Kyoto: See temples, nature and possibly geisha

Autumn in Kyoto, Japan

By GRANT OKUBO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 4, 2012

My first visit to Kyoto last autumn was unbelievable, so much so that I had to do it again this year.

Japan’s former capital is packed with temples, castles and a stunning display of autumn colors.

On my second go, I decided to try to take in everything I missed on my first trip. I was surprised by how many places I hadn’t seen on my first visit.

The highlight of my trip this year was a visit to the bamboo groves in Arashiyama, a popular sightseeing district in the outskirts of western Kyoto that is a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto Station. A stroll through the forest of bamboo will definitely take your breath away, as will the geisha scurrying through the area.

The natural beauty of Arashiyama continues on toward the serene waters of the Hozu River and the iconic Togetsu Bridge. Along the river are fleets of riverboats that you can rent, or you can book a cruise and relax as you are shuttled along the scenic waterway.

During my visit, I was lucky enough to witness a group of drunken elderly Japanese gentlemen serenade passing boats. They received many a standing ovation from the appreciative passengers.

There is definitely plenty to see in Arashiyama, with its temples, parks and gardens. A day is almost not enough to take in all the sites.

A trip to Kyoto would not be complete without a visit to one of its many stunning temples. The grounds at the Tenryuji temples this year had perhaps the most lush and full display of autumn foliage in Kyoto. The vivid autumn colors, juxtaposed with the serenity of the surrounding rock garden, created a picturesque sight. Tenryuji temple is Kyoto’s leading Zen temple. A visit to Daigoji temple, a prominent Buddhist sanctuary in the southeast, also made for a pleasant stop.

Last year, I was blown away by the display of color at the Kiyomizudera Temple (Buddhist water temple). I decided to return to the site, but instead of going there during the day, I viewed the grounds at night. Sadly, it was not as impressive at night. The lush beauty I saw last time was not displayed as well at night as I had seen at other nearby temples.

No trip to Kyoto would be complete without a walk through Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district. To my disappointment, I only crossed paths with one geisha, walking between Gion’s traditional wooden machiya (town houses). But that didn’t stop me from having another wonderful trip to Kyoto.

There are plenty of fiery red leaves on trees throughout Kyoto, Japan each autumn.


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