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Walking Route

Shisen-do, Manshu-in & Shugaku-in
Sanjusangen-do Temple to Gion
Chushojima and Fushimi
Kamigamo Shrine area
Old Capital Walking

Chushojima and Fushimi

The Chushojima area of Kyoto is not written up in many guide books. And that is unfortunate, as this district has much to offer. Here you will find Kyoto's great sake production area, quiet temples and shrines of great grandeur, and a local feeling that in many ways is like Osaka.

The connections with Osaka are not imaginary. In a way, you could say that the area is a very old suburb of the grand castle town of Osaka, built by legendary general Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598). He built his Kyoto castle (Fushimi Momoyama Castle) in Fushimi, only a half day ride by river from his Osaka base (Osaka Castle; the largest ever built in Japan), on the top of a large, prominent hill overlooking Kyoto (you can see a concrete reconstruction of the castle if you look for it).

In Chushojima visit the glorious ginko leaf compound of Choken-ji Temple, surrounded in a red earthen wall and dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of Beauty and the arts (especially performing arts). She is the only female among Japan's Seven Gods of Good Fortune and a descendant of the Hindu deity Sarasvati. Believers in Benzaiten wear a special talisman, or omamori, next to their skin to ensure good fortune. Naturally, they can be purchased at the shrine. Those big containers on both sides of the Chinese-style tile-roofed gate are sake casks: apparently emptied by the gods and goddesses of the Shinto pantheon.

Leave the temple from the main gate, then turn right along the river and cross the tiny Benten Bridge. Follow the road as it curves slowly to the left until you see the distinctive wood and plaster walls of the Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan, once a sake warehouse and now an excellent sake museum operated by the largest sake maker in Japan. The museum covers all aspects of the sake-making process with lifesize models and many interesting displays. An English pamphlet is available. Open 9:30-16:30, closed Mondays. Admission 300 yen. Tel: 623-2056.

After visiting the museum follow the map to the Horai Bridge and turn left. There stands the Teradaya Inn. Sword marks in the wooden beams of this well-preserved historical inn are silent reminders of a failed attack in 1866 on Sakamoto Ryoma, a famous imperial loyalist. Entry by day is 300 yen. For about 6,000 yen you can stay the night (including breakfast). Teradaya Inn is the perfect base for exploring southern Kyoto. Open daily from 10:00-16:00. Tel: 622-0243.

Then back to the main route on Otesuji-dori and walk past the Keihan and Kintetsu stations and tracks. As the street climbs slightly uphill, you will see Gokonomiya Shrine, famed for its fragrant spring on your left. Stop here and have a drink (said to be very good for your health), and then head back to the Keihan station (at the start of the arcade) and take a local train bound for Kyoto to Fushimi Inari Stn.

With its thousands of bright orange torii gates snaking through its vast grounds, Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine is one of Kyoto's secret gems. Day or night, you are free to stroll its walking paths and bamboo groves, and bask in the mysterious atmosphere. Dedicated to the diety of rice ''Inari'' this shrine has long been important. Because rice in abundance means wealth, the shrine is also patronized by business people from all over the country. Between January 1-3, three million people visit the shrine. All over this vast compound you will see paired statues of foxes, which are the messengers of Inari.

Climbing Mount Fushimi (233 meters) is where all the fun begins. Just follow the tunnels of brilliant orange torii (gates) that form winding corridors up the side of the hill. The way to the top can seem confusing. Generally, when in doubt, stay to the right. At the top, you will be rewarded with excellent views of Kyoto (there are also two restaurants here). For a deeper experience, enter a little bit of the backside of the mountain, where you will find a shadowy world of statues, flowing water and mysterious power.