Finally we got back to Kyoto! But let’s take off where we left on that Arashiyama first day.
Kyoto 1st day after Fushimi Inari
Kyoto River side on our way to the hostel
We got back to Kyoto from Fushimi Inari and went to our hostel on the Gion district, the A-yado Gion hostel. We slept on a girl’s room bunk bed (the room even had its own shower, plus for that) and for breakfast we were given free toast with jam, butter and green tea.
[I miss having delicious green tea everywhere]
That night’s dinner was in a nearby okonomiyaki place. In case you don’t know, okonomiyaki is a kind of pancake with vegetables, seafood and bacon that in some restaurants you even cook it yourself.
Okonomiyaki, mochi for dessert and lemon and grape juice with shōchū. Dinner at Gion Tanto
We also had shōchū, one of my favorites in japan, a kind of strong alcoholic drink that can be had on ice, like whisky, but also mixed with juice to make a cocktail.
Shijo Dori at night
For the rest of that night, we wandered around in the main covered street in Shijo Dori, casually seeing the shop windows and exploring the inside of colorful book and stationary shops, until we had to go to bed, since on the next day we would be leaving for Osaka.
Kyoto 2nd day after Nara and Osaka
When we got back from since we had such a big area to cover in just one day, we decided to rent bicycles. We chose a shop near the Kyoto Station called Kyoto Eco Trip, because our bus would also leave from the station and it would be easier to manage.
From the shop we started with the South of Kyoto. We passed some very old nostalgic buildings and then got to the Toji Temple, one of Kyoto’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
Built during the Heian Period, at a time when the capital was moved to Kyoto in the late 700s, it covers an extensive area and you can even see some monks passing by.
Next were the very hard to miss, from the main road, Nishi Honganji (西本願寺) and Higashi Honganji (東本願寺), two important Buddhist symbols in Kyoto.
Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji
From there we continued up towards the Mibu dera (壬生寺). Maybe familiar only to history lovers, Mibu dera is known for having been a Military post for the Shinsengumi.
Entrance to Mibu Dera
To me this was one of the mandatory places in Kyoto, a place where great events occurred at a very complicated and famous period of Japanese history. There is even a bust of Kondo Isami, commander of the Shinsengumi as well as graves of some of the Shinsengumi soldiers.
Inside Mibu Dera and Kondo Isami’s bust
Still moving away from the main Kyoto station, we got to Nijo jo, the large Kyoto castle. But before, it was time for food. Lunch break was taken near the castle in a very hipsterish restaurant called カフェジジ.
The restaurant had several lunch menus
Nijōjō (二条城) was built as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period, and was expanded in the following generations. This is a very cool castle, due to its importance in history and you must definitely visit it.
From Nijojo we kept going away from the station towards Kinkaku ji (金閣寺), the temple with the pavilion covered in gold leaves. This temple is a little further from the center, in the northern part of Kyoto and it took us a little of uphill cycling to get there.
When you visit the Kinkaku ji you are taken through a specific path around this main pavilion. It will give you a general idea of the area but not of the peaceful moments the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu might have felt here, due to the hundreds of visitors that will be around you.
Our next stop, returning back to the center, was the outside grounds of the imperial palace, a huge park great for an afternoon ice-cream I would say.
Imperial Palace’s gardens
When we got there the sun was already setting and day light was fading so we cycled through the park and then through the Kyoto roads on the bike lane, towards the station.
Finally we left our bikes and wandered inside the huge shopping center on top of the main Kyoto station, a labyrinth with so many cute house decorations, stationaries, clothes and other accessories.
Kyoto station area at night
Once the time came we rushed to the bus – we almost missed it because we had been waiting on the wrong side of the street – checked in, sat down and laughed like the loonies we are.
Our vacation was over and we were bringing home – Sendai – so many incredible memories of the many beautiful things that we had seen. [nostalgic music playing in the background ]
To get there
From Kansai Airport you can take the Limited Express Haruka, a direct 1h20m train ride that will cost you around 18 dollars.
From Osaka, you can take either the shinkansen from Shin Osaka station, or the local Rapid Tsuruga from Osaka station. Both will take around 30 minutes, but the Tsuruga train will only cost 5 dollars.
From Tokyo you can take any Shinkansen in the Tokaido line. Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama have 3 different speeds. The Nozomi being the fastest and the most expensive at 140 dollars is the only one not covered by the JR pass. Hikari and Kodama will cost around 82 dollars one way.
All of them are pretty cool and almost the same in terms of silence and comfort.
Busses are generally the cheapest option, Willer Express night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto has a price between 53 and 100 dollars, depending on the date, and from Osaka busses, with the same company, will cost 9 dollars.
There are a lot of other bus companies in Japan and probably some have better prices than others, so for budget options make sure to ask the tourist offices at the stations or around the city. They are very well informed and are very kind.
To properly visit Kyoto, you will need, of course, more than 1 day. But depending on your pace, to fully see Kyoto and all its temples and experiences I would recommend at least 4/5 days in the city.
After these you can start to explore the rest of Kansai in one day trips. I’ve checked and you can even visit Himeji in a one day trip through the Nozomi shinkansen. However, to visit the rest of Japan, Osaka is a better starting point.
Must see is extremely vague, it really depends on your interests.
For crafts shopping don’t forget to check the back streets in the oldest houses – that’s where the best craft shops will be. Don’t be fooled, make sure you’re buying from real Japanese artisans and not a Chinese copy. For example, real lacquerware will be expensive.
If you’re temple hunting any guidebook or map will pinpoint the biggest, the best and the most beautiful.
In case you are interested in exploring more Shinsengumi sites, maybe this will help you out: http://goinjapanesque.com/kyoto-shinsengumi/
When renting bikes in Kyoto, make sure to always use the appropriate parking spaces, rules are tightly enforced and I bet you don’t want to lose a rented bike…
As for food, you will find everything flavored with matcha in Kyoto. There are some triangle shaped cakes filled with red bean paste called Nama Yatsuhashi, try them and mail some to me preferably. Also, try wagashi, the traditional sweets for sado the tea ceremony.
What would I do differently
For our last night in Kyoto we decided to stay at a Ryokan to experience sleeping in a Tatami floor. I think we chose the Ryokan poorly and ended up paying just for a normal hotel with a tatami floor and a communal onsen style shower. To get a proper and real Ryokan experience you have to really go overboard with your budget.
[We loved the TV, my God we hadn’t seen TV in two whole months]
Apart from our Ryokan misadventure, of course we should have stayed longer. But we were short on time and money and we did the best we could with what we had. All I can say is that, yes it is possible to visit Kansai on a budget, it just takes great willpower and zero laziness.
Me and Vera we walked like crazy monkeys all day for 5 days and had to leave somethings behind but, in the end, we saw many incredible things.
I’m sorry for the obnoxiously long post but if you managed to read it, thank you!
There was obviously too much to say…
Next post will be a short one about a weekend where we explored the outskirts of Sendai for Vera to get her last pictures and souvenirs before returning to Portugal.