Our longest train journey was just about to begin. We had made it safely from Fuji to Otsuki station and eagerly waited for the arrival of our first Shinkansen train, the bullet train. Before leaving Tokyo, we booked our tickets for Fuji and onward to Kyoto. The Japan Rail Pass staff are so helpful, even printing us out a little paper ticket with train times and stations listed, making moving through the train stations so easy.
We spent three days in Kyoto staying in the Gion Higashi House, we booked it on booking.com , it was around $340 for three nights and worth every dollar. Such an awesome little hotel room and it was a great location for the subway, the sights and the best Ramen in Kyoto. We arrived pretty late, so our main port of call was finding the hotel and finding food. The further south we moved the colder it became, and I couldn’t face wandering the streets looking for our tiny hotel entrance. We eventually found it after trusty google maps sent us on a little goose chase down the back alley. We checked in and straight back out in search for Ramen. Our hotel sat just on the outskirts of the old town Gion however we saved that for a proper walk around the next day.
We saw a queue outside a small restaurant, taking that as a good sign and that they had vegetarian Ramen listed we quickly joined the line. Shown to our table quicker than we thought and a hot steamy bowl of Ramen appeared not long after. I opted for the vegetarian bowl, it had extra poached eggs, rocket and parmesan on top it sounds odd, but I kid you not it was the best Ramen so far. We went to bed with a very full, very happy stomach each.
The next morning, we went on a bakery hunt. Our bakery tradition carried through the whole trip in fact it became that much of an obsession that every time we smelt baked goods we didn’t stop until finding them. The vending machine coffee was easily located right outside the door of our hotel giving us fuel we needed to walk to cold streets at 8.30 am. We jumped into the first bakery we saw and had an array of treats, in fact Robbie had pastries and a full egg & toast breakfast.
Now Kyoto is the place to head to experience historic and ancient Japan. It is very much Japan’s cultural capital, think shrines, beautiful Japanese gardens and an intriguing blend of old and new. We spent the morning walking around the beautiful gardens and shrines on the outskirts of Gion. We also happened upon a traditional Japanese wedding at the Yasaka shrine. The guy carrying the huge parasol was a firm crowd favourite. It felt like the people getting married were of status, they had a huge procession and getting married in this beautiful shrine must be only for those of status. The mother of the bride looked calm and somewhat reserved. It was a real privilege to watch as the bride and groom entered the square. We left quickly after, exploring further into the gardens of the shrine.
We took the afternoon to wander the streets of Gion, visiting the incredibly popular Hokan-Ji temple. This street is SO popular, I mean the people are everywhere but it felt good. Its such a beautiful structure and a definite pinch me moment. We watched as others enjoyed the scene and made their memories. One of my favourite things abut travel is that we can all enjoy these beautifully historic places together. I sampled some weird and wonderful food and pushed our way through the crowds of women dressed up in traditional clothes as Geishas. It would be rare to see a real-life Geisha now, especially in the daytime as they don’t get the privacy they deserve so tend to stay away from the bustling streets of Gion.
I had a few spots in Kyoto I wanted to visit, one being the Arashiyama bamboo forest. We figured out our train route while laid in bed that night and set our alarms for a sunrise mission to the forest. We made it to the train station early yet managed to miss our first train. I didn’t recognise the number on the train resulting in us having to wait an extra 30 minutes for the next train. I probably shouldn’t skip that morning caffeine hit. Like most touristy places in Japan they get busy, very busy, so getting there early was a priority. A short walk from the train station leads us to the ever so peaceful and beautiful Arashiyam Bamboo forest, luckily, we had beaten the crowds and got the chance to explore this place quietly.
The Japanese are famous for their meditation, healing and using their surroundings to help them on their life journey, forest bathing being one of them. Now don’t worry we didn’t strip nude and bathe together we just walked slowly, calmly and with the wind through the Bamboo Forest. We explored further into the forest and stumbled across this incredibly beautiful autumnal picture-perfect scene. I imagine many come to the forest and leave as soon as they have snapped some photos in the groves, but I highly recommend spending more time in this area, there is so much more to see.
We spent two hours following the maze of paths around the forest revealing more and more beautiful views and showing us the natural side of Japan sometimes overlooked. It made me want to plan a trip back to Japan to explore deep into the backcountry.
Next on our Kyoto list was a visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is comprised of thousands of bright red Torii gates meandering gently up the Inari hillside. We arrived at the train station with the rest of Kyoto. It was SO busy. We pushed our way through a busy food market and found the entrance. We walked through the Torii gates, followed the masses and stopped for minimal photos. This place is the epitome of tourism and to get a clear photograph with no one in the shot was very, very difficult. I suggest if the shrines are on your photography to do, then get here at sunrise. After spending some time in the higher, quieter shines we retreated for snacks and a wander around Pontocho, a quiet, leafy, canal-lined suburb, a stark difference to where we were an hour ago.
On our first night in Kyoto we had passed an equally popular Ramen restaurant with a queue down the street. Tonight, we had the chance to get in and it was incredible. From the signed napkins on the wall, we figured this was a popular hangout for some Japanese A-listers and as we sat and waited, we watched an old lady enjoy dinner with her daughter. Not only did we pick up some excellent chopstick skills but watched that universal fight between mother and daughter to pay for the bill. The food, okay back to the food, because it’s so god damn delicious I don’t think I can eat anything Japanese again unless from Japan. Kyoto is well known for its Ramen and man is it good. This was also the second place I found vegetarian Ramen, hallelujah! I have nothing more to say on the ramen apart from its bloody good.
We waddled back to our hotel room, armed with sweet donut style treats from the family mart and packed up the suitcases and our adventure in Kyoto. On route back to the hotel we saw a real-life Geisha. She emerged from a hotel complex, straight into a taxi and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. She sat so poised and beautiful in the back of the taxi as it drove away. Robbie could now say he had seen a real Geisha after two days of asking ‘is that a real one’ every time we saw someone in traditional dress.
Sleeping to the sound of pattering raindrops on our hotel room roof sent us into a Ramen filled deep sleep ready for our next adventure to Osaka tomorrow.