The best things to do on your first trip to Kyoto (Part 1)

Over the past few months I’ve explored the rural northern parts of Kyoto including the fishing town of Ine and the beautiful beach of Amanohashidate, but in this post I’d like to highlight the main tourist spots from my earlier archives just for reference.

I first visited Kyoto in 2013 during my study abroad trip in Japan, and returned in late 2015 for a visit during my epic job search.  I now visit Kyoto 3-4 times per year for music events (mainly at Metro) and also for eating aesthetic food.

The longer I live in Japan, the more I come to appreciate this peaceful city.  From nearly anywhere in Kyoto you can see the mountains and be reminded of the beautiful terrain this country has.  As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto has almost everything you could want in a place to live; shopping centers, street food, temples filled with years history, and a variety of night clubs.  Not to mention Nintendo HQ!  Though Tokyo has the most opportunity for foreigners, I often fantasize about what my life would be like if I lived here.  It definitely would be an exciting one~

Here are my recommendations on things to see during your first trip to Kyoto:

The Golden Pavilion

Out of all the building structures I’ve seen in Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is by far the most breathtaking.  Built overtop a pond, you can see it shining elegantly with its gold leaf coating during any time of the year.  I first came here in Autumn when it shone with a beautiful contrast to the leaves that were turning a bright shade of red.  The best time to come is during the golden hour (5pm) because the lighting is optimal and you can see a perfect reflection of it on the water.  Though you are not allowed to enter the pavilion, you can still admire its impressive design from afar.  I learned from the pamphlet I was given the gold lacquer is thought to dispel and purify pollution and negative thoughts.  Being here definitely put my mind at ease and I think it’s somewhere that everyone should visit at least once.  I have never seen any other place that’s as gold as this besides the Golden Buddha in Nara.

Access

From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Line to Kita-Oji Station then Bus 205 to the Kinkakuji Bus Stop.  This costs 490 yen and takes 30 mins.

Entrance Fee: 400 yen

Fushimi Inari

The best way I can think to describe Fushimi Inari is “a shrine of shrines”.  If you want to experience one of the biggest shrine networks surrounded by nature in Japan, then all travel guides will point you here.  Similar to the Golden Pavilion (but much more red in color), there is really no place quite like here.  You will be stunned by the thousands of red torii gates and trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Inari.  The climb takes about 2.5 hours to reach from the base.  You will notice that there are many fox statues here which are said to be the messengers of the shrine.  Though this place is a tourist hotspot, I definitely recommend it.  If you are looking for a less crowded shrine, you can try going to Daigoji in Kyoto too because it is similarly red and historical.

Access

From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line to Inari Station.  This only takes 5 mins and costs 150 yen.

Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Nintendo HQ

niten
Where it all began.

Before I came to Japan most of my time was spent gaming or watching anime. I have some of my best adolescent memories and have met many friends through Nintendo games and events. So coming here—to the main HQ building of Nintendo in Kyoto—was surreal to me.  Of course you’re not allowed to enter, but you can walk by the building and are free to take pictures.  There is not much else to see in this district, but this building is definitely worth seeing if you’re a Nintendo fan.

Access

From Shiokoji Takakura bus stop near Kyoto Station, you can take Bus 205 to Kyoto Shiyakushomae and walk 3 mins there.  You can also take a cheap taxi or rent bikes to get here.

Address: 11-1 Kamitoba Hokodatecho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8501

In Part 2 of this article I will be talking more about the touristy things I did in Kyoto when I first moved to Japan.  Often people look down upon tourism, but it is essential to the economy of most Asian countries and also has been valuable in my understanding of the culture here.  You should never feel ashamed for being a tourist.

The Best Pug and Gaming Cafes in Kyoto

After eating the legendary floating noodles and having some aesthetic dining experiences in Kyoto, I figured I’d point out two of my favorite cafes there as well.  They both involve two of my favorite things: small animals & videogames so naturally I had to check them out.  I will be detailing my experiences below so hopefully more people will decide to visit!

Pug Cafe Living Room

Pug Cafe Living Room is a small space where you can interact with adorable little pugs dressed in colorful jerseys.  It was opened in the living room of the Japanese family’s house who owns it and currently there are 15 friendly pugs that reside there.  The system is very simple; you pay 1500 yen to enter and you have a full hour to play with the pugs.  The entry fee includes treats so naturally the pugs will come to you if you feed them!  They are quite energetic so it was difficult for me to take photos, but I really enjoyed my time here.  You can extend your visit for 500 yen per 30 minutes if you wish.  The cafe is a bit more crowded on the weekends but I was able to walk in on a Saturday and not have any wait time.  Be sure to check their calendar to see if they are open because they do have some irregular holidays.  If you are a pug lover, this is an experience that you can’t miss.

Access

151 Katsurakawatacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 615-8017

Cafe la Siesta

Cafe la Siesta is a retro gaming cafe located in central Kyoto with 8bit-themed drinks, old school games, music events, and more!  I lucked out by coming here on a Wednesday night when all of the arcade games were free to play.  I ordered a Space Invader drink that had Crab-shaped ice cubes which was highly aesthetic and tasted awesome.  The wall of cartridges was also quite fun to check out because their collection of games was massive.  I’ve been to many gaming bars in Asia, but this and Space Station in Osaka are  my favorites due to the friendliness of the staff and the welcoming atmosphere (not to mention the interior decor).  I was only here for a short time but got the perfect buzz.

Access

366 Kamiyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8024

The Tale of the Floating Noodles (Kyoto)

Last August during the Mountain Day holiday weekend, I ventured to the riverside village of Kibune in Kyoto to try their legendary floating noodles.  These somen noodles are very unique because they float down a bamboo shoot directly to your table and are chilled to cool you down during summer season.  It’s definitely a dining experience worth having if you enjoy Japanese food!  In this article I will be highlighting my summer experience in Kyoto and will hopefully inspire more people to travel here.

*For reference, Mountain Day is a relatively new national holiday that was announced in 2014.  It honors the mountainous terrains of this country and most Japanese companies give this day as paid holiday (making it a three day weekend most years).  It occurs August 11th.  Be aware that this weekend is usually travel-heavy, but you can still see and do a lot if you plan your trip accordingly.

Floating Noodles at Hirobun (in Kibune)

Kibune is a popular resort destination that attracts large numbers of Japanese couples and families each year (which I didn’t realize beforehand), but is also home of the famous Hirobun restaurant that serves floating somen noodles from a bamboo shoot.  As the noodles float to your seat, you can stealthily grab with your chopsticks and eat them with soy sauce.  Though people make it out to be a challenge, it’s actually not that difficult and the restaurant staff will adjust the speed if they see you are having trouble.  The last batch of noodles is marked pink so you know when your course is over.  We paid around 2000 yen for a noodle course with dessert and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

The main con of this was the three hour wait time…  Unfortunately this activity is so popular in the summer that it attracts hundreds of people per day and there are limited seats at the floating somen table.  There is no reservation system, so you must show up in person to write your name on a wait list in order of who arrived first.  We arrived around 12pm and already there were many people ahead of us.  However, the plus side is that there are so many things to see in Kibune that you can easily leave and come back when it is close to your turn.

While we waited, we walked around the river, tried some ice cream from a local confectionery, and hiked by the Kibune Shrine Okumiya so we could test our luck.  There is also the nearby Kurumadera Temple and hotspring that you can visit to kill time.  If you think about it, three hours in nature really goes by quickly.  It would be a lot more mundane if we had to wait that long for a restaurant in the city.  At first I hesitated about waiting, but now I’m so happy that I did because I got to experience pretty much everything Kibune has to offer.

Getting to Kibune

From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line Rapid Miyakoji to Tofukuji Station, then the Keihan Main Line Semi-Express to Demachiyanagi Station Station, then the Eizan Main Line Local to Kibuneguchi Station.  From here you can take a local bus to the shrine.  Though it involves a few transfers, the journey only takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1020 yen making it the perfect day trip from Kyoto.

If you are looking for more travel recommendations in Kyoto, please check my Arashiyama, Amanohashidate, and Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto articles!

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

21106474_10212424504239079_3534490303559010146_n
Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

Aesthetic Food Finds in Kansai Vol. 1

Here is a collection of recent aesthetic food finds in the Kansai region of Japan focusing on Kyoto and Osaka (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!

AKICHI

While wearing a butterfly-patterned dress, I managed to find butterfly ice cream at AKICHI in Namba (Osaka) that perfectly matched my drip.  This colorful little alley functions as both a photo space covered in murals and a nook full of bakeries and cafes.  I tried the strawberry and vanilla milk-flavored ice cream from Deglab; the “soft cream laboratory”.  Not only was it topped with an elegant white chocolate butterfly and edible pearls,  but it was also mouthwatering delicious!  It felt like a dream come true.  There is also a tapioca shop and bakery upstairs if you are looking for other desserts, but the ice cream is some of the best in town.

Wagurisenmon Saori

There’s nothing like eating a bowl of noodles in Kyoto.  Or a Mont Blanc ice cream dessert disguised as noodles, because that makes perfect sense.  At Wagurisenmon Saori in downtown Kyoto, you can confuse your taste buds by digging into these dessert noodles with a spoon and tasting a thick layer of cake and ice cream below.  Kansai cooking is nothing short of amazing:

The taste of this dessert was average due to the “noodles” being somewhat tasteless, but as an aesthetic food enthusiast I could not pass this opportunity up.  Definitely try it if you like the concept, but regular Mont Blanc sold in French bakeries throughout Japan taste a lot better and are cheaper.  I will never forget this experience though.

Jinen Sushi

img_5109

All of my Japanese friends that travel to Osaka continually talk about butter unagi (eel) sushi, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I’ve eaten eel many times and think that it’s tasty and a good source of protein, but the downside is it’s considerably expensive compared to other foods.  However, Jinen Sushi offers a pretty good deal on their nigiri and sushi rolls and you can order them individually.  I eagerly ordered the unagi butter and confirmed that it was worth the hype.  Eel normally has somewhat of a tough texture, but the sticks of butter add a softness to it that you normally wouldn’t expect.  Because you can only get this in Osaka, I ordered another round.  In America butter is a normal topping found in mass quantities, but here it’s far less common so you really treasure moments like this.

Happy Labo Popcorn

While I was going to a show in Osaka one day, I noticed mysterious steam coming from a street vendor.  Curious to see what it was, I was surprised to find that it was actually frozen rainbow popcorn that turns your breath white!  Happy Labo Popcorn definitely has a unique theme going for it and sells some interesting ice cream too.  Usually I’m not a fan of flavored popcorn, but when frozen it actually has a sweet but still mild taste.  It’s definitely attention-grabbing and fun to walk around with.

Cocochi Cafe

I was browsing Instagram one day when I came across an orange on my feed, but it wasn’t just an ordinary orange.  It was an orange (wait for it)… WITH A FACE.  Not just any face, but it had googly eyes and mustache.  Truly blessed with poise and perfect symmetry.  Whatever it was, I had to order it.  My aesthetic food journey took me to Cocochi Cafe in Kyoto which is a cozy dessert place near the Imperial Palace.  I can proudly say that drinking orange juice out of an orange with a handsome face is one of my biggest life accomplishments.  There is also a cute dog at this cafe that is happy to greet you!

JTRRD Cafe

JTRRD Cafe started out as a small restaurant in Osaka that eventually became so popular that it opened branches in Kyoto and Nagoya mainly due to its patterned rainbow smoothies.  Unfortunately the day I went they were out of ingredients for the smoothies, but I still enjoyed the paprika curry and omelet rice (which I shared with a friend because the serving size was so big).  It was probably some of the best curry I have ever tasted due to the way it was seasoned.  Paprika is truly an underrated ingredient.  Next time I come back to this area, I will make an effort to try the famed smoothies too!

Panbo

By this point I’ve experienced a lot of unique desserts in Japan, but pancake skewers are a new thing to me.  At Panbo Osaka, you can choose the size of skewer you want (which consists of mini pancakes and fruits on a stick) then add chocolate, sprinkles, and other toppings to flavor it.  The mini pancakes are surprisingly filling, and the marshmallow at the top makes me feel like I’m at a campfire.  Speaking of camping…

Hammock Cafe

Picture a hammock cafe where you can relax and drink with your friends in hammocks.  Now picture that same cafe with all you can drink alcohol.  Welcome to Revarti Osaka, maybe one of the best watering holes in all of Japan.  I’ve been to hammock cafes in Tokyo before, but they sure didn’t have the all you can drink option (maybe they will in the future, but this place was way more relaxed).  I was brought here with my bartender friend from Space Station, and with a group of 4 people I’m pretty sure we only paid around 1500 yen each.  They had everything from wine to high balls to vodka cocktails too so I indulged in everything.  We also tried dunking crackers into chocolate fondue with huge marshmallows baked into it.  This was by far one of my best drinking experiences in Osaka that was followed by a 12 hour party at club dapnia.  A night I will never forget!

The Longest Softcream in Japan

At Long Softcream on American Street in Osaka, you can eat the longest soft-serve ice cream in Japan standing at a whopping 40cm.  But be quick~  It will melt fast if you try to eat it during the summer.  The irony is perhaps compared to the average size of American desserts, it’s not so long after all.  The taste is pretty ordinary, but I bought it mainly for the meme factor.  I will be writing more in detail about the wacky things you can find on American Street in the future because this is just the beginning!

BONUS: Individually Sealed Sliced Pieces of Bread

img_5106

I can’t remember exactly where this place was, but the fact that it sells individually sealed sliced pieces of bread is simply amazing.  All it needs is a side of unagi butter!

EDIT: The location is Sakimoto Bakery in Osaka.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Kansai.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing Volume 2 focused on Nagoya in the near future.

 

 

Journey to Amanohashidate: Kyoto’s Picturesque Sandbar

img_4985
View of Amanohashidate from Kasamatsu Park’s ropeway.

Due to the abrupt school closure and cancellation of public events put into effect by the Japanese government as prevention of the Corona Virus spread last week, I suddenly found myself with an abundance of free time.  Not wanting to waste this newfound freedom, I decided to hit up my friends in Kansai and see what the situation was like in the west.  As predicted, they informed me that there were noticeably less tourists around Kyoto and the prices of hotels had dropped drastically.  This was my chance!  Avoiding the public areas where the usual masses occupy (and now an increase of students too), I set my sights on a remote sandbar located in northern Kyoto: Amanohashidate.

If you follow my adventures, you’ll know that I went to Amanohashidate last year after Nanoboro Festa in August (see An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto).  However, because I visited the fishing village of Ine first that day, it was already dark when I reached Amanohashidate and I could only take pictures of the highly aesthetic neon-colored beach.  It was definitely worth the trip, but this time I wanted to arrive during the day time so I could take pictures from the top of the ropeway.  The ropeway is at the north end of the sandbar located in Kasamatsu Park, so you must arrive before 5pm if you want to get to the top.  Fortunately I made it there early and managed to take a lot of awesome photos!

I arrived at Amanohashidate Station from Kyoto Station around 2pm and decided to walk on the beach for a while.  It was windy and a bit chilly, but the coast was still beautiful to see because the sun was out.  All shops still seemed to be in operation here, and it was easy to ask people at the tourist center for directions.  A few Japanese tourists were here in addition to myself, but the numbers were considerably less than the summer.  I was happy because that meant I had the optimal photo opportunity.  I found it funny how Amanohashidate has an anime girl personification in addition to a cute pinecone mascot!

For lunch I grabbed a kani meshi (krab rice) bento and a small selection of sushi from Kyoto Station.  See my Tentacle Bento Article for more information about the best on-the-go lunches in Kyoto.  In addition to octopus, crab here is also amazing (sorry, Mr. Krabs)!

To cross the sandbar, you can either rent a bike for 200 yen/2 hours and ride 20 mins to the other side, or take a boat ride for 600 yen and cross it in 10 mins (from the Amanohashidate Official Tourism website).  I’m normally a biker, but since it was windy I opted for the boat ride.  A family and their dog joined me so I wasn’t alone.  Kasamatsu Park is just a short walk from Ichinomiya Pier and the chair lift is very fun to ride.

Here is footage from my GoPro of the sandbar and the chairlift.  It’s really amazing to see how big Kyoto is:

At the souvenir shop at the top of the mountain I found some nice oddities.  The pinecone nuts were very interesting, and even more so were the pastries with a design of a person staring at you while bent over.  Apparently this is the pose many people use in their photos with the sandbar when they reach the top.  I guess it looks cool because you can see the sandbar inbetween your legs but… why?  Stay weird, Japan.

After riding back down the chairlift, I spent my remaining time on the beach as planned.  I highly recommend coming here in the summer if you have time because it gives you some of the best views of Kyoto.  I would like to come in the summer again and attempt to go swimming here!

Access

Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto 626-0001 (from Amanohashidate Station)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, take the Hashidate Limited Express 5 towards Toyo-Oka.  This costs around 5000 yen but it has the fewest transfers and will get you there in 2 hours.  The express train also has an antique vibe to it and is fun to see.

I will be writing about fun places in Kansai as well as the all you can drink capsule hotel I found in central Kyoto next.  The fear of the virus has not stopped my traveling or events organized by my friends even though large scale events such as Anime Japan have been cancelled.  Please remember that it’s safe to travel in Japan if you continually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and practice good hygeine.

A Lovely Day Trip to Kyoto’s Heart-shaped Temple: Shojuin

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0398.JPG
A look through the heart-shaped window at Shojuin Temple in Ujitawara, Kyoto.

Immortal HeartI’ve been to Kyoto many times in many different seasons, but this month was the first time I’ve ever been to the remotely located heart-shaped temple called Shojuin in Ujitawara.  Amidst the fear of the corona virus, I was worried this temple may be closed like many other facilities in Japan, but I was fortunate to travel during a time when it was still open.  Located in a rural area accessible by bus from Uji Station, you will find that the view through the window is well worth the trip.  Even though I visited during the winter, I managed to take a lot of quality photos and learn about its history with only a few other Japanese tourists around me.

I arrived to the temple around 2pm when I predicted there would be optimal sunlight.  The weather was raining on and off but due to the way Shojuin is constructed, the light always falls through the heart-shaped window.  The temple consists of a few small building complexes but everything can easily be seen within 40 minutes.  Tea and a light snack are provided with the entrance fee as well as an explanation of the history as the inome window.  The word “inome” refers to a heart shape motif commonly found in Japanese temples and Buddhism.  The definition literally means “eye of the wild boar” in Japanese (which is said to be heart-shaped so it makes sense in theory).  It could also refer to the lime trees with heart-shaped leaves that are closely associated with Buddhism.  I have uploaded the English explanation I was given for reference if anyone wishes to investigate it further.

The inome window is also nicknamed the “Window of Happiness” making it the ideal place to pray for peace and love.  Though I do not consider myself a religious person, coming to this temple was a truly bright experience to me.  In addition to the window, there are also over 160 art tiles on the ceiling painted in brilliant colors.  While I was taking pictures, it started snowing for a brief period through the window.  This was my first time all year seeing snow in Japan, so it is a special moment I’ll never forget:

Though I was only here for around an hour and a half, I feel like I had the chance to witness this temple during all four seasons.  During my time here it rained, snowed, turned overcast, then sunlight came out right before it closed.  It was amazing!  The people around me couldn’t believe it either.  Just like my Quest to the Tower of the Sun, this also felt like an experience pulled straight from a video game.  I highly recommend this temple to everyone visiting Kyoto, because it’s not nearly as touristy or crowded as the Golden Pavilion or Kiyomizu-dera.

During the summer there is a wind chime festival here as well.  Please check the official Kyoto Tourism website for more information.

Access

294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
Entrance Fee: 400 yen (includes tea and sweets)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, ride the Nara Line to Obaku Station, then ride the Uji Line to Uji Station.  From Uji Station, take the Keihan Bus to Ichumae Bus Stop.  Please note that Google Maps will suggest you to take a taxi to Shojuin Temple from this point, which I did on the way there for 2000 yen, but there is a “community bus” (which actually a small white van) that I missed which is free.  On the way back, I walked with some friendly Japanese girls from Hyogo to the free bus stop.  The bus stop looks like a shack that belongs to someone’s backyard because Uji is very rural, but we managed to find it with teamwork.  Keep your eyes out for the iconic heart-shaped bus stop that leads you to the magical heart-shaped temple (this is the best travel advice I’ve given anyone):

The Most Colorful Temple in Kyoto: Yasaka Koshindo

Before heading to Nanoboro Festa, a famous underground music festival during my trip to Kyoto, I decided to rent a yukata (casual summer kimono) and do some sightseeing in the Gion district.  Historically, this area was one of the most famous for its tea houses and traditional sweets, upscale lodging for visitors, and the extremely aesthetic Yasaka Temple that attracts a lot of people with its brilliant colors.

Yasaka Temple is dedicated to the three wise monkeys and a guardian warrior known as Shomen Kongo.  The colorful cloth balls that are attached to it are called “kukurizaru” which are talismans that provide good luck by taking away greed and impure desires.  Like ema and other talismans in Japan, you are able to purchase one at the gate if you would like to make a wish or prayer, but there is no fee to enter the area where the temple is.

Back in the day, many geiko (who are similar to geisha, but are known more as “woman of art”) resided in this area.  Nowadays there are many bars and restaurants as well as hotels for travelers, but much of Gion’s history has been preserved and it is a very relaxing are to visit.  You can see beautiful parks, temples, a river, and bamboo growing around Gion Station, so it is definitely worth checking out.

For those who are interested in renting a kimono, I rented one for 4000 yen from Kyoto Kashin in Gion.  This is actually a very good price because it includes hairstyling, accessories, and shoes as well.  At first I was a bit nervous about wearing one because I am a foreigner in Japan and it is not native to my culture, but I realized they are very flattering and fun to dress up in when you are seeing temples in Japan.  I encourage everyone to try it at least once~

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

IMG_5574
Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.