We went to Kyoto (again) and Nara!

Posted on 05.08.2017


I know I’ve been MIA for a while. I’ve been busy living and working WAY too much. I’m going to try to get through all of the posts I’ve got lined up (since May).

So, yeah. We went to Kyoto again, and this time it was totally different, and SO MUCH BETTER. We also went to Nara.

Mark’s sister, brother-in-law and niece came to visit us for two weeks back in May. It was the perfect time to visit Japan. The weather was perfect, Golden Week had just ended, and everyone was back to their daily work routines. And we went out and traveled.

Our first experience of Kyoto was cold. We went at the end of November a few years ago, after all of the leaves had fallen. People often say that although Kyoto is ‘the best place to visit in Japan’, the winters are BITTER. And they aren’t lying. It was cold, and windy, and nothing was really exciting when we went that time.

This time, though, we had time, and also much more information. We had a damn Pinterest board for it. We were ready. And I think that preparedness made our trip a LOT better. So did our hotel’s location, right in the center of the city near Sanjo station.

We went to Kyoto first, as it’s the closest stop when you come from Tokyo. On our first day, we went through Nishiki market for some snacks, and then walked around Kiyomizu-dera, but didn’t go in because it was ridiculously crowded. You don’t really need to pay the admission fee to go in. The best views are on the outside! We then walked down Sannenzaka and made our way back down to the street to catch a bus. Sannenzaka is such a lovely street. Yeah, all of the shops are basically selling the same stuff, but it’s INTERESTING stuff and a great place to pick up souvenirs for your family back home, and try some great local street food!

From there, we went out to Gikakuji, the Silver Pavilion, for a nice wander around the beautifully sculpted moss garden. A lot of people will go to Kinkauji, the Gold Pavilion, but I think Ginkakuji is just nicer. And not as full of tourists. And also, I love moss. So I have a LOT of photos from this place:)

We stopped back at the AMAZING HOSTEL we were staying in to check in and get our stuff into the room, and then went back out for a night walk. Since we’d arrived so early that day (which is a good idea), we just left our stuff in the entry hall with tags on it. And as it was getting a bit cold, it was time to change!

… and then we saw a real, live Geisha!

We went and had some lovely burnt miso ramen for Clare’s birthday dinner, and then did a night walk. We took the bus over to Yasaka shrine to start our tour. It really is so beautiful at night. During the day, it might feel like ‘just another shrine’ in Kyoto, but it really comes to life at night. We walked over to the Gion neighborhood and followed a helpful self-guided tour that was in our Lonely Planet Kyoto guide. And on that tour, we spotted TWO Geisha!

I had stopped everyone to take YET ANOTHER group shot on the empty streets of the relatively dark neighborhood. As I was getting them together and in the right position, an old lady walked out of a house on the street and stood near her door. I understood that this was an oka-san, a proprietress of an Okiya, a geisha house. She was looking around like she was waiting for someone. After she went back in, we went back to taking the photo, and then a Geisha came along, clearly returning from an engagement.

Another tourist who was on the street with us immediately got out his large camera with a flash and got in her face, taking photos of her as she walked. She clearly didn’t appreciate this, and tried to look away and down as she hurried back to the house we’d seen the oka-san come out from. We were angry for her and really angry with him, but by the time we realized what we’d just seen, it was too late and she was inside, and the tourist had turned down a side street.

As we were leaving Gion on another street, we saw another Geisha (not a Maiko, not some tourist dressed up as a Geisha) making her way to a restaurant on the street we were on. We expected a lot of the places in this area to be more expensive, but they were actually reasonably priced. Maybe the next time we go to Kyoto, I’ll be brave enough to walk into one and order something.

We continued our walk through the Shirakawa part of town, and then crossed the bridge to walk through Pontocho. It’s like a cleaner, nicer version of Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku, and goes on for a lot longer along the river. It was well-lit with red lanterns and not too crowded, but we weren’t hungry after our dinner. Again, maybe next time.

We stumbled back to the hotel after a full day spent walking, and woke up the next morning to hike Fushimi Inari shrine (all of it). The base is full of tourists all taking the same picture you’ll find if you do a Google image search for the shrine. If you hike the full mountain (it’s a circular route), or even up one path and back down again, the number of people on the path will seriously decrease and you might even feel… peaceful up there.

Photos from Kyoto:

From Kyoto, we took a local train down to Nara. Our ryokan was right on one of the main streets, so we were able to dump our things in the room and go.

This turned out to be one of the BEST decisions we made, as we got in around 3:30, and were out by around 4:30 to walk the city. Things close at 5 or 5:30 at this time of year! We had ONE hour. We walked around Nara park and had our first experience with the famous deer there. We didn’t have any food for them and were just shocked to see so many of them, hanging out in the park, completely unconcerned with all of the tourists standing around taking photos.

We realized it might be a good idea to go over and see the Daibutsu: Japan’s largest bronze Buddha at Todaiji Temple,   which is, apparently, housed in the world’s largest wooden building. The timing couldn’t have been better. We got to the temple just before it closed and basically had the place to ourselves.

From Todaiji we wandered around the western part of the park. Most of the temples were already closed, but we ended  up finding Nigatsu-do Hall. Also closed, but you can climb up the outer stairs to get a fantastic view of the city. We made it up there just before sunset and hung out for a bit.

We walked down from the platform and back out of the park as the sun went down. On the way back to our hotel, we got ourselves lost in the tiny side streets off the main road, trying to find a place to eat. We had some delectable mixed cocktails at Bar Fiddich, and had the place mostly to ourselves. From there, we found a tiny izakaya selling healthy eats called Juju, and filled up.

I can haz crackers?

In the morning, we went out again. This time, we wanted to properly feed the deer. We stopped at a few of the shrines we’d passed along the way the day before, and then made our way to the park.

You can buy ‘deer senbei’ crackers at stands around the park for about $2 a pop. We bought a few bundles of them and went through them WAY too fast. The deer know what they are, and really want them. They will head butt you or tug at your clothes if you take too long in doling out the snacks. I’m sure they actually get fed at night, somewhere, maybe, and you can see them eating grass in the photos, but I guess the crackers must taste better than their ‘normal’ food.

Here’s a video of an attempted robbery:

After we fed the deer and walked around the park for a bit more, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our things and got back on the train to Kyoto. It would have been great to stay there and see more of the city, but we just didn’t have the time. NEXT TIME, as usual.

Back in Kyoto, we stopped by the Imperial Palace for a tour. Well, Mark and his sister went in, but I sat outside with my new niece and hung out on the grounds. By now, I was getting worn out and crashing. So we sat in the shade and folded origami.

By the time everyone came out, we were all just about spent. So we jumped on a shinkansen and headed  back to Tokyo.

Photos from Nara (mostly):




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Posted in: Japan, life, travel