Japan Part II -- Two weeks in Japan
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
In this post, we'll explore the island of Japan in the time frame of two weeks. We'll Cover Kyoto, Osaka, and Miyajima. For coverage on Tokyo, Kamakura, nearby day trips, and Shibu- Onsen, please see Japan Part I -- Two weeks in Japan.
We'll start the second half of our journey with a 160min Shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Kyoto and continue moving south from there. It's now time to slow down from Tokyo's fast-paced city vibe, relax, and enjoy Kyoto's romantic fairytale-like scenery.
Kyoto in 3 days— Day 1
Transportation in Kyoto will be much slower than in Tokyo; nevertheless, it's still very reliable, but more time is needed for sightseeing. Here we'll be using a mixture of buses, trains, and walking as modes of transportation. Start your day exploring Arashiyama, located on the outskirts of Kyoto. We stayed here while in Kyoto and enjoyed the authentic feel and look of our surroundings. We used Airbnb to rent a studio apartment, stayed at a bachelorette's pad (now married), and ate across the street at a non-English menu/speaking restaurant, so we had to point at the menu and were surprised with every dish that kept coming out. This experience was refreshing, genuine, and exciting for us as travelers as we love to embrace the culture of every place we visit and often wander off to non-planned places; those tend always to be the most memorable ones when looking back on our experiences.
Our first stop is at the Bamboo Forest (open 24 hours-- Free). I recommend going here early as it's an open forest with natural lighting and usually in the afternoon it gets crowded and after 7 pm dark. This forest is at the end of a long strip, passing temples, shrines, and food trucks. I recommend starting first with the forest and then making your way back to all those other things. Also, Kyoto is a city full of beautiful gardens and temples— the amount can be overwhelming and redundant after a while, so I recommend making a list of the ones that perk your interest. We visited a handful while here.
After the forest, take a stroll back into the main street, stopping everywhere that looks interesting. You'll find temples, shrines, food trucks, and a kimono forest inside a semi-open mall. We stopped here for ice cream and ate GOLD for the first time!!! Yeap! There's an ice cream shop inside this mall that will top off your ice-cream with gold leaf for only $7 #becauseweonlyliveonce Now the real question is, what did gold taste like? There's no taste, in all honesty, and the texture feels as if you were eating paper. Would I eat it again? I don't think so. Am I glad I tried it and now know? Heck yeah!
More things to do in Arashiyama
* Visit the Oi River ( nearby - Free)
* Gio-Ji Temple ( small moss temple)
* Tenryu -Ji Temple ( 8:30am- 5pm --$6 )
* Saiho-Ji "Kokedera" (This is a private moss temple, and reservation is required via mail three months before the visit. If approved, you get an invitation to attend via mail.) Open 9 am-5 pm $30 entrance fee. *Katsura Imperial Villa (9 am-3:30 pm Free).
After a full in Arashiyama, if up to it, check out the nightlife in Gion or Ponto-Cho.
Day 2 -- Central Kyoto
Start your day with morning tea at a traditional Japanese garden. These gardens are best enjoyed during spring and autumn. You can opt for a garden that offers a Tea Ceremony or one that sells already made tea. Take your time roaming through this picturesque fairytale like gardens and find your inner zen.
After tea, head on to Toji Temple (8:30 am-5:30 pm $5) and hang out in Ponto-Cho after. This is an excellent spot for "Geisha Spotting" (near shijodori end) and grabbing lunch/drinks as this area is packed with restaurants, teahouses, shopping, and bars. Some bars to check out are Yoramu ( most famous for its sake) and cafe independents for its underground music scene. This area should be visited both during the day and night as the ambiance is completely different.
Geisha Spotting in Kyoto-- I read the book Memoirs of a Geisha in high school, and although the book is fictional and not at all what happened, I still really wanted to see one but knew that spotting them was not so easy as they lead very private lives. Before arriving in Japan, I read that the best places to spot them in Kyoto were Gion & Ponto- Cho between 4 pm-8 pm ( what a stalker, right!?!) since it's when they go on appointments to tea houses. I made it a point to hang out in those areas with my camera in hand at all times, a paranoid gaze scanning every street, and nothing happened. I saw nothing, I found nothing. On my last day in Kyoto, I decided not to look, get lost and enjoy my surroundings, for Kyoto is my favorite place to visit in Japan. Then it happened. I found a beautiful Geisha walking down the streets. The moment was epic, and everything I thought it would be. It's a bizarre feeling seeing one walk right next to you.
Geishas are a dying art form. In the 1920s, there were about 80,000 geisha in Japan. Today in Kyoto, there are only about 67 Maiko & 177 Geikos left. So whats a Geisha? Geishas are traditional Japanese females that act as hostesses. They are artists, and they're an enigma to the world. They spend all their lives perfecting the arts of dance, classical music, conversation, games & tea ceremony to entertain the world's elite. Some start training as early as three and become a professional by 15. They prefer to be called Geikos instead of Geishas. A Maiko is an apprentice of a Geiko (Geisha). Their Kimonos cost between $10,000-30,000 Dollars. Contrary to many beliefs, they are not prostitutes, and the word Geisha means "art doer."
Kimono rental in Japan
A Kimono is a traditional Japanese dress. Originally Kimono meant "something to wear" or "clothing." When we arrived in Japan, it was close to midnight, so we immediately headed towards our Airbnb for much-needed sleep after a long flight. The next morning we woke up extra early to check out Tokyo and its famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Going up and down various neighborhoods, we were stunned to
find so many people wearing kimonos!
I thought, Wow- this place is still really traditional. Although, yes, Japan is still very traditional, Kimonos is mostly worn by tourists or locals at a special formal event like a wedding, tea ceremony, or funeral. So mystery solved! You can rent a kimono for a day and wander the streets wearing it! I got super excited and convinced my boyfriend (after a long talk and some sake) to do it with me in Kyoto. I thought Kyoto would be the perfect place since I find it romantic, scenic, full of tradition and culture.
Unfortunately, I sprained my foot on day one and could not wear the flip flop/ socks combo since I needed full support, and a kimono with sneakers did not seem like a good idea at the time. But YOU can and should do it when in Japan! It'll be an experience to remember for sure! P.S: Kimonos are also really tight and adjusted to your body, so don't plan on traveling long distances while wearing one.
Day 3 -- Northern Kyoto