Mr. J and I finally got internet up and running on the 3rd, woohoo! Over that weekend a couple of friends and I decided to take a short trip to Kyoto, since the foliage is supposed to be stunning there around this time of year. Up until now I’d only ever visited Kyoto for training with my first company, where all I saw was my hotel room, the boardroom, and a cheap mom and pop izakaya (Japanese-style pub) down the street. So needless to say I was pretty excited to finally have a chance to actually see the old capital after so many years!
Before this trip I’d been one of those stragglers who still hadn’t switched over to an IC train card, and was still buying paper tickets. I’m now the proud owner of an ICOCA card, and can finally use the pass case my host sister bought me for a birthday present as her passive aggressive way to saying, “Get a damn IC card already, will ya?”
Unfortunately the weather was a bit crazy and our navigational skills weren’t top notch. Our group mistakenly thought we’d be able to rely on the trains to get around, but most of the sightseeing you’ll probably do will be by bus. Since we took the trip more for having a good time, relaxing, and nomming as we hopped around to a few of Kyoto’s must sees it wasn’t a big drawback. But depending on how much you plan on cramming in, you might want to buy a one or two day bus pass from the bus terminal office located outside the Central Exit of Kyoto Station.
On national holiday three day weekends, rooms tend to sell out months in advance and hotel prices are sky high. To counter this, we stayed at an old lake house rental through AirBnB, located right on the shore of Lake Biwa. It meant 30-40 minute commute into Kyoto each day, but waking up to the beautiful scenery every morning was well worth it!
The house looked like this:
What an amazing view of the lake. 🙂
Places we visited, in no particular order were:
This is supposed to be one of the many famous sights in Kyoto, but we found it to be mostly a tourist trap. Fortunately the famous pagoda is visible from the outside so you don’t need a ticket unless you’d like to get a closer look. We lucked out because the shrine happened have a free exhibition of Kanransai‘s woodblock print artwork, with the artist there for a book signing appearance. If you like doing omikuji, the shrine has a pretty big variety. More about the shrine here.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
This was one my favorites from the trip. If you visit during summer, you’ll appreciate the cool canopy the bamboo creates. In the middle of the walking path is a railroad crossing, for a cool look at ancient meets modern.
Most people know this shrine as a training and purification ground for maidens preparing for their voyage after to Ise Shrine. The shrine also appears as in the famous literary work, The Tale of Genji. Nowadays it seems to be a couple hot spot, and there was a long line of visiting couples dressed up and waiting to receive the shrine’s blessing for a long, and happy relationship. There are a number of good shops and local eats around the shrine. 🙂 More about the shrine here.
This was another shrine listed on Kyoto’s must-see list, but with the huge crowds and much off the other areas of the temple being closed off, I think if you’re doing Kyoto in a rush you might want to skip it or at least read up a bit on the shrine first before you visit. Still, there was a bit of nice fall foliage to enjoy during our walk through the grounds.
There were flyers all around Arashiyama for this period drama cinema studio-turned amusement park, advertising dress up photo fun while you explored around, and it sounded like it would be pretty fun. In reality it was a bit of a rip off. 😦 The admission fee was supposed to be discounted if you have an ICOCA card, but you can only claim the discount if your ICOCA card is charged with enough money to pay the admission total. On top of that the admission fee, although somewhat pricey, only lets you see some of the shows and you’ll need to pay for all the other attractions. As most shows stop at around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. (even though the park is open until 5:00 p.m.), it’s just tossing away your money unless you arrive early in the morning.
Despite the flyer featuring friends/couples taking dress up shots, in reality the the whole place was geared towards families and kids. Adults need to make a reservation to dress up in advance, as the only rental costumes provided were for children. Instead, we bought some ninja costumes from the store and took silly pictures doing the ninja training zone and some of the other activities. But seeing as we got there mid-afternoon, there wasn’t enough to do to justify how much we’d spent to get in. We also attracted a lot of not-so-positive attention dressing up, although by that point we didn’t really care since we were trying to focus making the most out of our time there.
This was one of the main highlights of our trip, so I definitely recommend that you don’t miss this one! Another nice touch was all the souvenir shops with friendly staff giving out free samples to try. We ended up buying most of our souvenirs at Kinkaku-ji. Try some of the Kyoto-style takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or gold flake ice cream for a different experience. More about the shrine here.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
This is Kyoto’s most popular shrine for a reason! Everything about it from fox spirits guarding the shrine to the insanely long path of torii (traditional Japanese shrine gates) is just plain awesome. It’s easily accessible by train on the Nara line, and there are lots of interesting stalls selling quail and other regular Japanese fare around the shrine area. More about the shrine here. (To avoid confusion, there’s also a similarly named shrine a leisurely walk from Kyoto station that we visited, but all we found there were some hilarious college boys dressed up in drag as they parodied idol songs.)
In between sightseeing there was a lot of wandering, karaoke, and long conversations over good food. Here’s another collage of some of the stuff we filled our bellies with over the trip. :9
The shinkansen ride back was pretty crazy. There are very few unreserved seat cars on the Hikari and Nozomi trains, and because it was the end of a holiday weekend, even the aisles were jam-packed with riders standing with their luggage, making it hard to get on and off.
It seems like the best trips always feel like they ended too soon! So I hope that someday Mr. J and I can visit during the spring to see some of the sights I missed and do all the cute couple stuff you can’t do with just friends. 🙂