Winter in Japan – Day 8 Kyoto

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In our planning, we were unsure if we should spend time in Kyoto or not. We aren’t overly fanatic about seeing every temple and shrine available, and the Shinkansen (bullet train) was not inexpensive and required a good chunk of time to get there and back from Tokyo. In the end though, we decided we should make the effort to enjoy more of this fantastical country. We had reserved an AirBnb which we could check into at 3 PM so we had a leisurely morning grabbing Andersen bread from Tokyu Foodshow in Shibuya station again, then ate it with a Starbucks coffee on the second floor overlooking the Shibuya shuffle. This Starbucks perch is a good spot to gawk over how many pedestrians cross this “world’s busiest” intersection at a time and just how nimble the regulars have become at navigating the chaos. We would recommend to grab a coffee and watch a few cycles from above as the light changes and pedestrians shuffle below. We took the train over to Shinagawa station to catch the 11:30 AM Shinkansen and arrived in Kyoto at around 2 PM (~2.5 hour bullet train ride).

We found a ramen spot on Trip Advisor (Ramen Sen No Kaze), there was a 20 minute wait so we browsed some local shops nearby to pass the time. This area near the ramen restaurant was very neat with an old-town feel and craftsmen shops for tourists to appreciate local, handmade items rather than typical souvenir trinkets. There was an awesome handmade jewelry shop that we intended to return to after lunch, but sadly forgot. At Ramen Sen no Kaze, Amanda had the classic pork based Kyo no shio ramen and a local sake and Ryan got the extra spicy miso and pork Yamato no pirikara ramen and an Asahi beer, we’re not ramen aficionados but would call this the best we’ve had.

After lunch, we found our Airbnb apartment and entered via the provided code and keypad on the door. It was perfectly set up for us with the necessities for one night and we would recommend this affordable and conveniently located option. It is not easy to find a machiya (typical Kyoto style home) rental so centrally located and at such a good rate. If staying longer there are full machiya homes rather than small apartment which would be awesome to check out. We had made a list of attractions to see this afternoon but since it was already getting late, Shorenin Temple near our apartment was closing (4:30 PM) and Kiyomizu-dera would be closing in an hour (5:30 PM). We walked quickly over to Kiyomizu-dera which was only ~15 minutes through vendor lined blocks. Kyoto is an interesting area that certainly takes advantage of and caters to the mass tourism passing through, but somehow still maintains its historic appeal. We saw many girls dressed in kimono and geta, similar to Asakusa where Japanese visitors display their reverence for the culture and roots of the area by donning traditional garb. There were renovations underway on parts of the temple since it’s “off-season” for tourism, but we were still able to enjoy the vistas from the elevated pavilion. It was a lovely view, with a couple of early blooming trees and you can just imagine the beauty it takes on in the thick of spring, coated in cherry blossoms. We only spent about 15 minutes total at this attraction and the vendors lining the hill up to the temple were already packing up by the time we left.

There are two charming streets just 5 minutes down the hill from Kiyomizu-dera, they are called Sannen-zaka and Ninenzaka and they are picturesque representations of untouched Kyoto. You can’t see power lines or modernity poking through, just old, brick paved steps and traditional storefronts. There were quite a few kimono clad couples with professional photographers shooting along these roads (perhaps engagements or just vacation memorabilia?). We weren’t very hungry since we’d had a late lunch but we wanted some bites and a drink or two. We ended up on Pontocho Alley bordering the river, there are many restaurants and a few bars lining this alley. We stumbled into a very cool basement bar with 12 seats and fancily clad staff, but when we found out about the 1100-yen cover charge we decided it wasn’t for us. A few doors down we found a second-floor bar (Beer Bar Miyama 162) serving local craft beers. The bartenders were fun, we spoke to them about their lives in Kyoto, baseball and the Red Hot Chili Peppers whose recorded concert was playing on a small TV screen behind the bar. We tried some local Kyoto beers, then the bartender recommended a sho-chu and oolong tea mixed drink for Amanda while Ryan had a glass of Hibiki, we ate smoked cheese snacks and peeked out a small window to the river below. One of the best things about this country is how willing the locals are to practice their English allowing us an insight into their world to compare the many similarities as well as vast differences in our cultures.

By this point we were ready for a proper meal, so we walked all the way down Pontocho Alley while debating what we wanted. Finally we found an izakaya called Pontocho Yasohachi and popped inside… we had no real expectations of quality but this place was really good! We ordered another beer / sho-chu to go with some chicken yakitori, mushroom yakitori, grilled peppers, gyoza, and tofu before finally eating some matcha ice cream. This place (along with many other Japanese restaurants) allowed smoking inside which was the only drag (heh) on an otherwise unexpectedly good meal. It was getting pretty late after we finished and we had plans for an early start at Fushimi Inari the next morning, so we headed back to our apartment and went to bed.

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