. This is a pretty difficult one to get to. Not only did the JR line not have any stations close to Kinkakuji, they also didn’t have any stations close to my Airbnb! Looks like it was going to be another long walk for me.
After approximately one more hour of walking, I had finally arrived at the temple. I purchased a ticket and followed the crowds of tourists heading in for a glimpse of this gorgeous temple.
I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of Kinkakuji. When they say it’s a golden temple, it really is a golden temple. The whole building sparkles and shines in the sun and there is almost an identical reflection of it in the surrounding pond.
There was a guy giving a tour next to me and he was loud enough for me to get a second-hand tour just by listening to him. He was explaining that the pond surrounding the temple was actually a carefully crafted representation of his kingdom. There were small rocky islands in the middle of the pond that were supposed to be scaled down versions of the major islands of Japan at the time. They were put here so that the emperor could stand out on the balcony during the day and admire his kingdom. If that’s the truth, that’s a really cool design. If it’s not, that guy gave a terrible tour!
In the area around the temple there were beautiful Japanese gardens and pretty trees sporting all their fall colors. You could walk around the entire perimeter of the temple and see it from all different angles. I thought this was really cool because normally temples block off certain parts. I really thought this tour was worth the entrance fee. So far, this and the Nijo Castle tours were probably the most worth it. The least worth it were probably Byodoin and Todaiji, although those were pretty cool to see.
After leaving the temple complex, I started walking towards the nearest train station. Of course “nearest” was a relative term as it was maybe 2 miles away. It just so happened that all the places I was going today didn’t have a station nearby so I ended up walking over 17 miles that day.
The next stop on my list was the Kiyomizudera, considered by many to be the symbol of Kyoto. It is located on the east side of the city in the Higashiyama district. I got off about 2 miles away from the temple and began walking through the city. The sun was starting to come down, so I needed to pick up the pace a little bit. This part of the city was so different than the other side of Kyoto. It was less built up here and felt a little bit more traditional. I was in such a rush, I didn’t take the time to fully figure out the best way to get to the temple, and just ran into the closest park I could find.
I was looking on my phone to figure out where I was in relation to the temple, and decided to take the “straight line” approach. I ended up walking into this strange building that looked like a library. I thought that the temple would be on the other side of the hall, but I began to panic a bit when I found myself in a building with no exit. I walked deeper and deeper into this creepy abandoned library until I found a staircase. I had no idea what else to do so I started running down the staircase. After going down about 5 flights of stairs, I started getting a little bit creeped out. This seemed like a bad dream. I was in this abandoned library, running down a seemingly never-ending staircase and when I finally got to the exit, of course it opened up to a cemetery!
This was so fitting I almost laughed. I would’ve been even more scared but I actually grew up on a cemetery so they don’t freak me out that much and I was also pretty relieved that I was outside. I think this was the largest graveyard I had ever seen. I caught a glimpse of the temple and the pagoda in the background so I started to navigate my way through the rows of gravestones in order to find it.
Right as I was heading up the stairs I saw a guy with the biggest smile I had ever seen. “where are you from?” he said with a thick Korean accent. “America” I said. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I didn’t know what to say so I just said “Yes” he shook my hand and then said “Well then, it’s nice to meet you”. It’s almost as if maybe if I said no he wouldn’t have said it was nice to meet me. I tried to ask him about the temple, if he had visited and he said “no, because they do not believe in a God”. This was way too much for me to handle so I thanked him and walked away. That was the nicest and strangest man I had met the entire trip!
I arrived at the temple just in time to see it at sunset. I got some amazing pictures around the temple complex as the sun was going down. After dark, there was one last thing left on my list of things to see and that was Gion. Gion was the famous Geisha district. They had amazing food here and tons of traditional bars and restaurants. You may notice a couple of Geishas walking around this street. Just a quick PSA, if you see a Geisha walking around the street, don’t take a video of them. They are not there to be your entertainment, they are real people with real careers they have worked really hard for. You shouldn’t treat them differently than someone walking to work in your city.
If you want to know how to spot the difference between a real Geisha and a fake Geisha, a real Geisha will be most likely be trying to ignore you on her way to work while a fake Geisha will be eager to take pictures with everyone. I noticed one walking through the streets of Gion and she was very careful not to be noticed by too many people.
I was walking on the main street of Gion and decided to take a little detour onto one of the side streets. These side streets are magical, with traditionally wooden building and almost no noise or bright city lights. This place was truly incredible and made me fall in love with Japan all over again. I was so amazed that this was the very last thing I would do here in Kyoto and that I almost headed home an hour earlier.
Although today was kind of a transition day, I was able to pack so many activities in. I ended up walking to my hotel that night, which took about two hours. I ended up seeing a lot that night on my walk home. Geishas, back alley pachinko trade-ins (look it up) and so many bikes in pedestrian lanes. Even getting home was enough of an adventure for one day. When I got back to my hotel, crawled into my little capsule and as I was getting changed, all of the spare coins from my day fell out of my pocket onto the hollow wood floor sounding like little sledgehammers. I’m pretty sure I woke up the whole hotel.