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Kyoto is old, so there’s not a lot of subway options. We found ourselves taking the city bus multiple times per day. Some useful things to know:
- Board the bus at the rear. When you exit, pay at the front and exit at the front.
- Google Maps public transit is great, but the location on the map doesn’t accurately match where the bus actually stops. You’ll need to look around for bus stop signs, and make sure you’re on the correct (left) side of the street.
- You can pay for the buses with an IC card; the bus fare is 230 yen. There’s no “transfer” system so you have to pay the fare for every segment of the trip. BUT you can get a one-day bus pass for 500 yen. We were able to buy them at our ryokan.
MENBAKAICHIDAI – Fire Ramen
Japan is full of fun dining experiences; Fire Ramen is one of the best! We went to Menbakaichidai, which was only a 12 minute walk from our hotel in Kyoto. There is a tablet setup outside which gives you a number and wait estimate. We went on a Monday evening around 8pm and our wait was about half an hour. The spot is becoming more and more popular, so I would come before you get too hangry! When spots open up at the counter, the employees will call your number and ask you where you’re from. They will show you instructions on laminated pieces of paper, which they have in many different languages. The most important was to lean back and not to touch the counter. There are no photos allowed, but you can give the employees your phone and they’ll set it up on a selfie stick hanging from the wall. The video says it all!
After the delicious ramen, one of the employees started chatting with us. We asked him for a recommendation for where to go after, and he responded, “Mister Kanso. Cheap drinks and tin cans.”
Mr. Kanso is only a few blocks away from Fire Ramen, so we stopped in for a couple drinks. And that’s when we learned what the tin cans were all about.
This is one of those bars that is unique to Japan. I would recommend stopping in for a drink if you’re in the area. More info at Weird Japan.
A trip to Kyoto would not be complete without a visit to Arashiyama in western Kyoto. Even though there are a ton of tourists, it’s still a fun area.
We took the bus to Arashiyama from central Kyoto, and starteed our day at Monkey Park. I’m glad we did this in the morning, because it’s actually a bit of a hike from the base of the mountain to the top, where the monkeys are. At the top, there’s an open area where monkeys come and go.
You can go into a feeding pen, where you can purchase food and feed the monkeys.
After Monkey Park, we headed to Okina for lunch. We walked about 15 minutes through central Arashiyama before we arrived at Okina. We had a reservation for a course menu, which was ￥7,218. The restaurant also has an a la cart menu, which probably would have been cheaper. However, we wanted to do a Michelin star course menu, and lunch time was cheaper and easier to book.
There was definitely a language barrier, but the staff was so friendly! We were somewhat able to communicate with pictures and Google Translate. Our first course was a prawn dish:
At one point, the woman who I think was the owner said, “Everything… you can eat!” At which point I picked up the leaf and held it up and the staff was like, “No no!”
After we paid, we went outside and realized that we had left our GoPro out on the street for the duration of our meal! Oops. Good thing Japan is so safe and honorable.
After our delicious lunch, we walked back to grab a coffee from insta-famous Arabica Coffee.
We walked through bamboo forest, which is supposedly a “must-see”. It was beautiful but super crowded with tourists and selfie sticks.
Tenzan no Yu Onsen
This onsen was AMAZING. After our long day of sightseeing in Arashiyama, we headed to this onsen which is halfway between Arashiyama and central Kyoto. It’s listed as Hot Waters of Tianshan on Google Maps and Tenzan no Yu on TripAdvisor.
The entrance is fee is only 1050 yen, and it was full of locals. The common areas are co-ed, and include a massage area, arcade, reading room and cafeteria. I got an amazing 30min massage for about $30.
The bath areas are separated male/female and are nude. There are showers, cool baths, and various hot baths and hot springs, both indoor and outdoor. Overall, it was a great way to end a long day of sightseeing.
Kyoto Railway Museum
We didn’t get to spend a lot of time at Kyoto Railway Museum, but it was a really cool museum, especially if you like trains.
There are full-scale trains in the museum, exhibits on how trains work, and articles about the history of train travel in Japan.
There were also a ton of school children – how cute are the matching hats and backpacks! When we walked by, they said “Hello!!!” to us excitedly.
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Kyoto’s golden temple is absolutely stunning. However, the experience it was a bit of a lowlight for me. The site was crammed with tourists; in order to exit, you have to walk through a patch crowded with tourists and vendors. I much preferred Ginkaku-ji.
Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
Kyoto’s silver pavilion looks and feels much more subdued than the golden pavilion. I really enjoyed the well-maintained pathways through beautiful gardens.
From Ginkaku-ji, we took a cab to Fushimi Inari. We had originally planned to go the day before, but it was raining so hard that we decided to stay indoors. Fushimi Inari is extremely famous, so there were a lot of tourists. However, there are 1000 gates, so it’s actually not too crowded once you started climbing up the mountain. In fact, it looked like a lot of tourists came to the first set of gates, took a bunch of pictures, and then left. We decided to go all the way to the top, and the number of tourists we ran into on the hike up wasn’t too bad.
There are maps on the way up that show your progress, but they are not to scale. At one point, the map said we were 1/3 of the way up when we were probably already halfway up. You should definitely wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated!
→ Part 6: Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura Honganji (coming soon!)