Kyoto Itinerary #4: Fushimi Inari, Kurama Onsen

Monday 13 January 2019:

Within the blink of an eye, it’s day four and my main destination for the day was none other than… Fushimi Inari! Famous for its seemingly never-ending red tori gates, I decided to visit this site once more. The last time I was there, it was the height of summer and I distinctly remember that scorching hot 38°C weather accompanied by the announcement made over the loudspeaker which reminded everyone to drink plenty of water.

Being someone who likes hiking quite a lot, I decided to make a second trip down to Fushimi Inari once again and see for myself if I would have a different experience with the changing of seasons. From wearing tank tops and sports shorts, I was now dressed in thick jeans and a warm coat. Instead of feeling the stinging rays burning the surface of my skin, I was now cozied up in my winter wear. The one thing that remained the same however, was the presence of the sun’s glow. That Sunday, the weather was lovely with golden sunshine and crisp blue skies. The cool temperatures made it superb for hiking up the mountain.

As I walked past some of the main checkpoints, I had a flashback to 1.5 years ago when I was at the same spot. It’s amazing how I can remember exactly how it felt like, as though all that just happened yesterday. Also, since I was a second-time tourist, I knew better than to choke up the queue by attempting to take a picture right at the starting of the hike. TIP: If you ever visit Fushimi Inari, don’t bother trying to take a good shot at the beginning of the trail. Your pictures will very likely be photobombed by an unassuming passerby. The whole trail stretches on and up, so persevere and continue climbing. As you progress further, the crowds become thinner, and there’ll be plenty of good opportunities to get some camerawork done. In fact, I was thinking really hard and I’ve come up with the conclusion that if everyone were to spread out across the whole Tori gates trail to take their pictures, there’ll be lesser bottlenecks and a lot more insta-worthy pictures.

1 hour of hiking later, I finally finished the whole route and was back at the entrance of the shrine. To reward myself for the good workout accomplished, I decided to make my way to Marumochiya to sample their very special marumochi! Marumochi is essentially tiny lil balls of filled mochi encased in a smooth pastry shell. The end result is a slightly crispy, chewy, airy and light mochi dough filled with either chestnut, red bean or matcha. My favourite flavour out of the 3 that I tried was the chestnut one! I’d recommend trying that flavour, and it’s totally possibly to mix and match the flavours when ordering so you can try all the different types available.

Did I mention I also got a chicken skewer before I bought that cute bag of marumochi? Since Marumochiya was located near the Keihan Fushimi Inari Station, I had to walk past a street market leading from one of the exits of the shrine. There were so many tempting goodies such as sizzling, piping hot, freshly made okonomiyaki, seared beef cubes, gorgeous strawberry filled daifuku and many many more. You’ll be spoilt for choice! I ended up being unable to resist that stick of alternating grilled chicken pieces and spring onion hence the unplanned snack. Whooops but as someone wise once said, ‘sometimes the best things in life are unplanned’.

By the time I finished with the two snacks I got, it was close to 12 noon. With half a day remaining, I made the impromptu decision to make a trip down to Kurama once again and bask in the hot waters of Kurama Onsen. Since this was my second time visiting Kurama, everything felt familiar from the train journey to buying the necessary items and going about my onsen ritual 🙂

Compared to my first visit, this time round, there were more people. When I first got into the outdoor bath, there were a couple of other ladies there as well but it was still relatively empty. Towards the end of lunch hour, more and more visitors started pouring in and soon almost the entire square perimeter of the outdoor bath was filled! This was a very different experience from my previous time (aka the first), but nevertheless I still enjoyed the hot soak. Soaking in the corner of the bath, little snippets of conversation floating here and there, clear blue skies and mountain views… that was how I spent the second half of my day.

I thought nothing could make this day even better after the comfortable long soak in the onsen but I was wrong. The train ride from Kurama back to Kyoto via the Eizan Railway was just B E A U T I F U L. For some reason, this time round, the train that was meant to fetch passengers towards Kyoto was a different model from all the previous ones that I’ve sat before. As the train was pulling into Kurama station (which was also the terminal), there were people with professional cameras taking pictures and videos of the train. I’m not sure if perhaps that particular train was a new model and they were publicising it?

My first step into the cabin made me confused. The layout and setting was completely different from what I was used to that for a moment, I wondered if I got into the wrong train / cabin that was reserved for premium tickets. Seeing as how everyone else behaved normally, I decided that I was in the right place. After getting over my initial surprise, the next thing I felt was awe and wonder simply because the seats were so thoughtfully arranged. Instead of the usual two rows of seats all joined together to form a bench, now one side of the train had several couple chairs (the kind you see in cinemas). Best of all? Those big comfy cushy couple chairs were facing the nearest window which was large and unobstructed.

Being the first few to get into the cabin, I had the luxury of choosing my seats and I went for one of the couple seat. The moment I sat down, I was immediately cushioned and supported. The view in front of my eyes was just stunning! As the train moved along its route, the seats made it so convenient and accessible to enjoy the scenery that was out there. My heart was filled to the brim with pleasure and joy and satisfaction and inner peace. That was, in my opinion, the BEST train ride I’ve ever been on. I can only imagine how much better it’ll be during the cherry blossom season because at that period, the trees instead of being bare, will be filled with vibrant shades of pink.

It was late afternoon by the time I returned to central Kyoto. Since there was still time, I decided to give Blue Leaf Cafe a try! I walked past this cafe numerous times while I was out shopping at the Shijodori district and it looked like a good place to sit and chill. One thing you should know about me is that I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE going to cafes and just chilling, or reading a book, typing on my laptop, people watching, day dreaming… the list goes on really. Cafe vibes are something that appeals to me and I have always dreamt of spending time leisurely in a nice cafe while overseas. Most tourists might think that this is a waste of precious travelling time, but honestly, to me travelling is not all about rushing to visit one tourist attraction after another. Travelling is also about taking the time to just enjoy the atmosphere, to experience the life of a local, and sometimes that means doing very ordinary things in a different country.

Armed with my book which I brought along with me this trip, I got myself an iced matcha latte and retreated to a table at the corner where I spent the next hour or so sipping my drink and flipping through pages.

Resting my feet at the cafe was definitely a plus point because I chose to walk home from there which took about 30-40 minutes. Walking along the streets in Kyoto felt very safe to me, and it was never dull for some reason. For dinner, I stopped by Lawson’s near my hotel, and got cup noodles!!! I’m usually not a cup noodle kind of person, but I figured since I was in Japan, I have to try it at least once. The piping hot, savoury soup paired with the thick chewy springy al dente noodles ended the night on a good note. Sometimes, having a good dinner does not necessarily require a fancy expensive trip to a Michelin starred restaurant (especially not in Japan).

And this, was how I spent one of my best days in Kyoto. The onsen, the TRAIN, the chilling at the cafe…truly my ideal version of how to spend a relaxing time overseas soaking up the city’s vibes and slowing down the pace of life.

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