Kyoto is rightfully a full fledged tourist attraction. Throngs and throngs of people from all over the world flock to this gracious and beautiful city to visit it’s many temples and shrines, among other things. Tourists arrive by the bus load ticking off their lists of things to see and do only to turn back around and climb back on to the bus for the next destination.
Our approach to Kyoto was more experiential. We knew after Tokyo that the kids would be templed out, so we filled our days in Kyoto with experiences like a bike tour, a ramen cooking lesson, a tea ceremony, a day trip to Hiroshima, and a must do hike to the top of monkey park to visit with the furry, somewhat greedy and completely cheeky monkey locals.
Each day before our planned adventures we would get up early, lace up our shoes, and run through Kyoto before breakfast. We ran as individuals choosing our own paths. We ran as a family. And on the last morning we ran with the group and 5 cheerful and knowledgeable guides from our hotel.
This my friends, on foot, early in the morning and preferably with a fit and knowledgeable guide, THIS is THE WAY to explore the various jewels on offer in this city. It does involve a 6am wake up call, some huffing and puffing and the potential to get a little lost, but these are minuscule sacrifices to make to have some of the most sacred parts of the city, that later in the day will be mobbed by tourists, completely to yourself.
Temples, shrines and meandering off the beaten path streets…. when empty, they become miles more special and spiritual. The morning light makes everything that much more beautiful. Via our hotel running tour we wound our way around the city. We passed the zoo, jogged through multiples shrines and wound up steps to explore the Path of Philosophy. Then ran by two more temples and a graveyard that offered a sweeping view of the city. There were some hills to trudge up and lots of steps to climb, but there were also lots of rest stops built in to appreciate each location and capture some group and family photos. (Our daughter has not yet been bitten by the running bug hence her not being in the photo – need to work on this).
Bonus for me, the only other people who were out during these early hours jaunts were fellow obsessed cherry blossom photographers and dog owners walking their treasured pets in these sacred locations. The dog owners were very generous with their canine friends and seemed very pleased to have them fussed over. They smiled and laughed and offered thanks for my gesture. Loved that!
So now knowing this if I had the chance to plan Kyoto again (and I will be going back someday) I would stick with the original plan of organizing experiences by day, but I would layer more deliberate destination driven runs and/or walks into each morning, enabling us to see all of the sites as the sites should be seen without crowds and on our own. I think this sunrise running/walking might be a model worth exploring on all of our adventures…Spain and Portugal we are grabbing our running shoes and heading your way!