December 24-26, 2015: Kyoto, Part 1

Ahhh, Kyoto. Such a magical city. As the former Imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is home to over 2,000 religious sites – 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines – as well as palaces, gardens and architecture, all intact. It is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Pretty much just stole all that verbatim from Wikipedia. All this and more makes it a fascinating city to visit, with endless things to do and see. Since visiting 2,000+ sites is literally impossible (ok, maybe it is, but definitely not for us in this lifetime, let alone just a few days), we stuck with the highlights.

In this segment of Kyoto (we escaped for a few days to Kanazawa, as you’ll see in the next post), we visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan, and the famous Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular temples in Kyoto. We then made our way over to the Gion District to go geisha-hunting! Read on to find out if we caught anything 😉

Miles walked:                 9
Miles transported:      ~10

Imperial Palace

Signed up for the (free!) Imperial Palace tour and took off on a guided exploration of the palace from the inside! Made our way in through the west gate and began the tour, starting with the south and most important gate, where, once a year, the Imperial Family comes from Tokyo to visit and enters through this gate:

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 1

This here is the east gate, which is less cool, but beautiful nonetheless:

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 2

The main courtyard of the palace:

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 3

These are the “waiting rooms” where guests visiting the Imperial Family would await their appointment:

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 4

And finally, some shots of the incredibly beautiful gardens dispersed all around the palace:

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 5

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 6

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 7

Kyoto 1, Imperial Palace - 8


Made our way up to the temple, along with what felt like 2,395 other tourists, and stopped to catch a glimpse of the sun setting behind the Kyoto Tower:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 1

Approaching the temple:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 2

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 3

The famous wooden veranda of the temple which offers incredible views of the city:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 4

I think this might be the first rabbit Samsonite has befriended (well done, Samsonite!):

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 5

Beautiful tea house:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 6

The pagoda lit up as the sun sets:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 7

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 8

And finally, some cool shots (well, we think they’re cool) of the glorious sunset:

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 9

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 10

Kyoto 1, Kiyomizu-dera - 11


The Gion District is one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha (or rather, geiko, as they refer to themselves in Gion and Kyoto as a whole) districts in all of Japan. Thing is, it’s actually quite a challenge to be able to spot a geisha, let alone snap a picture of one, as they are very fast and crafty and usually before you realize they are even there, they’ve scurried off into their tea house for whatever appointment they have for the evening. Some might even describe them as “ghosts”. This, of course, makes the thrill of “geisha-hunting” that much more exciting! The trick with geisha-hunting is to try to catch them as they are arriving to or leaving their appointments (they usually arrive by taxi or private car). We rushed to get there in time to try to catch one arriving, but got lost on the way and missed our “window”. We wandered around the famous Hanami-Koji street in the hopes of getting lucky but after about 20 minutes, gave up and went to grab a coffee. After a few minutes of relaxing, defrosting and recaffeinating, I (and I warn you, this is going to sound super cheesy and potentially self-involved) had a feeling, a gut feeling, a geisha felling, if you will… I made Francy, against his wishes, venture out into the cold again and back to Hanami-Koji street. Half-way up the street, Mr. Cranky Pants was ready to give up, and I too was beginning to lose steam. As we turned around and began heading to the bus stop, a taxi passed by. Staring into the window, I saw a bright, white, young and beautiful face NOT staring back at me, because, you know, that’s what they’re trained to do. Tactfully (not…), I yelled out “THERE’S ONE!” and Francy and I, along with a dozen other tourists who picked up on the cry of my ever-so-soft voice, began chasing after the cab. I know, we’re the epitome of classy. Anyway, in all the kerfuffle, we actually managed to snap some photos! But like I said, these bitches move like stealthy ninjas on Segways. And it was dark out (we chose not to bother her TOO much by keeping the flash off, as we’re technically bothering her enough already at her place of work), so this was the best we managed to capture:

Kyoto 1, Gion - 1

The geiko entering the tea house, with the maiko (geiko in training) holding the door open for her. Look how fast she’s moving!!

Kyoto 1, Gion - 2

After coming down from the high of seeing a real life geisha (or rather, geiko), we made our way back to our awesome hostel, where Samsonite was super excited to have a little chat (I swear, that was all he did!) with their Maiko-android (yeah people… that’s a ROBOT that TALKS!):

Kyoto 1, Gion - 3

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