9 Days in Japan: Part 2 – Kyoto

Hello Amarvelous people! Hope you and your families had a wonderful holiday season and soon-to-be Happy New Year. We’ve been on a two-month holiday hiatus from blog posts but are excited to kick off this new year with an exciting lineup of topics. Just as a friendly reminder, Amarvelous posts two themed blogs: Amarvelous Wedding and Amarvelous Honeymoon. We post every Monday and trade off between the two blog categories. If you have a suggestion on a topic for a week, then feel free to write a comment and let us know!

We will start back up with a continuation of hubby’s and my honeymoon. If you haven’t been following along, you may not know that hubby and I took an incredible six-week honeymoon around the world! You can view all past blog posts from England, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, a cruise through Asia, and Japan HERE.

Specifically in Japan, we spent a total of nine days, and Kyoto was our second city where we spent three days plus some travel time. In this week’s post, we’ll cover our experiences traveling to Kyoto, a fun museum, tranquil temples, shopping like locals, an unfamiliar food scene, climbing a mountain, and feeding some monkeys!

Day 2 in Japan

We were still in Osaka, Japan, and had just finished having a glorious Kentucky Fried Chicken (my favorite!) lunch buffet at the Expo City. Next stop on our Japan itinerary is Kyoto, and with bags in tow, we were ready to head out. The route via train from Expo City to Kyoto takes about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. There are several options of routes, but we took the Osaka Monorail to the Hankyu-Kyoto line, which lasted about 1 hour and 17 minutes and cost about ¥5.70JPY ($5.21USD) per ticket. The train was a regular train, and not a bullet train, and actually very similar to the trains in NYC.

First thing we did once in Kyoto was get off the train and walk to our Airbnb to check in. Our Airbnb was in the center of Kyoto and close to three transit lines (literally one minute from the train we took daily). We stayed at a modern Japanese accommodation that was a single private room with a low dining table, roll-out bed mats, a refrigerator, a microwave, and an electric kettle for tea. There was a separate closet for storage and a bathroom as well.

The traditional Japanese flooring is called tatami, which is a tightly woven straw mat flooring used in Japanese households. It’s hard to clean and generally more delicate than tile, which is why many people remove their shoes before entering Japanese homes. You also cannot wheel luggages on this flooring due to potential for soiling and damage. The strictness of the no-shoes-or-bags policy did not bother me, as I found the mat to be very beautiful and clean.

Photo Credit: Be-My-Guest on AirBnb

The traditional Japanese bedding mattress is called a shikibuton or futon. Similar to the futon of the 90s in America, the Japanese futon is the same type of padded mattress, but it is frameless and meant to be easily rolled up during the day when they are not needed. However, we set up the bed and then just left it out during our stay. I have included a review below on what I felt about the futon after we slept on it.

Photo Credit: Be-My-Guest on AirBnb

Overall, the room itself was really nice and clean. The owner provided us with a restaurant voucher coupon which we used on the final night of our stay, which was super nice. This is the exact Airbnb we stayed at, if you are interested in booking the same space. For $41 (USD) a night, it was uber clean, a convenient location, and a great deal compared to other hotels in the area.

We didn’t stay long: just dropped our bags then headed out on a walk to the World Heritage Site Nijo-jo Castle. We knew they closed at 4pm, so we thought we’d have time to see it, but unfortunately by the time we arrived, the guards said entry was closed because it was just past 3pm and within an hour of closing. It was unfortunate, because we totally could have at least seen a glimpse of it and left, but the security was strict. So instead, we just took a few photos outside the entrance by the plaque. This would have been our only opportunity to see the castle, so glad we at least tried, but sad we missed the chance. If you plan to visit, definitely arrive more than an hour before posted closing times.

Since that plan got squashed, we had nothing else on our itinerary for the evening. We did a quick google search for things to do in the area and found the Kyoto International Manga (Japanese comic books) Museum, which was a 13-minute walk away. They closed at 6pm, so by the time we arrived, we had about two hours to walk around. Entrance fees were ¥800JPY (or $7.39USD) per person. The museum had floor-to-almost-ceiling walls lined with bookshelves full of manga graphic novels and comic books. They had divisions separated by year and seemed to have every manga book ever published, categorized by each section. It was extremely organized. Similar to a library, there were ample spaces available to encourage picking up a book and reading. Indoors they had benches and chairs, and outdoors there was a turf lawn where you could sit in the fresh air and sun. We had limited time so elected not to sit and read, and instead we went on to explore the rest of the museum.

There was a special 10-year anniversary project ongoing, a showcase of every major “manga artists’ hands” on display. They took a mould of every artists’ hand while holding a pencil. Then, next to each hand, they put the artist’s name and a drawing of their most famous character. It was a very unique and clever way to honor the artists and celebrate the craft. We stayed at the museum until it was closing, and then we headed out back towards our Airbnb.

A few blocks from the Airbnb we stopped into a large local grocery store to pick up dinner and snacks. The store was called Kyoto Yaoichi Honkan and was two stories. Downstairs had normal grocery foods as well as quick grab-and-go options, while upstairs sold beer, wine, and household items. Unlike some of the sushi you find in grocery stores elsewhere in the world, the sushi in the Japanese grocery looked very fresh. We took a chance and bought two plates of sushi and a plate of gyoza dumplings. To accompany our meal, we picked up a nice local Kyoto bottle of plum wine, which is a deliciously sweet alcoholic drink and one of my favorites. We also stocked up on sweet buns and other breakfast foods so we could dine in our room in the morning, and trail mix-type snacks and candy that we could put into ziplocks and bring with us for the day.

After shopping, we headed a few more blocks back to our room and sat down at our low dining table to eat. Hubby thought the sushi was okay. Not the best, but it was grocery store sushi, so we weren’t expecting the best. That being said, the variety was better than in American grocery stores. My gyoza were awesome. After dinner, we rolled out our traditional mat futon beds and went to sleep.

Before I continue onto the next day, I wanted to provide a mini review of the futon bed itself: I HATED IT. Haha It’s fair to say that we knew what we were getting ourselves into with this accommodation. We read the reviews, and many people said the beds would be comfortable, which is what eased us into the idea that the beds would be sufficient. Hubby enjoys a firm bed and didn’t find the mats to be uncomfortable at all, so if you are like him then don’t let my opinion deter you from this traditional experience. However, I enjoy a soft bed more, so to me this felt like I was sleeping on a rock, and I couldn’t get comfortable. On the second night, Hubby suggested we double up the mats to allow more cushion between our bodies and the floor. This helped a bit, but then we were literally sharing a twin mattress, and that caused other forms of discomfort from not being able to sleep in our normal positions (I toss and turn a lot throughout the night). Over the few nights we stayed at this Airbnb, I developed a backache that got progressively worse as the days went on. Hubby felt so bad that he eventually offered for us to move to a hotel, but I said it wasn’t worth the expense and time needed to relocate. But I gladly accepted a few back rubs as a compromise. Moral is—if softer beds are how you roll, then this particular Airbnb probably isn’t the wisest choice for you. If you don’t mind a firm bed, or if you want to experience this traditional form of Japanese sleeping accommodations, then book it!

Day 3 in Japan

The itinerary for our second day in Kyoto was jam-packed, so we woke up, got ready for the day, ate a breakfast in our room from the groceries we purchased the day before, and headed out early. I had done some research and really wanted to visit the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. Since we were going to that area of Kyoto, we also researched other nearby attractions to do there that would maximize our day. The day’s schedule looked like this: first stop was to Chikuren no Komichi (path of bamboo or bamboo forest), second was to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, and third was the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine.

Once off the train at Arashiyami Station, you had to walk through a small town to get to the area of the attractions. The walking route we took off the train looked like a “T”: the one bottom point was Arashiyami Station, the far-right point was the Bamboo Forest, and the far-left point was the Monkey Park. Along the way, we passed small grab-and-go food kiosks, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Clearly, it was a touristy area. Not complaining about that though, because this was one of my favorite days of our nine days in Japan.

First, we stopped for rose and matcha ice cream. I just couldn’t resist. Ice cream is my favorite dessert, and we kept passing shop after shop of soft serve. It was really hot outside too, so we ate it on our walk to the first attraction, which helped to cool us down. We had green tea ice cream several times while in Japan, and I had tasted better. I didn’t find this one to be sweet enough. But we did enjoy it nonetheless.

We then visited the Chikuren no Komichi. The paths leading in were super crowded. I guess everyone had the same idea as us to start their day in the bamboo forest. If you have time and are patient, you can hang back and let some of the crowd disperse so you can snap some photos that don’t have you surrounded by people. We walked through and took pictures with the green bamboo. Even with the crowds it was a very peaceful scenery. It was really lovely. We didn’t walk through the whole path, because although it was beautiful, it was super crowded, and we felt we had all the photos we wanted from this attraction. So we decided to move on to the next activity to give us more time there—and I am so glad that we did.

We walked back down Road 29 past the Arashiyami Station and kept walking in the opposite direction to get to the Monkey Park. On the walk, we passed Katsura River, which was picturesque. There were people canoeing in one area and a small dam with a waterfall effect. We crossed Togetsu-kyo Bridge, and just up the path was the entrance to the park.

The entrance fee into the Monkey Park was only ¥550JPY (or $5.05USD). A total steal! This was my favorite activity of the day and 100% a necessary stop if you are visiting Kyoto. Upon entry, you begin a hike up the mountain. It’s pretty steep, and there are steps built into the mountainside as well as hand rails to help support you on your way up. There are some fun and informational signs along the way that provide facts about the monkeys. There are also a few benches and flat areas to take a break along the path. We hadn’t had lunch yet, and I was working up an appetite, so I was glad I packed some of the snacks we purchased the night before at the grocery store. I would suggest you either pack snacks or eat before you begin this arduous activity. It was a workout, and once on top I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to leave.

As you get closer and closer to the mountaintop, start to look up in the trees. It wasn’t until we were literally entering the monkey area that I noticed there were already monkeys around us that we had been missing. The monkey area was a large flat top of the mountain overlooking the city below. There was a small pond with koi fish, lots of trees, and a few photo spots for guests. Then at the center there was a house that had wire mesh over the windows, sort of like a cage, but for the humans to go inside to feed the monkeys. The wires were just big enough for a monkey to stick their arm into the house. On this mountaintop, we were the guests, and this was their home to run wild and free. We went inside, purchased peanuts and fruits and fed them through the cage. Then we went outside and explored the site to observe the monkeys. There were really old monkeys, middle-aged monkeys, and infant monkeys still drinking milk and hanging onto their mothers. Very sweet that the natural environment, caretakers’ upkeep of the park, and respect from the visitors all allow multiple generations of monkeys to thrive.

There was a moment we were walking around taking photos, and then the peaceful sounds of nature were disturbed by a kind of carousel music that began to play. The monkeys immediately reacted and began to run to the area in front of the house. Then a worker came out of the house with a big bucket of food and began to disperse it through the site. This food included whole chestnuts and other fruits and nuts. Once or twice a day, the monkeys are fed at meal time (which is announced by the music), and the remainder of the day they are fed by tourists who pay for the experience to feed the monkeys. Even the koi enjoyed a chestnut that rolled into its pond.

This was one of the few days on our honeymoon where we were closely interacting with animals. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and hardly wanted to leave. We spent an hour and twenty minutes at the top of the mountain with the monkeys, plus add on the time it took to walk up and down the mountain. This wasn’t a very short activity. Hubby knew if we were to make it to our final activity of the day that we would have to leave soon. So I took my last few snaps of a sweet baby hugging its momma, and we began our trek back down the mountain. Going downhill caused less exertion, and it was in turn faster because we didn’t take breaks.

We left the park, crossed the bridge, and headed back toward the train station. We grabbed a snack in town then walked to the public restroom. It actually ended up being the fanciest public restrooms we had ever been in. It looked similar to the bamboo forest with beams of bamboo that you walked through to get to the stalls. When you closed the bathroom door and locked it, a running sound of water came out from the toilet bowl to help you get in the mood. And of course, as in nearly all Japanese toilets, it had a hundred buttons and was like a supercomputer for all your derrière needs.

Our next stop was in a totally different area of the city, so we had to take a train there. There are multiple public transit routes you could take, including trains or buses. We traveled from the Saga Arashiyami Station to the Kyoto Station to the Inari Station, then walked about six minutes to the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Total cost for the trains were ¥240JPY ($2.19USD) per person and took about one hour. We just had a very exhausting afternoon, so we didn’t mind sitting down and just enjoying the ride out there.

Upon arriving at the shrine, there is a large set of stairs you walk up to enter the site. The general entrance is free, but there are options to pay for special experiences like a ¥300JPY ($2.74USD) sake attraction that we did not partake in. We began walking through the shrine and came upon the path surrounded by the famous orange torii gates. The bright shade of orange (hubby’s favorite) mixed in with the green nature, plus the sheer number of the thousand gates, made this attraction very beautiful to experience. Through the gates, you could see trees and greenery, water features, and statues. We walked enough to see two or more shrines, which are dispersed throughout the property. We probably could have spent a lot more time here to see the remainder of the property, but the night was approaching, and being under tree coverage in the forest made the scene even darker—so we headed back toward the trains.

From here, we were only a 19-minute train ride from our Airbnb. We took the train from Inari Station back to Kyoto Station and decided to get off here so we could take a photo with the Kyoto Tower and walk around this area to find a restaurant for dinner. There were many places to dine, but I was being very particular in craving chicken teriyaki, and no restaurant served it. We looked at all the menus that we passed, hoping the next one would have it, but it doesn’t seem to be a popular dish in this area. I would say in the area of Kyoto Station, most restaurants served either super high-end cuts of wagyu beef, then cheaper curry-type dishes, or sushi. All of which are delicious, and we could have eaten, but I was in the mood for something else. We took the train from Kyoto Station back toward our Airbnb at Karasuma Oike Station and walked back to a restaurant downstairs from our Airbnb. After a literally two-and-a-half-hour hunt for chicken teriyaki, I caved and we ate a curry dish for dinner instead.

So that was our start of Kyoto! We had some incredible ups and some downs related to culture-shock and tradition. Overall, we were thoroughly enjoying Japan. We have one more day left in Kyoto filled with some fun experiences, so come back to the Amarvelous Honeymoon blog in two weeks to read Part 2 of Kyoto! Sayonara!

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