The time between late March and early April is Japan’s cherry blossoms season. Unfortunately, this year’s warming trend led to blossoms reaching full bloom a week prior to our arrival. By the time we got to Kyoto, we had missed the spectacle save for a few flowers that had stubbornly clung on. Luckily, Kyoto isn’t short of beautiful sights.

What’s left of the blooms

Rain graced our first day in Kyoto, and kept the crowd away.

Kyoto is still unbelievably picturesque in the rain.
We spent part of the morning walking through Kodaiji Temple, soaking in the serene gardens, before heading to the bustling Nishiki Market for lunch.
かつくら, a tonkatsu restaurant tucked away in an alley barely big enough for two abreast.

The next day was a completely different story. With no precipitation in the forecast, I knew we had to start our day early to avoid the crush of humanity.

A 6 AM start allowed me to get a clear shot of the Fushimi Inari Torii.

The Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to the Shinto divine being for rice and agriculture, and the custom of donating a torii (gate) in exchange for a granted wish dates as far back as the 1600s. To this date, there are a thousand torii along the 2.8 mile trail.

With the Instagrammers busy at the lower part of the torii trail, we found more solitude the higher up we went.
The torii are also grander the further we went.
As for solitude, it was too late by the time we got to our next destination – Arashiyama bamboo forest.
And this was only 10 in the morning.

Opting not to linger with the horde, we decided to take the scenic Romantic Train that travels between Arashiyama and Kameoka. This train was actually not on my radar at all, but I found out about it by accident. Earlier in the morning, as the throng of tourists alighted the rail, leaving behind empty cars, a Taiwanese tourist frantically asked us if this was the stop for the 小火車 (the little train). Knowing next to nothing about a “little train”, I simply told him this was the “bamboo stop”. However, after exiting the train station, we saw a separate rail station.

Lo and behold, the 小火車 station! Also known as the Sagano Scenic Railway.

Of course, FOMO got the best of me, so we decided to add it to our itinerary.

The retro Romantic Train travels a route that was part of the Kyoto main line. However, it was bypassed after a straighter and more direct route was built out in 1990.
Scenery along the way. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall.

If the morning crowd at the bamboo forest was bad, we were not prepared for what awaited us at Kiyomizu in the afternoon.

Avoid this area between 9AM to 5PM, because that’s when all the tour buses dump their passengers.

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple founded in 776, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Pilgrims come here for their wishes to be granted – be it love, success, or even easy childbirth.

In reality, easy childbirth is an oxymoron.
All sorts of talismans are available to either ward off ailments such as headaches, or to grant things like longevity, traffic safety, fortune, etc.

In spite of the crowd, Joe appreciated being there when the locals were out in force, as it was interesting watching local customs in practice.

People lined up to catch and drink the water from the Otowa waterfall, which is believed to have wish-granting powers.

For me, the most fascinating part of this temple is that there is not a single nail found in the building.

It’s all built using wooden joists
Instagram vs.

Having experienced the mob, I made sure to get up before the break of dawn the next day to get one of the iconic Kyoto shots.

Hokan-ji Temple

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