24 Hours in Kyoto
When we planned out our trip to Japan, I knew one of the stops we had to make along the way was Kyoto. As an art history buff, the fact that so much of Japan's pre-war architecture that still exists is found in one city made it absolutely irresistible!
Kyoto isn't super far from Japan, but the best way to get there is definitely via Shinkansen, which is Japan's version of a bullet train. These trains are incredibly fast (up to 200 mph) and spacious, so they're even comfier than an airplane to ride in! Tickets aren't cheap (about $290 each), but once you buy a Japan Rail (JR) Pass, it's good for an entire week and you can take as many trains as you want! So once we left Kyoto, we took a bullet train to Hakone (more on that to come) and then back to Tokyo, as well as using a lot of the JR train lines around Tokyo itself since the fare was already paid for. So I think it's definitely worth it if you'll be spending a week in Japan and plan on seeing more than just Tokyo. Also, be sure to buy a bento meal before you leave the Tokyo station! Definitely a packable lunch experience you won't find anywhere else.
We only had about 24 hours to spend in Kyoto, and it definitely didn't feel like enough. If you're looking for a hotel recommendation, we stayed at the Hotel Monterey Kyoto and really liked it! It was walking distance from a lot of great stuff and easy to get to via public transportation in the city.
Our first evening, I knew the number one stop on my bucket list was going to be the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, so we decided to head there straight off the bat so we wouldn't end up missing it somehow! We took a slightly longer route to the train station from our hotel that involved walking through the famous marketplace and got a little distracted along the way. So many sights and smells - we even saw a booth selling sea urchin! My favorite was a small booth selling dozens of gorgeous and colorful vintage kimonos. They were clearly well-loved, but the colors hadn't faded at all with time. I snatched up a bright orange and red floral kimono for only about $35 USD for those days when I just want to feel oh-so glamorous and comfy. We also bought an adorable wooden painted figure for our bookcase with traditional Japanese style apparel - can you guess which one??
We arrived at the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine at around 6:00 - golden hour this time of year. When we first turned the corner and saw that shocking orange gate I outright gasped. There is no way of describing this place without just showing you pictures. It's that unreal.
Kyoto can be a bit touristy with all the foreigners clamoring around for a photo, but what I loved most was seeing how many Japanese travelers were playing tourist in their own country! There were so many lovely ladies all dressed up in their best kimonos and posing with their parasols. It made me smile to think that Kyoto is still a special place that many Japanese travel to in order to experience the cultural richness and beauty of their country.
This shrine is also famous for its orange tunnels - they go on for miles and miles! I first saw them in Memoirs of a Geisha when I was a kid (remember this moving scene?) and it was so dreamlike to walk through them now as an adult! They were pretty crowded when we visited and lots of people were trying to get that *perfect* shot. Not sure if it's less crowded at certain times of the day/year, but I bet if you really hiked for a while you'd weed out a lot of the weaker tourists and get to experience the tunnels a little further up the path with more solitude.
My kimono and I fit right in with all the color! Dreams come true!
The next morning, we knew we'd really only have time to see one more spot in Kyoto before we had to catch our train, so after a lot of debating we decided to head to Nijo Castle. It was a relatively short walk from our hotel and the perfect place to spend a warm, sunny morning! Tim gave me a brief history lesson on the way over so I'd be prepared. Nijo Castle was built in 1626 during the reign of feudal lord Tokuwaga Iemitsu and was the home of the imperial court until the 20th Century! It's surrounded by two rings of moats and lots of watchtowers, so you know that's got to be why it lasted so long. So many important dignitaries were hosted here throughout the centuries as Japan grew in wealth and power.
No pictures were allowed inside but I can assure you, it was gorgeous! Hand-painted walls with illustrations of tigers, cranes, and leopards - oh my!
And that was our trip to Kyoto! How I wish we'd had an extra day (or even just an extra few hours) to squeeze in a few more castles and shrines. But at least the few we saw were beautiful enough to last us until our next trip to Japan someday...