If you have the JR Pass, you can easily get from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen (their bullet train) in 2.5 hours. The first destination that we were excited for was actually where we were staying for the night! More in this blog: a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, bowing deer at Nara, and getting lost in a bamboo forest!
9 HR CAPSULE HOTEL
A very cool experience, and a cheap way to spend a night! When checking in, you get a locker to keep your shoes at the front, and an additional locker in the public bathrooms (they provide you with shower necessities like a regular hotel does), either on the 3rd or 9th floor depending on your gender. Although you're allowed to hang out in the capsules, you are not allowed to eat or make noise in the capsules to keep noise down when others are sleeping. However, there is a lobby on the first floor where you can do work or discuss your next travel plans.
(You can also do work in your capsule if you are quiet.)
Unfortunately you have to check out after every night you're there, but if that wasn't the case, I would have actually loved to stay here for more than one night!
You can enjoy a lot more traditional Japanese architecture and homes here compared to Tokyo, and it is known for it's many shrines and close proximity to nature (rivers, moss gardens, bamboo forests, etc.). Here is just a compilation of the surrounding area and where we stayed before we get into the specific activities you can do in Kyoto!
The street of Guest House Umeya, where we stayed the majority of the time we were in Kyoto.
Sara and I in the small rock garden where we stayed.
On our walk to the bus stop.
TRADITIONAL JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY
Sara and I learned about the ritual of serving Matcha tea to guests, and afterwards got to make and drink our own matcha tea. Guests are supposed to bring certain items: a stainless steel fork to pick up sweets to counteract the bitter taste of the matcha, a paper napkin, a small fan, and a small cloth. However, since this was our first time, our host didn't expect any of these items from us. Overall, the tea ceremony is not just about the tea, but about respecting your guests, yourself, and your surroundings (nature).
The fan is placed between you and the host to symbolize a dividing line between you and the host. After bowing, you put the fan behind you to remove barriers and allow free communication. Although everything is cleaned beforehand, the cloth is used in your actions to symbolize the purification of the objects before continuing.
After demonstrating the tea ceremony, we were able to make our own tea. With 1.5 - 2 scoops of matcha powder and hot water, the bamboo whisk is used to make the tea frothy; the more froth, the better it tastes! Our host was able to whisk the tea insanely fast, and it was like watching hummingbird wings beat.
Each chashaku (bamboo tea scoop) is very special and is usually passed down for generations. They each have their own unique name to remind those drinking tea of pleasant weather; our host's was: warm spring breeze.
To show respect, the bowl is turned twice clockwise so that the front faces the host. After finishing the tea, you can make a small sip sound if you want to indicate that the tea was enjoyable.
After witnessing our host pour all of her attention into the placement of the utensils, the orientation of the objects, and the movements of preparing and making the tea, we could see how one could get into a meditative state while performing the ceremony!
Afterwards, we explored the surrounding area at night for food:
FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE
The shrine dedicated to worship the rice god Inari, the shrine of over 10,000 orange torii gates, and the shrine that everyone posts on social media. When you enter the main area, there is water to cleanse your hands with, food stalls, and places to buyema (wooden prayer boards) to hang up on the shrine grounds. It gets really packed at around 10AM so if you can, arrive early at around 7:30AM to avoid the crowds!
There are many stone foxes on the grounds, as the fox was seen to be the messenger for Inari.
The start of the hike.
Despite not getting to the end, the further you go, the less people there are for your photo opportunities, so I would definitely hike at least half of it! I also really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the orange against the greenery surrounding us.
Quick snap of Sara.
When coming here, we probably should have googled how long it would take to hike to the top of the mountain and back (~3 hours), but after being so determined to get to the top, we realized it wouldn't have fit with our schedule, hah! We ended up hiking down a side trail and noticed some sakura blooming before heading back.
If you have the time, I would hike to the top of the mountain to see a city view of Kyoto! However, if you end up being short on time, there are many side paths that offer a more peaceful walk, and glimpses of the area that are quite charming with the city in the distance.
NARA DEER PARK
A very special area that allows you to get up close and personal to deer! I've written a separate blog post that offers tips on how to best interact with them, as well as includes shots to show just how cute they are; Check it out here!
SAIHŌ-JI MOSS GARDEN/BAMBOO FOREST
For the Moss garden, unfortunately we had to get a notice in advance requiring an address in Japan, so we couldn't get in...next time! However, there was a bamboo forest nearby and with the perfect lighting, and we decided to walk the deserted path. There were also monkeys along the fence, although we didn't get too close before they walked away.
Monkey climbing the fence in the distance.
Although we didn't get to see the moss garden, we really enjoyed getting lost in a beautiful bamboo forest instead!
We spent our last morning in Kyoto touring Nijo Castle before heading back to Tokyo.
Matcha - Seriously, just get everything; ice cream, chocolate, cake...and buy some matcha powder to bring back!
Regional Wagyu Beef - There are four levels of beef with Kobe being the highest-end, regional Wagyu being second, Wagyu (any beef from cattle bred in Japan), and then any beef not from Japan. Although you only get a small amount for ~$25, it is amazing. If you're in LA, check out the Salt Plate Beef at Yamashiro; it's the closest thing I can think of with the same quality!
Family Mart - For dirt-cheap and still good food! GREAT for when you’re trying to stay on budget!
Finally, thank you Kyoto for a breath away from the city, and for your charming pace of life. We did not get to see all that we wanted to see, nor did we get our fill on matcha, which means we're definitely coming back in the future. ;)
P.S. - Head on over to the Osaka blog for the majority of our food finds in the night street market!