Up on a mountain, glowing orange against a sea of green trees is Kiyomizu-dera.
When you think of visiting Japan, no doubt one of the first things you'll imagine is walking into an ancient temple, painted bright vermillion, the smells of incense wafting the air. One of the most iconic of these temples is Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Perhaps the most visited temple in Tokyo, Sensoji is also the oldest temple in the city with over half millennia of stories to tell.
During the cherry blossom season, when many people make the pilgrimage to Tokyo to witness this natural phenomenon, festival food stalls crowd the pathways around the temple. Off-season, there are only a few, run down stalls on site, selling traditional Japanese street food to locals and tourists alike.
Standing at the base of the stone staircase, looking up at the Atago Shrine, can be an intimidating sight. Atago hill is over 26 meters above sea level and atop this giant stone staircase is one of Tokyo's hidden gems: the Atago Shrine.
Inside the bamboo forest, you'll come across Tenryuji temple. The temple grounds are known as being one of the most beautiful in Japan and their famous garden, and its zen-like atmosphere was just the thing we were looking for as an to escape from the throngs of people who were started to filter into the bamboo grove.
One of the best ways to explore a city is with a local guide. Free walking tours are offered in larger cities across the world, but more often than not, you get what you pay for. They also usually have huge tour group numbers and only take you through the most popular attractions, you probably have already seen. Our Ryokan suggested Waraido Guided Tours which give 5-hour walking tours of the Kyoto Backstreets, through hidden alleyways to discover the roots of Kyoto itself.
The first half of our WaRaiDo Guide Networks walking tour of the backstreets of Kyoto took us through traditional Japanese fan workshops, shrines to health, the largest wooden temple in Japan and a tasting of freshly made tofu!
As the afternoon wore on into the evening, we headed for the famous Gion District of Kyoto for an evening walking tour. The Gion district is known the world over for their famous Geisha's who walk up and down these streets, on their way to tea houses where exclusive guests enjoy an evening of traditional Japanese entertainment.
Finding a place to explore early in the morning while on vacation is like giving yourself the chance to see a famous attraction in a different light, both literally and figuratively sometimes. No one likes getting up early while on vacation (well, maybe other than me), so chances are you'll have the place mostly to yourself.