06 June, 2016

Five Days in Kyoto, a Photoblog

kiyomizudera kyoto
A couple at the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Jarne and I spent a total of two weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. Most people were shocked when I told them we planned to stay in Kyoto for five days. I knew it was a perfect amount of time—there's simply so many things to see in Japan's former capital.

After lots of computations, I deduced it was around three times cheaper to go to Kyoto from Tokyo by flying rather than buying a Japan Rail pass to be able to take the bullet train. I got dirt cheap rountrip tickets via Jetstar, which flies out of Narita airport (which is much farther from downtown Tokyo than Haneda, grrr). 

After one sweaty subway transfer, two train rides, and one flight, we managed to get to Kyoto Station.

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Kyoto Tower's reflection on the station's façade

As a treat for the the long journey, I reserved us a table at a popular tofu restaurant at the station's connecting mall. Kyotofu Fujino is known for making sumptuous vegetarian courses, with tofu being the focus of each dish. It was a very unique experience, almost everything was so new to our palates. To top off our meal, we were given authentic matcha green tea and tofu cheesecake. Mmm!

kyotofu fujino
Some dishes from the dinner course at Kyotofu Fujino

We arrived at our Airbnb late at night, but our host Tomoko was very hospitable and offered us so much snacks and wine! She has a super sweet and well-trained doggy, Koko-chan. Tomoko and her mom Wakiko were one of the best Airbnb hosts we've ever met. They made us breakfast every morning, and when we had to leave early, they bought us some snacks to bring with us. They mostly spoke in Japanese, and I mostly said one-liners I could come up with. My limited Japanese vocabulary is thanks to my obsession with Japanese idols maaaaany years ago. Jarne mostly communicated via sign language.

With Koko-chan

Our first full day in Kyoto was such a whirlwind! We had a tea ceremony we had to get to (I booked this moooonths in advance) and lots of sight seeing to do. That day was Aoi Matsuri, one of the main festivals of Kyoto. A lot of Japanese ladies were dressed up in their kimonos, it was lovely.

Our tea ceremony was held at Camellia, which is in the Higashiyama disctrict of Kyoto. It was perfect because it's on the way to one of Kyoto's famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu for short 😉).

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A filled street in Higashiyama

Japanese ladies always ready for a pose

The centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony was a very new experience for me and Jarne. It's such a testament to the Japanese attention to detail and passion in their craft. A person who wishes to become a tea master has to study years before perfecting the tea ceremony. After watching the ceremony, we were given the chance to make our own matcha green tea using the bamboo tea whisk. Jarne was so much better than me, it was quite frustrating.

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Japanese traditional tea ceremony

With the lovely ladies of Camellia Tea Ceremony

After the tea ceremony, we headed to Kiyomizu. The entrance was very impressive, and perhaps because it was a holiday, very crowded. After taking hundreds of photos, we paid the ¥400 fee to finally see the inside of the temple. The temple, seen from a distance, seems like it is floating among the trees. It was a magnificent sight.

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Entrance of Kiyomizu

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Kiymizu floating among the trees

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Koyasu Pagoda, view from the main hall of Kiyomizu

Afterwards, we continued on to see the world famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, known for being home to over 10,000 vermilion Torii gates. Reviews said that the farther you went up the mountain, the less people there will be. It was great advice, and we got great photos because of it! We were so tired from the day's activities, we bailed halfway up. Going down, we took a different path. We discovered that on the same mountain that is filled with tourists day in and day out, there are actually people who live there! Some residents have even set up vending machines for passing tourists. Good business!

fushimi inari temple
Fushimi Inari Shrine

Our second day in Kyoto was much more relaxed than the first. We knew it was going to be raining the whole day so we decided to watch Kamogawa Odori at the Kaborenjo Theater, which is the annual spring dance of the geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) of Kyoto's Pontocho disctrict. This was one of the things I looked forward to the most in our Kyoto trip.

Before the performance, we were so happy to hear that we could take photos with two maiko. At the beginning, it was chaos, people scrambling to get that rare photo with them. After 10 minutes, the ushers finally told people to form a line, and I was able to have a decent photo with the dolled up maiko. I was so happy!

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With Pontocho district maiko, Taka and Ichikoma

We bought the cheapest seats for the show, so we had to sit "Japanese-style" in a tiny box in the balcony seating. Everything, of course, was in Japanese. The show was mostly acting—Jarne and I couldn't understand a thing so we couldn't help but giggle at some of the dramatic expressions of the geisha and maiko. The finale, though, was very beautiful and impressive. All the geisha and maiko were in gorgeous kimono and dancing all together. It brought tears to my eyes. I was really disappointed that photos were not allowed in the theater, because it's so very rare to see geisha performing. Below is a photo I found from Japan Bullet, but it doesn't do justice to the real thing.

Kamogawa Odori

After the show, it was still raining. We headed to Kurama Onsen, the most famous hot spring in Kyoto. The train ride to Kurama was very scenic. Jarne said it was one of the best train rides he's done—the train was basically swimming in the forest, tree branches often hitting the windows. The hot spring was a pleasant 10 minute walk from Kurama station, and I think the rain made it even better. I felt like I was in a village created by the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki.

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Road leading to Kurama Onsen

The Japanese are very particular about shoes, in that, they don't want you wearing them indoors. When we got in the main entrance of Kurama Onsen, we took off our shoes and wore the sandals that were laid out at the side. When we continued inside, we were immediately told to take off the sandals because, well, I don't know why. Then they told us the outdoor onsen (hot spring) was actually on the other side of the property. Before heading back out I had to go to the toilet real quick, and again, there were sandals laid out by the entrance. I wore those and walked out of the toilet with them. Again, the employee was freaking out that I had to quickly take off the sandals. It was a very funny experience!

Asian bath houses are also very particular about clothes, in that, you can't wear any when in the pools. There's also some of these in Manila, so I was kinda used to the idea of being naked with other ladies. Jarne, on the other hand, is European, and it was a very new experience for him. After agreeing to meet up after an hour at the main entrance, we parted ways and went in our respective gender's section. 

The only showers were located by the pool so I had to shower naked in plain sight of the other ladies. Then I hopped in the boiling water. I thought I was doing everything right until 30 seconds later one Asian lady tells me, "No hair!" Good thing I had a hair tie on my wrist.

Even with the rain, I was so hot from the water. I had to cool down several times. After 40 minutes I was done. When I met Jarne, he said we had been out of the pool for already 30 minutes. It was too hot for him! We were glad to go back to the city, because we already had enough adventure for the day.

Our third day was spent in Arashiyama, a quaint touristy district in the outskirts of Kyoto. I wanted to see the famous bamboo groves, and I read that you'd better get there early if you want to avoid the hoards of crowds. So, we woke up at 5:30am and arrived at the bamboo groves at 7:30am. There were only around four other people when we arrived, it was perfect and serene. We were able to take so many great photos! We tried making jump shots until the crowds started pouring in at around 9:00am.
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Arashiyama bamboo groves

Tenryu-ji Temple, which is next to the entrance of the bamboo groves

Afterwards, we rented a bike by the station and went to Iwatayama Monkey Mountain. We had to climb up the mountain for around 20 minutes, but it was worth it. We were surrounded by very calm and well disciplined macaque monkeys. The view from the top was also impressive. Jarne adores monkeys, so of course he wanted to have a photo with them. We could also feed them through a barrier. We had a choice of nuts, bananas, and other fruits. We heard someone ask what the monkeys preferred, and the lady selling the food said, "Definitely bananas," so we bought one bag of sliced bananas.

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A brooding monkey
Jarne with his buddy

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Jarne feeding a baby monkey bananas

We got hungry feeding the monkeys, so we looked for a place to eat on foursquare, which led us to a soba restaurant called Arashiyama Yoshimura. There was quite a long queue, and the restaurant was too packed, so we were led to the restaurant right next door, but we were reassured that we were still going to be served by Yoshimura's kitchen. It was both mine and Jarne's first time eating soba. Mostly by sign language, the waiter showed us how to eat it: pick up some noodles and dip it in the sauce which is in a separate bowl. It was delish! Jarne ordered the set which came with shrimp tempura, but he doesn't eat seafood, so I got to eat that, too!

Arashiyama Yoshimura kyoto arashiyama soba
Soba for lunch

Afterwards, we biked some more (I mostly walked with the bike because there weren't any bike lanes and I'm not very confident biking right next to huge trucks). We visited a few other temples in Arashiyama, the photo below was in Gio-ji Temple, which is tiny compared to the other temples in Kyoto. Gio-ji is known for its moss garden, which looks like it came right out of a scene from Lord of the Rings.

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Gio-ji Moss Garden


Our fourth day in Kyoto was more relaxed. We arrived Kikaku-ji, the famous Golden Pavilion, the moment it opened at 9am hoping to beat the crowds. As luck may have it, around ten huge buses carrying Japanese school kids arrived the same time we did. The pavilion itself was as sight to behold, but the crowd kind of ruined the vibe. We couldn't wait to get to our next stop, Ryoan-ji, which is known for its rock garden. 

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Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion
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The rock garden of Ryoan-ji

After Ryoan-ji, which was also quite crowded (there were again students on field trip), we went to a quiet little cafe called Kotoba no Haoto. We waited for an hour to get a table (in Japan, if it's good, you better be prepared to line up, or get a reservation). When we finally got a table, it was another 20 minute wait for our order. When the food arrived, I became really happy. Because their cat parfaits are so cute and yummy! Thinking back, though, l'm not so sure if the hour wait was worth it.

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Kotoba no Haoto's cat parfait

Japanese Style Seating

After gathering enough energy to walk again, we went to the last temple of our Kyoto trip: Eikan-do (formerly known as Zenrin-ji Temple). There was so much to see here: a lovely pond with tiny bridges and lots of greenery, a pagoda sitting on a hill, a wooden hall with a rock garden...

Emoting by Eikan-do's Hojo Pond

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Ladies in kimono at Eikan-do's Shakado Hall

For our last dinner in Kyoto, Jarne wanted to have a vegetarian meal. He saw that this place called Katsukura had the best vegetarian Japanese curry in town, so I obliged. To Jarne's chagrin, the place turned out to be a well-known pork tonkatsu restaurant chain! I was so happy! I ordered a pork tonkatsu set, very much like what Yabu offers in Manila. The pork, though, was much much better than Yabu's. It was a great last meal in Kyoto! Oh, and Jarne says it was the best vegetable curry he ever had!

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Pork Tonkatsu set at Katsukura

Our flight back to Tokyo was at 8pm, so we decided to wander the streets of Kyoto the whole afternoon one last time. We finally went to the famous Nishiki Market. It was foodie heaven, a treasure trove of exotic food. I bought some spicy sesame seeds to bring back home, ate some unagi sushi, and matcha green tea soft serve. Mmmm!

Nishiki Market

Matcha Heaven

Our last hours in Kyoto were spent drinking beer by the Kamo River.
We had so many unforgettable experiences in Kyoto.
We will definitely be back!

kamo river kyoto japan gion kobu kaburenjo
The Kamo River, with Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater in the background

*Most photos were taken by Jarne Uytersprot using his Fuji X-T10