Day 12

After the late start on the previous day we set an early alarm with the best of intentions.  Unfortunately we went to bed quite late and were still pretty damn tired from all the walking.  Over breakfast we decided to try and make today a little easier, but only a little.  With under 4 days in Kyoto and an impossible amount of sights to see we had to summon some energy.

To start the morning we headed to the Heian Jingu shrine.  This is one of the main shrines in Kyoto and is a large complex of red central buildings with a huge red front gate, all surrounded by a very pretty garden.  This place was also on my Lost in Translation hit list as there’s a scene with Charlotte jumping across the stepping stones.  I found them and I had my fun on them too!  This garden also featured a lovely large wooden bridge with a roof across one of the ponds with good views of some of the other buildings.

From here we headed south along the railway to the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine.  Similar to the previous day, the run up to this shrine also had a lot of little souvenir shops, food stalls and little old restaurants.  We grabbed some soba noodles and chicken in a broth from one along with a little sushi and it exceeded our low expectations by a long way.  They don’t seem to go in for ripping off tourists with crap goods and services in quite the same way that we do in the western world and it takes some getting used to.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head shrine for the 40’000 Inari shrines across Japan and was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century.  Essentially there’s a large red shrine complex at the base of a mountain which is itself covered in forest.  Winding their way to the top of the mountain and around it are paths which have smaller shrines periodically at the side of them.  Pilgrims travel here and give offerings to each shrine.  Lining the paths are thousands of red tori gates.  We’d seen a lot of red gates at entrances to other temples and dotted about in Japan, but these turn the paths nearly into tunnels and make for a remarkable sight and experience.  It takes over an hour to walk up paths and steps through them to the top of the mountain and not much less to get back down.  There was a point on the way up with great views back over Kyoto but at the top is simply a large shrine in the woods.  It certainly felt rewarding to get up there though.  People vote this the number 1 activity to do in Kyoto and they’re not wrong.  As with everything in Kyoto it becomes quickly apparent that it’s so much larger than you expect and very well maintained for something so old and visited by so many tourists.  Even though there were a lot of people there, we had long sections in the top half where it wasn’t so busy.

After the shrine we headed off to Nishiki market for a little more shopping and to check out some of the food stalls.  The most exciting thing was seeing a tiny little red octopus on a stick.  We didn’t jump at the chance to try one.  We then headed out for an evening walking tour through Gion to try and spot a Geisha but didn’t find another one.  We did enjoy the many old streets with very traditional high-end restaurants though before getting back to the hotel with every intention of not getting to bed too late before our final day in Kyoto.

After many days walking around in Japan I realise that I have still only seen graffiti one time and that was on the train taking us from the airport into Tokyo.  I’ve seen poorer areas but nowhere that looked run down.  Everywhere has felt extremely safe, even the pink-light district in Shinjuku which the locals tend to avoid.  We often see young children using the subway or kids in school uniform out walking late at night too.  There’s no litter either.  There are very few public bins in Japan, you’re simply expected to take your rubbish home and deal with it and everybody does.  Where are the chavs and the disobedient folk?  I know they have the mafia, the Yakuza.. but on the face of it Japan seems to have less of the bad stuff than anywhere else I’ve yet been to.