Kyoto

SEE

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Fushimi Inari Taisha- A shrine dedicated to the gods of rice and sake, which is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Foxes (kitsune), regarded as the messengers, are often found in Inari shrines. One attribute is a key (for the rice granary) in their mouths. I was there on New Years Day, which is the busiest day of the year, and it was crazy and fun. It felt a bit like a county fair, but with yummy Japanese snacks as opposed to fair food. I read that shrines often have street vendors selling food near the shrine (not just on holidays), but I'm not sure if it is always the case.

 Getting our first batch of Takoyaki at the Fushimi Shrine. 

Getting our first batch of Takoyaki at the Fushimi Shrine. 

Philosopher's Path- Known as the most beautiful walkway, especially during cherry blossom season.The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It passes a number of temples and shrines such as Hōnen-in, Ōtoyo Shrine, and Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the walk, although many people spend more time visiting the sights along the way.

 Nishiki Market 

Nishiki Market 

Nishiki Market- Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen," this is a great first stop to see over 100 shops and restaurants. Many of the shops and stands are dedicated to food, but they also have clothes and souvenirs. I feel like I stopped by this market every day, and I saw something new each time. It's a real gem. 

Pontocho Alley- This is where you are supposed to be able to catch a glimpse of geisha or maiko at dusk on holidays or weekends. I was not so lucky, but I did see some women in traditional garb, but I was still a bit bummed. 

Hanamikoji Street- This is the street for traditional wood buildings and tea houses, and it is gorgeous. It's located in the area known as Gion, which is the oldest area, and is also known for having Geisha. Give yourself some time to just stroll the streets, which are filled with souvenir stores, specialty shops, restaurants, and teahouses. Make sure you wait until nightfall so you can see all the lanterns glowing, and feel like you are on the set of a movie. 

 Obiyama Cemetery 

Obiyama Cemetery 

Obiyama Cemetery- I wanted to see a cemetery in Japan, and this cemetery on top of a hill was peaceful and wonderful. It was a different experience than just only going to see temples. 

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EAT

Lawson- Well, unfortunately for me I was there during the biggest holiday in Japan, New Years, and many places were closed, so I actually did eat at a Lawson, which is not a bad thing in Japan. It's not like eating at a convenience store in the states. The food is actually good here. I got this chicken bun at Lawson, and I never saw it again, so I think it might be something you can only get in Kyoto. See, that's still special! 

Chojiro- An affordable sushi restaurant that is super popular, so try to book a reservation if you can, or just be prepared to wait. 

 Hello Dolly

Hello Dolly

Ippudo Nishikikouji Ramen- It's right by Nishiki Market, and it's know for having the best ramen in Kyoto. 

DRINK

Hello Dolly- A cozy jazz bar that specializes in Japanese whiskey and cocktails. They play traditional jazz records on an actual record player, the service is great,  and the ambience is perfect. 

 Camellia Flower

Camellia Flower

Rokuyousha- A kissaten famous for its home-roasted coffee beans, and its home-baked donuts. It has the charm of all the other kissatens with dark brown wood in the interior, and the facade has beautiful green tiles. 

Tea Ceremony Camellia Flower- This is a traditional tea house set in a wooden house at the end of an alley. I booked the group visit, and now that I've done that I recommend you book the private session. I didn't mind being in a group, but I just think the experience would have been a lot better and more relaxing in a private setting. My instructor was Nao, and she was skilled, smart, and welcoming; the perfect hostess for the tea ceremony. It's a bit tricky to find, but the website gives detailed instructions, and just give yourself a little extra time. 

STAY

 *photo from the web

*photo from the web

Piece Hostel Sanjo- Hostel for active travelers-From their website: "By "Active Travelers", we mean those who travel the world with an open heart to new experiences; those in search of people, of adventure, and of discovery. If this is your traveling style, let us be a PIECE of your journey." I really enjoyed this hostel. I got the private room ensuite, and it was super functional and comfortable. It also had a great cafe beneath it called Drip & Drop where I enjoyed a perfect latte. The hostel serves a great Western or Eastern breakfast that you clean up yourself at the end, which gave it a real homey vibe. It was quiet and the staff was kind and professional. The location is close to a metro and many sites on foot. 

 Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

DAY TRIP

Arashiyama

 My favorite rakan

My favorite rakan

I took the JR Sagano express train from Kyoto Station to Hankyu Arashiyam Station, and then very close to the train station I caught the bus to my first stop of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. It's also very easy to catch a taxi if you don't feel like taking the bus.  The bus drops right in front of the temple though, so it was very convenient. 

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji- It's an easy bus ride and it's uphill so I recommend you take the bus or some mode of transportation to here, and then walk downhill to the bamboo grove. A temple with over 1200 rakan, disciples of Buddha, completed by mostly amateur sculptors in the 80s and 90s. Each statue is unique and each one has a lot of character. When I visited there were only two other people at the temple, which was amazing. It was a delight to walk around and discover each rakan without disruption. 

 Adashino Nenbutsuji

Adashino Nenbutsuji

Adashino Nenbutsuji- A temple in an area,  since the Heian period, where people have abandoned the bodies of the dead exposing them to the wind and rain. Now some 8,000 Buddhist statuettes memorialize the souls of the dead. When walking around this area I could sense the importance of the place, and one could feel the energy of many souls in one location; souls that might have been forgotten if it wasn't for the temple and the statues. Adashino has a tiny bamboo grove of its own that was really beautiful, and a cemetery that you can't enter, but you can watch the lovely family members tending to the stones. 

 A beautiful scene on our way walking towards the bamboo grove. 

A beautiful scene on our way walking towards the bamboo grove. 

From here we continued our walk down in the direction of the bamboo grove where we passed by some unique specialty shops in old wooden houses, and gorgeous nature all around. On your way, you will also see a few more temples too. 

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove- While I enjoyed the incredible bamboo at this location it was filled with people, so I much preferred the deserted temples I visited before. This bamboo grove is impressive but it is always difficult for me to enjoy the magic of a place surrounded by large crowds. 

 View near Togetsu-kyo Bridge 

View near Togetsu-kyo Bridge 

From here, take a walk down to the water where you can have a coffee break at %Arabica and then continue on to the Togetsu-kyo Bridge or "Moon Crossing" Bridge. The poetic name was inspired by Emperor Kameyama who witnessed a luminous moon rising abovee the upper reaches of the river appearing as though the moon itself was crossing the bridge. The original bridge was repeatedly damaged by floods so the present concrete bridge was constructed in 1934. 

 Tranquil setting of Yudofu Sagano

Tranquil setting of Yudofu Sagano

Yudofu Sagano- Known as having the best yudofu, a silken tofu heralding from the Kyoto region, the restaurant is classy, peaceful, traditional, and professional. It's a set menu of various tofu dishes and tempura vegetables. All of it was light and cooked perfectly. The tofu was so smooth that it was difficult for me to eat with chopsticks. Obviously, I'm not as skilled as a local. There is ultimate care taken into not only the taste of the food, but the presentation, as well. It's the type of place that reminds you that everything in Japan is an art form. I truly admire that way of living. The restaurant is surrounded by a beautiful garden that you can enjoy dining at in the warmer months. 

 Kimono Forest 

Kimono Forest 

My final stop was at the Arashiyama train station where I took a quick look at the Kimono Forest, and then easily caught a train back to Kyoto Station.

EXTRA

Fumio Nanri- Listen to Fumio Nanri, the "Satchmo of Japan" to get your jazz fix.