Kyoto in 8 Hours

Alright… This is actually a bit of a cheat; those who read my old posts like “Seoul in 30 Hours” or “Queenstown in 48 Hours” know that I included travelling time in those hours, which in those cases, were flight times from Singapore. I did my Kyoto in 8 hours “challenge” quite differently.

For my Kyoto trip, the journey was actually from Osaka, where we were already based in over the weekend. Instead of a ride on Shinkansen, we took an express train that took about 1.5 hours in total.

The plan was simple: Arrive early at Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) to hike up to the peak before the weather gets too hot, then shuttle to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (嵐山) to hide from the noon sun under the green canopy, before going down to Kyoto’s central to have lunch and do some touristy sightseeing (depending on how tired we will be).

We are, after all, visiting Kyoto in the summer, and in summer, the sun was as toxic as it could get!

Map to Fushimi Inari Taisha of Kyoto, Japan, at the exit of the train station.

How to Get to Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first stop to tour Kyoto in 8 Hours was at Fushimi Inari Taisha. As we stayed in Holiday Inn Osaka Namba, we walked to Nippombashi Station to take a short ride on the subway to Kitahama Station near the city fringe, where we transferred to the Keihan Main Line for a 45-min ride all the way to the station at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Although we set off at 6am (settling breakfast before boarding the train at 6.30am), the train ride on Keihan Main Line was already filled to the brim; be sure to arrive at the platform early so as to be able to get onto the train (any later, you might have to wait for the next train).

Entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha of Kyoto, Japan. A female visitor is seen walking into the first arch leading to the main complex of shrines.

Fushimi Inari Station was amazingly quiet, considering that many tourists were expected to drop off over there. Even though it was the station to reach Fushimi Inari Taisha, the latter was not right beside the station. After coming down the stairs/slope from the platform, turn left and walk up the street. After crossing a railroad (which was the line for JR), there would be plenty of signs to direct you to the entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Despite the bountiful Instagram pictures I had seen and plentiful recommendations on travel websites, the articles didn’t quite give a good idea of what to expect at Fushimi Inari Taisha. I knew it was The Place to take pictures in front of ancient Japanese temple arches that seemed to extend to infinity, but that was it. So, I would like to try to give a layman description of what one can find at Fushimi Inari Taisha, without going into too much technical details.

Map of the complex of shrines at Fushimi Inari Taisha, with its iconic arches built on the hillside.

What we know as Fushimi Inari Taisha is actually a collection of structures on a hillside. The first thing to greet tourists would be the complex of shrines. Since I had visited shrines in Japan before, I didn’t spend too much time lingering on the temple grounds. However, the shrines in the early morning do exude a quiet, magical charm that cannot be found in the afternoon when tourists swarm the place.

Kyoto in 8 Hours – Fushimi Inari Taisha

After a quick wash of hands, we headed up to the main course of the place: The arches.

Even though we reached at about 8am, there was already quite a handful of tourists preparing to hike up the mountainside with us. One thing I was sure was that this series of arches extend a long way up the hillside and branches off at various points; the only advantage of trying to take a photo for Instagram at the starting point would be that you would be all fresh and dry.

Another view at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a complex of shrines and iconic orange arches built on the hillside. Seen here at halfway up the hill, where nature and human design come together in harmony.

However, if there are simply too many photobombs, bear in mind that there are plenty of points and opportunities to take a photo up there; the higher you go, the less people there would be, since there are bound to be people who give up climbing further along the way.

That was actually what we did. At one point, we came to a fork and decided to take a left turn towards a path that looked less travelled (the other direction led all the way to the peak where, presumably, one would be rewarded with a view of the surrounding area). True enough, after about 20m down the path, we had the whole stretch of arches to ourselves. In the time when I took pictures and ate my inari sushi, only a couple of other tourists passed by and they quickly left when they realised that the path did not lead to the peak.

Sushi and Inari sushi at Fushimi Inari Taisha, in front of the iconic orange arches built on the hillside.
Sushi and Inari sushi at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Worth to Tour Fushimi Inari Taisha for Kyoto in 8 Hours?

To me, the objective of getting that Insta-worthy picture was more important than reaching the peak (ok ok, I was lazy to hike all the way up), so after finishing my standing picnic (the place was quiet and looked clean enough to sit down, but… it’s my OCD again…), we returned to the fork and proceeded on the return trip back to base.

We did not back track where we came from; to be frank, I forgot at which point we got diverted. I only remembered that after we returned to the fork after the picnic, we followed some signage and got back to where we started without meeting anyone coming from the opposite direction.

That… was how huge the place was.

Another view at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a complex of shrines and iconic orange arches built on the hillside. Seen here at halfway up the hill, Xiong Xiong the teddy bears are engaged in PDA (public display of affection.

Therefore, if you can afford the time and energy, hike up the steps. If you are just interested to take an Insta-worthy picture, there is no need to go all the way; stop at where you feel comfortable, take a few pictures, rest, and return to base 🙂 Remember to bring some water with you, because the beverages (or anything else for that matter) sold in vending machines up there cost a bomb!

For the next stop in Kyoto in 8 Hours challenge, we next took the JR line to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, via Kyoto Station, which by the way, has the world’s longest stretch of escalators 😛

Train ticket from JR line, taken at Fushimi Inari Taisha, enroute to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove via Kyoto Station, Japan.

How to Get to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Getting to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove via train on our Kyoto in 8 Hours challenge was the easy part.

Like Fushimi Inari Taisha, directions from the station to the bamboo grove were scarce and ambiguous online. Based on Google Maps, it seemed as though we would need to take a monorail or something after we reached Saga Arashiyama Station. Alas! That was not necessary. As the old adage goes, if in doubt, follow the crowd.

There was a station staff at the station exit offering directions to the bamboo grove; he seemed to indicate that there was a shuttle service. We ignored him, and followed the others by taking the lane right outside the station (technically, as you stepped out of the station, you would need to walk about 5m to reach a street; from there, turn right).

The idea was to keep walking along the road; do not turn at junctions, instead, continue to walk straight. There will come a time when you will reach a main road (just before that “big” junction, you would have passed by another “big” junction with a flyover) whereby the road is “kinked” to the right after you cross that main road. Once you cross the road and enter that kinked road, you will see the entrance of the bamboo grove right ahead, the jade green crowns of the bamboo standing prominently over the roofs of the houses.

Xiong Xiong the teddy bears at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in West Kyoto, Japan, one of the main tourist highlights, great for a day trip.

Real Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

That, my friends, was the beginning of a journey of deceit.

Online, we were presented with a lush blanket of green hovering over an unending dirt path. The green, we found out, weren’t that green, since not all that made up the grove were bamboos. I might be nitpicking, but even the bamboos themselves weren’t that green.

That path was not unending too. Unlike Fushimi Inari Taisha, the paths amongst the bamboo were quite limited. Add on the tourists and it became difficult to take pictures without tonnes of photobombs in it.

N and I were wandering around the short paths to look for an angle that could maximise the number of bamboos as backdrop while minimising human existence. Soon, we decided to focus on Xiong Xiong instead of taking wefies…

Not All is Lost at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Amidst all the disappointment, a surprise awaited us in the form of a railway crossing cutting through the bamboo grove. For someone like me who like to take pictures of a railway disappearing off the horizon, it was photogasm for me!

Railway track cutting through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in West Kyoto, Japan, one of the main tourist highlights, great for a day trip.

On hindsight, perhaps the best place to take a picture was after crossing the railway line. About 10m after that, there was a branch to the right, where the path would lead to a small park where one can walk one round amidst the bamboo grove.

Somehow, not a lot of people went in that section; I noticed it was one of the paths the rickshaw (which you pay about 5,500 yen for a 30min ride round the bamboo grove) took. We didn’t take the rickshaw… We were too stingy and too heavy… and it seemed like only ladies took the ride, though I suspected they were gunning for the short shorts the rickshaw pullers were wearing…

Unlike Fushimi Inari Taisha, there was literally no place to rest at the bamboo grove (unless you are OK to sit on the dirt path with tourists and rickshaws scurrying past you), so for those who can’t walk that much, perhaps the bamboo grove should be the first stop.

Kyoto in 8 Hours – Half Done

To be honest, I was expecting each of the 2 places to take me some time… I thought by the time we finished the tour of the bamboo grove, it would be time for lunch. And the plan was to tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace after lunch.

But it didn’t work out that way.

We didn’t climb to the peak of Fushimi Inari Taisha since I was tired and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was too small and one-dimensional for us to spend more than 30 minutes in it (heck… the journey from the Fushimi Inari Taisha in east Kyoto to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in the west took longer than the time I spent in the bamboo grove!). We were done by 10.30am (that was 2.5 hours after reaching Kyoto).

So N and I strolled to the nearest bus stop along Maruta-machi Dori (thank goodness for the good weather), where we took a bus that went straight to Kyoto Imperial Palace (though the journey took about 30 minutes, the two points were actually along the same road).

Facade of entrance of the main building of Kyoto Imperial Palace complex. The palace grounds consist of tree-lined gardens, wide gravel roads.

Loitering Around Kyoto Imperial Palace

Well… it seemed to me that palaces tend to be closed on the days I visit them (like when I went to Neues Schloss), and the Kyoto Imperial Palace was no different. We ended up wandering through the palace garden grounds, which was a torture, since it was noon and the summer sun was raining down on us and the “garden” barely had trees for cover. (It was weird, because when we left Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, it was overcast. By the time we reached the palace, the sun was out in full force!)

Just covering the garden to reach the main palace building itself took us about 20 minutes – this was the expanse of the garden! Like I mentioned, the palace was closed, so we ended up admiring the lines on the outer walls and the drain encircling the palace… or part of it. We found an exit very soon and left the deserted palace for lunch.

Long shot of wide path leading to the entrance of the main building of Kyoto Imperial Palace complex. The palace grounds consist of tree-lined gardens, wide gravel roads.

Around Kyoto Station

By the time we ended our palace “tour”, we had been on our feet for about 4 hours. I was too tired to go explore the other heritage sites like the street at Higashiyama, much less to look for “traditional food”. It was why my Kyoto in 8 Hours was literally capped at 8 hours! We scooted back to Kyoto station to admire the world’s longest escalator, and had lunch at a restaurant called “Mollete” where it seemed like we were the only guys over there.

The restaurant served fusion Japanese food, like the Omelette with Breaded Chicken that I had, or Japanese Curry Rice. Apparently, their most famous dish was Omurice, but since it contained beef, I had to give it a miss.

Lunch at Mollete, a Japanese fusion restaurant in Kyoto Station, Japan. The restaurant serves omu rice in a cosy setting. Seen here, omelette with breaded pork, salad, a bowl of rice and miso soup.

Perhaps I was just a sucker for aircon After a good rest from the lunch break, we went to tour the Isetan food hall, before finding ourselves in Yodobashi’s Tsukiji to have some Matcha Ice Cream. I forgot the names of the ice cream, but they were limited edition for the summer and adorned with fresh fruits for some varied texture to the ice cream!

Did I take a picture of the Kyoto Tower (which was just across the road from where I was enjoying the ice cream)? Well… having been to so many cities with their “towers”, I must admit I wasn’t so enamoured with Kyoto’s. But if you did, care to share some of the photos you took with me?

Ice cream cone from Yodobashi’s Tsukiji, containing matcha latte ice cream, fresh fruits and jelly. Seen here with Xiong Xiong the teddy bear, taken at the outlet at Kyoto Station in Japan.

Leaving Kyoto

Believe it or not, we bought our tickets and were ready to leave Kyoto by 2.15pm – that was slightly more than 6 hours after we reached Kyoto! Kyoto is a big place with plenty of sightseeing to be done. Unfortunately, they are scattered all over the city and involved TONNES of walking… At my age, being able to persevere for 5 hours of walking was already a feat and I still had 2 more days to spend in Osaka, so I didn’t want to break my legs for Kyoto.

Therefore, while “Kyoto day tour” is possible if you are based in Osaka, I would recommend spending at least a night in Kyoto, so that you could spread your sightseeing to either cluster the nearest spots within a time frame, or spread the strenuous sightseeing across 2 days.

For us, our objective was Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – we had to complete them in our limited time of 8 hours so we had to bite the bullet and complete the walkathon within a day. If not, like I mentioned, by staying a night, you can visit both places in each morning (since summer mornings are good for such walks) and leave some leisure sightseeing for the afternoon.

This post is part of a series of travelogue on my trip to Osaka. If you enjoyed reading it, please click Like and Share the post with your friends!

I had also blogged about our hunt for pancakes around Osaka and of course, my Business Class experience on Cathay Pacific from Singapore to Osaka via Hong Kong. Follow Live.Life.Love to get updates on my travelogue to Osaka, Japan and get inspired for your summer vacation!

Till then, stay wanderlust and eat happy!

All photos and videos in this blog post were taken with Google Pixel XL and edited (where necessary) with Google Snapseed app (pictures) and Filmora (video).

Ticket bought for return to Osaka from Kyoto, Japan, after a day trip around Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Kyoto Imperial Palace.
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