Japan: Kyoto

05/01/17
We arrived fairly early from Takayama to Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train). We navigated our way to our hotel which was about a 15 minute walk from the main train station. That evening we were so tired from the past two days travelling and exploring we decided to watch a movie and investigate whether we could order a pizza, some comfort food …how hard can it be? It took over 30mins to place the order (struggled with finding an English site online to order through), but when it did arrive we were greeted by the friendliest delivery man in Japan!!

06/01/17

The following day we got up early and went for a run. We headed towards a temple a couple of kilometres from our hotel. It was lovely running through the streets watching everyone walking to work or starting their day, we finally reached the temple, but were starving so got some ‘breakfast’ from a nearby supermarket. Since being in Japan we’ve managed to have breakfast very cheaply by buying from supermarkets, the only downside is you don’t really know what your buying until you bite into it. This particular morning I bought a yogurt, a drink and what I thought was a big donut with some kind of jam in the middle. We sat on the curb outside the temple and started eating our food. I took one bite into my ‘donut’ and realised it actually had curry sauce in the middle…not jam! This wouldn’t have been a problem had it been lunchtime, but I was a little disappointed! Grant had chosen wisely – some kind of apple strudel and so he kindly shared half of his strudel and then took one for the team and ate the rest of the curry bun! We didn’t plan on it, but our run turned into a perfect square.

Once we got back to the hotel we decided to experience the Japanese public baths. We read and reread the instructions on etiquette when using the baths – no bathing faux pas here! I was aware it was segregated into men and women and that it was a no swimsuit situation and was silently hoping no one else would be in the baths. I was lucky, it was empty so I had a nice soak for 20 or so minutes (still following the instructions even though I could’ve totally dive bombed into the baths and no one would’ve judged me!) however when I met Grant a little while later it sounded like he’d had a much more enriching experience than me. He explained he’d been joined by 2 other young men who spent a large amount of time scrubbing and cleaning before their soak (to which Grant followed suit) and came back very relaxed.

We decided to grab some lunch at the Nishiki food market. We bought small snacks to try, again many of them unsure what they were but all very tasty!

Nishiki Food Market

After lunch we headed towards the Gion district, the old part of town. On our way we found an interesting arcade full of slot machines and games. It was so colourful, so loud and so smoky, but we observed the people there for a while which was interesting, also I went to the pinkest bathroom in the world!

Pinkest bathroom ever!

We finally found Gion and it was so beautiful! The houses were old Japanese wooden houses with sliding panel doors and tatami mats inside, it was just how I imagined it and to add to the beauty of it all we saw lots of girls dressed as geishas, the kimonos were so colourful.

Gion, Kyoto

We explored Gion for most of the afternoon, stopping off at Japans oldest Zen temple – well worth a visit!

Zen temple, Gion

That evening we went for sushi – this was at a place where all the fresh sushi was on a conveyor belt. Even though we have this in the uk it felt more of a novelty doing it the proper way in Japan! You can order off the menu as well, it was so so fresh!

7/01/17

The next day we wanted to walk to the Fushimi-Inari shrine. It was quite a long walk from our hotel so we stopped off at a trusty 7/11 again for breakfast. Once we reached the shrine it was already pretty busy. At first we had to walk slow as there was so many people but as we got nearer the top there were less people so we could really enjoy the walk. We reached the top in about an hour and gave a donation. On our way back down we stopped at a viewing platform and ate some rice rolls we’d bought from the 7/11 on our way. Definitely recommend arriving early morning or much later in the afternoon, to avoid the busy crowds.

Fushimi-Inari Shrine

That afternoon we’d booked to have a tea ceremony. This was something we were both keen to experience as matcha tea is such a huge part of the Japanese culture. When we found the Ryokan (old Japanese house) we took off our shoes and were shown into a small room with tatami mat floors. We were greeted by a lovely Geisha who made us feel very welcome and explained the ritual of the traditional tea ceremony. After the demonstration we were able to make some tea ourselves and try the jelly sweets that are used during the ceremony. It was a very calming and interesting experience!

Making Matcha green tea, tea ceremony

For dinner, I was on the search for noodles, so we jumped on a local bus and headed for Gion. It was super busy being a Saturday night, but interesting to see the locals all dressed up for a night out! Because it was so busy we struggled to find a place that had space AND sold noodles! We finally found somewhere very local, but unfortunately didn’t sell noodles, so we tried a different local dish instead called Shobu. It was a kind of broth where you cook your meat and vegetables in it yourself – a fun way of eating!

Afterwards we went to a street called Pontocho which is a famous street in Gion and found a cute little bar called Bar Miyama that sold local craft beer from Kyoto. We met some lovely Australian people there and the owner, Ken, was great! After a few beers and a sizeable bill later we headed home!

08/01/17

On our last day in Kyoto we wanted to go to Arashiyama where there is a famous bamboo street and lots of temples to explore. We had to get a train from Kyoto station to Saga-Arashiyama using our JR Pass. We stopped off at the station for breakfast where we got some amazing freshly made pastries – the best breakfast so far.

Once we got to Arashiyama it was raining quite heavily and I had forgotten my waterproof jacket at the hotel so we bought the cheapest umbrella (500 yen) we could find. We wandered through the streets of bamboo which were really impressive and well worth the visit.

Bamboo street, Arashiyama

It was so nice being in the greenery and out of the city for a bit. We made our way through the forest and found a beautiful temple called Kokajo-ji. One of the things that stood out at first was the moss – which sounds silly as we have plenty of moss at home which isn’t worth shouting about, but this moss was so vibrant and covered the whole hill. Because of the rain there was barely any one around so we could wander peacefully around the site.

Kokajo-ji Temple, Arashiyama

We both decided once we had left that we could do with a cup of tea as we were both getting cold. As I looked at the map Grant started messing around with the umbrella and ended up breaking it (I think he was trying to throw water on me but failed) after a fit of laughter we managed to salvage it but spent the rest of the day with a slightly bent umbrella – but it kept us dry! After a pit stop at a cafe for a green tea latte and a beer (and the hope that someone might accidentally mistake our umbrella for theirs) we set off on our way.

We decided to head over to Nijo castle, again getting the train from Saga-Arashiyama to Nijo on the way back to Kyoto. It was a long walk to the entrance of the castle and by this time I had puddles in my trainers. We walked around the castle, glad to be in the dry and out of my trainers for a bit (you have to take your shoes off in most places) we even had to lock up our broken umbrella in case someone stole it!

Nijo Castle, Nijo

After a soggy look round the beautiful gardens we headed home and in need of a hot bath!

For our last evening in Kyoto we wanted to go somewhere close to the hotel for dinner. We found a very very local place that sold noodles!! At first there was a bit of a language barrier, but we managed to order using pictures and a few English words. The Japanese couple next to us very kindly gifted us some seafood tempura as they said we must try it! It was so tasty! After we had eaten we wanted to order another drink, the couple next to us recommended a few drinks and suddenly it escalated into 3 jugs of hot sake, some unknown Japanese vodka and 2 grape vinegar drinks – all shared with this couple! It’s safe to say we were both quite wobbly when we left – as were the other couple, it was a great evening and we were able to enjoy the local cuisine!

Lovely couple at Miko, Kyoto
Miko restaurant the morning after
Zen temple garden, Gion
Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Kokajo-hi temple, Arashiyama
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