Hiking in Higashiyama 

Where the city meets the mountains is my favourite place in Kyoto. Beautiful scenery, traditional buildings and some of the best shrines and temples in town. When I think of Kyoto, I definitely think of a city, but being surrounded by mountains, you’ll be surprised to hear that there are some great hikes to be had in between the shopping, sightseeing and eating/boozing…

A favourite hike of mine is in the Higashiyama (east mountains) area. It’s such a beautiful part of Kyoto, traditional machiya line tiny, winding streets on your way up to the mountains and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Kyoto from years gone by.

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Ninenzaka is one of those streets. Now full of little shops, full of souvenirs and goodies, it does attract a lot of tourists but it’s still beautiful nonetheless. Ninenzaka joins Kiyomizuzaka-dera and Chion-in temples and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon just in itself. If you want something a little more challenging and outdoorsy though, it’s the perfect start to a nice easy hike to Shogunzuka and it’s stunning glass tea house that overlooks the city.

The hike starts behind the big bell at Chion-in temple. There’s a little gate behind the huge bell ‘house’ that leads up a mountain path surrounded by beautiful bamboo and lush trees. Just ignore the spider’s webs that hang between branches if, like me, you have an irrational fear of our eight-legged friends.

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Whilst walking the path I passed some beautiful buildings tucked in behind the trees. Some are lesser known temples that are well worth a visit to avoid the hoardes, appreciate the tranquility and find the connection to nature that resonates from these amazing complexes. Others are traditional ryokan, lovely Japanese inns that are possibly in some of the best plots in the city. My mission is to stay here for an evening before leaving the land of the rising sun…

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Following the little mountain path over a stone bridge and through a mini bamboo grove (great for getting some pics in a less crowded area that Sagano bamboo path), I soon reached a point where the treetops parted and I was treated to some beautiful views over Kyoto. What a nice taster as to what was coming at Shogunzuka.

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Along the route I stumbled across some beautiful carved stones and hidden shrines. The feeling of discovery is totally thrilling. Completely different to visiting shrines and temples that are high up on tourists’ wish lists, there’s a real sense of pride when you find something that you’re sure few other visitors have seen. I felt like an explorer snubbing the well known sites and scenes for my own adventure, even if that adventure was perhaps a little on the tame side! 

The hike took me around an hour to make it Shogunzuka from my starting point at ninenzaka. It’s an easy climb (thankfully as I haven’t been to the gym in a wee while…) and the sights and sounds of the forest definitely took my mind off the exercise part of the hike! Oh, and the view at the top was a pretty good reward too…

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