Photo courtesy of Japan-guide.com
After spending 3 nights in Tokyo, we moved to Kyoto by train. We had to go through a long queue at Shinjuku Station to purchase the Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets, which was unexpected and pretty exhausting, but we made it! Here are some highlights of our trip in such a beautiful city.
1. Lovely Bento on the Train
Our trip to Kyoto Station was scheduled at around 12 PM but we arrived earlier just to make sure we didn’t miss the train. You know, just in case. We had to wait for about one and a half hour because of our early arrival at the station, thus we decided to enjoy some coffee and rest our feet at a coffee shop before we climbed up to the railway area when it was already close to the departure time.
It was only few minutes before the train door was opened when I saw a stall having bento (Japanese-style packed lunchbox) arranged on their glass display cases, that immediately made me drool and reminded me that we had not bought anything for lunch! I let my husband lining up in front of the train door while I hurriedly ran to purchase two packs of bento. By the time we opened the boxes on our seats, we were sold! The lunch boxes contained a lot of items inside that were decorated beautifully, and the taste was not bad at all! It was probably the most pleasant lunch experience I have ever had on a train.
Bento for lunch
2. Strolling in Yukata
We woke up early on our second day in Kyoto because we had a 10 AM appointment at Yumeyukata, one of the big kimono and yukata rental stores in the city. We booked the appointment through their website which was pretty user friendly. Their basic yukata plan, which was 3,500 yen/person and 6,500 yen/couple, would give you a set of yukata, obi (belt), genta (Japanese wooden sandals), and a drawstring bag to carry your phone and wallet. Yay!
There were already some customers at the lobby by the time we got there. We only needed to show the reservation confirmation e-mail at the reception desk before we got escorted to the second level to choose the yukata that we preferred. I’m telling you, it was one of the toughest decisions I made, because they were all very pretty! They’ve got wide ranged colors and patterns, and also obis to accessorize the clothing. The staff were very friendly, and one of them even helped me to choose the obi whose color matches with the patterns of the yukata that I picked.
Going up to the next level, it was a female changing room where there were three people ready to assist you to put on all the layers of the clothing. It took around five minutes before I was escorted to the fourth level for a hair do that I also booked earlier. Yup, a hair do. I mean, come on, I’m already in a yukata, why don’t just take it up a notch, right?
I was so amazed on how experienced the staff were, because the whole process took us less than 45 minutes. We chose our genta at the ground floor before we walk out the door, looked and feeling like a true Japanese!
Our first stop was Gion, which was well known as the Geisha district. The area was very classic and beautiful, and I know that I will take a Gion Walking Tour by Night - that I actually planned to - on my next visit, because then we would get a more detailed explanation about maiko, geiko, and the location itself, instead of strolling randomly around the streets like what we did (which was not bad, though). Also, I believe a visit in the evening would give us a different view of the district.
My yukata look
Our next stop was Fushimi Inari Shrine, located at the base of Mount Inari, that is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. To be honest, I am impressed on how Japanese ladies could wear yukata and genta doing their activities all day long. Seriously, walking around with a traditional Japanese look was indeed fun and exciting in the beginning, but getting through all those ladders at the shrine in wooden sandals really got my feet sore. Japan’s summer heat also made us sweating and feeling damp under those many garments we were wearing. However, it was still an incredible experience that I would most probably do again on my next visit to this country!
3. Eat, eat, eat
We had fun culinary trips in Kyoto. Our first stop by the time we arrived in the city was Okonomiyaki Katsu, which was a tiny restaurant inside a residential neighborhood. The owners were very friendly and the food was awesome! We ordered one yakisoba and one pork okonomiyaki, and none of them disappointed us. It definitely worth a second visit (or more).
We had some breakfast at Café Rhinebeck the next day, a pancake house that opens from 8AM – 10PM. It was a pleasant experience because the service was outstanding and the pancakes were marvelous. We ordered one sweet pancake and one savory for each of us and both of them were soft and moist.
Pancake at at Café Rhinebeck
During our Kyoto stroll, we found out that matcha (green tea) dessert were very popular there. You can see plenty of shops advertise and highlight their matcha parfait or soft cream combinations along the street, and people were lining up for that! We ended up entering a nice café located close to Shijo dori (dori = street), ordering one matcha parfait, which was definitely a nice thirst quencher after such a long walk.
Overall, Kyoto life is more relaxing compared to Tokyo that is very packed and busy. There are a lot of classic wooden houses along the roads, many people biking and even riding rickshaws, and we found peaceful atmosphere at a lot of neighborhoods in this town. It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing modern in Kyoto, that advanced transportation systems and numbers of shopping malls with high-end brands are already available to offer us a metropolis experience. However, the old ways of Japanese life remains very strong in the city and that’s what makes Kyoto is loved by many.