Kyoto. How glad I am that we had another chance to meet. You may remember when I was there in 2014, for a mere 2 days. I wanted this time to be so much better. And it didn't disappoint. We flew from Tokyo to Osaka (with local airline Peach, super cheap no frills although it is pink and purple) and then took the JR train to Kyoto. Super easy and convenient, the Japanese way. We found it extremely hard finding accommodation in Kyoto as it was peak season (and we left it til a month before), I'd highly recommend booking well in advance so as not to pay over the top for airbnb or hotels. We really wanted to stay in a Ryokan - traditional Japanese guesthouse - but all were full and with crazy priced airbnbs we began to look at Hostels. Now at first I was against the idea (even though we had no choice), I thought being in my 30s entitled me to grown up accommodation. However, the place we found was pretty amazing. We stumbled upon Len Hostel, a super friendly, hip hostel that had private rooms as well as dorms with shared bathrooms on every floor. There was a cafe bar in the lobby which served yummy breakfasts and cold beers when you returned home from adventuring. Although it was only open a month when we stayed I believe that it will be kept in great shape, it was really cool and it changed my views on hostel accommodation. The location was great too, very close to city and walking distance to a bicycle rental shop. If ever in Kyoto, I would highly recommend it.
The first thing on our Kyoto 'to-do' list was visit the red gates or Fushimi Inari-taisha to give it the proper name. This is one thing that I know I am sad for missing the last time I visited. So over a soy latte and granola that first Kyoto morning we planned our trip, which it turned out was only a few stops by train from the hostel. Like in Tokyo, the streets are mostly quiet until you reach the tourist spots and boy was there plenty. Here we saw many young girls and boys in traditional dress, couples especially. There was also the snack stands where I may have devoured a delicious fish shaped waffle thing with custard in the middle. The red gates are really impressive when you see them, the way they wind up the mountain is incredible. The hike to the top is not too strenuous and worth it for the lack of other tourists. There are cute little tea shops for refreshments halfway too. It was here that I wished the film in my camera wasn't black & white, the various shades of red were amazing and worthy of a Pentax capture.
The boy wanted to see temples, and one thing Kyoto has in abundance is temples. So day 2 we headed to the bicycle shop and rented some fancy bikes (with baskets, obviously) and headed north. The weather was perfect, sun was shinning and the air was crisp. Ideal for cycling. We headed towards Arashiyama, an area with plenty a temple and a Bamboo Grove to wander through. Fairly touristy but to be expected. The area sits along the river and is very beautiful. The roads in Kyoto are fairly flat which make it super easy to ride around, off the main roads the side streets are filled with cute little shops and restaurants. So many that I feel like I need to go back.
The next day was forecast to rain, so we decided to take a trip out of Kyoto to a neighbouring area. We were recommended the village of Miyama a 2 hour journey (train then bus) from Kyoto. Taking the train to Hiyoshi Station I was slightly anxious about how we were going to get to our destination once we we got off the train, but I needn't have been. There was a friendly bus driver directing us to his bus which then took us to another bus stop, where we waited on a smaller bus to take us to Miyama. True to the forecast the weather was miserable and I was not prepared for how cold it would be. Despite the rain and cold, when we got off the steamed up little bus I was taken back by how cute the landscape was. Just like the images we had seen Miyama was a village of gorgeous little thatched cottages set into green hills. Following signs we headed for the Folk Museum, a little community run house which served hot tea whilst you sat on tatami mats. There was a small entrance fee, but worth it. In keeping with my plan to stay out of the rain we followed the sign to the cafe, where our fellow tourists were hiding. It was cute and cozy with delicious homemade pudding and an adorable lady behind the counter ( I really love Japanese people). As well as wishing I had worn my Uniqlo heattech, I couldn't help but wish we'd come on at least a dry day . For the we could have done some wandering.
Whilst waiting on the bus back to the train station I was flicking through the leaflet the little lady in the museum gave me (also adorable) which was highlighting the best spots in the area. It was here that we learned of the Hiyoshi Hot Springs - hello! count me in. The springs were a 10-15 minute walk from the station (head right out the station, then through the tunnel) and are located in front of a fairly impressive damn. The springs are located in a swimming pool complex and as I was a first timer I was unaware of the 'rules'. Which was why I spent 10 minutes stressing about a lack of costume. Rule #1 - do not wear swimming costume. Man I felt stupid. But along with the nervousness of being starkers in front of little old ladies the stupidity slipped away when I sank into the hot, hot bath. That night we joined some friends at a tiny Korean BBQ place, Aje where we sat on tatami and stuffed our jackets and bags in giant white plastic bags. A necessity to reduce the fried meat smell from lingering. It was very delicious and the beer helped too.
Kyoto has an old world sort of charm, like a small village. The streets are small yet filled with restaurants and bars. You can roam around for hours in and out of streets, especially in Gion where you may even see a Geisha or two. Coming back to Kyoto I was excited to visit the vintage stores from my last visit. I really wanted to buy a kimono, like REALLY wanted. The best shop I found in the centre was Chicago ( the have various outlets across Japan) which had a whole floor dedicated to traditional dress for women and men. Lots of dressing up can be done in there, believe me. The prices range from affordable to high depending on the style. There was so many gorgeous floor length kimonos but realistically I knew I would only stare at it rather than wear it. (which wouldn't be bad thing) What I did find though was a Haori - a jacket for over the kimono. It's the perfect length and its monochrome colour makes it easy to wear with anything. Only problem is its now too hot to wear it, roll on Autumn. Side note: had some really tasty ramen (claims to be the best in Kyoto) across from the Three Star vintage store. Gyoza were pretty good too.
I was sad to leave Japan, I truly was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. I think I might want to live there. Never say never.
Til next time.
All photos are by me.
Black & White - Pentax K100, All others iPhone 5.