I haven’t published a travel post in ages, which is strange seeing that 2016 took us to three different continents. There’s so much material in my to-do folder that I finally decided to catch up on travel posts before everyone forgets we even went anywhere.
Let’s Shinkansen All Over Japan, Train from Tokyo to Kyoto
It’s still difficult to decide which city I prefer, Tokyo or Kyoto. They are both big, but so different. Kyoto, which lies on the island of Honshu, was once the capital of Japan and it had a very similar effect on me as Tokyo, it gave me the inner calm and stress free days. Famous for numerous Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, district full of Geishas, kaiseki dining and wooden houses anywhere you go, I would happily spend months on end exploring this wonderful yet humid and hot city.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t write about Japan aka one of my favourite countries, without mentioning Shinkansen. Bullet trains are amazing and if you travel around Japan I recommend you get Japan Rail Pass as it’ll save you some money and it’s more than worth the price. Shinkansen is more than just a train. First of all, it’s fast, really fast. Secondly, it’s spacious. We didn’t splash out on first class, but seeing what the economy looks like, you don’t really need to. If your legs are long, you’ll appreciate the leg space, there’s plenty.
Kyoto greeted us with insane humidity, so we quickly made our way to our hotel. Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shinmachi Bettei was by far the most luxurious (and by that mean the largest room) hotel we stayed at. It’s in a brilliant location, only a short walk from public transport, some temples and shrines, Nishiki market and plenty of other amenities. Inside the hotel, it feels almost like an expensive spa resort. It was perfect.
Kyoto has it all, delicious food, history and shopping
Our hotel was within perfect walking distance of Nishiki market, so that’s where we grabbed our breakfast every morning. The market was a dream, I only wish I could have tried everything. Kyoto should be on the list of world’s foodie destinations.
It’s the home of matcha, so that made me happy and I dragged Ben to the matcha sundae places all the time after I’ve basically drunk my life’s supply of matcha lattes in the mornings.
Kaiseki dining was another experience Kyoto provided us with, but you can read eating in Japan post to learn more about the delicious food.
We spent a short while at the manga museum, which is pretty much just a huge library and more appropriate for real manga fans. I loved exploring the streets of Kyoto though. They are what my image of traditional Japan is like. The typical houses, shrines and temples hidden in the little streets and the sense of calm prevailing everywhere.
Quick Tea Ceremony Lesson
While in Kyoto we also wanted to learn about the tea ceremony. As our time was limited, we opted for the quick one hour lesson rather than complete ceremony. Our teacher was fabulous and spoke good English too. The workshop was priced at just over £30 per person and I can say it was worth the money. We not only learnt about the importance of the ceremony, but also about the correct way to handle equipment. I’m forever amazed at the deep respect Japanese people seem to have of absolutely everything. Another thing I learnt was how difficult it actually is to keep sitting on the floor on your heels. My legs were absolutely killing me.
In Search of Geishas of Gion
Gion is one of the most exclusive and well-known gesiha districts in Japan and you don’t have to wait around for too long before you spot one. I felt a bit sorry for these girls as there’s a massive crowd around them as soon as they’re spotted and people shove their cameras right in their faces. Their poise and patience is incredible though. Despite being constantly surrounded by an annoying swarm of amateur paparazzi, they remain perfectly calm and go about their day.
In my eyes Gion represents a foodie district. Great kaiseki dining, tea houses and numerous shops. But our encounter with geishas had to wait till we were in the Higashiyama, strolling down the ancient streets, past the typical houses and shops that have been there for centuries.
Can you take a photo, please?
Walking around southern Higashiyama was one of my favourite touristy activities. There are plenty temples to visit, but we preferred to just walk around. Ishibei-koji is one of the most beautiful streets and it’s no surprise this area is always full of people. As always I had Ben taking photos of me when two geishas (followed by a crowd with cameras) came our way. Ben must have been about the only person not trying to take a photo of them, so they walked up to him, passed him their phone and asked for a photo. They were really lovely and so polite, but that’s the norm in Japan.
Modern Kyoto, Shopping and Nights Out
I enjoyed shopping in Kyoto, even though I was trying not to buy too much because our trip wasn’t even half way through. But for a person with small feet, Japan is a shopping heaven. For once in my life every single pair of shoes I tried on ended up being my very own Cinderella moment.
Nights out were an interedting experience. Coming from London, we’re used to pubs at every corner and going out for drink is as easy as pie. Not so much in Japan. Yes, you can go to a hotel bar, but that’s not really it, we wanted to experience a night out, the way we did in Tokyo. And we failed quite badly. Most of the places we found served food and the drinking ones were completely empty. On our first night we ended up in a bar that was full of tourists or shall I say the only bar as we know it. Not exactly what we were hoping for.
On a different night we sat down in a restaurant that seemed to serve Italian food and they were quite happy to let us have a drink. Drinking in Japan is terribly expensive (and that’s coming from a Londoner). You always end up paying cover charge and always get some sort of food with your drink. Maybe that’s why Japanese people don’t seem to drink much. If you know people in Japan, they’ll know places to go as my friends did in Tokyo and they made sure we had a fab night out. If you’re on your own and love bars and pubs, do plenty of research beforehand.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha and Getting Eaten Alive
If you saw any photos from Japan, I’m sure you saw the photos of this shrine. It’s spread across a wooded mountain and it’s simply put one of the most impressive sights in Japan. There are endless arcades of torii (shrine gates) and you can follow a path-way that takes you on a 4 kilometres hike around the mountain and dozens shrines. It’s a breathtaking sight.
We made it to Fushimi-Inari in the evening and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Thinking we were pretty clever escaping the humidity of the day, we embarked on the hike. And regreted it in about a minute. Why? Because torri aren’t the only thing that’s there in its hunderds, there are also hundreds of mosquitoes. And they have a taste for European blood.