Do you *really* visit Japan if you don’t ride the Bullet Train, get a glimpse of Mount Fuji, or sleep in a ryokan? Okay, maybeeeee you do, but you could be making a lot more of the experience!!After a handful of amazing days in Tokyo, Amie and I headed south-west on a super speedy train to Kyoto. While Tokyo is modern and state of the art, Kyoto is classic, with numerous Buddhist temples, gardens, palaces, shrines and traditional wooden houses.
The shinkansen (bullet train) is the best way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto. The journey takes 2.5 hours and costs around €115, but we used our Japan Rail Pass for the trip which had paid for itself by the end of our return journey. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, note that you cannot ride the Nozomi shinkansen, but you can ride the next fastest shinkansen which is the Hikari. Avoid the Kodama as it’s the slowest train and calls at many stations. You can find the full bullet train time table here.
That said, our hotel in Kyoto was state of the art. We had booked a night at The Millenials as we wanted to have a capsule hotel experience while in Japan, and this spot looked like the crème de la cream of tiny sleeping.When we checked in to the hotel, we got a glimpse of the shared workspace, kitchen, and dining area as well as the on-site bar, which hosts a daily happy hour that’s free for guests (!!!)It was quiet on arrival, but by 5pm the lobby was abuzz with hotel patrons sipping on wine and beer. And the views weren’t too shabby After checking in, we were shown to our pods, which had a high-tech reclining mattress that could be used as a sofa or a bed, a projector, a stow-away luggage area under the bed, towels, toiletries and a screen that could be opened or closed at night time. Basically, it was the first and most fancy hostel I’ve ever stayed in! After dropping off our luggage, Amie and I hit the town looking for food. It was one of the few moments we didn’t have a plan, and we strolled around the neighborhood until we found a ramen bar that looked amaze. Luckily, our hotel was right next to Nishiki Market, which meant that there were lots of options around. It was a bit early in the afternoon, so we had no problem finding a seat! Which we politely took and then ordered big beers and gyoza. Followed by spicy bowls of ramen. After we ate, we explored the market by foot, eying up souvenirs to potentially pick up before our return, and all of the oddities to be had at the food stalls.The market consisted of five blocks, and parts were completely covered, as rain is quite common in the region.We loved sampling the local cuisine and taking in the food packaging and styling. After strolling through the market, we walked over to Yasaka Kamimachi to browse the shops and get a glimpse of the stunning Hōkan-ji Temple.We were a little bit surprised but also totally delighted to see so many women wearing beautiful silk kimonos. At moments we felt transported back to Kyoto as it might have felt hundreds of years ago, strolling through the cobblestone streets alongside so many Japanese women wearing traditional clothing.To escape the rain, we popped into the sleek and minimal Arabica Cofee for a warm latte. At the time, I thought this was a Kyoto gem, but I was delighted to discover another Arabica Coffee in Paris almost a year later!Turns out the concept originated in Japan, and then expanded to numerous continents.The natural interior, simplicity of the designs, and carefully crafted coffee art all screamed ‘Japan’, an essence which would be much appreciated in Amsterdam as well (hint hint!!) Warm coffee in hand, we strolled to the temple to get a better glimpse of the architecture up close.This sign totally cracked us up – Japan is such a respectful country, with many rules and restrictions to help keep life orderly and stress-free. We LOVED this sign because clearly there was some kind of translation error, but it pretty much summed up our takeaway on Japanese culture and living: Please do not anything. Noted, Japan ;)At an arm’s length, he Hōkan-ji Temple, was beautiful, and I struggled to take less than 7-billion photos.
However, as the rain continued we didn’t stall around the temple for too long, and kept strolling at a leisurely pace that would allow us to pop into the neighborhood’s small shops and dry off.How gorgeous is this ceramics studio? Next up on our list was a gander through Maruyama Park and a visit to the Yasaka Shrine. The Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto shrine that’s been standing for almost 1,500 years.It’s known for it’s festive celebrations on New Year’s Eve as well as a stunning array of cherry blossoms in April.
Unfortunetly for us, we got the pre-April rain that spawns all of the blossoms! After a drizzly afternoon of shrine and temple hopping, we wound our way back to our hotel to freshen up for happy hour and a night of adventure!I will spare you the embarrassing karaoke videos from that evening – let’s just take this as my public apology and move on. Singing karaoke in Japan is one cultural activity I should NOT have participated in . . . but at least I can tick it off my bucket list and never again haunt the world with my drunk singing voice. This was a pre go out snap in our capsule hotel: The one thing I wish I COULD share was the location that Amie and I had dinner at that night (but sadly, no evidence or recollection of where this was!) Most of our meals in Japan had been fairly hearty, but that evening we decided to feast on snacks and had a light dinner of chicken wings and gyoza at a fun, vibey bar in the old town of Kyoto. The spot we ate at also had an extensive shōchū menu, which is a distilled Japanese beverage akin to a liquor. I had the ‘beauty shōchū’ cocktail which was crafted with collagen, and clearly a bit ahead of the beauty curve (is it me or is every influencer chugging buckets of collagen now?!)
On our second day in Kyoto, Amie and I went to Nara. I’ll tell you all about this in my next post as it’s a long one with lots of new deer friends (or enemies, pending how you interpret the story). We got back to Kyoto late (after our only public transport mishap!) and checked into our next hotel, Muromachi Yutone Kyokoyado, which was a traditional Ryokan. What is a Ryokan you ask? A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese accommodation, often accompanied by a hot spring. Ryokans have many traditional Japanese features, such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths, gardens, Yukata (Japanese sleepwear), communal living spaces, and local cuisine. They’re a popular accommodation type amongst locals, as well as tourists who want a flavor of Japanese culture. Our room was stylish and plush, with the most gorgeous wooden tub in the bathroom!Every detail was meticulously thought out, down to the tea cups, treats, and slippers. And although we weren’t 100% sure how to wear our Yukata properly, we thought ‘when in Rome!’ and popped them on for our evening hang. Which also consisted of a photo shoot ;)The next morning, we had breakfast at the Ryokan, which consisted of dozens of tiny dishes all filled with delectable morsels.I braved the experience in my pajamas (Rome!!), while Amie went with a sweatshirt ;) We honestly had no idea what we were eating, but could usually guess the general flavor. We had small bites of omelette, seaweed, rice, and fish.Regardless of what we were eating, it was shockingly simple and pretty. The one night cost us just over €300, and was SO worth the unique experience! After our meal, we explored the gardens and some of the common spaces, before heading out for an early morning walk up to Fushimi Inari Shrine.The Fushimi Inari Shrine is probably one of the most well known spots in Japan, given the eye catching and widely photographed orange Torii (wooden gates) leading up to the shrine.We did our part to capture the stroll digitally, and even got my favorite bestie photo of the trip!ourFollowing our morning meander, we picked up our luggage at the Ryokan and then hopped on the bullet train back to Tokyo – we had tickets to an AWESOME experience I can’t wait to tell you about in one of my final Japan posts!