Today was our final day in Kyoto, although there were still a couple of places we wanted to see before leaving. These were Nijo Castle, on the advice of a couple of Swedish guys we met at our hostel, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its thousands of torii gates.
We checked out our hostel in the morning, leaving our luggage with the hostel staff while we went to tour the nearby Nijo Castle. The grounds here were huge, as to be expected of a castle. For me, the best part was the interior of the palace, where one can view the beautifully painted sliding doors. Most of them were reproductions in order to preserve or restore the originals, but some did look quite old so I wonder if those were the originals.
Like most impressive old Japanese buildings, the grounds contained gardens to walk around in. There was a plum grove, where there were still some plum blossoms hanging around but as the spring season rolls in and the weather gets warmer, they are starting to wilt. Next to blossom will be the highly-anticipated cherry blossoms.
After, we returned to our hostel to pick up our luggage, then took the bus back to Kyoto Station, where we stowed away our luggage in one of the many useful coin lockers. Feeling lighter, we hopped on another train to see the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.
The shrine itself is quite impressive, dedicated to the god of rice, Inari. This meant a lot of vermillion-coloured buildings and torii, as well as statues of kitsune (fox spirits), which were supposed to be sacred messengers for Inari. The kitsune, according to legend, enjoy aburaage, seasoned fried tofu, so dishes containing it are commonly sold around the shrine. My late grandmother used to make us inarizushi, which is sushi rice wrapped in little aburaage pouches, and it remains a favourite of mine.
The main draw for tourists, though, are the many torii gates that line the paths up the mountain. If you have seen the film Memoirs of a Geisha, then you may remember the scene where Sayuri runs along a path lined with bright orange torii gates. That would be Fushimi Inari.
Along with crowds of other tourists, we walked through all those gates. The path runs through some dense forest, interrupted only for some small shops or small sub-shrines. It’s really a mesmerizing experience. The bright vermillion gates contrast with the surrounding greenery, and the sunlight filters through the trees and the gates.
The ascent up the mountain is exerting, though. The path is well maintained and there are places to rest (we stopped for kitsune-udon at one point), but there are quite a number of stairs. We went about halfway up, where there is a great viewing point to see the city below. Apparently, there isn’t much beyond that point, so we made our way back down after snapping some pictures.
The exercise must have awoken our appetites, so we stopped again at a cafe for some snacks and drinks. I had an ice cream float – vanilla ice cream in melon soda. It was really good!
It was nearly 4:00 p.m. by that point, so we headed back to Kyoto Station and took the bullet train out of the city. We transferred at the Shin-Osaka Station, where we took another bullet train to Hiroshima. Tomorrow, we’ll be exploring Hiroshima itself.
I will admit, while Kyoto was a great city with a lot of culture and history, I don’t think I’ll be missing its inefficient bus system! There are very few trains or subways around Kyoto, so we relied a lot on the buses, which are often crowded and rather confusing. Also, I Japan, you enter the bus through the back door and when you get to your stop, you go to the front, pay your fare, and exit through the front door. In theory, this is fine, but when the bus is crowded, it’s a real fight to get to the front! In this way, I like the Western system better!