Kyoto has easily become my favourite part of Japan so far. There’s something about the slowness of its pace, the calm air, the peace, the gentle demeanour of the locals, and the lightness of the city. I may be biased because Memoirs of a Geisha was one of the most impactful books that I’ve read during my formative years, but actually being in Kyoto and breathing its air—especially in Gion—was a magical, surreal, and an astonishing feeling for me. There are many more adjectives to describe this place that I’ll just wind up in a daydream, so I’ll move on now!
We arrived at Kyoto from Hakone a little bit after dinnertime, so we made our way first to the Airbnb before dinner. The walk from Kyoto station was around 20 minutes, but it was all right because of the cold winter weather. I mean, it was freezing, but it was nice to see the city lights unravelling before our very eyes with every step we took. Our eyes landed on many tiny eateries waiting to serve its hungry guests. Whenever their front doors would creek open to let the next guest in, a surge of smoke would creep out and the faint chatter and cackle of happy diners was audible from where we stood.
After settling in our Airbnb, we headed out for dinner. One of my close friends recommended we try out Gyoza Chao Chao, which served really satisfying gyoza (dumplings) in classic and fun varieties. More detailed food posts from this trip coming soon (because I took tons of photos, hahaha).
1st Stop: Arashiyama 嵐山
Bamboo is known to be one of the sturdiest plants because of its root structure, and because of this, it symbolises prosperity in Japanese culture. We went to Arashiyama, which is a small town lined with small shops selling various Japanese knick-knacks. It’s also home to Hozugawa River, which is close to % Arabica! Of course, we needed our early morning coffee fix before ambling about town. But to tell you the truth, 7-Eleven’s lattes are quite delicious, I downed one on the way to Arashiyama, so this was my second coffee of the day.
The bamboo forest was packed with tourists as expected, so we gave up with taking photos and just enjoyed the walk. Despite the buzz of visitors, the mood was extremely tranquil. May favourite parts were the ones where we would find tiny pockets away from the bamboo forest that had gorgeous views of Arashiyama.
2nd Stop: Nishiki Market 錦市場
After Arashiyama, we went to Nishiki Market for late lunch! We tried to stick to a modest budget, but obviously exceeded because of all the foooooooooooooood. Everything was so good! But a more detailed account soon, but here’s a little teaser!
3rd Stop: Higashiyama District 東山
Higashiyama-ku is one of the best and most well preserved historic districts in Kyoto. It actually reminded me of the narrow roads leading to the A-Mei Tea House in Jiufen, Taipei. It’s lined with cafés and small shops that sell pickles, sweets, pottery, and more. I spotted a Porter shop here that sold a beautiful bag made with the same material used for samurai sword cases (!!!)—a mix of tradition in a handheld bag. We got another round of % Arabica before making our way to the Yasaka Pagoda 八坂の塔, Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社 (it used to be known as “Gion Shrine”), and Kyomizudera Temple 清水寺 (or “Pure Water Temple”). It also started to rain and snow a little bit, but the walk to the top was so worth it!
4th Stop: Gion 祇園
Now this was where the feelings hit me hard! It felt like I was in the same world as Sayuri-san, especially with all the wooden structures and teahouses. When I was reading up on Gion a while back, I read somewhere that the Geisha tradition is slowly fading away, however, one could be lucky enough to spot one on a rare night in this small town.
There were a few hours to spare before our dinner reservation, so I decided to do some personal care shopping for myself and for family and friends. I felt so happy with my haul, until we got back to Singapore and saw that 95% of the items I bought were at Don Don Donki (Singapore’s franchise of Don Quijote). Finally—dinner! Yakitori Hitomi did not disappoint—the meal was incredibly fantastic and unforgettable.
For our last night, we ended up in Komorebino, a natural wine bar at Gion! We became friends with the bartender, Shoichi-san, and had such a nice conversation with him. I also attempted to speak Japanese with him (thanks to Google translate, lolololol). I had a flight of Japanese natural wines, which was a truly sensory experience. Also had the best olives from Shōdoshima Island 小豆島 (also know as the “Island of Small Beans”!!!). I still dream about them.
5th Stop: Fushimi-Inari 伏見稲荷大社
I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the complexity of building torii (gates) that snake around an inclined piece of land. Andre wanted to go all the way to the top, so I told him I wanted to stay behind and read my book instead. Because I am a lazybutt, of course. And I hate climbing stairs.
6th Stop: Nara 奈良市
After Fushimi-Inari, we dropped by Nara—a mandatory stop for me because, of course, I wanted to see and pet the deer like a 5-year old. We also had a delicious curry lunch there. I saw a snow owl and had the softest mochi もち (Japanese rice cake) ever for dessert. After the deer, we walked further to see the largest wooden temple in the world, Tōdai-ji 東大寺 (Eastern Great Temple). Andre took photos of it, but I did not because I was eating Cremia and couldn’t be bothered.
There’s a very special magic around Kyoto that has drawn me so close to it unlike Tokyo or Osaka or Kamakura has. The pull of the place was beyond magnetic. I grew up in the city, but I’ve always felt attached to areas surrounded with nature (by the sea or up in the mountains) or has a preserved heritage to it that results into a slower, more peaceful pace. We were also able to visit Osaka in between the trip, so I’ll be writing about that soon!
There are so many other places in Japan that I’d like to discover, but Kyoto really tops the list for me at the meantime. We will definitely be back.