Our hearts were filled with excitement. We were about to discover Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Arriving in Kyoto station in style at about 7.30 pm, we’d vacated the luxurious Green seats on the Shinkansen Hikari, and walked just around the corner to taste the genteel elegance of Kyoto Century Hotel. We’d left our luggages at the reception at about 11 am that morning, before catching a glimpse of Nagoya and Osaka. Powered by the super efficient Shinkansen a.k.a. bullet trains, experiencing 3 cities in one day is indeed possible! There was really no room for dinner that evening as we’d had tebasaki (手羽先) and beer for lunch at Nagoya station and then participated in a Kuidaore 食い倒れ (Eat Till You Drop) challenge in Dotonbori (道頓堀), the famous street food paradise of Osaka (大阪市).
Our luxe Grand Comfort Deluxe room, where we’d stay for 4 nights, was really inviting and was every bit as advertised. I could vividly remember the softness of its organic towel, Organic Imabari Towel, “Ikeuchi Organic”. As coffee snobs, we were eager to try its Bird Friendly® organic drip coffee from Ogawa Coffee the next morning. Let’s relax on the sofa. How about sipping on the nutritious and refreshing green tea in our fine bone china cups, and we’d have a chat about Japan travel tips. Aaahhh … Taste the quality in every sip! Kyoto is near Uji, the home of Japanese green tea.
If you’re a Japan first-timer and wish to travel around Japan without joining a tour, I’d recommend the following:
I’d highly recommend the Green class Japan Rail Pass. Use the Hyperdia website to plan your train journeys. Get a pre-paid rechargeable PASMO or Suica card for your public transport and shopping needs. If you’d visited Hong Kong or London before, these cards are akin to the Octopus or Oyster card respectively. We had a Suica card as we had started our journey from Tokyo.
Book a hotel next to the train station, it’s surely the path of least resistance! Try to avoid the language barriers of a taxi ride. Hauling heavy luggages over many streets whilst navigating to the hotel is not a nice experience. Trust me, we’d done it for many years and now know better to avoid this if possible! Also, from the train station, you’d be assured of excellent public transport links to the city’s attractions.
If you’re on a 2-week vacation in Japan, time your stay at some hotels with self-service laundry facilities. Travel luxuriously but smartly always! 😉
- Pre-paid Sim card
Having slept really well, we had an incredibly delicious Japanese breakfast in the Kyoto Century Hotel’s Rantei restaurant. After breakfast, we’d experienced a Fushimi day trip, mainly to see Fushimi Inari Taisha and sake tasting, returning just in time to watch sunset from the rooftop of Kyoto Station. Kyoto Station’s staircase is lighted up in the evening, it was really beautiful! After the romantic sunset experience, we’d headed for a spot of bargain hunting at the depachika of JR Kyoto Isetan.
Starting from about 7 pm each day, the bento will progressively be reduced to clear. These tastefully presented bento 🍱 are commonly purchased as shinkansen meals. If you are not afraid of the crowds, do try it as I think it’s fun. Don’t immediately make a purchase. I would not recommend the seafood sushi or the sashimi! We’d had some reduced to clear sashimi bento on a winter’s day in Sapporo and it was definitely on its last legs! We’d think twice now?! You’ve been forewarned!!! Just look around first, to see what’s on offer. Get use to the idea of demystifying the ‘reduced price stickers’ written only in Japanese. The ladies behind the counters will bang on metal trays to catch your attention, the closer you get to the 8 pm shop closing time. If you seriously don’t mind what you’d have for dinner, be patient and the bento prices will fall with time. Enjoy the frenzy! We paid really silly prices for tasty Cameron Kyoto Gokomachi Restaurant‘s wagyu beef bento and Inari Sushi いなり寿司.
The following day, we’d took the bus from Kyoto Station (take your pick from bus 100 or 206) to visit the Kiyomizudera temple.
A sea of tourists had descended on the temple, mostly dressed in kimonos and school children on field trips. As you enter the Kiyomizudera temple, be greeted by the Nio-mon gate, a magnificent vermilion temple entrance gate, burnt down during the civil war (1467-1477) but rebuilt in the early 16th century. Do you love the eye-catching vermillion colors too? The stage of the Kiyomizudera temple, often captured in Kyoto tourism brochures, is built using the Kake-zukuri method without using nails. Several features well-worth looking out for include testing your strength and learning about teamwork by trying to lift heavy poles (believed to bring good luck) and drinking pure water from the Otowa Waterfall (believed to grant wishes).
After visiting the Kiyomizudera temple, we’d had a pleasant 11 min stroll to the narrow ancient streets of Higashiyama district, located on the lower slopes of Kyoto’s Eastern mountains. Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic street. I love Higashiyama, for it’s the truest taste of Kyoto.
Whilst busy entertaining my day dreaming about Kyoto lifestyle centuries ago, tourists adorned in beautiful kimonos and rickshaws were helping me to set the scene. My eyes caught the varying colorful souvenirs on display. Unfortunately the famous green tea shop called Tsujiri Tea House, wasn’t open during our visit. I love matcha desserts. If you love Studio Ghibli, pop by the Studio Ghibli shop. Which Studio Ghibli’s animation do you love best? My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle are definitely my favourite. We may have spotted a geisha too. If you love lanterns, don’t miss Hanatoro, a romantic flower and light illumination display in March each year. Charming Kyoto is best discovered on foot, do you agree?
For lunch, let’s walk to the Nishiki market. We were inspired by John Daub’s ONLY In JAPAN Youtube travel blog. Do catch John in action! John is really talented; funny and inspiring! I love street foods.
I believe in discovering a country through its food. That’s why I prefer to visit the local markets on our vacations. Whatever catches your fancy, why not try them … Just point and pay! Hmm… failing that you’d have to draw food pics! Or google the pics now that you’re Wi-Fi connected!! 😉 For the adventurous, taste the delicious matcha warabimochi, jelly cubes made of bracken starch covered in matcha powder. I love warabimochi! I don’t think I can stomach the red-coloured octopus stuffed with a quail egg into its head. I’d give this 👽 a miss!! If your tastebuds are particularly adventurous, there’s eels and tiny fishes skewered on sticks too! We’d munched hungrily on some fried fish cakes. I was really tempted to buy the pickled vegetables. We tasted the Nara zuke, a pickled uri gourd, in sake lees, that we missed out on at Nishiki Market, later on our Nara’s sake tasting trip. Nishiki Market is a treasure trove for foodies.
After lunch, we’d visited the Daimaru Kyoto to window shop for a Japanese briefcase. We also popped by the ¥100 Daiso shop. This Japan’s ‘dollar-store’, is truly interesting if you love bargain hunting! If you love inventive household curiosities, do check out Daiso! You might end up with a cheap gadget you’d treasure forever or another holiday curiosity laid to sleep after it’s first use. Shop wisely!
We took the bus to the famous golden Kinkakuji temple. The sun was shining fiercely on that day. I love Kinkakuji’s garden. Luckily, the lake was perfectly reflecting the Japanese garden.
The only problem with crowd control measures is that, even if your legs are tired from walking, you’d have to walk till the bitter end. There is one way in and only one way out! No ifs, no buts, no shortcuts!!! Time to reward ourselves with some matcha ice cream. We’d eyed this ice cream store on the way to the temple. Life is always better with a taste of ice cream, with our tiredness relieved! Do you agree?
For dinner, we’d be back to JR Kyoto Isetan now that we’re experts in depachika bargain hunting. Are you coming along? 😉 La vie est belle. Let’s enjoy the simple things and the little things in life. Kyoto is one of those unforgettable cities, just like a great book, I’ll read it again and again and be forever mesmerised by its charms. Create your own Kyoto chapter or more in your wanderlust traveller’s notebook. I am sure you will fall in love with Kyoto too. Take care, until we meet again on our Nara and Uji day trip from Kyoto. Much love from enchanting Kyoto and I, your storyteller 😉
- Japan Rail Pass
- Hyperdia (Train timetable and Route Finder)
- PASMO or Suica Pre-paid rechargeable public transport card
- So-Net or IIJmio Pre-paid travel SIM cards