After spending a little bit of time in Tokyo we took the bullet train over to Kyoto. It is a magical place. Old wooden houses, markets, shrines, temples, and geishas.
The whole city was made to be photographed.
Japan Rail Pass: We planned to travel to Kyoto and Osaka and decided to purchase a Japan Rail Pass for 7 days. Without buying the pass the bullet train will be about $125 each way. You cannot purchase the Japan Rail Pass in Japan so make sure you purchase the pass before you go.
Pro tip: Get a seat reservation for the train. There are a lot of trains going from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka, but the pass doesn’t cover all of the train types. Making a seat reservation with your pass is free and easy to do at the JR office in the train station. This also helps make sure you get on the appropriate train.
Where to stay:
We stayed in a ryokan for one night, the Gion Hatanaka. It was kind of a splurge, but a worthwhile travel experience. They offer tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and provide you with a yukata (casual kimono) to rock around in. Dinner and breakfast included are also included, so with all that we thought it was a pretty good deal.
Once you are all cosplayed up like a vulcan in your yukata they bring dinner up to your room. We had a beautiful five course meal.
After dinner they set up futons and pillows on the ground for your bed. Downstairs they have a wonderful wooden onsen that you can use.
In the morning they come back to your room and set up a traditional Japanese breakfast.
The presentation and attention to detail on everything was amazing. We really enjoyed our stay here. The hospitality in Japan as a whole is incredible.
What to see:
Nishiki Market was about 5 blocks of food and shopping. We had a great time picking out some snacks and looking at all the interesting goods. Out of mini dried fishes? They got you covered.
Iwatayama Monkey Park was so much fun. Monkeys are just running around wild and you can hang out with them. It is a little bit of a hike to get up there, and we inadvertently hiked up an adjacent mountain before reaching the real monkey mountain, but everything worked out. Monkey pictures for everyone!
After the monkey park we walked around the Arashiyama area for awhile and grabbed lunch. It was like being in a fairytale.
The bamboo forest was incredible. Photos cannot capture how majestic it is.
The only shrine we ended up going to was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Walking through all of the torii gates and hiking to the top of the mountain through the wooded forest was extraordinary. I won’t tell you about the giant spider webs that were everywhere on the hike up, that might ruin it for you. The foxes dressed up in their little capes can be seen all the way up the mountain. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, and let me tell you she has a lot of them.
Seeing all of the foxes reminded me of the Sandman: The Dream Hunters book and the love story about the monk and the fox. Check it out if you are into awesome stories.
We were lucky enough to be in Kyoto on the 21st of the month so we were able to catch the Toji Temple market. It was a wonderful antique and flea market with lots of street food to pick from. There was so much stuff to look at! We saw handmade pottery, used kimonos, modern art, and crafts just to name a few. Awesome place to see.
What to eat:
Pretty great stuff so far right? I am about to tell about the greatest thing that happened to me in Kyoto. Obanyaki. This is the most legit street food I have ever had and I am now forever in search of it and if I see it anywhere (for the rest of my life) all activities must be stopped for a obanyaki break. That’s right people, obanyaki! So precious. So good.
I don’t even have a photo of one close up because I was too busy eating it! They are filled with red bean paste or vanilla custard. Red bean is garbage! Get the custard!
I’m not even going to tell you about other food in Kyoto – just find an obanyaki stand and go crazy.
Seriously though we did want to have lunch at Shoraian but they were all booked up that day. They aren’t joking when they say to make a reservation.
I also had some amazing udon noodles Honke Owariya. They almost burned my face off, but they were fabulous. Try the soba-shochu with your noodles.
So that is magical Kyoto. We will wrap this epic trip up with Osaka next.