The Japan Trip: Kyoto

The artist and I have returned from Japan!

It was seriously one of the best experiences of my life. And after three years of saving it didn’t disappoint.

We spent a week in Kyoto, staying in this little, but nice apartment in the centre of town. We got a shared taxi service from Kansai International Airport, which took us straight to our front door.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

On day 1, we took a easy wander down to Kyoto Imperial Palace. They had free daily tours in English, so we hopped onto one of those for a look around.

The tour told us some interesting things, such as the history of the site (the capital of Japan used to be in Nara, then it was in Kyoto for a couple of hundred years, until the late 1800s when it moved to Tokyo), how the Cyprus roofs were made, what the colour of the tatami mats and paintings on the waiting rooms screens meant in terms of the guest status.

Did you know that the Imperial family have 3 treasures; a sword, a mirror and a jewel? These treasures are passed down from through succession, and there are no photos or paintings of them – only members of the royal household are allowed to see them. Our Japanese tour guide was very insulted when someone suggested they might not exist!

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One of things I loved most about Kyoto was that it was surrounded by mountains. Really stunning.
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Vermilion painted gates.
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The main building of the palace, where the emperor used to hold his court.

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We were too early for the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, but got to see a few before we left.

We also went to the International Manga Museum. It was so cool to see the shelves and shelves and shelves of manga, but unfortunately they were all in Japanese – as could be expected! There were a few shelves of international manga, and a very small English section. I know where I’m donating my manga collection when I die!

River Kamo

We spent a lot of time wandering up and down the River Kamo. The river was beautiful and clean, and had a couple of crossing points, where you could jump across large stepping stones. The artist liked the ones shaped like turtles the best.

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The back end of Gion.
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Just look at that view!!

Kiyomizu-dera

This was the first tourist hot spot we visited in Kyoto because of Blue Exorcist! Unfortunately when we visited the famous wooden platform was under construction, but we still got the enjoy the rest of the site, the view, and go shopping along Kiyomizu-zaka street.

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All the ema plaques.

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Large cleansing fountain, and a queue to match.
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Heading up into Jishu Jinja shrine – a shrine dedicated to Okuninushi, a god of love and good matches.

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One of the love stones at the Jishu Shrine. If you can reach the next one 18 metres away with your eyes closed, you will find love or your true love. There were too many tourists in the way for us to give it a go!

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Kyoto Tower in the distance.
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Tanuki statue – just look at the size of those balls!
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One thing we learnt in Japan was that there are two types of dango – sweet and savoury. There were the savoury ones, which tasted fishy. The sweet ones are hanami dango, which are cherry blossom viewing treats.

Kyoto Tower

And this was the second tourist hot spot we visited because of Blue Exorcist! And because the second season had just finished airing – where they visit Kyoto Tower – it was the best time to visit. The voice actors for Rin and Yukio had done introductions for the lift, and there were cardboard cut outs of all the characters, as well as animation storyboards for the second season. We had a little bit of a nerd out when we went through the exhibition on the way down!

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Amazing views from the top of the tower.
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One thing I loved about Kyoto Tower was that they had fortunes written in English – they were hard to come by in Japan, even at the tourist hot spots.

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Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a very long indoor market, filled with SO MANY FOOD STALLS! We went there twice – the first for a browse and then for some gift shopping on the penultimate day of Kyoto.

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Before we went to Japan, I did a bit of research on Trip Advisor to see if there were any noteworthy places for us to eat. One place that came top in Kyoto for cheap (or reasonably priced) eats was Ramen Sen no Kaze (or Ramen of a thousand winds – we did ponder for some time about what that name could possibly mean!).

Because the reviews were so good, we had to wait an hour for a table, which we didn’t mind. It was sunny so we people watched in the sun to pass the time. The food was worth the wait.

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Gyoza to share
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Creamy ramen with pork – I think it might be a thing in Kyoto that they add milk or cream to their ramen.

Gion

We headed to Gion in the evening, hoping to see some geisha heading to their appointments. We just saw a lot of tourists, but it was a really pretty part of town to wander around in the late evening.

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Fushimi Inari

This was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me – I love a good hike up a mountain! We went on a gloriously hot day and saw the mountain in its full glory – we also got there early to avoid the tourist rush!

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The famous red tori gate tunnel.
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View halfway up!
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There were fox statues everywhere.
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It really was rather stunning when you could find a quiet spot – the tourists thinned out the higher we got.

Apart from the hike, I loved the collection of street food stalls at the temple’s entrance. There was so much delicious food to chose from. I had curried udon from a little restaurant for mains, and then we hit the street food stalls for dessert, getting chocolate mochi and takiyaki.

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They had a choice of custard or red bean – I went for custard!

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A thousand paper cranes to grant a wish.

Ginkaku-ji

We had two really good days of weather in Kyoto – when we went up Fushimi Inari and when we went to Ginkaku. After getting a burnt face, I learnt my lesson and wore sun cream on the second hot day!

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Kanji for tree etched into the hillside with stones.
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It was very gold and shiny in the bright sunshine – I bet the area looks even more stunning in the autumn among the orange and red foliage.
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Fun game and a good way to get rid of your 1 yen coins! Throw your spare change into the pot or hole for good luck. I got 2 coins in the bowl ^^

We had a very surreal experience after visiting Ginkaku-ji. Heading to our lunch spot – a restaurant called Katsu Okonomiyaki I had seen recommended on Trip Advisor – the map took us through a university…while they were holding a club recruitment day!

It was like stepping into an anime. There were club recruitment tables stretched through the campus, with people wandering around dressed in their sports gear. We kept our heads down and walked quickly through, and then burst out laughing once we were clear. Thankfully, no one tried to recruit us!

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

This was the most disappointing tourist hot spot we visited. The forest is very very small – you can walk from one side to the other in a minute or two and even at 9am it was busy. It was still a stunning sight.

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We took a wander around the surrounding area. At Saga-Arashiyama Station they had an outdoor exhibition called The Kimono Forest, which was kimono prints rolled into cylinders. Kimono prints are so beautiful.
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Togetsukyo Bridge.
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Partly bloomed cherry blossom trees up the mountainside.
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Stunning turquoise waters.

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Another highlight – if slightly bizarre! – of the trip was visiting an onsen. My western sense of modesty got in the way when it came to sitting stark naked in a giant bath among a lot of other naked women – you don’t know where to look! – but once I got over that it was a really enjoyable experience, although the water temperature really was sweltering! We came out feeling very soft.

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Fufunoyu Onsen: it’s a modern built, but I was recommend a visit.

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Takoyaki for lunch after a soak in the hot baths!

And that concludes the trip to Kyoto!

Part 2: Osaka and Tokyo coming next week!

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3 thoughts on “The Japan Trip: Kyoto

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