I will be staying in Kyoto for five weeks for my first Workaway experience – a setup similar to HelpX. I am excited to be “living” in the cultural city of Japan for a short period of time. I will be helping with cleaning these Airbnb apartments that are rented out in a daily basis. Luckily, I arrived in Kyoto at the height of the cherry blossom season. I can explore the beautiful flowers around work hours or on my off day.
Work was straightforward and would only be at most 4 hours a day in exchange for accommodations. I spent my first days exploring areas with clusters of sakura trees. I live close by Kamo River, which was filled with blooming cherry blossoms. I remember my first walk by the river ended up in hours of endless photo snapping because everything was so beautiful. To walk along the waters with sakura petals raining down on you feels magical – minus allergies which I thankfully did not have for this. By the second day in Kyoto, I had already found “my” coffee shop, which I will not share the name of to selfishly keep it as my secret place, that was close by my apartment and the river.
By chance, on my way to visiting Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple I passed by the park leading the series of temples. The park was built on an abandoned railroad track with dozens of cherry blossom trees. By the time I visited, it was towards the end of the season so the flower petals were slowly falling off. It was a beautiful time to experience the falling of sakura petals like gentle snowflakes that do not melt. Many people were there for pictures, even wedding photos.
Taking advantage of sakura season while it was shortlived, we had hanami at Maruyama Park. I was extremely excited to be able to use the tarp I had carried with me since New Zealand. The park was filled with other Japanese gathered around the grass with food and drinks, similar to what I experienced in Ueno Park in Tokyo. It was less crowded here though. There were some food stalls at the entrance of the park where we feasted on overpriced street food while sipping our convenient store bought alcohol.
The beginning days in Kyoto consisted mostly of visiting the top attractions the city has to offer. Despite how busy and touristic Kiyomizu-dera was, I thoroughly enjoyed walking pass the streets with old buildings and cute souvenir shops. It look me longer than expected to get to the temple because I was carried away by all the food and craft stores. I saw a lot of people dressed in traditional robe wandering around the old streets. It is common for people to visit Kyoto and rent kimonos for the day to walk around for the full cultural experience; I want to try that some day too. I intended to stay in the temple complex to capture sunset, but unfortunately, the temple closes by 6PM and sunset was not until another half an hour. Along with a number of other tourist, we were lingering by the outskirts of the temple for as long as we could to enjoy the descending sun. It was beautiful. I have not seen such a gorgeous sunset for a long time; it has been awhile since I set aside time to watch the set sun actually. I definitely want to revisit Kiyomizu-dera.
Another famous attraction that I visited is Fushimi Inari. The shrine is well known for the thousands of tori gates that leads up to the shrine. I was advised to go there early to avoid crowds. I got there by 8AM and even then, there were a handful of people at the bottom of the mountain. I struggle to find the opportunity to take photographs of the red tori gates without other people in the way. Everyone was there for the pictures. There were many different paths to reach the top of the mountain, but I tried to follow the number sequence on the map. Not many people actually made it to the top. I did not stay for too long and headed back down. This is another attraction that I intend to revisit.
Roughly a 20-minute walk from my apartment is the famous Nishiki Market. It is a long narrow shopping area mainly of cooked food and produce. This is right by the other shopping street, Teramachi Street. If you are looking to sample the street foods of Kyoto or do some shopping, this area would provide an overwhelming number of options to select from. I checked out a small tsukemen shop tucked away on the side streets of Teramachi. The shop was small with only 6 or 7 seats and a few food items on the menu. I selected one of the tsukemen since I really enjoyed what I had in Tokyo. Good tsukemen is hard to come by in New York City, so I might as well indulge in tsukemen here while I can. It was really good, but not as memorable as the first one I tried. The good thing is that I still have quite some time to sample more.