Welcome back to our nine days in Japan itinerary! If you haven’t been following along, these nine days are spread across Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo and were part of a six-week honeymoon around the world. In this week’s post, we’ll be covering the remainder of our time in Kyoto — including the Golden Pavilion, the Heian Shrine, Toji’s Pagoda, and the prettiest Starbucks in the world — plus traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo by bullet train (the Shinkansen), as well as pro tips for this portion of our trip.
Day 4 in Japan
To complete our final day in Kyoto, we had a jam-packed itinerary that included many destinations that were literally located nowhere near each other. So this day was full of attractions with breaks in between for transportation.
First stop of the day was to the very popular World Heritage site Kinkakuji (or Golden Pavilion). We left our AirBnb and headed to the train. The whole route took about 35 minutes and included taking a train four stops, then transferring to a bus for seven stops, and then walking a short distance to the entrance. Total cost of the ride was ¥490JPY (or $4.47USD) per person.
Adult entry into Kinkakuji cost ¥400JPY (or $3.65USD) per person. Kinkakuji is a three-story building made of wood, with the top two floors covered in gold leaf. It is surrounded on three sides by Kyokochi Pond (mirror pond). If you catch a good day like we did, the sun shines on the building and water and reflects the gold leaf even more. I don’t even think these photos gave it justice. After we walked around the pond and saw the Golden Pavilion from every side, we continued to take in the rest of the garden. There was the sound of running water throughout the park because of a creek and small waterfalls cascading over rocks that went along with the main pathway.
Believe it or not, the Golden Pavilion has burnt down once before, and the pagoda has burnt down four times! (What’s all that about?!) Well, structures in Japan need to be built to withstand earthquakes, and builders over the centuries have decided to build in wood, even though the structures are more susceptible to fire. The five-story pagoda was for many centuries the tallest tower in Kyoto, until Kyoto Tower was constructed.
It was a really peaceful day in May, and the weather was warm mid-day, so to finish our time in the park, we grabbed a quick soft serve iced cream and headed to the next destination: Heian Shrine. The trip took about 35 minutes with no transfers this time. Just one bus that we took for 18 stops. Total cost of the ride was ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person.
On the bus ride over, I was beginning to get hungry for lunch. Just outside of the shrine, we stopped at a 7-Eleven for a grab-and-go snack to tide us over before lunch. This store has some benches outside for you to have a place to stop and eat, which was nice. If you aren’t familiar, 7-Eleven dining is very popular in Japan. There is a huge selection of hot, cold, and prepackaged food options that are all superior to the offerings of 7-Eleven in America. We each got a corn dog and then split a bun and headed over to the shrine.
Heian Shrine has no entrance fee for the shrine grounds, but if you would like to visit the gardens then the admission fee is ¥600JPY (or $5.48USD) per person. We had a lot of attractions we still wanted to squeeze in that day, so we skipped the garden. Looking at photos online, I see that the garden is really beautiful. So if you had more days in Kyoto, you may want to add that in while you’re already on the property. We hung out for a little inside the shrine, taking photos and exploring, then we headed to our sit-down lunch.
A quick walk from the shrine, we came across a small family-owned bakery called Le Bac a Sable that specialized in quiches, tarts, and breads. We ordered four small quiches and tarts to share between us because we just couldn’t decide on two, and they all looked so good! For savory, we ordered smoked salmon and spinach with egg. For sweet, we purchased apple and apricot. They did not disappoint! I believe they were about ¥350JPY (or $3.20USD) per tart. So for a total of $13USD, we had an insanely delicious meal baked fresh that day. So happy we came across this place. Had our hotel been closer, I’d have wanted to come back the next morning for breakfast to try more flavors. I highly recommend.
After that lovely lunch and break, we continued our walk toward Ninenzaka, which is a darling pedestrian walkway lined with shops, teahouses, and cherry blossom trees. I was really impressed by all the traditional architecture in this area.
We knew that we wanted to visit this part of Kyoto thanks to a Buzzfeed article about the Starbucks there: “This Might Be The Prettiest Starbucks In The World.” When you entered the Starbucks, the downstairs had a queue to order, some small tables leading to the back, then another queue in the back of the store to pick up your drink as you gaze out the back window onto a zen garden. The upstairs was set up with tatami flooring. This Starbucks is actually the world’s first Starbucks with tatami seating. If you remember from our last post, I explained that tatami is a tightly woven straw mat flooring used in traditional Japanese households, with low to the ground tables, and pillows to sit upon. The store was so crowded while we were there that we didn’t even see a single seat available. We just ordered our drinks, then continued our walk outside.
Hubby ordered the most delicious Starbucks drink in all of Japan, an Affogato Frappuccino. He had discovered this drink early on in Japan. It’s basically a vanilla bean Frappuccino with made-to-order vanilla ice cream, a shot of espresso, and whipped cream. I mean, YUM! I hadn’t yet had it, and generally am not the biggest coffee drinker, so I ordered a sweet iced tea. (PS: It wasn’t until the next day that we stopped at Starbucks again and I tried the affogato and finally saw the light. From that point on, that was all I ordered the remainder of the trip. Additionally, it’s not even sold in America! So enjoy it while you can in Japan!)
From here, we needed to take public transportation to our next destination. We hopped on a bus that without transfer took 40 minutes and again cost ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person. Next stop was Toji’s Pagoda. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. The entrance fee is ¥500JPY (or $4.57USD) per person to enter the property, plus add charges if you would like to go into any of the buildings. It was near closing time, so we figured we’d have just enough time to see the grounds but not enough time to go inside. We opted to only walk around the park.
The grounds were absolutely beautiful. Definitely the most lush garden that we had seen that day. There were so many varieties of trees and flowers, and everywhere you turned was another gorgeous shot. There was a pond with lots of turtles in it. Lucky guys get to live on that property year-round. Even though we didn’t pay the additional fee to go into the structures, we did walk up the steps and take a peek inside, so we didn’t feel that we missed out. We basically stayed until we were asked to leave. Haha we shut that park down!
From here, we were a 30-minute bus ride away from our AirBnb. The price was the same as the other bus rides for the day, about ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person. When we arrived back at our accommodations, we went upstairs to drop our bags from the day. If you’d like to read more on our AirBnb, click here to access last week’s post.
With our booking, our lovely host had included some meal voucher coupons for the Karasuma Bar Yokocho food court restaurant downstairs. It was super generous and convenient, so we decided to spend our last evening in Kyoto at our host’s recommendation. Since this style of dining was more small bites, we decided to order from several of the shops and then bring our medley of foods back upstairs to our AirBnb to dine. Maybe it was from hunger, and wanting to just dig in, but we unfortunately didn’t take photos of this meal, but we do remember everything being tasty. I happen to love this style of food court dining with small bites and tastes of many varieties of foods.
And that was a wrap on Day 4 of Japan, our final and most jam-packed day in Kyoto. We began to pack up all our possessions, and got a bit of rest before a hectic day or travel.
Day 5 in Japan
Rise and shine, today is Shinkansen (bullet train) day!! Woohoo! I think most people would get excited to ride such a fast train, because they will be getting to their next destination faster. But for me as a New Yorker, I was also excited to experience such a high-tech train in comparison to what I ride on a daily basis around NYC.
Today, we are traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo. Although the distance is long, the route can take as little as three hours to get there. Our AirBnb was conveniently located by a local train station. We hopped on a local train and took that a few stops to Kyoto Station. Then we went to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets and had a little bit of time, so we grabbed a sandwich while we waited to transfer to the bullet train.
Total cost was ¥13,910JPY (or $127.03USD) per person. That was the most expensive travel we did while in Japan, but it was totally worth it for the nearly 200-mile-per-hour ride. We had wanted to experience a bullet train anyway, and this also allowed us to get to our next destination a lot faster. We could have flown from Kyoto to Tokyo, but then we would have had to be at the airport a lot earlier than we needed to arrive to the train station.
Before we even started our honeymoon, our original itinerary included a one-day layover in Fuji, the town at the base of Mt. Fuji, on the way from Kyoto to Tokyo. However, we kept an eye on the weather, and the area around Mt. Fuji was rainy and foggy. Luckily our Japan leg of the trip was flexible, as we only booked hotels the day before arriving, so we decided to go straight to Tokyo from Kyoto. I’d have liked to see Mt. Fuji while in Japan. We had figured that we could at least see Mt. Fuji from the train as we passed, but the rain and fog completely obstructed the view. If you were planning on seeing Mt. Fuji during your own trip to Japan, then it is probably recommended to spend a day there rather than see it from the bullet train anyway.
- Ziplock bags of varying sizes are a travel necessity. We saved money by purchasing larger portioned snacks and making small ziplock bags versus buying pre-packaged small portion snacks. These came in handy during our long days away from our hotel room.
- When traveling, it’s more affordable to dine-in for one meal a day. Since this was a six-week trip, we weren’t trying to dine out three meals a day for six straight weeks. $$$!!! However, if you are traveling for just a week, you may feel differently. Treat yo’ self, ya know? Anyway, no matter where we travel, we tend to visit a grocery store shortly after arriving and always stock up on items that can be eaten for breakfast: water, juice, yogurt, bread, cheese, etc. If the room has a mini fridge, then we will definitely be stocking up on cold items. However, if your room doesn’t have a fridge, you can still purchase bottles of water, a loaf of bread, and peanut butter, Nutella, or jam. And those items don’t really need to be chilled. The only meal we’re really willing to eat in is breakfast because it’s easy to eat as you get ready that morning, then you’ll want to spend lunch and dinner out exploring.
- If you enjoy sushi, then we recommend you eat as much as you can while in Japan. To get the full experience, consider ordering sushi from several different types of dining options: grocery store, conveyer belt restaurant, and sit-down made-to-order restaurants. Our favorite was conveyer belt where they either make random rolls and send them around on plates, or you order and it comes around on the belt to your table. At these places, the plate color usually represents the price. So for example, a red plate may be $3, and a blue plate may be $2. And if you had one red and one blue plate, then they’ll give you a bill for $5.
- Not sure about other areas of the world, but if you are from America and don’t normally eat wasabi, you should give it a chance in Japan. Wasabi in Japan tastes very different from wasabi in America. Actually, most sushi restaurants we went to automatically put wasabi in/on the rolls (unless you specifically ask them not to). Don’t knock it before you try it!
- Be adventurous with food, and don’t be too particular and look for a dish you are familiar with back home. Odds are that is not authentic at home, and probably not sold in that country. In the last post, I explained how I searched high and low for chicken teriyaki and came short finding it. It would have been a very different night had I not gotten so frustrated with food options in Kyoto. If I had to say one negative from the city as a whole, it’s food selection. That evening of searching for a good restaurant put such a bad taste in my mouth for the Kyoto food scene.
- The trains in Japan are very sophisticated and efficient. For example, when looking up directions on Google Maps, it will advise you on boarding position for fastest transfer. Genius! As a New Yorker, I ride the train daily. For your most common stops such as home and work, you learn the best placement to sit, but if I were to visit a random tourist attraction, I wouldn’t know the best car, and our Google Maps doesn’t make those types of smart recommendations. I suggest you use this to your advantage.
- Although some of the attractions can be very busy, angle your camera to hide people behind your body in the shot. We use this trick all the time to make it look like we were the only ones there, when in reality there were people all around us. The shots look 100% better when you are the focus and not one of the many people featured. Example of this below:
And that’s it for Kyoto! Over our three-and-a-half days here, we experienced feeding monkeys, hiking a mountain, a manga museum, multiple temples, shopping, dining, gardens, and one of the fastest trains on Earth. Stay tuned for two weeks from now when we dive into Tokyo!
If you are interested in reading more about our travels, then check out the Amarvelous Honeymoon Blog.
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