We finally visited a long awaited destination of ours, Japan. To say that we enjoyed our time is a complete understatement. We loved our visit and will be back in the next year or two. Here is what we did in our first two days:
After landing in Narita International Airport (NRT) we boarded another (short) flight to the man-made island of Kansai International Airport (KIX). Basically a ‘floating’ airport in a bay. Really cool! In Kansai, we picked up a portable WiFi hot spot and from there boarded a train that took us to Kyoto Station, with all our luggage.
Kyoto station is an architectural marvel. Its modern and massive design left us foreigners captivated (we have no train stations of any sort in Hawaii, yet, so it was jaw dropping). Not only does the Kyoto station provide great photo opportunities, it also has a gigantic shopping center, 15 floors worth! There are also many relaxing plazas to help you enjoy the surrounding activities an after if you get hungry, there are dedicated floors dedicated to a variety of eateries.
We arrived around 10PM so our first day was focused on reaching our hotel. It was perfectly located right next to Kyoto Station which was greatly beneficial because our main source of transportation were the train/subway system.
DAY 1: WALK THROUGH FUSHIMI INARI, HIGASHIYAMA DISTRICT, AND GION
Mary’s first thing on the “to-do” list was visiting Fushimi Inari. One of her favorite movies was Memoirs of A Geisha and ever since, she has always wanted to walk through these Torii gates. This is the head shrine of Inari which is located at Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. Physically exhausted, low on water, and mentally unprepared, we were not prepared to walk to the very top of the mountain but we did! Read more about our experience here.
We then toured Kyoto and its surrounding towns where many temples captured our gaze. The 46 meter tall pagoda is the Hokan-ji Temple.
We walked through the Nishiki Market and found a nice little place to eat lunch.
At the same market, we also got to pet owls at an owl cafe!
We also walked through Higashiyama District, a famous “preserved” village. Preserved meaning these were old homes (some still are) and turned into small stores or restaurants as the city grew around it.
Interesting walking Gion because there is a scene from Memoirs of A Geisha and and there were real secluded (invite only) tea parties happening along with Geishas walking the streets (unfortunately, we didn’t get a good enough picture of them). We knew this because although certain buildings had signs that they were closed we could hear and sometimes see people through cracks in windows they were having a jolly ole time. There were also bodyguards in front of some restaurants.
DAY 2: TOUR AROUND ARASHIYAMA AND SAGANO
Our second day was spent primarily in Agashiyama where the famous bamboo forest is located.
After our short visit in the bamboo forest we headed back toward the train station, from which we initially departed, to rent bicycles! The shop was located to the right (around the corner) coming out of the station. It cost us about 20USD/2000JPY (exchange rates from May 2016) for an all day rent (until 5PM/1700).
We took our newly rented bikes up toward the mountains to visit one more temple. The Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji houses hundreds of these statue people. Okay, they weren’t a “people” but they might as well be as they mimicked every personality/characteristic a human can possible have. Legend has it that “you can find yourself in these statues”. It’s a dreamy place and enjoyable as you can have fun pointing out how a particular one reminds you of family member or friend!
From the temple, we rode our bikes for about 20 minutes to the base of a mountain where we hiked for another 45 minutes to a monkey park! This was a top pick for our visit. These monkeys were free roaming in and out of crowds and scouring the floors for food. They also waited in queues along a barred building where we were able to feed them fruits and nuts. AKA “snow monkeys”, these Macaques are the northernmost living primate.
At last, our final stop for the day, the famous Golden Pavilion of Kyoto. A sight that’s beautiful in pictures is awe-inspiring in person. The gold shimmered as the reflection shined just as bright on the surface of a pond that lies in front of it. As gentle rain drops skewed the surface of the pond, we began our departure back to the hotel.
Before we visited Japan, we were told “Kyoto is more like Los Angeles, California and Tokyo is like New York City, New York.” To be honest, I’d say that is a spot on description. Although Kyoto wasn’t as ‘city-like’ as the real Los Angeles it has hikes and more possibilities of outdoor adventures than Tokyo which kind of sums out the surrounding LA area. Kyoto was a beautiful, clean and busy city and we enjoyed every minute of it.
TIPS FOR VISITING KYOTO
- Be prepared to walk everywhere and stand A LOT (this goes for all of Japan).
- Always stay hydrated (although, Japan makes it easy with many fully operational and stocked vending machines on just about every corner).
- Wear comfortable clothing (i.e. good walking shoes).
- Make sure you have enough cash: When you purchase JR passes for the train, buses, taxis, IT IS CASH ONLY.
- Study the routes you need to take for the subway or JR lines ahead of time, just in case you’re running late. You don’t want to take the wrong train!