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24 January 2018


when we were planning our trip to japan, everyone said how much we'd love kyoto. with its modern mish-mash of tradition and history, big city and village life, we were excited to see what all the fuss was about, and make our minds up for ourselves! we absolutely loved our start in osaka, and day trips to hiroshima and miyajima, but were excited to spend a few days in one place, taking in as much of the surrounds as possible. we packed a lotttt into the two days we spent in kyoto, but made sure we found the time to...

enjoy a traditional ryokan experience
the book and bed hostel
wander through gion's geisha district
visit the yasaka shrine
check out the fushimi inari shrine
do some shopppping in higashiyama
admire kinkakuji
gaze high in the bamboo grove
wander around nishiki market
eat in the dingiest restaurant you can find

stay in a ryokan

staying in the traditional ryokan was on our non-negotiable list. it was one of those things that you just have to do in japan, a bit like drinking champagne in france or eating paella in spain, sleeping on a traditional (say traditional again) tatami mats, with futon mattresses, and wearing complimentary kimono was just something we absolutely had to do. it was costly, but it was worth it. it was just one of the few places that were on our "must-stay" list, alongside..

or at the book and bed hostel

which was anything other than traditional. the hostel was a bit like sleeping in a coffin - but in a good way. imagine a giant bookshelf with bunk beds built in, and that's about what to expect from your stay here. it was certainly a quirky way to stay, and there are only two of these hostels in japan - one in kyoto, and the other in tokyo, and it books out monnnnths in advance, so that gives you an idea of how popular it is. we stayed one night only, and it's just about all i could handle, i think. it was incredibly niche, and i'm glad we stayed, but overheated wooden cubbies don't equal a terribly good night's sleep, and i do love me some sleep!

geisha spotting in gion

gion is kyoto's (and arguably, japan's) most famous geisha district. it's filled with shops, restaurants, and tea houses and is where geisha and maiko (their apprentices) train and entertain their guests. as well as that, there's a whole, weird tourist thing, of dressing in full geisha costume and taking to the streets of kyoto for no other reason than to just.. i dunno, look the part? so at any given time you will be surrounded by costumed humans, never really knowing which are real and which are not. when you do spot a real geisha though, you'll know. there's a very specific air about them that you could never mistake for a character. they sort of glide when they walk, their faces are painted to perfection, and their hair sits atop their beautiful heads like a glorious hat. they'll take your breath away, in the very best kind of way.

take in the yasaka shrine

the yasaka shrine was right by where we stayed on the second night, which was cooool as it's one of the most famous shrines in kyoto. it's right in between the gion and higashiyama districts, so if you're wandering between the two you're bound to walk through it. outside the shrine is a small stage that is covered in hundreds of lanterns that are lit up in the evenings - the words on them are all local businesses who donate to the upkeep of the shrine. it's also one of the best spots to catch a glimpse of the sakura in the spring time, as maruyama park (behind the shrine) is one of the most famed spots in kyoto.

fushimi inari torii

this one is best to get to early, and because of that, i missed out. i blame the sleeping in a wooden box for my missing out, but two of the others managed to make the trip so i'm just being pathetic, i think. the shrine is an important shinto shrine, about 20 minutes south of kyoto. it's famous for its thousands of bright red torii gates, which you will know from just about any movie you've ever seen that features japan, or pop up on my computer's wallpaper every now and then.

higashiyama district

at the foot of kyoto's eastern mountains is one of the prettiest little villages. it's a great place to wander, shopping for souvenirs, experience "old kyoto", navigate the narrow lanes and wooden buildings that now house little tea houses and merchant shops, and indulge in some incredible street food while you do all that. it would only take half an hour or so to make the walk from top to bottom (or other way around), but you can easily spend half a day in the area visiting the various temples, shrines, shops and cafes in the district. we certainly did!

admire kinkakuji

or, the golden temple. named simply because of the colour of which the top two floors are painted, and for that reason alone. the zen temple is in northern kyoto, but only about twenty minutes by train, and is one of the busiest areas of kyoto, so again, you'll want to get there early. the temple itself is a hugely impressive house, built overlooking a stunning pond (those reflections, man!), and is the only building left of yoshimitsu's former retirement complex (he was the shogun, and the temple was left to the rinzai sect of zennism after he died). the temple is surrounded by beautiful gardens and other traditional structures, and is generally just well-worth a visit.

see some really tall bamboo

the arashiyama bamboo grove was hyped up so much for me that when we got there, i was a little let down. not that it wasn't wholly impressive, it is, it just wasn't what i was expecting! the internet will have you believe it's and endless route of sky-high stalks, and some ethereal backdrop for out of this world photos, but what it actually is, is a couple hundred metres of a really, really tall bamboo-lined walkway. i was expecting like, a field of bamboo, i think, a bit like the lavender fields of marseilles, but.. it's nothing like that. it's just a whooole lotta bamboo! and that's great and all, i'm just not that into bamboo, as it turns out. still, some of those stalks are like, really tall. i tried to google how tall, but can't find a number. trust me when i say: they is tall.

eat your way around nishiki ichiba

unlike the bamboo grove, this place did not disappoint. nishiki ichiba is like five blocks long and two blocks wide, and contains more than one hundred traditional food shops and restaurants. there's not denying the reason it's better known as "kyoto's kitchen", as the loud and thriving undercover market specialises in aaaaall things food related - fresh seafood, produce, knives, chopsticks, woks.. you name it, they sells it. it was an awesome place to stock up on japanese specialties like bonito flakes and sesame seeds and actual sakura (cherry blossom) for cooking with. plus: lots of freebies, and lots of street food to eat. it was goooood, i would recommend.

find a dingy restaurant to fill your belly

honestly, our best meal in kyoto was one we found twenty minutes from closing time, in the middle of nishiki, and chose to go into based on how dingy it seemed from the outside. think like, bright halogen lighting, plastic tablecloths, wallpaper peeling off the wall, and four things on the menu. in london, that would sound dire. in japan, that's like, the sign of the best meal of your life because you know that ma and pa who run that shit cook for all their mates everyday and give no shits about the tourists wanting "like, bbq ramen!" and whatever. there were only three words we recognised on the menu, one of which was "katsu" and so guess where we had our first lot of katsu? yes. and it was honestly some of the best food i've ever had, and it set me back about four quid. so, do yourself a favour, and don't judge a book by its cover when it comes to restaurants in japan, because trust me: the grosser-looking ones are the ones you want to eat in.

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