A Weekend in Kyoto

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As an avid Memoirs of a Geisha fan, Kyoto is probably the place I was most excited about visiting in Japan. I could not wait for this weekend in Kyoto to get started;  there was so much in my head that I’d envisaged from reading the book that I was unbelievably excited to see in real life.

In less than 1.5 hours we had traveled from Kobe to Kyoto via the bullet train thanks to our Japan Rail Pass – these were invaluable for our trip and saved us a fortune. As with our other rail journeys in Japan we just had to book our seats a couple of days in advance to ensure we got the train time desired; it was the Rugby World Cup whilst we were in Japan, this meant it was an extra busy time so pre-booking was essential.

Located in the Shimogyo Ward, WeBase Kyoto was our home for the weekend. As with other hostels we booked a private room, this one was with a shared shower room which is always a little nerve racking but being Japan we knew it would be spotless and it was!

Our room was small but perfectly formed with a double bed with storage underneath and a sink. The hostel itself had a large communal room with a kitchen and a continental style breakfast was included in the rate which is always a bonus.

With just a weekend in Kyoto I couldn’t wait to get started, so after a good nights sleep we were up and out early doors for our first day exploring this cultural hub.

Day One
When I think of Kyoto two images come to mind; geiko (geisha) and the shrine with a thousand orange coloured torii gates – Fushimi Inari-Taisha.

Therefore it was only fitting that this was our first port of call, nice and early to try and avoid the crowds as this is the number one tourist hub in the region not to mention it’s popularity for locals, and school groups etc. As soon as we arrived I was amazed by this place, the torii gates are so vibrant and it’s so peaceful as you walk through the woodland, and all the way up Mount Inari to the summit.

Not all visitors walks up the mountain and just see the lower shrines for photo ops, this means it does get quieter the further you get away from head shrine at the base of the mountain. If you are going to visit though I implore you to take in the full experience, it’s about a 2-3 hours round walk and so worth it.

Located in the same area is Tofukuji Temple, so after our Mount Inari walk we grabbed a couple of tasty mochi balls (my fave!) and popped to over to this Zen temple as we’d heard wonderful things about the autumnal maple trees viewable from the Tsutenkyo Bridge. It was a tad too early in the season for lots of reds and oranges but nonetheless it was still nice to explore the complex.

Next we made for Nijo Castle, this UNESCO world heritage site is split into Ninomaru and Honmaru Palaces, with the first being open to the public.

An English audio guide walks you through a number of beautiful rooms decorated in stunning Japanese art –  no photographs are permitted inside so google ‘Ninomaru Palace audience rooms’ and take a look for yourself!

After all this walking we needed a pick me up so we found the lovely Kammee Coffee for tea and cake before heading back to WeBase for some down time. Later in the evening we popped road the corner to Imu Hotel for happy hour prosecco and a bite to eat.

Day Two
This morning I woke up extremely excited because after breakfast we were off to Kyoto Maikoya located in the historic Gion district for  a Tea Ceremony and Kimono Experience. On arrival at Maikoya we were whisked off to get into a stunning kimono and have our hair done, this alone was a wonderful experience surrounded by expert staff who were so welcoming.

Next up our group were led to the traditional tatami tea room where we were taught, by a wonderful and very knowledgeable tea master, all about the culture and history behind the tea ceremony and then she went through the process where she made Japanese green tea for us all, we then drunk this accompanied with eating Japanese sweets.

The whole process was fascinating and a wonderful way to be immersed in traditional Japanese culture, I was so giddy with excitement for the rest of the day!

Following the ceremony we walked around Gion taking in the cobbled streets and traditional Machiya houses. Gion is the entertainment district of Kyoto where if you’re fortunate you may see a geiko or maiko.

Just across the river is Ponto-chō, a long alleyway filled with bars and restaurants serving wonderful Japanese food. In addition there are a number of teahouses here where guests are entertained by maiko and geiko. For lunch we swung by Musashi Sushi before making for the Shinkyogoku Shopping District and Nishiki Market to do some souvenir shopping.

In the evening we headed back to Ponto-chō for a traditional Japanese meal and wander about in the night time. We were extremely lucky to see two geiko headed to/from appointments whilst exploring the alleyway – trip made!

Day Three
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was today’s main activity, located out of town we had to get a bus to the location which meant it we got there a little later than we’d have liked, this meant it was rather busy. Nonetheless the bamboo grove was amazing to see, and well worth the visit.

Once back in the city ramen was on the agenda as yet we hadn’t had one whilst in Japan and being a local cuisine it was a must. We’d heard about Kyoto Ramen Street, a corridor of ramen noodle shops located inside Kyoto Station, so naturally we headed there for lunch. Being English speakers and seeing as I’m a vegetarian we struggled at first as the order points are automatic and somewhat a gamble if you are going to get a meat ramen, but thankfully we found a place with some pretty helpful staff who assured me they’d make sure mine was just a veggie ramen. After lunch we headed to Higashi Hongan-ji and Nishi Hongan-ji, two Buddhist temples located in the Shimogyō ward to conclude our sightseeing in Kyoto.

In the evening we watched Wales vs France in the Rugby World Cup before hitting the hay and getting up early for our train to Kobe! Visiting Kyoto was a dream come true for me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit for a second time if we are ever lucky enough to be in Japan again.

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