I had 30 hours to see Kyoto, Japan. Thirty short hours. But this 30 hours just so happened to fall beautifully in the first week of Sakura bloom of Spring in late March. If you don’t know about Sakura season, please listen. Sakura is also known as Cherry Blossoms which you know are the first obvious sight of Spring in Asia, and various other locations around the world. The bloom changes every year with the weather & they only stay for a short week or two so it’s rare to catch them in full bloom!
Okay, so enough about flowers for now. We will return on the topic at a later time, because WOW. So first things first, as always:
I got a 6:50am flight from Incheon & arrived in Osaka by 8:45am. To be completely honest, I needed wifi when I thought I wouldn’t. This was my second time in Japan and I don’t know why I doubted it. Most countries in Asia, you can rent a temporary SIM card for less than $7. HOWEVER, Japan is too good for SIM cards apparently and you can’t rent one for your phone for less than $35USD. You can rent “pocket wifi” for $15USD for two days though, which is what I ultimately ended up doing. You rent the wifi and upon return at the airport, you just drop the wifi into a return bin, which is a throwback to the VHS Blockbuster days. RIP Hollywood Video.
After the wifi fiasco, I got a ticket of the Kansai-Airport Express “Haruka” line to Kyoto. In a roundtrip plan for about ¥5200, about $49USD, I got two trips to the airport & back (a one way ticket was a whopping ¥3200!! So this was a better deal) plus about ¥2000 ($18USD) on an ICOCA card, which will give you Subway and Bus fare.
I got on the Haruka train and ended up in Kyoto by around noon. I was starving–so I stopped in a noodle shop at the train station for some quick shrimp udon. It was a shop where you have to select outside the shop from a machine & receive a ticket. Then, you give the ticket to the cooks & receive your order inside. It was actually a really unique experience for me, as silly as that may sound.
OKAY BUT I’VE ARRIVED!
First stop: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
-We got a day bus/subway pass for ¥900, about $8-9 and we knew we would need it.
We took the #100 bus to Kiyomizu-dera Temple as our first stop for the day. A Cherry Blossom tracker I found online stated that they were starting to bloom there. There were a lot of tourist shops along the walk, but some were really high quality and I feel as though this would’ve been the perfect place to buy souvenirs! Then, the photos will tell the rest:
Second stop: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
-So I’m going to be honest with y’all, I don’t remember the name of the subway I took from Kiyomizu-dera. I do know I walked about a kilometer and then got to a subway station from Kiyomizu-dera. I do also know, I took a train from Uzumasa Eigamura to Randan Arashiyama using the railway, which was a regular train inside of a subway, but it was a quick 10-15 minute ride. When I got to Randan station, it was less than a kilometer walk to the bamboo forest! Fantastic experience. I read that it would be crowded, but I arrived around 4pm and honestly, it was not at all overwhelming. I loved walking around this bamboo forest and I highly recommend at this time of day.
Third stop: Kinkaku-ji aka Temple of the Golden Pavilion
-We took a cab from Arashiyama Bamboo Forest due to time, however it was kind of pricey. The cab ran around $21USD for 8 Kilometers. I would not recommend doing this unless you were like us and trying to beat the sunlight. This was the first destination where we had to pay a fee, but it was only ¥600, less than $6USD. To watch as the sun was sunsetting was phenomenal.
After this, we checked into our hotel.
Our hotel was right across from Kyoto Station and I cannot recommend it enough. I stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. It was stunning. For me, it was such a peaceful experience and so centrally located, which I felt was ideal for such a quick weekend!
After freshening up, our Fourth stop: Nijō Castle for the illumination sakura festival:
The castle has illumination along the castle walls coordinated with music and animation in order to showcase the gorgeous trees. There were also food stands for refreshments and it was a great experience!
Fifth stop: Gion for dinner:
I had done all this research. I had thought I knew where the cherry trees had blossomed…however, walking to dinner in Gion, I saw the most beautiful strip of blossomed trees! Honestly, this was one of the greatest moments for me in the entire weekend & I had read so many blogs and live cherry blossom forecasts, none of which mentioned Gion!
Gion is also famous for viewing Geishas walking from one engagement to the next. Geishas go through rigorous training in traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement and various musical instruments. To “book” one in a traditional teahouse is about $900USD for a few hours… Yeah, so it’s kind of neat to see one walking through the streets as exclusive as she may be. I saw one! And that’s my claim to fame.
We ate at Wadachi in Gion. Honestly, such a great experience. We watched everything be made in front of us for about ¥600/dish. We got four dishes for two people which rounds out to about $24USD for the two meals! Amazing. To top it off, there is a sake menu of 40 different varieties with descriptions. We were able to test two each for about $5 each. Our total bill for the evening was $44 for an impeccable, customized meal with drinks in a cozy atmosphere.
Address: Japan, 〒605-0077 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Nijuikkencho, 227, 1 階 岩橋ビル
Then, get some SLEEP!!!
We woke up at 7am to try and maximize our time before the flight.
Sixth stop: Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
We headed for the shrine around 8am. From Kyoto station, you take the Nara “D” line for two stops towards Inari and get off at Inari Station. Upon arrival, you ARE THERE. Walk about 200 meters to the beginning of the shrine. I’m pretty sure this was my favorite spot in all of Kyoto. Please look at these photos and see for yourself:
Seventh Stop: Philospher’s Walk:
After we finished here around 10am, we headed to Philosopher’s Walk. To be honest, this was really very hard to find for us! We headed to Nanzen-Ji temple on the #5 bus from Kyoto Station and after a ten minute, very zen stroll, I realized it was not actually inside the temple, but perpendicular to it. We asked some people on the street to eventually find our way and once we found the pathway, it was such a lovely treat. Be sure to continue all the way to Hoe-in Temple where you will find a peaceful garden and Coi pond.
Final stop: Nishiki Market street for one last meal
We basically rushed to make sure we could get to Nishiki Market street by cab for one last meal before our flight. Many stands serve various foods and goods. There is nothing like an Asian Street Market to me. We stopped into a little standing sushi stop with only space for six people to eat. It was a perfect final meal in Japan!