Unusual Things To Do In Kyoto
by Jordan Mounteer
Kyoto may be most famous as a tourist site for its many (and I mean many) temples, and for being the old capital of Japan, but there are plenty of other things to do in Kyoto that the ‘two day’ tourists often miss out on. These range from the bizarre to the grotesque, but it’s a great example of how versatile the city is in terms of activities and sightseeing. At the same time, if you do have only a limited amount of time, there are definitely obvious places that should top your list regardless – the ochre gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, the giant bamboo forests of Sagano – but if you are looking for something that is a bit more ‘off the track’ these are prime locations.
photo by https://flyfsa.com/post_4761
Honen-In Temple – 30 Goshonodan-cho, Shishigatani, Sakyo-ku
Okay, while Kyoto may be home to over 1600 different temples, and you’re certainly not going to get around to all of them, the Honen-In Temple is an excellent choice for the simple reason that it a.) doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as some of the popular ones like Kiyomizudera, but b.) It is still one of the most breathtaking spectacles in the old city. In my opinion, this is because it’s one of the few temples that really takes advantage of the natural surroundings, and in fact the first thing you see when you approach up the steps is a moss covered gate. Inside you are instantly confronted with mounds of sand (meant to purify you as you walk between them), and there is a lovely pond here which is particularly beautiful from season to season – in autumn, though, when the leaves are changing color, it can be particularly spectacular. The best part is that the whole grounds are free to visit – it’s a little more to enter the main hall, but if you do you’ll be greeted by a very notable black statue of the Amida Buddha.
Yokai Street – Ichijo-dori, Gozen-dori Nishi Iru, Kamigyo-ku
For me personally, the only mythology more interesting than the ancient Norse (with their tales of warriors and gods and giant wolves) is the Japanese pantheon. Such legendary history is rife with a monsters of all shapes and sizes, from small diminutive forest deities to gigantic ravenous beasts. And in Kyoto, a menagerie of these creepy, kind, and capricious characters can be found along Yokai Street. Along Ichijodori Street in Kyoto many of the shops have representations of these figures, and for a well-meaning tourist it can often come as a shock to see these ghoulish statues at every corner (especially if you’re walking back to your hostel at night). Nevertheless, it definitely makes for one of the more quintessential colorful aspects of the city’s culture – and if you’re brave enough to try out your Japanese, many of the locals are quite happy to tell you all about their respective yokais.
Nishiki Market – Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku
While not inherently strange or bizarre itself, the Nishiki Market in Kyoto does have its share of interesting cuisine if you’re feeling a bit peckish. At night is when the vendors really start cooking, and you can usually smell the market before you actually get to it. And, failing that, you’ll probably be able to hear them (something about Japanese vendor culture makes it appropriate to shout out at would-be customers). Spanning nearly five blocks, there are often between 100 and 150 different stalls set up, and during festivals or national holidays you can expect the streets to be packed end to end. Some of the delicacies include octopus, but done in a distinctly Kyoto fashion: a quail egg is boiled in the area where it’s brain would be. Some of the less macabre dishes include different kinds of kimchi and mochi, as well as skewered squid and soy donuts.
Mimizuka – 533-1 Chayamachi, Higashiyama-ku
The relationship between the countries of Japan and Korea haven’t always been amiable, and as a rule bringing up the politics of warfare over the centuries isn’t really polite. Today, there is a lot more diplomacy between the neighbouring nations, probably due at least in part to the fact that they have have been at peace for so long – and today, it’s quite common for Japanese to go to Korea and vice versa, both for vacation, work, and school. However, that doesn’t mean either country is exempt from the past. In one of the suburbs of Kyoto you can find Mimizuka, a shrine where an estimated 100,000 ears and noses were buried. During the 16th century when Japan wreaked havoc on the Korean peninsula, it was quite common to take ‘trophies’ home from such battles – the easiest of these grisly souvenirs tended to be ears. Today the memorial is a bit controversial, but because it’s often overlooked by all but Korean tourists it can be a very solemn and peaceful place to visit if you’re interested in a bloody chapter of Japan’s past.
Aritsugu – 219 Kajiya-cho, Nishikikoji-dori, Gokomachi nishi iru, Nakagyo-ku
For me, one of the most interesting shops in Kyoto – if not all of Japan. It is also one of the few companies/shops that has been around for over 500 years. Although it first started out as a swordmaking service with its founder Fujiwara Aritsugu, it eventually shifted its focus and today is known worldwide for creating knives that are unparalleled. They range from special sushi knives to knives designed specifically for cutting meat, and there is a whole range of sizes, styles, and qualities. But as a general rule, they’ll set you back at least a couple hundred dollars. Even if you aren’t dead set on making a purchase, it can still be a fascinating store to walk around and admire. Their services include sharpening knives already bought by their patrons, and it’s really interesting to watch a master at work on a blade, tempering that final edge on a gigantic grinding stone.
Kyoto is known for its temples, but for the keen traveler who wants a unique experience there are plenty of opportunities to see some of the lesser known and unusual areas of the city. Whether you’re catching up on the history of long dead battles or wanting to chill out in a secluded temple garden, there’s plenty to see and do. But it definitely requires initiative and a wandering spirit – walk down the right back alley of Kyoto, and you can find anything.
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