Japan: Exploring Kyoto

View on the Oi river in Arashiyama

Finally it's time for the second instalment of my little personalised guide to traveling in Japan! We focused our trip to Japan around two major cities: Kyoto and Tokyo. Because of our Japan Rail pass that we had during the first week we could travel without paying extra on most train lines, so we also planned some day trips that were easy to reach from Kyoto and Tokyo on. We stayed in Kyoto for four nights and tried to visit and see as much as possible in the area - it's so rich in history and there are dozens of beautiful shrines to visit. I won't go into detail about both Kyoto and Tokyo in one post - that would take too many hours to read. First, let's talk about Kyoto - a beautiful city which was once the capital of Japan for a thousand years.

Beautiful traditional garden around the Ginkaku-ji Temple

Traditional Geisha's near Maruyama Park

On our first day in Kyoto we had just arrived in Japan and were super tired. After our arrival at the hotel we took a well deserved shower, a teeny tiny nap and had a small walk around the city. I was mostly amazed by the streets of Kyoto - it was my very first time in Japan and it was quite impressive. Obviously I also quickly visited a Japanese drug store - which was super overwhelming too. We ended up having a very traditional Japanese meal in a small restaurant on the top floor of a huge mall and quickly went back to sleep. On the second day we got up quite early because of the jet lag, which gave us the opportunity to get the most out of our day. We went to the the geisha district Gion, and then onto the Kiyomizu-dera temple (which is where I bought the cute pink Kyoto bean that's attached to my camera now) and Maruyama park. After that we walked on to the beautiful Philosopher's Path, which is in my opinion almost customary to do when you're in Kyoto. It's just such a romantic and beautiful walk and if you're lucky you can catch the hundreds of cherry trees in full bloom if you visit in March or April. We also visited the Ginkaku-ji Temple (which is located at the end of Philosopher's Path) with its beautiful garden and stayed there until the last minute it was open. Keep in mind that temples to close quite early (I believe around 16h00 daily), so if you want to spend enough time exploring them it's best to plan these visits in the morning and early afternoon.

Inari Mountain with hundreds of Torii gates

Cats alongside Philosopher's Path

On the third day we took the train to Arashiyama, a quite touristy area with beautiful parks, nature and bamboo groves. We basically walked all day through Arashiyama and enjoyed the beautiful nature of Japan - I can imagine this is even more beautiful during the Fall season when all trees take on a different colour.  On day four we went to the Inari mountain with the Fushimi Inari shrine and climbed up the mountain as far as our legs could take us. It was pretty tiring after a while because some of the climbs are quite steep, and it was often a bit of an internal conflict as to whether we'd go on and enjoy more beautiful views or be wise and head down to the foot of the mountain before we got too tired. Afterwards we had a relaxing afternoon and evening and did a little shopping in a few of the many malls around Kyoto station. On day five we had to head back to Tokyo really early as the Shinkansen was fully booked during the 'normal' hours - although getting up early still wasn't a problem since the jet lag took its time to wear off.

The rooftop terrace at Kyoto station

View from Arashiyama mountain

As much as I loved the beautiful scenery in Kyoto, I did have a hard time adjusting to the local food culture during the first few days in Japan. I don't eat cooked fish (only raw salmon and cooked shellfish), which was obviously a bit of a problem as a lot of the Japanese cuisine contains fish. I was very ready to experiment, but hadn't taken into account that there would be so little restaurants offering an English menu in Kyoto. Luckily I did find my way around in the end and we found some great places where I felt completely at ease. I can recommend the great food at Bibliotec Hello, which is a modern but cozy eatery in a converted Japanese town house. Their ginger ale is awesome too! The Cosme Kitchen Cafe is really nice as well, it's a macrobiotic eatery by the cosmetic chain Cosme Kitchen whicih serves lots of small portions of healthy food made with organic ingredients. As a final recommendation food-wise, we had some delicious breakfasts at Shinsindo, a Japanese bakery which features mostly authentic, and French inspired pastries. Expect a separate post on this bakery later on in this series!

Stay tuned for the next article on Japan.. Which will be about the exciting metropolis Tokyo!

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