Sunrise to sundown in Kyoto


A day in the city of samurai movies, street monsters and 1600 temples.

This time of year, Kyoto is cloaked in the pale pinks of sakura, the Japanese cherry blossom. The blooms fringe the historic canals and blush amongst the temple reds… it’s a season which frames Kyoto’s mix of nature and design perfectly. Out of flower season, the former capital is needless to say, still a cultural, culinary and architectural promised land. So, wake up, smell the sakura and let’s be on our way.


Fushimi Inari Shrine

Begin your Kyoto quest at the iconic torii gates of Fushimi Inari.

You’ve seen the shrine’s rich vermilions in pictures, and the rest of the world has too. As such, Fushimi Inari receives a wave of tourists throughout the day. So to best savour the serenity and – let’s not beat around it – score that token photo, arrive before 8am. Or buy plenty of street food for your fellow tourists in the hopes that they massively bloat and can’t make it to the shrine’s upper levels. Your call.

Fushimi inari shrine close-up in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena CoadyFushimi inari shrine close-up in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

After you’ve completed the 4km walk through the ethereal torii gates feast at the lively street food market at the base of Fushimi. Here you can enjoy icy matcha drinks and freshly grilled okonomiyaki. My tummy rumbles at the memory. On to #2 before my drool glands make a grotesque woman of me.

Fushimi inari shrine in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady


Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

While you’re up early, head to Arashyiama before the crowds do. Admittedly, these first two stops are hella touristy, but they’re worth it.

One option is to hire a bike in town and then explore Arashiyama’s railway, bamboo groves, ponds, and temples. If you like what you see, there are also boats operating the nearby Hozu-gawa river.


Gio-ji Temple

Gio-ji temple garden in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

Gio-ji temple garden in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

Around the corner from the bamboo grove is this understated temple, Gio-ji, which lies within a mossy forest. Had I not already been seeing Japanese ghosts and lost underworld souls pretty much everywhere, then this would have been the spot for fairies. In the compound, there is also a moss buffet. Don’t ask questions. “Wasn’t gonna.” He replied.

Gio-ji moss bowls in Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

If you’d like to continue the wild ride that is the Kyoto temple run, some other sites to consider are Kinkaku-ji, Myoshin-ji, Eikando, To-ji and Chion-in.


The little monsters of Yokai Street

The shopfronts of Kyoto’s Ichijo-dori Street is a wonderland for lovers of the quirky and supernatural. The street, which has unofficially been named after “Yokai”, Japanese folklore monsters, features homemade creatures like tribal ghouls and cats in traditional garb. There are around 30 of these bad boys to salute – or accost – you on your merry way.

I can’t wait to become a homeowner who proudly litters their front yard with similar beings. With Australia’s current market I will purchase my first home when I am 307 years old, so these sort of decorations won’t look out of place. #RealEstateChat


Nishiki Market

Illuminated Japanese lanterns at Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena CoadyAll templed out? Given that Kyoto has over 1600 of them, I echo your sentiments. So, release every atom of spirituality you’ve gained by visiting the retail gods.

The central part of town boasts Kyoto’s best food fare. Nishiki market is packed with fresh Japanese ingredients like matcha, herbs, chili, pickled vegetables, tofu and miso.

Traditional Japanese vegetables at Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena CoadyFunny signs at Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

The market also sells specialties like sesame ice cream, matcha warabimochi – jelly-like cubes – and juicy miso-roasted eggplant. Almost every food comes on a stick, so you know you’re in for a treat.

Matcha squares at Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

Nishiki is also the tits with its rainy-day friendly roof and cheeky food samples. So crunch on savoury rice snacks, feel bile rise to your throat when you sample sake (was that just me?) and hunt down the chap who sells the rum-infused grapefruit.

Indulgences aside, Nishiki is also a learning experience. After a walk through the bustling markets you’ll know your mirin from your sake in no time. Your nose might even forget the potent tang of fresh fish.

Lanterns of Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady Lanterns of Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena CoadyLanterns of Nishiki market, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady


International Manga Museum

Consider yourself to be Death Note fiend? Recently saw a manga-inspired Hollywood flick? Wherever you sit in the fandom, the manga museum is tops.

Near Nishiki is this former school building devoted to showcasing manga’s influence on Japanese culture. The Manga Museum is swagged out with a collection of 300,000 manga which the public is welcome to read. Several translations are available.

The museum is truly a book-lovers paradise. Simply looking at its patrons is inspiring. Everyone is so engrossed in what they’re reading… it’s a lovely poo-pooing of all things Apple.


Traditional tea ceremony

For afternoon tea, have tea. Head to the atmospheric Ninenzaka teahouse of Camellia to make matcha green tea, learn the art of the tea ceremony and discover how it’s woven into the lustrous, silky fabric of Japanese culture and history. Don’t fret, tea masters run the ceremonies in English too.


Gion district

As the late afternoon sun sets in, take to the shady streets of Gion. This historical district is one where you can eat deliciously, explore extensively and if you return at night, catch a glimpse of the elusive geisha. Yes, my lack of accompanying image here means I wasn’t so lucky.


Memoirs of a Geisha bridge

Sunset at Tatsumi-bashi bridge, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

Being a bit of a cinephile, I jump at every opportunity to visit a film site. If you’re the same, you’ll love Kyoto. Films such as Rashomon, Lost in Translation, The Last Samurai (eugh, whitewashing) and Memoirs of a Geisha were shot in Kyoto. And with good reason. The city is undeniably cinematic with its opulent temples, clouds of sakura and photo-perfect light.

One film site I visited was the Tatsumi-bashi bridge. Featuring in Memoirs of a Geisha, the bridge stretches over the charming Shirakawa canal in the heart of Gion. It comes to life at twilight with the moody reds of the akachōchin lanterns just starting to shine.


The Philosopher’s Path

Sunset at the Philosopher's Path, Kyoto | Lost by Luna | Serena Coady

At sunset, head to the Ginkaku-ji Temple and stroll the 2km canal-hugging path to Nanzen-ji Temple. The Philosopher’s Path is one of the most scenic places to experience sakura season. During your walk, be sure to think deeply philosophical thoughts like the lyrics of that “Turning Japanese” banger.


Stay in a traditional Japanese home or Ryokan

In Kyoto, I stayed in a traditional Japanese home I found on Airbnb. When I arrived at night it looked exactly like The Grudge house. I anticipated the kid spider crawling down the stairs, so I distracted myself with my market spoils (9 green tea Kit Kats were lost that evening) and by exploring the many rooms of the house.

Classic Japanese homes are other-worldly. With their low ceilings, tatami matted floors, minimalist furniture and sliding paper doors, it’s not a setup I’d normally opt for – I much prefer subterranean Phantom of the Opera-style river dungeons – but embracing tradition in Kyoto is a must.

So, browse Airbnb to get the full Kyoto experience, or search the web for other classic types of accommodation like Ryokan, the traditional Japanese inns.

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11 things to do in Kyoto, city of Samurai films and 1600 temples

11 things to do in Kyoto, city of Samurai films and 1600 temples

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  • Reply
    April 12, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    Japan looks so beautiful I can’t wait to experience it for myself. The sound of the street food is making me seriously hungry!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Japan is just impressive. Period. They’ve got it going ON over there. The simple, yet beautiful design, connections with nature, delicious food. Seriously nirvana! These photos make me wanna pack my bags and move!

  • Reply
    Maria Angelova
    April 13, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Thank you, this is exactly the kind of guides I love – with huuuuge and great photos! I’ve saved it for my trip! 🙂

  • Reply
    Alexis Rae
    April 13, 2017 at 1:14 am

    All of these places look amazing! I cant wait to make it to Japan. I always try to get to things before all the tourists. The earlier the better!

  • Reply
    April 13, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Such great ideas for Kyoto. I would love to experience a traditional tea ceremony and a bamboo forest walk and a trek along the philosopher’s path. The market also looks really neat.

  • Reply
    April 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Japan is a dream destination of mine! This is a great guide.

  • Reply
    April 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    What a beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing all these amazing places. I would love to see the Nishiki market and bamboo forest!

  • Reply
    April 14, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Such a wonderful post. The pictures are breathtakingly beautiful. A perfect bucketlist for Kyoto. Also, love your style of writing.

  • Reply
    Kyntra Strickland
    April 14, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Love your title! This is great information and Kyoto looks beautiful! I would love to visit the bamboo forest and the philosopher’s path.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2017 at 5:31 am

    I absolutely loved Kyoto, your post brought back such wonderful memories. I did everything on this list and I can say they are all great recommendations

  • Reply
    April 16, 2017 at 11:17 am

    I just got back from a month in Japan, and Kyoto was definitely one of my favourite places. Such a beautiful, historic town. The shrines are so impressive, and the bamboo forest is such an incredibly relaxing place to spend a morning or afternoon. Amazing photos, you’ve really captured the beauty of Kyoto!

  • Reply
    April 16, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Your pictures are beautiful! I loved looking at this photo diary of your time in Kyoto.


  • Reply
    Claire Ottaviano
    April 16, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I loved Kyoto so much 🙂 you went into great detail, really helpful for those new to travelling there

  • Reply
    April 17, 2017 at 12:03 am

    Just what I need – yesterday I reserved a week in Kyoto next month and now I know what to do for that time 🙂 thanks for the great tips and love the photos!

  • Reply
    Reena @ The Lifestyle Enthusiast
    April 17, 2017 at 3:35 am

    This looks beautiful. I’ve wanted to visit Japan for so long, I’m certainly pinning this for later. I’d love to load up on miso-roasted aubergine and sip Matcha in Kyoto!

  • Reply
    October 31, 2018 at 6:56 am

    Did you try any of the pickled vegetables? Super curious about the yokai now. What kind of things does that street sell?

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