This is part 2 of our Japan trip recaps – click here to read the whole series.
We prefer to rent apartments or houses over hotel rooms when we travel; we love having the extra space to spread out, and access to a kitchen (to save money by cooking some meals at “home”) is excellent. Our 7 days in Kyoto were comfortable and peaceful starting and ending in this spacious home.
After a long day of travel (getting from Shimokitazawa, Tokyo to the outskirts of Kyoto involves more buses and trains than I care to remember!), we scooped up some groceries at a nearby market and settled in for the evening.
DAY 2 – CENTRAL KYOTO
In Kyoto, we hit the ground running with an early-morning visit to Kiyomizu-dera (“Pure Water Temple”), a 1,200-year-old temple enshrined as an UNESCO world heritage site.
I was blown away by the orange pagoda that greeted us near the entrance.
It turns out, though, that the main draw is the wooden stage that juts out over a sea of trees. We couldn’t have possibly timed our trip any better – we arrived in time for peak fall colors.
Afterwards, we meandered down Yakasa Dori, a quiet lane lined with traditional Kyoto homes.
We paused for a latte at Arabica before continuing onward to Maruyama-koen Park.
For lunch, we rode the elevator to the 7th floor of the Takashimaya department store, where we discovered a sprawling expanse of restaurants of varying degrees of formality. (Fun fact: the top floor of many Japanese department stores is home to a “food court.”) We waited in a short line for a table at a restaurant popular for soba noodles, which were definitely worth the wait. It goes without saying – fresh soba noodles are far, far superior to the dried variety sold here at Kroger.
In late afternoon, we took a brief train ride to the Inari station, where we ascended the stairs to Fushimi Inari – an iconic network of thousands of torii gates that line a trail into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.
Photos can’t convey how magical it is to hike upwards through that orange glow. As you travel further along the trail, the torii gates are spaced further and further apart. Halfway up the ascent, you’re rewarded with sweeping views of Tokyo.
DAY 3 – NARA
We were advised by many friends and family members to make a day trip to Nara, so we heeded their advice and embarked on the 45-minute train ride from Kyoto. It was a 15-20 minute walk from the station to Nara Park, famous for the hundreds (thousands?) of tame deer who wander freely.
Baby K loooooved feeding the deer. (We bought a packet of crackers for several hundred yen.)
We also wandered inside Todai-ji, the Great Buddha Hall that houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.
Baby K was enamored with the gong inside Todai-ji. (I scooped up a xylophone off Craigslist when we got home but he wasn’t into it. Only an ancient gong will suffice.)
We met my friend Cici for dinner at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant (AWESOME) and pestered her our 1,384,893 questions about Japan. Meeting a local is such a fulfilling way to further immerse yourself in the culture when you’re abroad.
DAY 5 – KINKAKU-JI
We skipped Kyoto’s famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), which is difficult to reach via public transportation, and instead hit the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji), which I read is less crowded and offers more impressive gardens. (Let’s be honest: they’re all amazing. “Better” gardens depends on the eyes of the beholder.)
Our photos really don’t do it justice. Kinkaku-ji was a highlight of our whole trip. Everywhere you look, there are reflection pools, maples bursting with color, peaceful sitting areas, and green, vivid foliage.
We attempted a family portrait. Maybe someday we’ll all look in the same direction! 🙂
Here in Kinkaku-ji, I snapped my favorite photo from our trip – a small glimpse of the breathtaking autumn colors.
After walking through the gardens not once, but twice, we explored the surrounding area on foot. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted heaps of bright yellow ginkgo leaves scattered like fresh snow. Sigh…
For an early dinner, we devoured Kyoto street food, like these teriyaki-cheese wraps.
DAY 6 – ARASHIYAMA
The first stop I penciled into our Kyoto itinerary was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. How could we not make a stop at this massive bamboo forest?
We make a point to hike everywhere we travel, but we’ve never been lucky enough to wander through a bamboo grove.
My intention was to make a beeline for the Iwatiyama Monkey Park (for our little animal lover), but when we spotted an intriguing path leading up to a private villa, we made a detour for the Okochi Sanso.
The Okochi Sanso estate is the former home and gardens of a famous Japanese actor. Uncrowded, expansive, and sublime, the estate did not disappoint. It was a great place to take Baby K out of the baby carrier and give him time to crawl/toddle around.
The property is surrounded by acres and acres of densely forested wilderness.
Several lookout points provide sweeping views of the city down below.
If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, I can’t recommend Okochi-Sanso enough. The 10,00-yen admission price is more than worth it, especially since it includes tea service.
I’m proud to say we abandoned our usual paleo eating habits and ate ice cream for dinner. The neighborhood surrounding the Arashiyama station is packed with food stands, and we couldn’t possibly leave without sampling matcha ice cream. (Verdict: delicious, obviously.)
DAY 7 – HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA
Up next, I’ll recap our day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima!