Solo | Backpacking | Japan

Day 2 – Kyoto
Welcome to the 21st century

Night was cold and my bed was amazingly cosy. I did not have proper sleep last night so I wanted to take it easy this morning. I got up around 9AM and made myself a hot coffee. Most hostels in Japan provide free tea/coffee all day long. Balcony of my floor did have some chair to sit in open air. Though it did not have any great view. And cold wind made the weather nippy.

Quickly arranging my stuff, I headed to shared bathroom of the floor. All function of the toilet pot, hot shower, bath tub were controlled by electric panels. And most of the options were written in Japanese. Fortunately all important options were marked with figures to make them Non Japanese friendly by the hostel staff. Toilet pot was preheated. Isn’t it amazing? Sitting on a preheating pot on a pretty cold day, Once I dumped my stuff, a single button push on electric panel sprayed my bottom with warm water. I could see option to adjust water temperature. I had to decode a similar panel in shower as well. This is not all, once I was done taking shower, I realized the mirror on wall was also temperature controlled. Only non-useful section of the mirror had fog on it. Rest all was fog free. I never knew our bathrooms had so much room for improvement. Welcome to Japan! Country of automation! Welcome to 21st century

Digital Toilets

Codes Demystified

I waited for a while for a bot to come and dress me but that did not happen
I see a room for improvement already.

As my journey will unfold, I will share how Japanese people have automated small recurring daily tasks, fixed basic inconveniences in houses and how everyone in Japan takes their job very seriously

Daily breakfast quandary

I have been following this lady named Sandy Robson for a while now. She is a sea kayaker and is kayaking from Germany to Australia right now, all alone. I dropped a message to her asking how she manages food while on the go. Though at times she sleeps on inhabited islands but that may not be always possible and what about lunch? She gracefully responded with details of snacks she carries for maintaining a balanced diet. Though my journey was not away from civilization but still I wanted to be prepared for worst case if I do not find vegetarian food everywhere. I stocked up enough Granola and dehydrated fruits (Apples and plums) to last for a few days. I decided to have a breakfast of Granola and dehydrated fruits on all days and it went quite well throughout my trip. Besides being healthy and filling, this was really a nice way of some saving money on breakfast cost. Granola goes well with almost anything. Plain water, milk or as dried snacks.

Most hostels in Japan do not have BB options, but have kitchenettes instead, so you can help yourself if you want to.

Local travel like a local

Taxis in Japan are expensive. So unless you have a family, it doesn’t really make sense to hire a taxi. Kyoto has a dense network of buses and I found it more convenient than trains. All places of tourist attraction are better connected by buses and buses can take you through lanes of eastern hills, where all temple/shrines are located. A single bus ride over minimum distance costs 230Y while a one day city bus pass costs 500Y. City bus pass allows infinite travels on city bus for one day. So it can be rather used as hop on and hop off service. So on all of my days in Kyoto I bought a bus pass which provided me enough flexibility to move around anywhere without think much about ticket charges. City bus pass can be bought from the bus captain or any convenience stores also.

Local Transport in Kyoto

Full Bloom welcome in Kyoto

You know you have nailed it in terms of timing, when you are welcomed by views like this.

A local cycling through sakura lined streets

Boat ride in Kamo river

Heian shrine

My day one in Kyoto was started by a visit to eastern hills of Kyoto. I had no specific itinerary for next 3-4 days, but I had a list of shrines to see. I got down at the bus stop Heian Shrine. Most of other shrines can be walked from here or a local bus can also be used to traverse.

Heian Shrine (平安神宮, Heian Jingū) is not really too old. It was only constructed in 1895. Heian is the former name of Kyoto. Shrine is characterized by a huge lawn which is used for cultural festivals and has few weeping cherry trees.

Main Shrine hall with huge lawn in front

Secondary hall

People wrote wishes on these small wooden boards.

While I was setting up my tripod these two beautiful ladies asked me to click their photograph from their instant (?) camera. I felt puzzled and clicked without touching any controls. Hope the shot was okay! I asked them to pose for my camera as well, to which they gracefully obliged.

Beautiful Japanese ladies wearing Kimono

Ladies wearing kimono dress is not uncommon in Kyoto. But this is really rare in Tokyo and anywhere else. Its surprising to see such variation in dressing sense across two biggest cities of Japan. Probably that’s why Kyoto is also known as cultural capital of Japan.

Entry to the shrine is free but a garden on its side has a paid entry. Entry to the garden is charged at 600Y per person. Garden itself is not very huge but has a good display of weeping cherry trees. Weeping cherry trees bear flower which are pink to magenta in color. Unlike other tress which have white, cream or off-white colored flowers. They have dangling branches that’s why they have to be externally supported. Garden itself was good but it appeared that these trees have not yet reached full bloom (or was it over?)

Weeping cherry tress

Walking on The Philosopher’s path

Philosopher’s Path is a pedestrian street in northern Higashiyama district. It is one of the top notch place to visit in cherry blossom season as it has hundreds of cherry trees lined up along a canal. Path itself is over a Kilometer long. Philosopher’s Path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous 20th century philosophers, was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. I too tried walking on same route but only felt hungry. Thankfully cafes and restaurants are also lined up along the route. After having a quick coffee and cake I resumed my walk along the canal. Needless to say road was quite crowded.

A street performer

Silver Pavilion – Where is the Silver?

At the Northern end of the path lies Ginkakuji Temple (銀閣寺, or Silver Pavilion). Ginkakuji, dating back to 1490, is a zen temple famous of its beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden known as the “Sea of Silver Sand”. Although the name suggests a temple with some silver finishing, there is nothing made of up silver. Temple charges a entry fees of 500Y.

Zen garden, made of sand

Silver pavilion across zen garden

Moss Garden

Dear clouds, You have spoiled my entire day again. I will see you after sunset

Dejected by continuous bad weather, I was gearing up for night illumination of cherry tress and Yasaka shrine. Hoping it do not rain!​


Lovely! The best part of any backpack trip are its stories and when it is punctuated with fine pictures, it makes a reader's experience even more enjoyable.

Atee uttam Ankur bhai :)
Thanks Amit bhai :)

Great !
Great !
Great !
Great !
Great !
Thanks Paaji... Unfortunately will not be able to meet you all in anniversary meet.

Lovely! The best part of any backpack trip are its stories and when it is punctuated with fine pictures, it makes a reader's experience even more enjoyable.
Thanks Nishchaya. I am glad you liked my pictures. Japan is full of scenic beauty to say the least.

Day 2 – Kyoto
Yasaka Shrine

Dance stage of Yasaka Shrine

I boarded a local city bus to reach Yasaka Shrine from Philosopher’s path. Distance between the two is less than 10 kms but it took me nearly an hour due to traffic. Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja), also known as Gion Shrine, is near Gion area. So quite a central point of all tourism in Kyoto. Shrine was founded over 1350 years ago. Yasaka Shrine has no entry fees.

The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. In front of it stands a dance stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. Each lantern bears the name of a local business in return for a donation.

It has a lot of street food stalls but mainly serving non vegetarian food so not of interest to me.

Entrance to Yasaka Shrine

Dance Stage of Yasaka Shrine

Amazing sunset awaits at Maruyama Park

Cloudy weather has been constantly frustrating me. I was expecting a mediocre sunset, but weather turned clear towards the end of day and I had a amazing blue sky for shoot.

I reached “Maruyama Park” just in time. Maruyama park is walkable from Yasaka Shrine. They both are adjacent. Maruyama Park is a very popular spot for Sakura viewing and Hanami parties. Maruyama park has no entry fees.

Since I was carrying nothing but camera and tripod bag I caught attention of few local/tourists and it was good to have interaction with them. I met many local Japanese people from nearby cities visiting Maruyama Park for sakura viewing. All Japanese people I have met were very warm and inviting. They were very happy to pose for me when I told I am a travel blogger. A few immediately connected with me over Facebook. Most Japanese people I met knew basic or no English but still they try their best to interact with foreigners.

Local Japanese enjoying sakura viewing

Old and Faithful

The centerpiece of the park is a tall Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), which gets lit up in the night. Tree itself is quite huge and has a protective fencing around it. This tree is one of the greatest attraction of Maruyama Park. There are numerous cherry tree here and this park is good place to spend a evening. Since sky looked better today I placed my camera to shoot a time-lapse while I grabbed a cup of hot coffee to keep myself warm. It was a freaking windy and cold evening! Seeing sky turn colors and cherry tree illuminated by external light was a great experience. Here are three shots from my timelapse sequence. Notice how distinct each of them looks though it is the same tree.

Lovely setup of Hanami Parties

A open seating arrangement beneath cherry trees is a wonderful setup to have relaxing time with family and friends. I would have too loved to spend some time here with my family and friends unfortunately that was not possible. Some people felt awkward and few gave me a thumbs up when noticed me taking pictures. Though it is not good to photograph while eating but I have no option. I had to capture the essence of Hanami Parties. I was feeling like a poor foreign traveler because everyone around was wearing nice suits and dresses, on the other hand I was wearing just average clothes. To travel light I was carrying only sturdy clothes that could last days unwashed (In-fact I was carrying only one lower, which I am wearing). Anyways that is a part of backing and I should learn it embrace it.

Looks puzzled?

Thumb up!

A wonderful setup

Night Illumination at Kiyomizudera Temple

Making my way through narrow by lanes of Higashiyama district I reached Kiyomizudera in about 20 mins. A local city bus can also be used to travel between them but it takes almost same time due to traffic. I checked a few hostels/hotels on my way and they were all too pricey due to proximity to major temples. If you are short on time, this area is the best place to stay.

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. Temple looks heavenly and colorful in Spring and fall season due to numerous cherry and maple trees. main shrine is located on a hill and has a amazing view of Kyoto city at night. Main entrance of the temple is under construction right now and a secondary gate on its side is open for public use. Temple charges an entry fees of 400Y.

Shooting landscapes/cityscapes at night is relatively easy. Shooting cherry tress at night is not as easy as I thought due to continuous movement of flowers/trees with wind. A little underexposed and you tend to loose all the details. I tried to capture night illumination to the best of my knowledge. I hope I did some justice to the amazing scenery of night setup. I met and talked to a few local photographers who were visiting the temple with their heavy tripods. Temple is also popular due to a wooden stage that extends over the hill and is lined with cherry trees. A birds eye view of Kyoto city from the wooden stage of the main hall is worth staying after sunset.

Narrow lanes of Higashimaya District

Cherry trees lit up

Huge Entrance Gate

Metallic gong, typical of Buddhist culture

Pagoda with cherry tree

Main Hall

Secondary hall

Three storey pagoda

Visitors enjoying illumination on wooden stage

A panoramic view of Kyoto city

After spending couple of hours shooting historic architecture of Kiyomizudera and night illumination I made my way back to my hostel. A day well spent. I fell in love with Kyoto on first day itself ! So much so that I decided to spend an extra day here. I had kept two buffer days in my original plan to use them in case i like some place more. I earlier planned three days in Kyoto but now I extended it to four.​


Active Member
Lovely shots. Bit surprised that you didn't get invited to join the hanami party at Maruyama koen by the locals! Zannen! The parties can get exciting even if food is not appealing to you! The booze flows... and after that people are much more open and friendlier! Looking forward to more Kyoto stories.

Lovely shots. Bit surprised that you didn't get invited to join the hanami party at Maruyama koen by the locals! Zannen! The parties can get exciting even if food is not appealing to you! The booze flows... and after that people are much more open and friendlier! Looking forward to more Kyoto stories.
I didnt get invited to any Hanami Party. I am not sure if they invite foreigners but people over all are very friendly.
I would love to visit Kyoto again in different weather perhaps :)