When we arrived in Kyoto we knew right away that we were going to have a very different experience than we had in Osaka. The streets here are dotted with temples, gardens and shrines, and it’s rare to see a building over five stories. This place is very tranquil, and being the old imperial capital, is very rich in history.
We rented a very cool place here that has given us a taste of real life in Japan. You can check it out here. We sleep on tatami mats and eat our meals at a kotatsu. We also have a teeny tiny kitchen and massive TV that is bigger than our teeny tiny kitchen. One of my favourite features of the apartment is our appliance tower, which looks like it could topple at any moment.
It’s actually a huge apartment but set up in a really strange way so that you have to cook where you sleep but then have a massive ground floor that is practically empty. One of the big bonuses of this place though was that bikes were included and we had one with a baby seat on it.
We got Nu a baby helmet with high hopes that he would love the bike. As it turns out, he really likes looking at bikes but hates riding them. We managed to make a couple of bike trips though and really enjoyed the beautiful fall weather.
Our first bike ride was to the Golden Pavilion, which was the residence of a powerful statesman and later converted into a Buddhist temple. Its set inside a magnificent garden and has something about it which is just so pleasing to the eye. Nu is really into travelling by foot these days and made it through the entire garden on his own. He only tried to eat a few stones along the way and as usual put on quite a show for the hundreds of other tourists there with us.
Our second bike trip was to the gardens of the imperial palace and then to an amazing free play space called Komodo Mirai Kan. We had to make the awful bike ride worth it for Nu! The play space was incredibly cool. All we had to do was sign in and could stay for as long as we liked for FREE – which seems like a huge deal in super expensive Japan. All the toys were made of wood, including a wood ball pit, wood kitchen, trucks, instruments and more.
We did a few trips out of the city to the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the town of Nara. Seeing the bright orange gates of Fushimi Inari is a must for any person visiting Japan. Even though we have all seen pictures of this place many times before it doesn’t fail to impress. Nu loved running through the gates all on his own and caught the attention of everyone, causing a huge traffic jam on the path.
Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto and is home to the highest concentration of national treasures in Japan. Its also home to more than a thousand deer that roam the streets, parks, shrines and temples. Because we only had one day here we stuck to the Nara Park where most of the sites and deer are. We took our fair share of deer selfies and watched people feeding the deer cookies be stalked by these funny animals. We read before we arrived that the deer have learned to bow to visitors and when Sami gave it a try the deer actually bowed back!
Back in Kyoto we visited the Nijo castle, which has two huge palaces that are UNESCO world heritage sites. They are both filled with amazing gold leaf murals of tigers, peacocks, cherry blossoms and cypress trees. As we were walking through the palace we noticed that the floors were squeaking like hundreds of little birds. It turns out that this was an intentional design feature to protect the occupants from intruders and they are known as the ‘nightingale floors’.
No visit in Kyoto would be complete without a trip to Gion to try and spot one of the city’s famed geishas. Its hard to say if we actually saw a real geisha or not because there were so many tourists dressed up in Kimonos but we did see two ladies rushing down an alley and hiding their faces, and its said that no real geisha will just wander the streets.
Although we loved all of the historic sites of Kyoto we also loved just experiencing life here. One of the true pleasures of life in Japan are the 100 yen shops. You can find so many weird and wonderful things that its impossible not to love them. Have you ever felt that you needed a pillow for your wrist or a ‘belly warmer’? If you have, let me know and I’ll pick one up for you.
We also discovered in our time here how to eat cheaply. Around 7 pm all of the grocery stores put their fresh food on sale. People rush in and within minutes everything clears out. We became exerts in getting these bargains and on most nights, could have a huge plate of sashimi for around 4 dollars!
We thought that while in japan we should try some sake with our sushi one night and so Sami picked up what he thought was a bottle of sake. We looked on the internet how to drink it properly and warmed it to 40 degrees. We both couldn’t stop commenting on how much it tasted like whiskey and so half way through the bottle we looked up the name on the label which read ‘Zaky’. We assumed this was just a strange variation on the spelling of sake but it turns out it actually was actually shochu zaky, a spirit distilled from barely. Needless to say, we slept very well that night.