Kyoto was a nice break from the big city of Tokyo and delivered the Japan I was hoping for. The city maintains an almost European feel (smallish and lazy streets, rich historical sites, and great food).
We took the bullet train from Tokyo. It was expensive (about $500 round trip for two adults) but a fun way to experience the train system and make it to Kyoto. It only took a bit over 2 hours and had some nice views of the rural cities and we could see a bunch of cherry blossom trees scattered throughout the landscape. We also got a quick view of Mount Fuji along the way (Lindsay later told me about most of these views because I’m a chronic train sleeper).
In Kyoto, we stayed in a Japanese-style flat in the Gion district. The flat was essentially a large studio with 1 twin bed and a bunch of futons you could roll out. Stella and I had a fun sleepover on the futons.
Gion is known for being the Geisha district. We did see many women dressed in traditional Kimonos and a few with the full white face makeup. The Yasaka shrine and park was right across from our apartment. We went there one evening while the locals were celebrating Sakura. They had tons of food booths set up selling Yakitori, grilled corn, chocolate covered bananas, and lots more. The path and cherry blossom trees were lit and there were also fire balls (steel, basketball-sized spheres with burning logs inside) set up around the walk. We settled down on a section of bamboo mats they had set out under the Sakura trees. Sharing Japanese street food and the enjoying the ambience of the cherry blossom festival was a real treat.
Another day, we rode the bus to the “Bamboo Forest.” The forest itself was cool, but not overly so. It was nice to find an adjacent grove of cherry blossom trees where Stella bonded with several Japanese children while playing in the park. She is incredibly outgoing and is yearning for more kid interaction.
The highlight of this day for me was lunch. We waited quite a while to get a table at a tiny, but well-reviewed sushi restaurant. One of my Japan bucket list items was to eat incredible sushi. I’ll be thinking about the sushi we had this day for a long time. We ordered two nigiri plates along with an avocado roll for Stella. The Uni (sea urchin) felt incredibly fresh. The fatty tuna was the softest I’ve ever had while maintaining a great structure. Stella ate almost all of the salmon roe herself—she loved it! The two sushi chefs clearly loved their job and delivered the sushi and thanked all of their guests with gusto. I wish I could repeat this meal right now.
Another great day in Kyoto was our visit to the Gates at Fushimi Inari which we wrote about separately. This attraction was our favorite from our entire Japan trip.
We’re so glad we visited Kyoto. Now I’m wondering how many other cities like Kyoto there are in Japan. I guess that answer will have to wait for another trip.
Thanks for reading,