After a very smooth arrival and a very awesome week with so much fun and unique experiences in Fukuoka we decided to travel to Kyoto.
But why Kyoto? Mmmh… there was more than one reason to go to Kyoto:
- It was my first time in Japan and Kyoto is known as tourism Mekka.
- Mo told me, that we needed to go there because it’s beautiful (It was the third time for Mo in Japan and he’s already been to Kyoto and approved it).
- We wanted to spend some time with our friend F. and this was nearly impossible in Fukuoka because he was super busy with spending time with his family, Japanese friends and preparing a small music event with his old band. F. was also interested in going there again and joined us for the first few days. So we wouldn’t have to share F.
- I wanted to walk through the famous thousand red gates.
- It’s on the way to Tokyo – and if it’s your first time in Japan you need to go to Tokyo to see the weird craziness (at least according to Mo).
I think those are more than enough reasons to visit a place 🙂
We arrived in Kyoto by night-bus – neither comfortable nor restorative. We all were tired and somehow lost until our first coffee, somewhere in the underground (Did we mentioned in our last post that there is no street-cafe culture in Japan at all?). Anyway, after our first coffee, everything was good again. We made our way to our first accommodation – a very nice traditional house in a beautiful and calm neighborhood near some attractions. Luckily F. speaks Japanese fluent and without much of an accent so that we were able to communicate with our host.
We had an awesome time with F. strolling around, visiting the famous gold temple, some teahouses, a beautiful bamboo forest and stone gardens. F. had also some friends in Kyoto, so we visited their coffee shop, went out for dinner with them and were invited to a delightful zen meditation session. We were so happy to spend some time with F. And it was sad that he only had two days time to spend with us before he had to go back to Fukuoka.
It was a very weird feeling to bring F. to the bus stop and say goodbye. It was an amazing time we spend together and it was so cool that we managed to meet in Japan for some awesome days and evenings. To be honest… in the first moment Mo and I felt bit strange saying goodbye and being back on our own again.
Anyway, Kyoto is an amazing city, so no time for being in a bad mood. Luckily, we were able to spend one more night in the nice house to just relax and enjoy the neighborhood. Kyoto has a nice flair. That’s the reason why we just booked us another accommodation (a bit closer to the train station and with staff that has a basic understanding of the English language) for a few more days.
Our new place was very typical for Japan: just a small room with tatamis (similar to gymnastics mats, but made from straws) on the floor, a futon to sleep on, shower with bathtub and a small kitchen with a washing machine. It was just perfect for us.
The apartment was in walking distance to the train station. Very convenient, especially if you plan to visit some nearby places.
Kyoto has so much to do… the city has a beautiful old city center, many impressive shrines and temples, an old castle and sooo many good food (and sake) options. It’s very easy to spend more than a week there (like we did) without getting bored. We visited the palace, the castle and some of the most beautiful shrines.
We spontaneously decided that Kyoto will be our only stop between Fukuoka and Tokyo because it has so much to offer and we are not in a hurry 🙂 There are also a lot of nice options for day-trips around Kyoto if we would feel the need to get out once in a while. We just extended our stay for a few more days, because we can. Sadly, our beautiful little apartment wasn’t available the whole time.
However, there were other vacancies in the same accommodation and they were kind enough to move our backpacks. So we just had to pack our bags in the morning before we left and would find them in another room in the evening. It was a bit confusing to remember our room from time to time, but it was also a bit fun to see so many different, yet similar rooms in the same place.
One day we made our way to the famous Inari shrine, with thousands of red gates. Once you arrive it is super crowded – so that you might think “why did I want to visit that place?”, but if you have the time and you walk up the mountain a bit, then you have the chance to make some awesome pictures and you will have an amazing and somehow exhausting afternoon.
It is always surprising, how many people come to visit such a place, yet how few of them take the time and effort to go all the way. The Inari shrine, for example, is built in a mountain range and has a nice circular walk leading to a local peak. The whole way is lined with thousands and thousands of red gates. And the further you get along the way, the fewer people are there. What started as thousands at the bottom ended up as a handful at the summit. Well… Better for us. We prefer it a bit less crowded.
Oh My Deer
We also used our time to explore the surroundings of Kyoto. First, we made our way to the nearby Nara Shrine. I only knew that this is a shrine and they have some deer. But I wasn’t expecting too much. So we just jumped into the train and went there without any special intentions. What we found was better than my wildest imaginations. It’s a beautiful, roomy park with a museum, different shrines and temples, many food and souvenir shops and super cute deer everywhere. It’s not like in a zoo, it’s different. The deer are not in a closed area. They roam free all over the place and they are not shy at all. I was really skeptical if they are happy animals living a species-appropriate life, but to be honest I think they have an awesome life.
A few hundred years ago, some local ruler declared the deer of Nara to be sacred animals and made it punishable by death to hunt or kill them. And to this day, no deer has to fear any harm from the humans – although the punishment isn’t death anymore, it is still a criminal offense. And apparently, a few hundred years of kindness are enough to turn shy mountain deer into gentle friends of humans.
Nara is not only known for deer, I also read that there should be one of the biggest wooden buildings ever: A temple containing a huge Buddha (among other relics). The Nara Park is so big that it wasn’t easy to find that big temple, but we managed it. And it wasn’t just a big wooden building, it was a huge, or better yet, gigantic wooden building. Clearly, one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen. I was speechless.
Ok. Maybe not everyone is so easy to impress or do like unique buildings as I do, but this one is playing in a different league to everything I have seen before. The feeling of standing in front of it is ineffable. A must visit in your life place!
After that amazing day in Nara, we just went back to Kyoto without any plans in our mind for the next days.
Day Trip to Osaka
Somehow the idea of visiting a Japanese castle popped into my mind, we googled it and we decided spontaneously to go to Osaka on the next day.
It’s just an hour by train. I was surprised how big Osaka is. Anyway, we had a mission: visit the castle. It was a very hot day, beautiful weather and the best castle experience you can wish for. The castle itself hosts a museum, which is interesting, but super crowded. I personally enjoyed it more to explore the park around the castle and search for the best place to get the perfect picture of it.
After visiting the castle and the surrounding park, we decided to just walk back to the train station to catch the train back to Kyoto. The train station was further away than expected, but a nice, exhausting walk.
We had such a wonderful time while exploring the country, the city, the culture and the food, it’s hard to describe. I know that this was not my last time in Kyoto. It just felt too good and the pancakes are too fluffy to not come back. But after over a week we decided to move on toward the weird craziness of Tokyo. To have a complete Japan-experience, we decided to take the famous high-speed train, the Shinkansen, from Kyoto to Tokyo.