Kyoto was so different than Tokyo and I am super glad we made enough time to visit a few more cities in Japan. The train ride was just a few hours and it flew. We were treated to a glimpse of Mt. Fuji which was exciting and there were a few people that gave me an odd look when I exclaimed Fuji-san quite loudly. No good pictures of the sighting, but it happened!
I decided on a hotel right across from the train station and it was a nice central location. After check-in, we set off on foot and started to explore. Our first temple was the beautiful To-Ji Temple and immediately we felt like we stepped back in time. The pace and character seemed so different than the loudness of modern Tokyo that I again was super happy with the decision (and cost) to see more than one city.
In Kyoto, I embraced the bus, which is something I usually tend to avoid. While Kyoto has trained, and we utilized them quite a bit, some areas were just too far off the train route and we didn’t want to miss them.
One day, we spent an entire day walking around the city, taking back roads, and just wandering like we enjoy doing. We visited the Nishiki Market shopping street and I scored a vintage kimono jacket for 1000 yen. We visited the Yasaka shrine and walked around the Gion portion of town.
We made the trek to the very popular Fushimi-Inari temple and made it about halfway up the mountain before my knees called it quits. Even if you don’t make it up to the top of the mountain, spending a few hours separating yourself from the crowds at the bottom is well worth it. We got a bird’s eye view of Kyoto and enjoyed the trek.
We visited the bamboo forest, which was crazy crowded and more of a walkway than a forest you could immerse yourself in. I adored the Kinkaku-Ji temple with the bright gold and the zen like surroundings. We also popped into a few lesser-known temples as well just to have a comparison.
The visit to Nijo castle was worth the stop and while the building was impressive there was only a specific route you could take and all the rooms were roped off. The murals on the walls were also all reproductions which, while the reproductions still gave an idea of what it may have been like, was still a bit of a bummer. If I am going, to be honest, the highlight for me in that castle visit was seeing cherry blossoms in the orchard. We visited right at the start of the seasons so I was beyond excited to at least get to see a few blooms, even if we didn’t get to see the city awash in the blooms.
One day we decided to hop on a train and do a great loop to see another part of the country. We went to the popular Nara and yes, visited the deer. Those little buggers are cute but seriously aggressive – they know what those rice cakes are and where the vendors are located! I made a video of Keith feeding them and it’s beyond hysterical how he tried to reason with them “No, you just got one, let me give one to this one”. We saw one deer straight up head butt a random person that was walking close. And we saw some crazy people traumatizing their kids to get that perfect picture. We saw a bunch of deer create a traffic holdup. All of it was awesome and fun. We enjoyed walking around the city some as well and found this great little spot a little off the tourist trail to eat.
Speaking of eating we continued to enjoy really good food in Kyoto, although we did notice there wasn’t nearly the variety as there was in Tokyo. We had a few stand out to sit down meals, a lot of random decent meals, and a few train station meals.
A stand out night was when we headed out to a whiskey bar. I didn’t realize it was part of an upscale hotel, but we went in anyway. We were the only ones in the bar, and the bartender was a young woman with basic English skills. (still better than my handful of Japanese phrases btw!). Since we were the only ones there, while we sipped some Japanese whiskey, we tried to have a conversation. It was quickly evident that we were losing a lot in translation, so we both broke out Google Translate. It was a lot of fun to chat via phone and pictures. After our extremely expensive whiskey stop, we then stopped by to get a dumpling to take out in the train station that always had a line. We took that back into the hotel room and the bed was our table. What I love is how we can start in an uber-expensive bar, have a few drinks, and finish the night eating train station takeout.
After Nara, we to the train over to Osaka with designs on visiting Dotonbori, the entertainment district. What we SHOULD have done was take the train closer to that district but instead, we got off at Osaka station and when I looked at the distance, about 5 km, I said – let’s walk & experience more of the city!
So we walked, and walked, and walked. In the midafternoon on one of the warmer days, we had seen so far on our trip. And I finally called a necessary beer and food stop so we found a place that was open and popped in. It was delicious food on a stick, coupled with a cold beer and a tv blaring Japanese pop. It was perfect.
We then journeyed onto Dotonbori and it was a bit crazy and loud but we found a nice spot to have more delicious food on a stick and beer. I also finally had ‘fish food’ and it was YUM.
So, that wraps up a high-level overview of our trip and I am super glad we made it. It was my first visit to Asia and I cannot wait to visit more countries and cities in this region.