TOEI Kyoto Studio Park
Japan

Kyoto: Alternatives to temples and shrines

Kyoto has over 2000 temples and shrines! We spent 5 days exploring the marvelous cultural sights; however we were also happy to find some of Kyoto’s alternative offerings that did not require us to bow and pray. Sprinkled through our exploration were some off-beat and some not so off-beat locations in Kyoto.

Alternatives to temples and shrines:

Kyoto Station

View of the skytree from the skywalk in Kyoto Station

There are times when you are completely caught unaware and the phrase “it was right under your nose” makes perfect sense. Well that is what our Kyoto station experience was. It was late evening when we reached Kyoto and we hurriedly found the closest exit and headed straight for our hotel. It wasn’t until a day later, when one of our tour guides casually mentioned , “You should check out the amazing Kyoto station, if you get a chance” that we decided to explore the station a little more. Let’s just say, it is one of the most impressive buildings I have seen.

That’s five floors down from where we are. Filled with loads of restaurants, shops and dessert cafes.

I can recall three distinct malls/shopping centers with a plethora of restaurants. It’s also probably the largest staircase (with the most unique light display) and the longest line of escalators that I have ever seen. And I haven’t even mentioned the skywalk! It is breathtaking to be walking from one end of this multistoried building to the other several hundred feet above ground. We got a magnificent view of the Kyoto Tower from here (pictured above).

Impressive sky walk at the station
The magical staircase that puts on a fantastic show!

Over the course of 5 days, we must have spent at least 10 hours walking and exploring this magnificent station (can I even call it that, maybe I should call it a mini city). It is a landmark and a sight to be experienced in and of itself.

Gion corner

Gion Corner – Kyoto’s famous geisha district. The street is now filled with shops, restaurants and tea houses where one may spot a geisha. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any.

The cultural art show at the Gion Corner, was definitely one of the more touristy things we have done, and surprisingly engaging. It packed a lot of performances in to an hour. There was Chado (tea ceremony), Koto (Japanese harp), Kado (flower arrangement), Gagaku (court music), Kyomai (Kyoto style dance), but my favorites were the Kyogen (ancient comic play) and the Bunraku (puppet play). The Gagaku and the Bunraku are on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list (didn’t even know that was a thing!).

Gion itself is a very unique neighborhood; in spite of the rain it was fun walking around window shopping and trying the different street food.

Koto (Japanese Harp) Performance
Bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre listed as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Gion Corner has these beautiful road signs that are embedded on the road. Charming to look at, and very easy to miss, we are lucky to have spotted them.

Location: Gion District
Website: Cultural Art Show
Cost: Adults: ¥3,150; Students (Age 16-22): ¥2,200; Children (Age 7-15): ¥1,900; Infants: (Age 0-6): free

Toei Kyoto Studio Park

Thrilled with the female anime characters

For a truly non-touristy off-the-beaten path experience we went to the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. I was a little unsure of what to expect initially. We had already paid for the tickets and figured there was no harm in checking it out. It turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. The studio park features different settings of Japan from the Edo period and is used to shoot films from that era. We had a great time wandering in an out of the fake store fronts and homes. We saw a ninja show and a traditional street show, both of which were entirely in Japanese – that’s how non-touristy it was. We had a great time here and highly recommend a visit for an offbeat experience!

Welcome to my “Edo” abode!
Samurai in combat pose!
Action shot
Now with an actual samurai!
Mama Vora and Baby Vora in conversation
Am I in jail?
Geisha spotted!
With the school kids who were eager to complete their English assignment and then take a pic
Don’t mess with me!
Ninja show at the park
A scene from the ninja show! It was hilarious and a must see if you are visiting the park. It’s free and runs 2 or 3 times during the day.
Demonstration of how movies are shot and the tricks used on sets. This one is for a scene in the snow.

Location10 Uzumasa Higashihachiokachō, Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 616-8161, Japan
Website: Toei Kyoto Studio Park
Cost: Adults: ¥2200; Students: ¥1300; Children: ¥1,100

Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

If you have had sake in the US, you may have already come across Gekkeikan sake. The original brewery is nearly 400 years old and in reputation Gekkeikan is world-class. However, as a tasting experience, we were not impressed. Turning on a video for us to watch and then lining up for tastings wasn’t very alluring. The museum has a lot of exhibits relating to the sake brewing process, so it can be informative if you have the time to stroll around. I should be clear that my views regarding the brewery are only limited to the tasting experience; the sake itself was delicious. Getting a free (small) bottle each to take home was a pleasant bonus.

Sake Gekkeikan since 1637

There is a lot going on in this beautiful city and one can easily get templed or shrined out. There is so much to learn and no visit to Japan is complete without a visit to this historical landmark city.

From Kyoto we headed to Hiroshima, a city that exemplifies the resilience of the Japanese people. Here, we got to see Japan from a completely different perspective.

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