Day 5: Kyoto
We woke up early to a beautiful sunrise over the skyscrapers of Osaka. To start, we got a big breakfast from Tonkatsu Matsunoya, a Katsu chain in this mall across the street from our hotel. It was one of the first places we saw and looked really good. We ordered from a touch screen machine and then gave the tickets to the server. The server was an old Chinese lady from Tianjin who has lived in Japan for over 30 years. The katsu was delicious and the whole meal was less than $5. My dad also loved the place and kept on wanting to come back.
With a full stomach, we found our way through the maze of the underground city to Hankyu Osaka Station. I knew from my last trip that we needed to get a transport card. There are so many train companies and transit lines in Japan so it is critical you have these cards. We were a bit confused on how to buy them initially, but a really friendly Japanese lady took the time to help us at the machine. Even though she didn’t speak any English, she was very patient and stayed until all three of us got our cards. Given this was rush hour on a weekday morning, I was very surprised she did that – great first impression of the locals. We took the Hankyu electric trains to our first destination: Arashiyama. It was such a beautiful day so the 45min ride flew by. It was cool looking out the window and seeing the Japanese homes and landscape.
Arashiyama is on every Kyoto itinerary (including my last one) so I was familiar with the area and route. Immediately, we could see the cherry blossom trees blooming and plenty of people taking pictures with them.
We walked across the famous bridge and along the river, taking in the sunshine and views. Then we continued inland and reached the bamboo forest. My dad loves nature and bamboo so he was really excited. It was definitely crowded, but that didn’t take away from the beauty.
There were also several temples and gardens in the area which we stopped by briefly. Once we got to the main street, there were many food stands including one selling this beautiful matcha mochi with strawberry. It looked really good so we got one on impulse – delicious.
As we continued walking, we stumbled across a train station. I hadn’t quite decided on our next destination yet since it was a bit inconvenient to get there. There were several big groups of tourists who just got on the train, so we decided to follow them. I knew we needed to take it to get into the city, so at least it was in the right direction. Eventually, one of the stop announcements mentioned Kinkaku-ji, which was the place I was debating to go to. Most of the tourists got off at that stop so we followed suit. The temple was about 1km from the train and through a park that was having a Hanami party. Hanami is when people picnic under the cherry blossom trees, a popular tradition every year. We saw this in parks all over Kansai during our stay.
Once we finally got to Kinkaku-Ji, we cleansed our hands at the traditional water well and had a short Matcha ice cream break.
At the entrance, we got these paper tickets that looked like traditional scrolls with some famous proverb. It was one of the most unique tickets I’ve seen. The temple itself was absolutely beautiful, with the top two levels coated in gold leaf. It is one of the most iconic temples in Kyoto and am very glad I was able to – unexpectedly – make it. The grounds around the temple were also immaculate and serene. After pictures at the viewing area, there was a path that circled around the temple and the surrounding gardens.
By now it was lunch time and conveniently Kura Sushi, a conveyor belt sushi place I saw on Buzzfeed’s “Worth It” show was nearby. Even though it was already past 1pm, there was still a wait, which usually means the place is pretty good. Conveyor Belt Sushi or Kaiten, is a popular way to get quality sushi for cheap. Instead of spending money on servers, everything is automated with a big conveyor belt passing by every table. There is a constant flow of various sushi and other dishes on the belt, so if you see something you like, you just grab it. Each dish is small and often costs just $1 so it's easy to calculate. This was a great way to try out all different types of sushi that you would not normally order. There was also a touch screen at each table where you can order all the possible dishes, including larger ones that aren’t on the belt. It’ll zoom by directly from the kitchen to your table on a second conveyor belt above the main one. We ordered some croquets and shaved ice from this. You can also make your own green tea with matcha powder and a hot water dispenser at every table. Not only is it convenient, cheap, and fun, but the food itself was delicious. Everything was high quality and had great flavours. Even the wasabi tasted much more fresh than what we normally get in the west. Some of my favourites were the scallops, the iberian ham, and the fatty tuna. We were all stuffed by the end and it only costed about $25 for 3 people.
After lunch, we headed over to the Gion District in Central Kyoto. We took a local bus that got us there directly, but the traffic was pretty rough. I used this time to get a nice afternoon nap in. Once we got off, we were greeted by the gorgeous stream glistening in the sunshine.
We explored the Gion district, which is famous for its Geishas. We saw several walking around with hoards of tourists trying to get a good shot. They looked real at first but my dad could hear some speaking Chinese, meaning they were probably just tourists dressed up. Gion is a historic area with narrow alleyways and traditional hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These restaurants are often quite small, but specialize in Kyo-Kaiseiki which is a Kyoto-style version of the popular Kaiseiki multi-course meal. I did try to look for one, but they were all extremely expensive and the cuisine didn’t appeal to me that much.
We also explored the area east of Gion - Higashiyama. This area was filled with various temples and parks, along with lots of Hanami and plenty of street food. There was a lively and fun atmosphere with tons of locals and tourists alike enjoying the weather, nature, and food.
As the sun started to set, we took the Hankyu Line from Gion back into Osaka. It was beautiful seeing the landscape at sunset, as well as the other train lines zooming by on different tracks. Once we got back to our hotel and freshened up, we headed out for dinner. We went to this famous Okinomiyaki chain called Chibo. It was pretty upscale and we were definitely not dressed for it. Okinomiyaki is kind of like a Japanese pancake/pizza and is one of the flagship dishes in Osaka. At Chibo, we were seated in small stations, each with a chef preparing the dish on the steel grill in front of you. We ordered three different dishes, although all tasted pretty similar since they all had seafood and pork. It was delicious though and fairly affordable for such a high end restaurant.