Kyoto, March 2016

Japan, country of extremes.

On a Sunday at the Fushimi Inari temple complex there were tens of thousands of people.

A day later, at Omara, a rough mountain walk with a small temple rarely visited, we met none.

I imaged Kyoto to be the city of temples and traditional wood houses, the only city in Japan spared by bombing raids from 1940 to 1945.

Not so. I should have known.

The city

Kyoto, city of temples, the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years, from 795 to 1868. But, also a city of 1.5 million people, squeezed in by forested mountains.

It is part of the greater Osaka urban area, with over 10 million people and lies in the province of Kansai, the size of Belgium, which has 27 million people. This sounds reasonable but as much of the land, at least 50% consists of forested mountains, the area is extremely densely populated.

I had my reservations visiting Kyoto given the high population and it proved to be true, except for the surrounding mountains, which are very attractive, except when it rains.

Temples

Like in Korea, China and the Tokyo area, you find temples everywhere. Temples for unbelievers like me are like churches, few are attractive or majestic. For believers, they have a function, but for unbelievers or skeptics, most are boring. When you have seen one, you have seen them all, except when they are grandiose.

In Kyoto most temples are crowded with worshippers, so I kept a polite distance.

Cycling

The main attraction of Kyoto is cycling. Kyoto is big, and when staying close to the station, the sights are in a radius of around 5 km and restaurants within 1 to 2 km. Hotels and restaurants are spread throughout the city and it is most convenient to either stay close to the station or the Nishi market North of the Shijo-Dori street shopping district.

Parking

Parking a bike is problematic as the side streets are narrow. It is allowed when you visit restaurants and shops but not anywhere on the street. There are bike parking lots at the main temples, ¥ 200 per day for all lots, automated bike lock paid by the hour like at the Demachi-yenagi Station, and at the Nishi market there is even a free underground bike parking garage.

Writings

All the writing on products in shops are in Japanese. Sometimes the headers are in English. This makes buying groceries or drug store products a gamble.

Traffic, street and other signs in the city are in Japanese and English, as well as numbers, time of day (hh:mm) and dates, burt reverse (yy-mm-dd).

Finding trains on a station is easy as the signs are in Japanese and English.

Closing times of bike parking garages can be deciphered except when you are in a holiday mood. The Nishi bike park is closed early, at 20:15 h, so we had to walk home once for 1.5 km. No we did not, we took a taxi.

Japanese Breakfast

We had lunch for breakfast, rice and salmon, and breakfast for lunch, bread and cheese, on the mountain. Japanese have sushi for lunch on a mountain, an oily affair in your rucksack.

As a European, you shy away from a Japanese breakfast, but on the first bite in the salty salmon, seaweed and rice, mmmhhh, tastes good.

Naimura warehouse

The Naimura warehouse on Shijo-Dori Street has a basement full of sweets, with hundreds of smiling young girls in salmon coloured outfits. They will marry soon and have a single child, replaced by the next wave.

This is the only place where you can buy non-sweetened European bread, at the so-called French Bakery, our breakfast for lunch.

The smoothies are excellent. Japanese deserts are not special. This is a good alternative.

Visited sights and mountains

On a Sunday at the Fushimi Inari temple complex there were tens of thousand of people.

A day later, at Omara, we met none.

Cycling in the garden surrounding the Imperial Palace Complex.

Garden within the imperial palace complex.

Bicycle lanes in typical narrow side streets.

Live sea cucumbers.

The river and the cycling lane.

Doll festival.

A squat in a bath, perfect for me. Uses less water.

The 6 km cycle path along the river.

Why did you buy such a big car?

Bicycle parking garage near Nishi Market, close at ... 20:15 h. Just read it.

Bicycle parling garage

Naimura warehouse sweets basement.

Lunch for breakfast at the hotel.

Day 1 and 2, Ginkakuji Temple and Daimonji Mountain, 466 m (NE Kyoto)

The 466 m high Daimonji Mountain has a good view at Kyoto. It is popular but not overly on a Friday, mostly retired people going for the day.

The route starts at the Ginkakuji Temple, a tourist trap, lined with shops at the entrance. The temple garden is small but beautiful and a visit will only take an hour. For me the main attraction was the heap of gravel, and a thought, "Brits, don't take a selfie standing on this mount of gravel, it will collapse". (For some reason, young Brits always insist on a dip in a canal in Amsterdam).

Getting up to the top of the mountain takes about one hour. Halfway there is a view point frequented by picnickers. The top was disappointing due to the haze combined with a view at the urban buildings occupying ever square inch of the valley.

We took a short cut down, through a steep valley, with a waterfall and a cedar forest with perfectly straight long trees, a special sight. This is route is uncommon, we met only one person, talking on the telephone going up.

I did not feel like walking too far on the 4th day after the marathon, hence the short cut.

Daimonji-yama map, after the Lonely Planet, “Hiking in Japan”.

View down from the picknic area, half-way up.

View at Kyoto from Daimonji-yama.

Short-cut down.

Straight trees.

Heap of gravel. "Brits, don't take a selfie standing on this mount of gravel, it will collapse".

Ginkakuji Temple garden.

xxx Temple.

Day 3, From Kibune to Kurama (200-300 m) (far NNW of Kyoto)

Kurama has a 2 hour forest walk across a mountain with many temples.

The official route is from Kurama to Kibune, taking the train back from Kibuneguichi. We took the reverse route, to finish the day in the onse of Kurama, the spa of Kurama.

From the Kibuneguichi station it is a 45 min walk to Kibune, a small road village in a deep valley, but, a warning, without cappuccino.

Japanese take connecting the bus. The walk is along a quiet tarmac highway, with views at a beautiful ceder forest.

Kibune is known for a shrine for worshippers, with the typical red wooded gates.

The route from Kibune to Kurama has a vertical elevation of 200-300 m and is a serious climb on a dirt trail. Japanese do it on any "chaussure", on flimsy shoes, even saw heels, and many visitors who thought this would be a walk in the park are in for a 2 hour surprise torture, especially when it rains as it would create a muddy trail.

The woods are beautiful.

Even on a Saturday it was fairly quiet, doable, but avoid the Sundays, likely to be crowded on the Kurama side with the main temple complex.

The side trail to the top of the 634 m mountain, our target, was closed off with tape, understandable with so many visitors.

Before going back, we used the spa on the far North side of Kurama, a delight. It has a nice view at the mountains while bathing. Men and women are separate, but you do hear the chatter of women. Men are silent.

Kurama to Kibune map, after the Lonely Planet, “Hiking in Japan”.

Steeply up from Kibune.

Small temple along the way, ring a bell.

Heap of gravel at the temple complex of Kurama.

Main temple of Kurama.

Stair case to the main temple of Kurama.

Thee house in Kurama. Concentrated.

Thee house in Kurama. Meditating.

The Onsen of Kurama, the outside spa.

Day 4, Fushimi Inari, 233 m (SE Kyoto)

The temple of Fushimi Inari is extremely popular, esp. on a Sunday. So this is the day we happen to be there. Tens of thousand of people were there but fortunately, the bike park had space and was gratuit.

For us the main attraction is not the temple but Mount Inari with a height of 233 m.

The trail is relatively easy, and on steep sections, stair case steps were created. It takes only one hour to reach the top. At the start, there is a bambo forest garden.

Most people stay down, less then 1% go to the top. Lucky us.

A sharply dressed couple also tried to go up, ooppss, my high heels hurt, better turn back.

Fushimi-inari map, after the Lonely Planet, “Hiking in Japan”.

Circle walkway in the temple complex.

Bambo forest garden.

Cementery, with ritual foxes.

Flowers.

Circular walkway.

Walkway with ritual foxes.

Top of the Inari San, 233 m.

Sharply dresses couple, they did not make it to the top.

Cementery, with ritual foxes.

Girls in traditional kimono's.

Day 5, Omara, Satui San, 577 m, and Konpiri San, 573 m, mountains (far NNE of Kyoto)

The highlight of Kyoto was the 577 m high Konpiri San Mountain West of Omara, a serious mountain walk of around 4 hours. We happen to be here on a Monday, and guess what, we did not meet anyone on the trail, so unlike the day before.

The trail starts on the West side of Ohara, past a well known shrine, the Jakko-in Temple, that attracts a few worshippers. After about 100 m there is a sign across the stream, at a fence with a gate, indicating the trail to the Konpiri San Mountain.

What to do? The Lonely Planet said to go straight and not to follow this short cut, visible on the map. We choose the sign, always follow the locals.

The trail is very steep until the top, some 400 m up, with steeps edges, and I can see why the Lonely Planet decided to make a detour, going up more gently. This steep trail has tree roots and is covered in slippery clay, so it will be no fun in the rain. Next time I would take the longer trail.

On top, at Mount Santui-san (577 m), you are on a ridge, and to reach the Konpiri-san mountain with a nice view at Kyoto, we followed a trail along the ridge. It goes up and down steeply all the time between dense trees, a serious jungle route. You can tell this area gets rain.

Mount Konpiri-san is not on the same ridge but on a side ridge, see sign below. For us the sign is not clear cut as you need to decipher the symbolic writings.

Ohara, topleft, to Konpiri San (573 m) to Kotohira Shingusha (), to the second temple () at the road and to (?) (top right).

We choose the main (widest) trail and did find the main route down to the temple a few hundred meter below the junction so we were on the right trail.

Down from the temple is an old worshippers trail with steps, in disrepair. The last km through the forest, until a stream is vague and covered in leaves but marked with red tape around trees and we headed for a local tarmac road. The old bridge connecting up to the trail is gone and we made a 50 m detour on the SW of the stream through the forest.

The old trail ran from the old bridge on the NE side of the stream along a fence of a shrine to the tarmac road. Going the other way is not easy, signs are missing.

Ohara map, after the Lonely Planet, “Hiking in Japan”.

The sign to the Konpiri-san mountain (573 m).

Nice, we may see a Japanes black bear.

The steep trail up, for 400 m, a serious climb.

The steep trail up.

View from a torii towards Kyoto, close to Kopiri-san (573 m).

Religious post, a torii, near Konpiri-san.

Kotohira Shingusha temple near the top of the ridge, some 500 m altitude. Rarely visited.

The view at the Konpiri-san ridge from the road.