Japan Field Trip , Part 3: Our first night in Kyoto

After a very adventurous day and night in Tokyo, we woke up to gray skies and rain clouds that just made it more difficult to climb out of that plush Hilton bed. But we had to hustle if we wanted to eat, pack, and do one last bit of looking around before it was time to board the Shinkansen to Kyoto.

We managed the eating and packing part but decided it was best to just head straight for Tokyo Station, where I frantically ran around looking to see if there was a Starbucks so I could buy a city mug. Alas, I could not find one. However, I did find a bag of creme brulée KitKat bars for sale, which according to the bag you’re supposed to broil before eating. Is broiling the Next Big Thing in Japan right now or something? REMEMBER: It doesn’t work with pizza unless you’ve already baked it for awhile first. (I’m not bitter, Tower Records, I swear)

It's called the Nozomi because the engine has a big nose. Just kidding.

It’s called the Nozomi because the engine has a big nose. Just kidding.

Riding the Shinkansen has been on my bucket list since I was 9 years old. I read about the trains in Science World magazine, which was basically the InStyle magazine for nerds. After ponying up $135 each for a reserved seat on the Nozomi 700, we settled in for our 2-hour journey. It turned out to be the most wonderful train ride I have ever taken in my life. Quiet, smooth as butter and unbelievably fast, I quickly realized why it’s so damn popular in Japan. Our only real disappointment was the weather, which prevented us from enjoying a majestic view of Mount Fuji as we shot down Japan’s Eastern coastline.

In case you get lost, there's a Lego model of Kyoto Station inside Kyoto Station.

In case you get lost, there’s a Lego model of Kyoto Station inside Kyoto Station.

When we arrived at the megaplex that is Kyoto Station, we quickly transferred to a local JR line that whisked us to Arashiyama. I phoned our hotel for the night and they sent a shuttle to pick us up. Ten minutes later, we were taking off our shoes as we were welcomed to Hanaikada, a fabulous ryokan nestled at the base of the mountains and along the Hozu river. This was without question the most expensive night of our trip, clocking in at $480 for the two of us, but I can say without question that it was worth every penny. For that price we had a luxurious taste of old Kyoto that included a beautifully presented kaiseki dinner, an equally magnificent breakfast, and a traditional tatmi room which featured a private bath fed by the hot spring that supplies the hotel’s rooftop onsen.

I suppose I should first dispense with the obligatory food porn:

Once again, I failed to remember to take a picture of dessert. We also each received a box of egg sushi as a “late night snack before bed” at the end of the meal. Our hostess explained each course of the meal and we all had a laugh talking about finding comfortable ways to sit and the low table. She said even though there are polite ways for men and women to sit, a long meal like kaiseki usually ends with everyone splayed out in some fashion or another. I went on to ask her about whether or not I could use the public onsen due to the fact I had a tattoo. I knew of the negative cultural associations with tattoos in Japan, and she offered to ask the hotel management. As it turned out they’re fairly lenient about this custom with their guests and wouldn’t be an issue. After dinner, we took a walk around the area while the staff prepared our room. Chris brought his camera along and took some lovely shots:

After our stroll, Domo and I took a nice long soak in the tub directly connected to our room. It was magical. I decided heading up to the rooftop baths in the morning was a must.

That water looks hot!

That water looks hot!

So of course I woke up later than I meant to. Who knew sleeping on a futon was going to be so comfortable? I had to rush up to the baths in order to get a soak in before breakfast, and when I reached them I realized I had forgotten to bring my towel with me. Whoops. Back in the room, I noticed the clock has pretty much run out on my opportunity to soak, so I threw on my clothes and headed downstairs for the most unusual breakfast I have ever eaten:

After we settled our bill for the night (and picked up some omiyake from the lobby gift table), we stowed our bags with the staff and set out for the Arashiyama Monkey Park which is conveniently right behind the ryokan.I won’t lie, I had been looking forward to this part of our trip for months. Why? Because monkeys are awesome. This park, located at the top of a winding climb up the mountain, has over 100 mellow macaques who hang out with you while you admire the stunning views of Kyoto. There’s a feeding area where you can buy bags of fruit to share with them and plenty of opportunity to snap photos. Just don’t stare at the monkeys. Apparently that pisses them off.


The view from the top of the park was pretty amazing. Chris went immediately went into National Geographic Mode and took some amazing shots of the macaques that live in the park:


I couldn’t resist buying some delicious brown sugar candies with monkey faces on them as we left, then we wandered along the riverbank with the intention of checking out the nearby bamboo forest. But time wasn’t on our side… We had reservations to tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace and had to catch a train into the city so we could first drop our bags off at the Kyoto Royal Hotel. The train we rode felt straight out of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, and took us along tracks between old houses until we reached the station where we switched to the Tozai subway line.


Is this the train to Zeniba's house?

Is this the train to Zeniba’s house?

By this time we were starving, so we walked to Karako, a ramen shop recommended by Lonely Planet for a quick lunch. Let me tell you, they were right on the money with their advice. Small, fast and delicious, it was everything we were looking for. Then we hopped back on the subway and hustled to The Imperial Palace for our 2 p.m. tour. Except… Instead of going to the Imperial Palace, I had routed us to Nijo-Jo castle instead. The nice ladies at the gate pointed out we were in the wrong place when I asked where we were supposed to check in. Their next words were, “you should probably get into a taxi right now or you’re going to arrive late…”

Want to see more of my photos from Kyoto? They’re over on Flickr.

Some of these shots were taken by my talented husband. He’s put quite a few up on his own Flickr page as well.


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