Saturday – Wednesday
Saturday: After carrying the JR Pass around with us for over two months we finally had the chance to exchange the voucher for a ticket and start traveling on the Bullet Trains. The JRPass is a tourist deal only purchasable from outside Japan and in advance of your time here, which enables you to travel as much as you want on the high speed trains for a select amount of time. In our case 14 days. It’s not cheap ($450/pp/14days economy travel), but if you’re planning to zip from city to city and want to reserve seats, it makes sense.
By the time we got from Tokyo to Kyoto it was around 5pm and once we had checked into our place (a small studio space with kitchen and washing machine in the Gion district called Laon Inn Gion Shinmonzen) we met some friends from SF (also traveling in Japan) for drinks and food.
Sunday: Things on our to do list for the city were to generally wander around and take in the city, go see a Shrine or two, learn more about Sake, and visit some gardens which should be in the transition to Fall and therefore pretty in the color scheme.
Our first stop was walking to the Imperial Palace Gardens which had gardens and a palace. I think it’s a sign of old age when you voluntarily go see a stately home and gardens. Clearly I’ve come to that stage in my life. It was pretty interesting – no, really.
Walking too and from the gardens took us through a nice residential area with small streets, local stores and a mix of old and new architecture and a nice contrast to the Gion district which has a lot of older style buildings.
We hit Nishiki market which is a *bit* of a tourist trap but good to do on our first trip here. It’s a long city block of a street market which has food stalls and gift shops. I was about to eat my own arm so T shoved some carbs down my throat before a passed out and from there we headed for some more substantial food.
Working from another list of recs we found Isuzu which was a Kyoto style sushi bar at the edge of Gion area. The style differs from the traditional in that it doesn’t have wasabi or soy sauce. Strange I hear you say – well yes, but not so weird. It made the flavors of the fish come out more and was a touch sweeter than the usual dish. After so much walking we headed back to the room the have a quick disco nap.
Living on the edge and embracing the holiday spirit we headed out for a cheeky cocktail. We found a very fancy drinks place (ITS GION 2 Deux) in the older Gion neighborhood which served very nice and what turned out to be very expensive drinks. Four drinks took care of the whole day’s food budget. F*ck It: we’re on holiday.
Monday: Monday was shrine day and we headed to Fushimi Inari Shrine, along with the rest of the tourists in Kyoto. The shrine is famous as having 1000 red gates wrapped around a mountain which you can walk through and be enchanted, and blessed, at the same time. Luckily 60% of the tourists couldn’t be bothered to (or couldn’t) walk to to the top of the hill which made it less of a crush for us the further we walked.
We wrapped up the day with our friends K and R at a great soba noodle place called Sobanomi Yoshimura.
Tuesday: Tuesday was International Sake Day (actually I made that up), but it was the day that we went to a Sake museum to learn about the art of making it. We went to Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum which was in the Fushimi district of the city. Super interesting and we also had a tasting. T learnt some interesting facts for his archive and felt more educated on the subject.
We followed this up was a visit to a local micro brewery there called Matsui Sake Brewery (I told you it was a sake day). This gem of a place was 30 mins north of Fushimi in the heart of Kyoto and remains a family run business. There was no tour, but there was a tasting, with large pours. We left 30 mins later drunk and ready to start a sake importing business in SF.
We ended the day with an Airbnb *experience* Walking tour called Lanterns and Lanes which would take us on a 3 hour walking and food tour of the Gion (Geisha) district plus some more temples, and shrines finishing up with some food. The tour was great and took us to some new neighborhoods. T gathered even more facts and we felt like we got a good intro to the city.
Kyoto is such a contrast to Tokyo in its vibe and style of architecture. It’s a really calm, beautiful and traditional place with many ‘hoods to explore than we had time for. We both left wanting to return for a re run.