Kansai Field Trip: Kyoto, Day 3

The freedom of having three+ full days in Kyoto was going to my head. But since today was a Sunday, visiting some of our favorite shrines from our first trip felt like the perfect way to relax and re-ground. One of the regrets from our first trip to Japan was wimping out on the climb to the top of Fushimi Inari, the massive “mother shrine” of the Shinto god Inari in Southern Kyoto. While our first attempt definitely drew a few beads of sweat, it wasn’t the mountain but our limited time that kept us from reaching the peak.

I wasn’t letting that happen this time. After our morning ritual of train station pastries and coffee, we made a beeline for Inari only to be greeted by waves of food stalls that made us instantly regret filling up on bread. Then we looked up at the mountainous terrain before us and remembered we’d be damn hungry when we returned to the bottom. This didn’t stop us from getting ice cream cones before we began our ascent, mind you. Who can resist the call of a black sesame and ube soft serve swirl, I ask you?

Charged and ready to go, we went up through the twisting trails that sometimes led us backwards thanks to a comically vague and inaccurate map. We didn’t mind though. The charm of Inari is discovering all the many shrines families have placed there over the centuries. One could spend several days, let alone the 3-4 hours we did, finding peace among all the natural beauty, the wood and the stone.

Through thick trees and bright orange gates of prayer we ascended ever higher, passing by a break in the green with a stunning vista of the city. We pushed onward towards the top, passing hikers and runners and people of all ages. And then we made our way back down with surprising speed, back to the tantalizing scents snd sights of the food stalls lined up just outside the shrine’s gates. The reward? A fried potato on a stick. Chicken karaage. a slab of grilled pork bely. And it was all amazing.

From there, we walked to another favorite place, Tofukuji temple, and went inside the ornately curated gardens we had foregone on our previous visit. To say it was peaceful would be like saying that the sun is yellow— There’s so much more color to what that place felt like than words could do justice. Two beautiful maiko slowly wandered the grounds ahead of us, taking pictures of each other with their smart phone. My eyes strained to make out the countless shades of green in the leaves as a gentle breeze placed across them. I stared intently at the swirls of sand and rock that signified the ocean and its continents for what felt like an eternity. I embraced and reveled in a sweet calm.

I didn’t want to leave.

Unfortunately, time ran out here this time and we had to make our way back into central Kyoto in search of a final dinner. Our first visit to Kyoto had started with a phenomenal spring kaiseki dinner at the ryokan Hanaikada, and an autumn kaiseki dinner in the city felt like the right sort of farewell. After a short-ish walk from our apartment, we found ourselves at Kyoto Kaji (check out this blogger’s writeup), which served an artful assortment of seasonal vegetables and seafood over eight courses in a quiet upstairs dining room. Maybe it was the atmosphere, but I also enjoyed the most delicious glass of Kirin Ichiban I’d ever had.

We took our time walking home, enjoying the lights and sights of this Paris of The East for one last night before it was time to travel Southwards to the bustling city of Osaka. Where we were about to have our eyes opened yet again…

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