One of my favourite memories of Kyoto is on my first trip to Kyoto. I walked along the entire east side of Kyoto from Kyoto Station all the way to Ginkakuji. For anyone who has ever visited Kyoto and looked at that area, they probably won’t believe me when I say I walked all of that and walked almost all the way back to Kyoto Station as well. I didn’t have any real idea as to what each area was about, and my Japanese was no where near good enough to navigate around town smoothly. Now, I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience that I don’t regret doing and I would do it all over again if I had to. Walking around Kyoto was a great experience that allowed me to see a lot of Kyoto, although I don’t necessarily remember everything. One of the best memories I had on that walkabout was my visit to Maruyama Park and heading up a nearby mountain to a small shrine.
Maruyama Park is a small park that is either left off the guide books or barely mentioned. It is famous at one time of the year, the cherry blossom season. Most of the park is covered in cherry trees making this the place to be during the cherry blossom season. It is difficult to find a place, or so I’ve been told, to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. When I visited, I was about 1-2 weeks too early to enjoy the cherry blossoms. One or two trees had buds on them, but that was about it. The park itself is quite easy to navigate and without much foliage to enjoy I finished walking the park in about 15 minutes. I enjoyed the small pond of water that flowed through much of the park and found it interesting to see piles of neatly folded blue tarps near the trees. Little did I know that when the cherry trees started to blossom, the park workers would unfold these blue tarps and create a space for people to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. At night, much of the park would be lit up and hundreds, if not thousands of people would be there to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the company of each other, and of course the beer and alcohol.
The main reason I enjoyed this park wasn’t so much the park itself. It was the small mountain and “secret” shrine that I found above the park. If you head to east through the park, you will start to head up a small steep hill. You will then find a small shrine in the corner of the park. I believe it was the north east corner of the park. From there, you will find a small path that starts to lead into the woods and up the mountain. I remember it as being near a set of washrooms, but I don’t know how helpful that would be for someone looking for the path. I headed up the path with a friend of mine not knowing what we would find. Little did I know, we would have one of the best adventures of the entire trip. It wasn’t an easy walk as we were walking up a small mountain. I was surprised to see small altars, or graves along the path. I believe they were altars. There were several small Buddhist statues on each one and they have been there for years, if not decades. The faces of many of the statues had been worn off by the rain and wind. There were altars at nearly every corner of the dirt path. It took a while before we made it to the top and we considered turning back a couple of times. The one good thing was that we didn’t give up. We continued until we reached a small garden/temple at the top. This temple was really nice but I was surprised to find that we had to pay to enter and see Kyoto from a viewing platform. We decided not to pay and just relaxed at the top for a bit before heading back down the way we came. We had the options to take a small road down from the temple but we had no idea where it went, so the prudent thing was to head back the way we came. I do regret that we didn’t enter the temple, but the memory of hiking up that small mountain will remain in my mind forever.
As I mentioned, we walked all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji. It was a full day walk from 9 am till 9 pm. We had a tough time, physically, going around and seeing everything. When you are on a budget of $0, you’d be surprised at how willing you are to just walk around. Renting a bicycle would have been better but at the same time it wouldn’t. Walking allows you to just take your time and wander around to wherever you want to go. Many times, I prefer to just choose an area and just walk in one direction and wander in a direction that interests me. On this trip, I was lucky enough to see a couple of geisha/maiko around a pagoda as well, but whether they were true maiko or not, I had no idea. In Kyoto, it is fairly common to see “fake” maiko. These are tourists who get dressed up in a costume shop and spend a few hours walking around as a “geisha” or “maiko”. You never really know who is a true maiko or not, but if I had been on a bus or riding a bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to discover such amazing things. I highly recommend this walking tour, but do be aware that it isn’t easy and requires a full day to do it.
Kyoto – Maruyama Park is part of a Kyoto series. Please follow the links below to read more about Kyoto:
Maruyama Park Information: