Gion (祇園)

Summertime in Kyoto means you must definitely catch Gion Matsuri! Held for the entire month of July, the main attraction is Yamaboko Junkō  (山鉾巡行), which is a parade of various floats and people in fancy costumes. I was lucky to have caught both the former and latter parade!

Paraders starting off from Yasaka Shrine.
Huge float towards the end of the parade.

Amazingly good ice cream from Kyosendo, which offers vanilla, green tea and half-half flavours. Even the biscuit thingy was sooo good!

Choose either vanilla, green tea or half-half.

Other pleasant surprises included a comet (at least we thought it was a comet), a “barbie” poodle and lots of street food!

Although it is pricey, yuka refers to dining on a wooden platform overlooking the Kamo River. It is perfect for hot summers so don’t miss out on this authentic Kyoto experience!

Yuka restaurants along Kamo River.

Arashiyama (嵐山)

Enjoy the feeling of zen at Tenryuji Temple, which is a spacious garden with gorgeous mountain views. Cycling isn’t recommended due to the sheer number of people, but you can hop onto a trishaw pulled by macho hunks if you’re tired.

Need a ride?

I would recommend visiting this temple first as it is on the way to the picturesque Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The mozzies are pretty vicious so do protect yourself! We met a Bunnyman who was taking selfies. What a cool idea!

Wild bunnyman spotted!

Married couples or lovers can make a wish at Nonomiya Shrine located within the forest. You must climb to the top of Mount Arashiyama, which offers a gorgeous view.

Do you believe in fate?

Summer is also when the ancient art of ukai (鵜飼い) or cormorant fishing is available for display. Skilfully guided by the master, the cormorants would dip into the water and come up with a fish in their beaks.

Rent a boat to see ukai up close or just peek from the riverside.

Fushimi (伏見)

Kyoto has countless shrines and temples that are so rich in history and architecture, it is difficult to choose which ones to visit. Fushimi Inari Taisha is a more well-known one, with its characteristic senbon dōri (千本通り), known as “thousands of tōri gates”. Each tōri was erected to credit individuals and companies for their generous donations to the shrine.

A splash of red despite the gloomy weather afterwards.

The shrine god is Inari (稲荷), who takes on the appearance of a fox. It takes 2-3 hours to climb up to the summit and back, but there is a rest stop halfway up the mountain, known as Yotsutsuji intersection. Visitors can stop there to enjoy the lovely view of Kyoto and pose for photographs.

Cultural Activities

I had the opportunity to experience several Japanese cultural activities, from the well-known tea ceremony to traditional Japanese theatre. It’s a great idea to sign up for cultural workshops to enrich your Japan vacation!

  • Ikebana (flower arrangement)

There’s so much theory behind ikebana (生け花)! This was the best arrangement by one of our group members. Instead of using both baskets to create two separate works, she placed the other basket at the side as a decoration. Isn’t it pretty?

  • Sado (tea ceremony)

We learned about proper etiquette for drinking tea, such as how to receive the cup, how to hold the cup etc. Some of the tea cups come with a special design at the bottom, which can only be seen after you are done drinking the tea. How cute!

  • Yatsuhashi making (Japanese sweets)

Yatsuhashi (八つ橋) is a cinnamon-filled, triangular sweet that comes in either soft or hard forms. We had the opportunity to our own yatsuhashi at a long-standing confectionery known as Otabe. It is relatively easy to make, so families with children can also sign up for this mouth-watering experience!

  • Nihon buyo (traditional Japanese dance) in a kimono

With influence from kabuki and noh, buyo is a type of traditional dance which is closely associated with geisha. It was difficult to move around in our kimono, and you can’t help but feel demure and graceful!

  • Noh (Japanese theatre)

Noh is a type of Japanese play that makes use of masks, costumes and highly trained musicians and performers to tell mostly supernatural tales. Here you can see one of the masks worn during a noh performance, depicting an angry woman.

*All photographs by the author

Please look forward to the second post, titled 9 Mind-blowing Places in Kansai, which will focus on day trips to bring you out of Kyoto!




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