It was a trillion times more expensive than other transport options but no trip to Japan is complete without experiencing the speed of a bullet train. We were lucky enough to ride on Nozomi the fastest service on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen line. It was so fast my photos looked like this…
I got a vending machine drink for the ride and chose a can of something without a brand name or any English writing. Turns out it was sake, so incredibly strong it was undrinkable. I had better luck with my next adventurous vending machine choice, a tasty hot chocolate which I chose because of the cute illustrations on the can.
Accommodation is special in Japan and even hostels feel like luxury. My dorm bed at Shiori-an was more like a little room with curtain, plug, lamp and even coat hangers. The friendly hostel boasts a kitchen, TV room, bath tubs and free toiletries galore. In contrast to what I’ve experienced in other countries, I was surprised to find a large number of old Japanese people staying in mixed dorms. I made friends with a lovely lady from Hiroshima who was in Kyoto for a flower arrangement expo. We spent the evening together chatting like old friends despite not having a clue what the other was saying.
Compared to Osaka, Kyoto is a whole other world. While Osaka is full of bright lights and weird and wonderful things, Kyoto is how I imagine traditional Japan. Old traditional houses line the streets of the Gion district, temples litter the hills around. Shops offer arts and crafts and good food is plentiful.
I’m currently sat in a quaint little Japanese tea house overlooking the stream flowing alongside the Path of Philosophy, a beautiful walk with temples, tea houses and museums about famous philosophers.
I’m the only one in here listening to the soft music while enjoying a milk tea and complimentary matcha sweet. I stopped at this tea house because it holds a large collection of railway train figures which I thought was quite random and anything odd deserves a visit.
On my way I picked up some hand painted postcards from a cute old lady including the one she was working on. I also passed a wooden cart full of cats, it was so totally odd just sat there amongst the autumn leaves.
Last night Joanna and I went to a chain restaurant close to our hostel where you order on a touch screen machine – very common in Japan! I tend to just click away and hope for the best, it’s like a surprise not really knowing what we are going to get. I needn’t have been hasty about being a “chain” restaurant (a big no no for me back home!) because it was delicious, just like all food in Japan!
A typical set meal includes rice, a main dish, miso soup, vegetables/salad, tempura and a small fillet of mackerel or some sort of fish. Set meals like this are incredibly common in Japan which is great because I love trying lots of different things.
I only had two full days in Kyoto so it was pretty full on and required a touristy-style of travel, something I’m not used to and found it hard to adjust, always running out of time.
Like the rest of my family, I think cycling is the best way to get around so I rented a bike for the day. I made my way to Inari Village where I caught my first glimpse of the Kyoto everyone had been telling me about. Unlike in Osaka I noticed a fair few tourists around but it didn’t both me one bit. Most of them were Japanese anyway and the food and shops presumingly for tourists sold the most beautiful things. There was no tat to be seen.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is well worth a visit but be prepared to spend a good few hours there as the complex is huge. I lost my bag en route and the lovely security guard helped me look for it but with no luck. An hour or so later I walked back past the happiness/good fortune table I had previously made a wish at by writing on a special stick and placing it in the temple.
It seems it was well worth the money because my bright pink Hello Kitty bag was on the table exactly where I had left it. They’re right when people say Japan is one of the safest countries to visit. I left my inexpensive goods in my bike basket all day and not one thing was stolen – this was on purpose as I often do this in countries I visit as a “test” to determine the cultural morals – weird I know but it’s one of my little things I do to uncover local culture.
I spotted heaps of “geishas” in Kyoto’s Gion district but I’m uncertain if they were the real deal as it’s common for young girls to play dress up and parade around the area.
I made sure I sampled plenty of traditional Kyoto foods like grilled glutinous dumpling balls in soy sauce, matcha mochi cakes and cinnamon cookies. Lunch mainly consisted of hot Udon noodles or curry to keep me warm in the cold autumn chill.
If you’re planning a visit in autumn, I highly recommend seeing the night time illuminations at some of the temples around town. I went to Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji temple and saw an incredible display of autumn leaves.
I followed the crowds to Arashiyama which can be described as nothing but a tourist circus unless you walk up river and head to Kameyama Park like I did. I had a beautiful walk around looking at the bright autumn leaves and especially enjoyed walking through the bamboo forest.
That evening I was joined by a bunch of international travellers and workers from the hostel for dinner at a local restaurant where our food was cooked for us at our tables thanks to the request of one of the locals we were with. We shared a selection of items from the menu washed down with my new favourite drink, plum liquor.
One thing you must know about travelling in Japan is that accommodation gets booked up fast. Unlike South East Asia, Australia and even Europe, you do have to book ahead in Japan, a big no no for most freedom-hungry backpackers. I failed to do so and found myself homeless at 11pm on a busy Friday night. Luckily Japan has a number of weird and wonderful options if you find yourself needing a last minute bed for the night. There are pay-by-the-hour love hotels, 24hr private karaoke booths and my chosen home for the evening, a Manga/Internet café.
Media Café Popeye (see blog post by Grrrltraveller here) can be describe as utterly surreal. Imagine a huge library stocked full of colourful books with comic drawings inside. There are a number of private booths in the middle of the hall which you can rent out for the hour or night. I chose a flat Japanese-style booth with no chair but the floor was padded so worked as a great mattress.
I paid 3560.yen for 10 hours which I thought was rather pricey to sleep in what was technically a library with a loud hum of PC’s and a wash room you had to pay extra for. I did get unlimited refills of over 50 types of soft drink though and stayed up until 1am drinking hot chocolate and slushies.
It was a surprisingly good nights sleep and what would have been considered a bad situation, with not having anywhere to sleep, turned out to be a fantastic experience. Try it for yourself!
I had a great time in Kyoto, a must visit destination on anyone’s Japan itinerary. I did feel a bit like a tourist I have to admit, but you can certainly escape the crowds and with most tourists being Japanese, you still feel like you’re somewhere magical.
Living life, loving Kyoto,