This is the day we had the highest expectations before we headed to Japan. This Japanese official website gave most recent forecast regarding fall foliage across the nation. Timing for our trip should be great but you never know until you arrive at the exact location. We already saw plenty beautiful colors at Miyajima the day before, which was a good sign for sure.
Early in the morning, we checked out and got on the subway to transit to the Shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto. To be aware, Google map always shows the fastest Shinkansen option that JR pass doesn't cover. In this case, Hikari is covered by JR pass, which is about 30 minutes slower than Nozomi line that Google map shows but hours faster than Kodama line that stops at each station in between. It's important to check the signs or ask the staff at JR stations to make sure you get on the right line. Otherwise, if you took the line not-covered by JR pass by accident, you would be caught to pay the price/change to the slower line (attendant checking tickets on JR lines are very common. Don't be sneaky). Or, you will miss your schedule as the slowest JR line will waste you a few hours on the road.
Once we arrived at Kyoto station, we found the locker outside and left our luggage there since the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) we booked didn't accept check-in until 3pm in the afternoon. It took us a while to find the bus stations, which is technically at the back of Kyoto JR station, outside the Kyoto Gekijo (theater) and Hotel Granvia Kyoto. You will have to go to the 2nd floor where there is a pathway connecting several buildings that will lead you to the other side and outside the theater and the hotel. The tourist info office is on the 2nd floor as well so you can go there to get all kinds of info, buy day-pass for bus/metro or arrange local tours, etc. If you just need bus day-pass like we did, there are vending machines at the bus stations (which have numbers from 1-5 and beyond). You can buy 1-day pass, 2-day pass etc at the vending machines easily.
Our itinerary that day started at Philosopher's Path, following by key sites to observe wonderful fall colors including Honenin Temple/Anrakuji Temple -> Zenrinji (Eikando) Temple -> Lunch at a ramen place next to Zenrinji, which is called 通りゃんせ -> Kamo River -> Arashiyama hangout for early dinner/snack till night fall foliage -> Hogonin Temple (website to show night open hours and other info) -> back to Kyoto station to get luggage and check in the ryokan which is <10 minutes walk. It's very nice to rent kimono and wear it for photos in Kyoto area. We did that two years ago when we visited Kyoto the first time. The key is to book in advance as it takes time to dress up and do make-ups etc especially for ladies. Location of the shop is important as well as you need to return the kimono accordingly. Some shops accept return from hotels but you need to do research to figure out. We may see if we can share our experience last time in another article later. We used another shop in Gion under the chain below.
Philosopher's Path is a quiet and beautiful neighborhood pathway along a small river. It's not long but connects several famous temples in the area. You can tell from different corners of Kyoto that Japanese people worship all kinds of gods related to local nature, materials, animals, etc.
Our first stop Honenin Temple/Anrakuji Temple was astonishing already with limited light in the early morning. Monk is a profession in Japan as managing a temple is like running a business. That's an interesting concept as a monk can be a millionaire personally. However, they still seem to live a simple life like the one we saw that day. Beside the monk, we saw a group of local photographers chasing the fall colors outside the temple. Hey, be sure to follow their angles to get the best picture as we are pretty sure that this was not their first year here. Then, we got the beautiful picture next
When we got to Zenrinji (Eikando) Temple, we knew right away the beauty we saw earlier was just a teaser. Looking at the crowds and hearing 'Su ba ra shi i' (amazing in Japanese) frequently, we know we were at the fall wonderland. The entrance itself was a postcard view from both sides. Inside, definitely mind blowing and eye opening. The weather was perfect. The lake in the garden, the pure yellow ginkgo leaves and the thousand years old architecture, they all add huge points to what we saw. Just enjoy the photos below.
When it was time for lunch, we were so grateful that the place was only 2 minutes walk away. The benefit of being there outside of lunch hour (11:30 am-1 pm is usually the busiest in Japan) was waiting in a shorter line as family-owned eatery like this in Japan is usually very small. 通りゃんせ is famous for its curry-based noodle soup. If you order at of that, you will be offered an apron to avoid curry from getting your clothing dirty. We ordered normal udon so just ate without the apron.
Bus system at Kyoto is quite developed and efficient. After lunch, we just hopped on the bus that took us back to downtown area. We always wanted to take a walk or chill at Kamo River side. It was a gorgeous river that passes through the most ancient city. It's called kamo because it does have a lot of ducks living in the water. This will be a great site to take the whole family as kids can enjoy fun watching the animals or playing with the water.
It may take two buses connected to take you from Kamo River to Arashiyama, where we planned to spend the rest of the day for afternoon snack/early dinner and then enjoy night view of fall foliage. There are a lot of shopping and eatery stores from small stands, food truck to famous branded goods and high-end restaurants. Just some examples below. We loved the miso-paste mochi which was not sticky but soft and warm. The fried chicken skew was so juicy and the aroma was amazing. They were both not far from the train station. The train station on the site operates trains from Arashiyama to downtown Kyoto that we took after night view that day.
Getting in the line outside Hogonin Temple as early as possible. We were about 30 minutes earlier than the opening hour and there was already long line outside the temple to several blocks away. Many local families came here to watch the fall foliage at night because it was outstanding here. We thought so as well until we went to Kiyomizu-dera afterwards. The top-hill location of Kiyomizu-dera gave you an oversee view of the whole city at night, which was not compatible by any other temple, we would say. It did take some efforts to climb up to the top before you entered the temple. It's totally worth it. Enjoy another round of eye-shocking photos below and we will end our sharing today here. It was a long day at Kyoto but every minute was incredible and so memorable.
All the following were taken at Kiyomizu-dera