After our very cool roadtrip through the Japanese Alps, there’s already a new adventure about to start in Japan. We’ve heard so many good things about Kyoto, so our expectations are high, but we try to go with an open mind. Let’s explore Kyoto city!
Our first night in Kyoto we stay in Guest House Kannoko Kitaoji, a guest house we’ve found on booking.com. Besides that it’s a little far from the city center, we’re blown away by the quality of this accommodation. We have our own room, which is really large and contains besides the large bed and a desk even a small kitchen. Upstarts there’s another kitchen which is a lot bigger and fully equipped. Perfect to prepare our last bit of spaghetti. The bathroom is very clean and modern and even has a bath and washing machine. Op top of that, overnight parking is only 200 Yen (about 2 Dollars) for the whole night! What a bargain, we’re very pleased.
Buddhist temples, pagodas and Shinto shrines
We get a wonderful nights sleep and the next morning we get up early to move the car. Overnight parking is only until 8 am, and there’s no cheating on the parking meters here. After you park, a sort of lock comes up underneath the car which won’t allow you to leave unless you have paid. If you’re only 1 minute late, you already have to pay for the whole next hour, and during daytime, parking in Kyoto is really expensive.
We drive up to Kurama-dera Temple, about 10 kilometers north of Kyoto. A gorgeous, bright orange temple atop of a mountain. It takes about an hour to walk up there but we feel a bit lazy today so we decide to take the monorail up and then walk back down instead. Despite the temple being really nice and located in a beautiful environment, we can’t help but notice that we are getting saturated by all the temples and shrines. Too bad this happens just now in Kyoto, the city of temples and shrines. The walk down is really nice though. It’s a quiet, peaceful path which leads us past some more bright orange decoration like lanterns and small offering houses.
At Kurama-dera Temple we also see a group of school children who are on a day trip. Japanese children all have the same school bag; a typically shaped, firm bag with a lid that covers the whole back side. There’s only one size, so it’s particularly funny on small children, as they are smaller than the bag itself, haha. It’s also a funny sight to see all the kids from one class wearing the same cap in the same color. I guess that makes a teachers job of keeping the group together a bit easier.
Today we move to an apartment that Aki, our Airbnb host in Mount Fuji, arranged for us as a birthday present for Riny. So sweet! We try to find Y’s house, but these Japanese addresses are too complicated for us. We ask around and within a matter of minutes, the whole street, which mostly consists of Japanese elderly people that don’t speak any English, is looking for the accommodation. Apparently it wasn’t that easy to find because they also couldn’t find it for us. Eventually some old woman remembers that she has an English girl in her homestay that can speak Japanese. So they wake her up to help out and then finally after 20 minutes we find the address. Right in front of the car! We ring the doorbell but there is no one there, so we decide to go look for Wi-Fi and contact the owner to see if we can park the car at his place.
It’s close to noon when we finally get to park the car. We take out the bikes and cycle around town until 4pm. There is so much to see in this city, it’s impossible to see every point of interest we’ve marked on our map in these few days. But we will see how far we can get. We don’t feel like rushing and running from temple to temple so we decide not too and this helps to enjoy the things we do actually see a bit more.
The apartment, also arranged through booking.com is amazing. Apparently it’s a self check-in apartment and that explains why no one was answering the door bell earlier today. We have a parking lot in front of the house and the apartment itself is very clean, modern and spacious. This one also has a bath tub and a small kitchen and even 2 double beds. If we like we can sleep in a clean bed every night, haha. A good place to find some rest. If you are interested you can find it by following this link.
Kyoto points of interest
Kyoto is a very beautiful city, packed with sightseeing spots! We don’t get to see everything but the bits that we do see make quite an impact. Most temples, pagodas and shrines, which Kyoto is known for, we see are enormous. We haven’t seen them this big anywhere. They are also almost all painted in bright orange.
The first sight we visit is Ginkaku-ji; quite large park with a pond and nice nature. Besides that it’s a nice place to see, we feel a bit disappointed by the size of the park. With the high amount of entrance fee we really expected something bigger, and the amount of people they let in at the same time spoils the experience a little bit. We do recommend the nearby Philsopher’s Walk; a nice walkway along a river where you can enjoy some peace and quiet. It’s also possible to do this walk by bike, as there’s a small road next to the pavement.
Besides highlights like Nanzen-ji, Yasaka Shrine, Chion-in Temple, Kiyomizu Temple, Nishi Honganji Temple and Kinkaky-ji Temple, we mostly enjoy the more relaxing attractions Kyoto has to offer like big parks, shopping streets in Gion, Teramachi Shopping Arcade and just cycling around in the sunshine, taking in Kyoto’s wonderful atmosphere.
Fushimi Inari-taisha, the well known and photogenic orange torii’s (shinto arches) is a pleasure to visit. It would have been nicer with fewer tourists, but the orange arches still made quite an impression on us. It felt like there were hundreds! And just around the corner, there is a nice temple which provides a great sunset view of Kyoto. Both the temple and the torii’s are packed with tourists, so getting a picture of the torii’s without any other tourists on it requires some patience. Some places in Kyoto are so packed with tourists it just makes us want to run away screaming. While other places give us the impression that we are the first ones to discover it. Kyoto is a city of extremes and simply can’t be skipped when visiting Japan.
Since we are both not really into museums, we decide to taste the Japanese culture in Kyoto in another way, literally. Kyoto is known for its high quality matcha tea. A strong Japanese green tea, high on caffeine and with lots of health advantages. The tea is grown in Kyoto and apparently the best in all of Japan and therefore worldwide. Matcha tea leaves are, in contrary with other tea plants, ground to a powder which is dissolved in water to make the tea. So when drinking the tea, you actually drink the plant itself instead of just the aroma’s. This leads to having the maximum advantage of the health benefits and thus making this a very healthy tea. Japanese people believe that matcha tea will help improving your concentration, enhance mood and boost metabolism.
Camellia Tea Ceremony is one of the most known places in Kyoto to participate in a well organized, cultural tea ceremony at a reasonable price. They have a high ranking in TripAdvisor and therefore we decide to have a look ourselves. Not only do they grant you the opportunity to taste match tea, they will also tell you about the tea and the traditions behind the ceremony. The tea ceremony is then demonstrated by a tea master, according to the tradition and afterwards you can make your own cup of matcha tea, following Japanese etiquette.
The etiquette behind this tea ceremony is not just some simple rules to follow. Tea masters study for years to master the rituals of the tea ceremony. After this study they are qualified to perform a tea ceremony to anyone. The tea ceremony is a custom that came from Buddhism and is therefore, following tradition, mostly performed in monasteries. It’s a ritual which emphasizes that you should enjoy the moment. There is a special room that has been decorated for the tea ceremony according to specific guidelines. There’s been thought about every single detail and not every room is suited for a tea ceremony. Most elements of distraction are being removed and calming prints and quotes are used. A little bit of incense is burned just before the start of the ceremony, so there’s a nice but hardly noticeable scent in the room.
When everyone has entered the room and has been seated according to Japanese tradition; which means either sitting on your lower legs, folded underneath your body, or for men the lotus position, the tea master will start to explain about the culture and history of the tea ceremony. She looks truly amazing, dressed in a Japanese kimono, which is also part of the tradition.
The ceremony starts with cleansing all materials. The master has already performed this before anyone enters the room, but this process should be repeated in the presence of the person to whom the tea ceremony is performed. This way that person can actually see that all utensils are cleaned. The cleansing, basically the whole ritual, is performed at a speed that you would expect in Japanese politeness, extremely slow. It’s a delicate ritual in which every little detail matters, even the way in which the cleaning cloth is being picked up, folded and placed back. Every single time, over and over, before and after each use. Masters and geisha’s throughout the country perform this ritual in the exact same way.
After cleansing all utensils, water is poured into the tea bowl (not a cup) and matcha powder is added to the water. Then the tea is being whipped with a bamboo brush until it has a nice layer of foam on top. After that, the tea is presented to one of the guests. Drinking the tea is also according to a vast ritual. The person to drink the tea will say “excuse me to have the first tea” to all other guests, otherwise it would not be polite. The bowl has one pretty side, determined by the creator of the bowl, and is presented to the guest with the pretty side facing the guest. Although it is unacceptable to drink from the pretty side, because it has to remain pretty and thus upon receiving your tea bowl you turn it, with a prescribed motion, 180 degrees before drinking. After this you are allowed to drink however you like. The last sip is made with a typical sound to make sure all the foam is being consumed but also to inform the hostess that your tea is finished and that you enjoyed it. Leaving tea behind in the bowl is an absolute no-go as it is considered rude towards your host.
After finishing your tea, the bowl is placed on the floor with the pretty side facing you again and the hostess will collect the bowl and start cleaning it according to the ritual. After this the whole process will repeat itself for the next guest. And yes, she will start again with cleaning the bowl which she basically just did.
The whole ritual is very calming to witness and has a sort of meditating effect. This is also why all aspects are performed slowly and precise. Making one bowl of tea, which consists of roughly three sips, will take around 15 minutes at least.
It’s a fun experience to witness and participate in the tea ceremony and to learn about the history and culture of Japan. The whisking of the tea is a delicate job and not as easy as it seems, especially when trying to follow all the rules. The tea and Japanese sweets that always come with the tea are very delicious, a unique taste that we have never tasted before. Additional advantage is that they use agar agar (a type of sea weed) in jelly-like substances, instead of gelatin (which is made from grinding down pig bones, eeeew!) So the sweets are totally vegan! We left Camellia Tea Ceremony Kyoto fully satisfied and would recommend you to visit them to join a tea ceremony when visiting Kyoto.
Camellia Tea Ceremony has two locations; Flower and Garden. We went to Camellia Flower, which is located in a small side alley from a very touristy street. Make sure to check where you have to be when making a reservation for the tea ceremony. Their website provides clear directions to both locations. If you have to be at Camellia Flower, make sure to come by foot, because they don’t have parking areas, not even for bikes. The touristy street close to Camellia Flower is worth a visit, even if you don’t have to go to Camellia. There are many souvenir shops and nice restaurants and it has a great atmosphere. Don’t miss the Hello Kitty Shop and Restaurant in this street. Here you can try Hello Kitty shaped ice cream, pancakes, and more. How creative!
Vegan lunch at Mumokuteki
One place to recommend for lunch or dinner is Mumokuteki; a fine vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options offering quality meals. It is a popular place, so keep in mind that you might have to wait before being seated. I had a lovely vegan burger with avocado and vegan mayonnaise, a tasty salad and chips. Riny had a Japanese meal with lots of small dishes and mock meat. It looked very nice but on top of that it was delicious! Mumokuteki is located close to the city center and the atmosphere inside is very cozy. It’s a bit pricey, which is the case with all vegan restaurants unfortunately and they do use fish stock, but this is clearly mentioned on the menu so quite easy to avoid. It is Japan of course and here they tend to make everything with fish stock… It will never be my favorite country haha.
Nijo Castle, Palace Park and Kyoto Imperial Palace
Nijo Castle, Palace Park and Kyoto Imperial Palace are attractions that are definitely worth a visit. Due to lack of time we had to skip them, but we did pass them multiple times on our bicycles and have seen the outside of all of them, which looks truly amazing. There is nothing we can tell you about the inside, but according to TripAdvisor both Nijo castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace with the park are highly recommended.
Kinkaku-ji Temple; Golden Pavillion
Our last stop is one of Kyoto’s main highlights; Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as Golden Pavillion. It’s a huge golden temple in a large lake. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature with also some nice autumn colored trees. It’s nothing like we’ve seen during our trip to the Japanese Alps, but still it’s nice to see some other colors then green on the many trees that are surrounding this temple. The temple itself is amazing, but unfortunately you cannot go inside. This attraction was again very, very crowded, but I think it was worth it. If you can, try to buy an entrance ticket from one of the visitors that are leaving. You’ll find the path leading to the exit on your right side, just after passing the entrance gate onto the lane that leads to the main entrance. Offer them half the price (which would be 200 Yen) for their ticket, so you can both have a little discount on the entrance fee. Check if the ticket is not stamped or ripped. In our case they didn’t do anything with the tickets when showing them at the entrance, so they could be used again, but you never know, they might change it.
Enjoy the nature around Kyoto
For the active travelers Kyoto also has a lot to offer. Kyoto is surrounded by hiking trails in large, green areas, mostly on the east side. In Maps.me you can easily find all the trails. Start for instance at Ginkaku-ji, Nanzen-in or Kiyomizu Temple, or take the subway to Keage station and start from here. If you like you can even walk all the way to Lake Biwa, but this is a very long walk though.
Overall we really enjoyed Kyoto. It surely is one of the nicest cities in Japan I think and it should be high on your to-do-list when visiting Japan. Make sure not to drive yourself crazy by trying to see all the highlights in a few days, as you will never be able to do this. Just remember that you can always come back here one day, and take your time to enjoy the things you are visiting to the fullest. If you need more inspiration, you can check out all our Kyoto photos here. Don’t forget to like our Facebook page!
For us it’s time to move on to Nara, which should be a beautiful town filled with wild deer running around freely everywhere. It really sounds like a dream to me, so I can’t wait to get there. After that, our last stop is Osaka, where we’ll spend our last few days in Japan.