From Tokyo to Mt Fuji and then to Kyoto, there was never a dull moment in our trip. And how cool is it that there is a luggage service that brings your luggage from one city to the other? It is not free but it definitely saves you from lugging it to the train station (and at peak hours).
To know more on tips when traveling to Japan, visit my other article.
In Kyoto, we made 2 side trips to Himeji and Nara since they were nearby and it saved us from booking another hotel for just a day each.
The main attraction for Himeji is the gorgeous white castle (Himeji castle). No, don’t picture Europe castle, but more on Asian temple style castle. It is beautiful. We stop by for lunch at a random ramen shop, Koba and More. Their specialty: milk ramen, what?! It was delicious (actually, all the places we went, random or not, were delicious). They don’t have a website but Google Maps is your friend.
For Nara, the popular attractions are the Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji with all the deers surrounding you, looking for free food (lol). You might wonder, why go when most temples look-alike. Man, if you see how massive Tōdai-ji, you will understand.
Back to Kyoto. We stayed in 2 places: Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa and AirBnB by a former samurai warrior (yes, you heard that right. He has papers to show). We could have stayed in 1 location but it was our 1st time using AirBnB and we wanted to have a backup in case something goes wrong. The guy was nice and tried to make our stay comfortable, although in a cool winter, the portable heater was not warm enough in the room and the sink water is freezing cold. What made our stay lovely was that he invited us to his family and friends dinner (we stayed on New Year’s eve) and the funny cat that can open the door and refuses to be petted. The listing is no longer available last time I checked. As for Kyoto Royal, the bed was better than Tokyo hotels we stayed. The room and bathroom are still small, although it is normal. The Royal room was 441 SGD for 3 nights, AirBnb 201 SGD for 1 night.
Things to Do, Places to Go
There is no trains in Kyoto so we travelled via bus. It was quite helpful to have portable wifi to make sure we stop at the right place. Plan your trip to go to nearby places together to save time. New Year Eve is a big deal and people flock to the temple to offer their prayer. If you can stand the crowd and long walk, it is quite an experience to be with the locals.
- Nishiki Market. It is more packed and tight than Tsukijki market in Tokyo but it has more street food and packed goods. I tried Macha ice cream with Hoiji tea and cream puff there. They were quite good
- Kimono rental. If you love to dress up in Japanese traditional clothes, there are shops that rents them if you want to shell out money. I got a full set for 5940 Yen at Okamoto Kimono. We made a reservation in one of their shops and unfortunately, we got lost and landed in their other shop. Luckily, they still have slot for us in their busy schedule. It was quite fun dressed up and walking in the ancient temples and bamboo garden, even sitting on the bus with the rest of the normally dressed passengers.
- Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji. This and Fushimi Inari are my top places to go. Although you wont be able to go inside the pavilion, the sight is quite beautiful.
- Fushimi Inari. The magic of 5000 orange shrines lined up together to make a scenic and peaceful (and long) walk up to the mountain interesting. Be sure to visit at early morning where there is less people for a nice picture minus the crowd, or at night for a solemn walk (don’t forget to bring flashlight and don’t get lost!)
- Arashiyama. Walk into the rows of bamboo shoot and explore around this area at their parks, smaller temples and cemetery.
- Imperial Palace. This is the original location for the Palace before they moved it to Tokyo.
- Gion. It used to be one of the famous geisha district. Geishas and Maiko, their apprentices are still entertaining around the area but not as many as before. Gion is a popular entertainment, where you can find traditional teahouse, flower arrangement and puppet shows. Walk around the area at night to get a feel of the olden times.
Foods to Try
My blog is never complete without the mention of good food. Here are the places we went:
- Anzukko. Their gyoza is the best we ever had, and Japan serves really good gyoza everywhere.
- Yoshikawa Tempura Inn. Supposedly the best tempura in town but they were fully booked when we went. Next time, we will make a reservation. Their website is in Japanese though, but Google Maps will help you.
- Gion: Izuju Sushi. Do you know there are other types of sushi aside from the usual style around the world? Here they serve Kyoto sushi, using different fish and the taste is definitely different. Their main fish is mackerel and the taste is quite strong. We are glad we tried a different kind of sushi but it was not up to our taste buds. They don’t have a website but you can easily find it in Google Maps. We finished our Gion tour with Macha parfait in Ujicha Gion Tsujiri. You can also try the traditional dessert of mochi and red beans. Their website is in Japanese but you can also find them in Google Maps. They are located near the main street.
- Kyoto Train Station for Bento lunch. Bentos are quite useful when you need to go on a long train trip. You just grab one from a shop and off you go for the train. We tried the Macha Lengua biscuits in a food side stall and they are quite good.
- Fushimi Inari: Steak Otsuka. If you don’t mind eating rare steak sliced thinly to be eaten with rice, then don’t bother. But you will miss the tender and juicy meat from this restaurant. They do have other cooked meat served so I guess you can skip the raw beef. It still wouldn’t hurt to try it though.