Japan: Kyoto

Of all the cities in Japan this one was the most pre-planned. As such taking the bullet train to Kyoto had a different type of excitement because I knew what was coming. We only had one day so we had to pack it in. Easy enough because even though Kyoto has less than 2 million people the subways are still incredible efficient and take you all over the city.

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  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

This gorgeous, free park is just a 40 minute ride from the city center. We went in the afternoon and it was pretty damn packed. Hearing these bamboo trees sway in the wind its hard to believe that they are as strong as concrete and rival steal.

Once you exit the forest there is a mountain top garden house you can explore. A movie star owned it in the 20s and now it is open to the public. For $10 you can access the grounds and have green tea and a sweet treat. Relaxing place to reflect on this beautiful area and get away from the traffic in the forest.

  • Ride the local tram “Randen” 

From there instead of taking the regular train back you can grab the local tram which is 100 years old. Expecting this quaint old school train to arrive I was a bit surprised when we could use our same subway pass (from Tokyo none the less) and follow the stops along in English on the digital maps. Japan – you are too impressive.

  • Fushimi Inari Temple Gates

From the entrance through to the top of the mountain these bright orange gates lead you through to a shrine and cemetery at the old of the mountain. You can climb up to escape the tons of people stopping and taking photos. It is a solid couple hours to climb but the views are breathe taking. Also the route is around the summit so your views are different as you climb up and down.

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  • Ponto-cho

Although social media has its negatives, I am always happy at its ability to connect people. Two of my friends from DC and New York happened to be in Kyoto the same day we were. After being away from home for 9 months I was ecstatic to have some friends to explore with. We went to the Ponto-cho area where alleys are lined with bars and restaurants. We saw Geishas, ate okonomiyaki (yes again), drank in hidden bars and stumble into a game bar with nintendo 64 and unlimited Japanese snacks for $5.

  • Housing

While in Japan, I wanted to stay at a traditional ryokan. I found one on booking.com fantastically enough. When we entered the place was empty, after calling the number on the sign a woman speaking only Japanese greeted us kindly. Through much pointing and guessing we learned we could leave our bags in the corner, and get our key on a little sign with my name later as the room wasn’t ready. Having only some clothes with us we weren’t stressed about leaving our things out. If you are though most of the train stations have large lockers perfect for suitcases.

We slept on mats on the ground and were thankful for the heating. Definitely not a classic 5 star experience but one I will remember forever.

  • Extra Credit:

We ran out of hours in the day but if you have time Nara Park and Todaiji Temple are supposed to be worth the trip. About 45 minutes south of the city center this park hosts thousands of deer that you can feed and a temple in the center. 

Kyoto ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. With its mix of the old and the new you really get to see an interesting side of Japan.

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