Kinkaku-ji Temple of Golden Pavillion in Kyoto.
Kinkaku-ji Temple of Golden Pavillion in Kyoto. Contributed

Get Zen and go nude in Japan

POPPING out of an alleyway to see a white-faced geisha shuffling along in her clogs was undoubtedly a Kyoto highlight.

But you have to be quick to get a good photo; those slender Japanese girls can work up a real pace flitting around the narrow streets of Gion.

You might get two at once or two in quick succession but, more likely than not, one will just pop out unexpectedly and disappear just as quickly, so you have to keep your eyes peeled.

The best time to catch them is 6pm to 8.30pm daily.

But Kyoto is full of unexpected delights.

Who would have thought a city renowned for its temples and known as “traditional” Japan would greet its train passengers with a huge Astro boy atop a Kyoto sign?

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, is stunning and perfectly over the top.

The dry Zen garden at Ryoan-ji Temple nearby is less than breathtaking but the walk around the gardens makes it worthwhile.

If you get to the Imperial Palace before 1.30pm, you can tour the inside of the royal grounds.

But meandering through the palace gardens – especially if you catch the cherry blossoms, magnolias and peach blossoms during spring – is first rate if you miss the tour.

Nijô Castle, with a moat, is open at all times, and is truly worth the wander.

You could spend hours at the kilometre-long food market, trying any manner of food from Nishiki Market.

The enclosed shopping streets nearby are also full of goods, from modernised retro items such as boom box bags and Punky Brewster style shoes to more traditional souvenirs.

Walk a few streets over and you'll find a stunning street with a median strip that is a waterway with cute little bridges.

One more street over and you'll find one of Kyoto's quintessential narrow alley-like streets – definitely worth stopping for dinner.

Walk over the bridge at the end and you'll almost certainly stumble upon Gion and the geishas.

This can all be achieved in one day by using a ¥500Y daily bus ticket and one ¥200 subway trip.

The convenient Tour Club Hostel, just a 10-minute walk from Kyoto Station where the bullet train drops you off, has a four-day suggested itinerary listing the bus numbers between destinations.

As well as its own zen garden, nightly sake tasting sessions and a traditional Japanese lounge room, there is a sentô (public bath) nearby.

Don't be scared of getting naked. Some people, who are sans shower or bath at home, go there every day.

Just ensure you wash off properly before you hop in.

Bask in the warmth of the baths, and feel the day wash away.

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