新年快乐!! Happy New Year! Being home for this holiday season has truly been wonderful. As much as I love and miss travel, there’s nothing like spending holidays with the people you love, especially after being absent the last two years. This year I have about a million resolutions (including trying to squeeze in at least a little travel 😉 ), one of which is to finish blogging about our adventure in Asia. I’ve been putting off writing about Kyoto because there’s SO much to say, but there’s no time like the beginning of January to channel some motivation and push through!

So, Kyoto:

We got a later start than we had hoped getting from Osaka to Kyoto because after several action-packed days of nonstop sightseeing, we were both starting to drag, especially Kevin, whose sickness was really wearing him down. The whole time we were in Japan, we had this intense “must see everything” attitude, which we had all but lost in the months prior. We were so excited to be in Japan (and so aware of how soon our trip was about to end) that we were totally unable to tap the breaks– even though at some moments it was exhausting. We definitely need to go back to Japan with more time and money.

Kyoto is so packed with historical gems that our lack of time was on our minds more than ever. We squeezed in a lot of activities, but still missed about a billion more. This place is ridiculously overwhelming for a tourist! We could have spent a month there and still not seen it all.

For the sake of time and sanity, I will make this post mostly a photo-dump and try to keep my need to share every little detail to a minimum. (Disclaimer: I am not good at this. Sorry!)

The train from Osaka to Kyoto is super fast and only 690 yen/person. However, by the time we had lugged our stuff to a new city and got settled at our hostel, we (and especially Kevin, who was really feeling crumby) were pretty beat and not up for taking on the massive amount of sights without a game plan. So, we decided to take a planning day and sort out our strategy for the next morning.

We did manage to leave our beds in the evening and trek through the famous Gion district en route to dinner. The Gion district is where you’re most likely to sneak a peek of a geisha, although on our first walk through we weren’t so lucky. What we did see was cobblestone streets, traditional buildings, and fancy restaurants.

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We had read good things online about the gyoza at Anzukko, although our dining experience overall left a bit to be desired. It’s kind of pricey– more so because each guest is automatically charged for an underwhelming tofu appetizer, beer and wine pairings are highly encouraged, and each person is required to order at least one item (even though there are several combo specials on the menu that we would’ve liked to split). When we ordered only gyoza and edamame to start, with two glasses of water, we got a pretty unwelcome vibe. So much so that we ended up leaving afterwards even though we were still hungry and would have otherwise ordered more. The silver lining is that the gyoza were delicious. (We still ended up spending $20 on just appetizers.)

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Day 2:

We wanted to get as much milage as possible on our second day, so we rented bikes from our hostel first thing in the morning (1400 yen) and headed towards Fushimi Inari Shrine, the attraction we were most looking forward to in Kyoto. The ride was easy, and on the way we stumbled upon a place called Cocohanna, a cozy Korean cafe in a converted Japanese house. In addition to many cakes, coffees, and tea drinks, they had the most delicious (and huge) lunch sets (~900 yen each), with big bowls full of rice, veggies, and tender, marinated meat. MMH.

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Wish I could just pop over to this place again.. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

When we finally made it to Fushimi Inari (free entry), we were taken back by how bright and beautiful the shrine is. We eagerly parked our bikes and started up the mountain, which is known to boast awesome views of Kyoto. The walkway up is lined with bright orange gates. It’s gorgeous, but also a very long hike up. Our determination started to fade as every check point we reached, each separated by a long path of stairs, showed little progress towards the top. Kevin was still sick, and we had already spent several hours at the shrine, so we made it to a spot with a good view, snapped some photos, and made our way back down. Should have budgeted a lot more time for this attraction alone!

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After Fushimi Inari, we hopped on our biked and rode back through town to Heian Shrine

After Fushimi Inari, we hopped on our bikes and rode back through town to Heian Shrine.

By the time we made it all the way back up north to our next destination, Heian Shrine (free entry), the sun was starting to set. There are many other attractions we hoped to visit in this area, but once again, time slipped away. Heian Shrine was exquisite, though, and the glossy orange paint looked lovely against the quickly purpling sky.

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Luckily, our last stop, Yasaka Shrine (free entry), is well suited for visiting at night. We arrived right in time to appreciate all the bright lanterns illuminating the courtyard.

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Day 3:

Even though we barely scratched the surface of all the sights to see in central Kyoto, we decided to head west to lovely Arashiyama, home of the bamboo forest, and many more temples. A quick train ride (230 yen/person) brought us to the quaint town where we passed the day brushing elbows with about as many other tourists as could fit–at least on the main drag. Still worth the visit, though!

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In the evening, we were very lucky to have a friend (who we had made on our flight from Manila) take us out with his Japanese girlfriend for some shabu shabu. This was our first time having the famous meal in Japan, and it was scrumptious. I miss this aspect of traveling; anyone you meet in passing can instantly become a good friend. It’s even more fortunate that we live in a time when social media makes it possible to actually keep up with all these new friends from around the world!

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Day 4:

We were originally planning to catch an early bus to Hiroshima and be sightseeing by the afternoon, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had missed out on too much still in Kyoto, despite spending two full days on the go. We agreed to sacrifice some time in Hiroshima and purchased tickets for later in the afternoon, giving us one more morning to explore Kyoto. This still wasn’t enough, but I’m glad we stuck around.

We started our day by walking up to Kiyomizu (300 yen/person), the most visited temple in Kyoto. Although it was packed with tourists, it was marvelous, with gorgeous views of the changing leaves on the surrounding mountains. We were able to watch school kids performing various rituals, and, thanks to some detailed English signs, actually understand what was going on and the mythology behind it.

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Another thing I loved about Japan was that every local who passed us trying to take a picture immediately insisted on taking one of us together. Such lovely and helpful people.

Another thing I loved about Japan was that every local who passed us trying to take a picture immediately insisted on taking one of us together. Such lovely and helpful people.

From the temple we walked down through a quaint shopping district, where we bought souvenirs and tasted some local snacks. There were many more temples, shrines, and museums along the way, but time kept us from visiting them all. We did, however, finally get a peek of some real live geishas, which was super exciting for me! They were beautiful, and I felt really lucky to cross paths with them before we left Kyoto.

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More geishas!!

More geishas!!

We grabbed lunch at Izuju, one of the most recommended sushi restaurants in Kyoto. We were impressed, and it was definitely a different taste than the sushi we have had in America. Very delicious.

Sushi time!!

Sushi time!!

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Last stop: Kennin Ji, Japan’s oldest zen temple. What a peaceful place. Kennin Ji Temple has a moss garden, sand gardens, and beautiful painted screens throughout the many rooms. They also have a helpful walkthrough brochure, so we were able to know and appreciate what we were looking at.

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Phew. That felt like a lot to get down, although I maintain that we barely saw half of the main attractions. Kyoto is truly a gem, and a place I hope to return. As touristy as it is, it manages to still feel totally magical.

Next stop: Hiroshima!


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  1. Steve says:

    If you had to choose between Kyoto and Osaka, which would you go back to?

    • Erin says: (Author)

      Both, because they’re so close to each other! If I had to choose.. it would really depend on if I’m looking for a big city type vacation or a culture-packed, historical one. Are you planning a trip to Japan??

  2. Lee says:

    Great to know that you are going to finish blogging this. One of my a million resolutions is to finish reading all your stories!

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