A trip to Kyoto
My husband, two friends, and I took a big trip to Japan in May. Five days of that trip were spent in Kyoto, where third day we took a day trip to Osaka.
Adventure with Mi - Japan Trip Kyoto and Osaka
Day One: Kyoto Pokemon Center, Yasaka Shrine, and Gion
Let me say this first: Google maps is AMAZING with the train system in Japan. Well, at least at the places where my group visited (Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo). Tells you what train to catch, what time, and what platform. However, Google maps isn't fantastic with the bus system. It will give you a general area of where to catch the bus, but it isn't perfect.
Also, let me mention a cafe we found in the Kyotoshiyakushi-Mae station (leads out to Kyoto City Hall) called "Cascade" or in Japanese it's カスカード. This became our go to place for breakfast. It was so freaking delicious here. You walk around and take what you want and put it on your tray. Don't mind the looks as you grab about every thing from the store! You can't help it since everything looks so delicious! One day they had this chicken sandwich out, and it was one of the best foods I had eaten in Japan.
The picture above wasn't ALL my food, mind you :P I was in a group of people....I SWEAR! *shifty eyes* The place also had delicious coffee and an amazing green tea late. They also have a drink menu in English.
One of the statues inside the Pokemon Center in Kyoto.
You can find the Pokemon Center in Kyoto in the Takashimaya department store right off of Kawaramachi station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. I believe it was on the 5th floor in the back behind all the jewelry stalls. It's smaller than the other Pokemon Center's, but is the only place where you can buy the Ho-Oh Kimono Pikachu AKA "Maiko Pikachu". Ho-Oh is actually based off the phoenix on top of Kinkaku-ji temple, so it makes sense to make it exclusive to the Kyoto Pokemon Center.
Yasaka Shrine is only a few blocks away from the Pokemon Center, and honestly this wasn't planned, we just decided to go there since it was so close. I am so glad we did! It's a beautiful place!
Google Maps of Pokemon Center to Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto.
Explore the shrines spread out here as well as the gardens in the back. Seriously, explore! That's how we found the area where there were a ton of stray cats chilling out. My group went when the sun was setting, so it wasn't packed with people and the weather was nice and cooling off. At night the shrine lights up with a lot of lights, so it made it even more gorgeous.
Gion isn't far from Yasaka shrine. It's in between the Pokemon Center and Yasaka, the most famous spot being Hanami-koji. The buildings are old and edo, and you'll see a geisha or two walking around. There are shops and restaurants here as well as ochaya (teahouses). You can also find places where guests are entertained by geisha, however their services are expensive and usually only given to those who've had an introduction from another existing customer. But! You may be able to find a travel agency who could arrange something for you.
Also, here is a video of a woman singing in Gion. She's a part of the band Juuichi: https://www.instagram.com/p/BFhtwDZuJ_a/
The ramen restaurant we ate at in Gion (there's a snippet in the video of us saying 'kanpai' (cheers) and eating some ramen) is called 無双心 祇園店. I have no idea what that means, we went in there on a whim because we were starving. And boy did it not disappoint! For our first real ramen in japan in was sooooooooooooooo good. It's a vending machine ramen place, meaning at the front of the store is a vending machine where you choose your food and drink. It will print out tickets, then you hand them to the chef or a server. The server (he could have been a chef too?) came to help us since he knew we couldn't read Japanese. He spoke English pretty well too! If you get a hankerin' for ramen while walking around Gion, I recommend trying here :)
Map of ramen shop we ate at in Gion, Kyoto.
Day Two: Aoi Matsuri and Kinkaku-ji
After I had bought my tickets to come to Kyoto in May, I decided to see what festivals might be going on. Lo' behold, one of Kyoto's biggest festivals was going to happen! Aoi Matsuri, where the heads of government in Kyoto and the chosen Kyoto Princess, parade to shrines to pray to the gods to keep Kyoto safe from natural disasters. Apparently this festival was established in the 7th century and continues to this day! They hold it every May 15th. The shrine we went to is Shimogamo Shrine, one of the two shrines they visit. They stay there for a couple hours doing rituals and praying. After that they head off to Kimogamo Shrine. My group and I felt like one shrine to witness the excitement was good enough. Shimogamo shrine is huge, though! The entrance starts with a wooden shrine where you can buy a drink to help with your beauty (tasted like honey and flowers). Then there is a long walkway to the back where the big shrine is. If you even happen to travel to Kyoto during May 15th, I highly recommend checking this out. This festival has been happening for hundreds of years, and it's fantastic so see the culture.
Here is a really short video of one of the plays they were putting on at one of the stages in Shimogamo: https://www.instagram.com/p/BFbCjYMuJ-y/
Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is so gorgeous! There are a lot of tourists there regardless of when you see it, but see it! Sadly, my camera died when we got there, so I didn't get any footage for my video. However, I did take pictures with my phone!
When you walk up past the Golden temple, you'll go up the mountain and see little mini shrines, a little waterfall, and places where you can toss coins for good luck.
When you get further up the little hilly mountain, you'll reach a place where you can get a snack, light a candle for good luck, and shop for gifts. Then the path will lead you back to the entrance of the shrine.
Day Three: Osaka Day Trip
Osaka is an hour train ride away from Kyoto on the regular express train or half an hour ish train ride with the bullet train (but is much more expensive). The main eki (station) of Osaka takes you out to huge department stores! You won't believe your eyes! The train station is even in one! And these places are about 15 floors each! If you're hungry, go to the food shops on the bottom floor of the Osaka Station City department store (where the train station is in). There a place in the back that sells garlic chicken and sweet and sour chicken. That garlic chicken is the best damned chicken I have ever eaten in my life. I ate it and was like "OIIIIIIIIISHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" (which means delicious in Japanese) and my husband was all, "It can't be THAT good." Then he tasted it himself and was all, "Nevermind, it is that good." They have a TON of other food options down there like pastries, curry, Chinese dumplings, and Korean Bibimbop.
If you're looking for games and electronics, hit up Yodabashi outside of Osaka City Station. The second floor, half of it is all video games and goodies! The other floors sells watches, laptops, phones, collectable items like figurines, etc.
I forgot to take a picture when my ice cream wasn't partially eaten. I was too excited and it tasted so good! Then I was all "Oh yeah! A picture!"
Osaka Castle is a 30 minute train ride away from Osaka City Station. Keep in mind that interior of the castle closes at 5! We didn't realize this. We got up there and it just turned 5 and we were turned away. It's still a great place to look around. When you get to the main entrance at the top, there are shops where a few sell ice cream. One of those flavors is green tea. You must try this!
Famous crab sign for a restaurant in Dotonbori.
Dotonbori is a famous shopping district in Osaka and is a 30 minute train ride from Osaka Castle. Dotonbori is also famous for its street food! Try all the things! We ended up going into an okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) place. I don't know which one we ended up eating at. We asked a shop worker which one their favorite was and they actually walked us to it! It was SUPER good! I need to figure out how to make this at home. Also, they top the pancake with mayonnaise. Not your typical American mayonnaise. The Japanese make it more tangy and savory and you'll see it on a lot of food there.
Day Four: Rest day!
My feet had become swollen, my toenail turned black, and I had a ton of blisters. Japan hardly has any places to sit out in public, and standing and walking so much took its toll on me and my sensitive feet. This is partially my fault because the day before our flight I went hiking. So, don't do that before you come to Japan since you'll be walking so much! Also get really good walking shoes! So, I took this day off with my husband while my friends went out to explore Nijo castle. Across from our Air BnB apartment was a 7-11 where we got snacks. 7-11 is your friend, my friend. Not only do they have ATMs where you can get more yen from your foreign cards, they also have lots of snacks for you to... snack on. Back in the states, a 7-11 has OK food, but a Japanese 7-11 has delicious food and snacks. All for a cheaply good price, too! They have a green tea mochi bun in the fridge desert area and it's so good. I miss it so much.
One good thing about having an Air BnB is that we had our own kitchen. We weren't far from a grocery store where my husband got me noodles and beef and cooked lunch for me.. I have an amazing husband ;) However, I wanted to go out to eat for dinner. I felt bad being stuck in all day in such an amazing country. So, we found out there was a conveyor belt sushi place not too far from our place called Muten Kura Sushi Nijo. You would order on an ipad and in the back they'd make it for you, set it on a conveyor belt, then it would come wooshing to your table. It was all incredibly cheap. While you could tell it wasn't the best of the best, it was still amazing. All food in Japan is pretty good...except for whatever that white fish I ate was. Made me gag :P You'd put your plates into this hole on the end of your table (where it'd drop into water that's being pushed back to the kitchen), and every 5 plates you got you'd get a chance to win a gachapon (capsule) toy. If you're around this area, and I'm sure there are more of these places around Kyoto, definitely try it!
Video of the sushi on the fast conveyor belt: https://www.instagram.com/p/BFchWsbOJxy/
Video of the chance to win a gachapon: https://www.instagram.com/p/BFch8sEOJzE/
Day Five: Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrines
To get to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, you'll be walking uphill for quite awhile. However, you'll pass beautiful little shops that I highly recommend looking into if you want any gifts. Kiyomizu-dera is known as the wooden temple. Mostly because it was never painted. Off the side of the main temple is the "wooden stage" that leads to a 3 story drop. Back in the day, worshipers would pray to Kannon and then would run and jump off the stage. If they survived, they were blessed with Kannon's mercy. If not...well. In the back you'll find Otowa Waterfall, where the waters are divided into three streams that fall into a small pool. Each stream apparently has a different benefit; love, longevity, and success in school. When you keep walking you'll run into a small pond where I found that turtle chilling on a rock. Apparently, they're going to start giving private tours here, where you can pray with monks and see where some of Buddha is buried. They haven't started, but it's most likely due to the renovations they're currently doing to most of the temple. Check their website if you want more details: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/
Fushimi-Inari. Red gates. On the back are the names of companies that have donated to the shrine to get their red gate. It supposedly will bring the company good luck.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is about a 30 minute train ride away from Kiyomizu-dera. You'll walk through some shops before you get to the shrine, and is where we found the stall selling baby octopus and full shrimp. When you get inside the main entrance to the temple, you'll see people ringing bells and making prayers. Keep talking back and you'll suddenly see a few tall red gates. Walk to them and look inside and you'll see a hallway under tons of red gates! It extends way down! Follow the path and it will lead you to where you can trail off the side out of the gates to see a small shrine, That's where I found the two little stone monuments with the sake on the bottom. Follow the gates more and it will start leading you up the mountain to an area where you see tons of small shrines. You can keep following the big red gates up the mountain. It will lead to paths that will lead to more shrines. There are shrines covering the whole mountain, and could take up to 4 hours to climb and explore. At the half way point, there is a small shop that will serve you tea.