This marks part 2 of my trip to Kyoto/Kobe (京都/神戸). The second half of our short adventure to western Japan (日本) was just as awesome as the first one so I hope you’ll enjoy this one too. We left off at day 2 where we visited Maruyama park along with Yasaka shrine and other shrines and temples. Onto the next!
Day 3 started off early with some Onigiri (お握り) and an early train to Arashiyama (嵐山). Soon after arriving, we made our way to the nearby Toketsukyo bridge to overview the beautiful Katsura river. We literally only had one Onigiri each for breakfast but decided it was still a good idea to visit the Monkey Park Iwatayama.
Clearly, we should have been more prepared for a pretty steep hike up the mountain. At some points along the way I asked myself how this pathway even came to be as it looked so improvised and all over the place. We probably took 10 minutes longer than you’re supposed to take and even got overtaken by some older folks that looked in much better shape than we did.
If you have a stroller or someone in a wheelchair in toll, it’s unfortunately highly unlikely for you to get up here as there is no other way up. Bring good footwear and plenty of water. Also, make sure to have a good meal beforehand.
Reaping the rewards
But the struggle was well worth it! When you arrive at the top, you’re immediately greeted by freely roaming monkeys. Be sure to read the signs about appropriate behavior near the monkeys and you shouldn’t have to worry about anything. They seemed used to being around humans.
Just about 5 minutes after we arrived, at around 10:30 AM, the staff started feeding the monkeys in front of the visitors. We didn’t plan this at all, it was sheer luck. It was funny to see them running around and fighting about the food at times.
You can take some breathtaking photos of the city of Kyoto as it’s so high up. And then you need to get off said mountain in a such as adventurous path as the one before. But getting off is always way easier so it wasn’t a problem at all.
To reward us from such a draining hike and to make up for the missing breakfast, we stopped at a café. It was called eX-café and just oozed traditional Kyoto feel from outside as well as inside. We opted for their dango-set where you can grill your own dango over a small oven and dip them into your favorite sauce. Very cool.
A shrine dedicated to hair?
At 1 PM we had a reservation at Unagi Hirokawa, a Michelin-starred freshwater eel restaurant. We only had about an hour left after the café, but my girlfriend wanted to visit a shrine before because she was worried about the opening times. On the way there, we walked through the famous bamboo forest. As expected, there were loads and loads of people there. Taking pictures without hordes of people in them was quite the challenge.
The shrine in question is called Mikami Shrine and was dedicated to hair (yes, hair) so you could by charms depicting brushes and scissors for example. I got another Go-shuin so I was happy. Then it was finally time to head towards my first Michelin-starred meal. I was looking very forward to it.
Best meal ever?
Before we could even enter the premises of the restaurant, a staff member greeted us and asked for our reservation. All good, we were led inside. It looked very graceful from the inside. Huge window fronts allowing for great views of the surrounding garden. The staff was very attentive and helpful. We both ordered a medium-size standard freshwater eel over rice. Eating it was otherworldly. It was almost like eating high-grade beef, as it just melted in your mouth. There was almost no chewing involved.
I made sure to leave no rice corn uneaten. The most expensive rice I’ve ever eaten. But also, very delicious.
Arashiyama's most important temple
Leaving with a satisfied expression, we made our way to nearby Tenryuji (天龍寺). As the most important temple in Arashiyama, it always leaves a nice impression. I got my case for my Go-Shuin-cho here. A random find with some golden dragons on it and has enough space to fit the book in comfortably. Exactly what I was looking for.
With still rising satisfaction levels, we decided to take a stroll through the temple’s garden. Very scenic with some nice fall foliage still visible. This garden has a convenient northern exit which leads directly into the bamboo forest. After taking another short stroll through said forest, we made our way back to Gion (祇園) to take a break.
Looking for dinner options, we found a small Udon (うどん) restaurant nearby that had really good reviews online. The place is called Udon Okaru and I highly recommend you check it out. It only has a small number of seats but very welcoming staff. And they work quickly.
We ordered the “Curry cheese meat Udon”. Sounds great, right? And boy, it was great. Easily the meal that surprised me the most so far. As I was about to finish the bowl, I was considering ordering another one but figured I wouldn’t be able to finish that one.
Overall, a very satisfying day in hindsight. I love Kyoto.
Early start on the last day
And just like that, we reached the last full day of our trip to Kyoto. But you can’t let any sad feelings ruin your last hours at your travel destination, you have to make the most out of it! Which is why we stood up earlier than ever at around 6 AM and got ready for a visit to the very famous Fushimi Inari Taisha.
In my article about the shrine I told you to get here as early as possible, preferably 7 AM or earlier. Else, you will get surrounded by masses of tourists that will make it less enjoyable. So, even if you have difficulties waking up early like that, try to make it just this once. It’s really worth it.
When we arrived there, a few other people had already found their way there as well. But it was very manageable, you could take great photos without any people in them. Especially the pathway with the hundreds of torii gates is always highly contested for photos so you have to act quickly.
Having just hiked up to the Arashiyama Monkey park the day before, we were still not in good shape for yet another climb. We battled through and made it up to the 7th station of the hike. There are 17 stations in total, with the 14th being at the summit. It would have taken about 30 more minutes for us to get there and we just couldn’t bare it as we also had other plans that day. After taking in some nice views from the 7th station, we made our way back down the mountain.
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The struggles of an unfit traveller
As we arrived, we almost didn’t recognize the shrine grounds because of the MASSES of people that suddenly appeared. Please take my advice to come early. I got myself the Go-shuin from Fushimi Inari which I couldn’t get before because they only started at 8:30 AM.
Then we replenished some of our energy by grabbing some street food at the food stalls that were built up in the pathway leading up to the shrine. It was now time to head towards Kyoto Station (京都駅) and check out the popular Ramen (ラーメン) street together with my girlfriend, as she loves the dish very much.
Earlier than I’d like to admit, my feet starting giving in rather quickly yet again. Goes to show 4 days of constant walking and climbing up mountains take a toll on them. After a refreshing Fukuoka (福岡) style Tonkotsu Ramen bowl we made our way to Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) via bus. It was quite a long bus ride so we could catch a good break.
Can't go wrong with these two
I visited this temple before but that goes for most of the sights in Kyoto. It was the first time together with my girlfriend though and I wanted to collect the Go-shuin seals so I didn’t mind. Even though it was just 2.5 years ago when I came here on my own, I still had nostalgic feelings seeing some of the streets and buildings just as I remembered them.
The visit to the silver pavilion was actually way better this time as there were way fewer people. I could take great pictures and it felt much more relaxed.
What is the best temple to visit right after Ginkakuji? Right, Kinkakuji (金閣寺)! We hopped on yet another bus (the bus pass saved us like 300 Yen (2,48€/$2.78; exchange rate as of January 2020) on that day) and arrived after about 30 minutes. The weather had been great all day so I was hopeful I could take great pictures of the golden pavilion. When I came here in 2017 it had rained.
As soon as we got off the bus, it started lightly raining. I was already seeing red and asking myself if I am forever doomed to only see Kinkakuji in the rain. But as we approached the entrance gate, the clouds lifted. A miracle! I took amazing pictures and was very happy.
By this point it was starting to get dark and we were exhausted. Being awake since 6 AM is a little different than usual. We got back to our hotel to relax a little and look at dinner options.
Something to remember
Please take this as a general note: Don’t overdo it when traveling to Japan or anywhere really. It’s easy to get caught up in the action and forget taking regular breaks or drinking a sufficient amount of water. To make the most out of your time there, you have to make sure to preserve your energy. This is especially important in the summer.
If you’re super fit, then you might be able to do more of course. It’s mostly regarded to average travelers like myself.
Pontocho delivers yet again
As we were searching the internet for nearby restaurants, we again looked into the Pontocho (先斗町) area. We realized that neither I nor my girlfriend have ever had sushi (寿司) in Kyoto. So, we went for that.
The restaurant was very cool and had a casual and local feel to it. There were a bunch of salarymen enjoying their after-work drinking session as is usual in Japan. We got counter seats and had a sushi chef right in front of us preparing our meals. The menu was all Japanese and had exactly 0 pictures. Although I can read some Japanese, having my girlfriend there with me still helped immensely.
But after some time, there was another foreigner at the counter who seemed to speak zero Japanese. They brought out an English menu and took his orders in English as well. Pretty cool.
The way the sushi was served was a first timer for me. A huge leaf was placed on the counter in front of us and as the sushi we ordered was ready, it was placed upon it for us to grab. Unique styles of dining are exactly what I love about this country so much. The restaurant is called Sushitetsu and you can find it towards the northern end of Pontocho.
The miracle of Japanese bathing
We ate our full, I had my last beer of Kyoto and everything was great. It was now time to soak in the hotel’s public bath one last time and get rid of the some of the built-up fatigue. Man, that feels great every time. The rules and etiquette of these baths are pretty much the same as in Onsen (Japanese hot springs). You can read about it in my article.
It will be weird to get naked in front of strangers at first, but the more you do it, the less awkward it will feel. It’s worth it, trust me.
Enjoying the last hours in Kyoto
And just like that, my trip to Kyoto was almost over. Well, there was still the next morning and half a day of Kobe to look forward to!
The next morning was a bliss. We were able to sleep in quite long compared to before as the hotel had a very generous check-out time at 12 AM. All that was left to do was pack up our luggage and head to the reception. Before leaving Kyoto, we made one last stop at a restaurant to have a quick lunch.
I ordered a mini version of Sukiyaki (すき焼き) along with some side dishes. It was really good and the restaurant was apparently pretty popular as a lot of people came in and were sent away because they were full. The name of the restaurant is Kappo Misen.
Making our way to Kobe
After enjoying the last dish of the western capital (for now), we made our way to Kyoto Station. We took a JR express train to Sannomiya Station (三ノ宮駅) instead of riding the Shinkansen (新幹線) which would have been significantly more expensive. And we were headed to Sannomiya anyway. If you have a Japan Rail pass, you can of course easily take the Shinkansen instead.
There’s so much to do in this area, it’s crazy. First, we headed north-west, towards one of the oldest shrines in all of Japan. It’s randomly located in the middle of the city and didn’t look much older than any other. We were lucky to find it. I of course got myself another Go-shuin there.
We had a reservation at Kobe beef restaurant at 5 PM so we still had over 2 hours to spare. We decided to visit yet another shrine that was about 20 minutes away. What we didn’t realize though, it was uphill. Man, Kobe has some very steep (and small) roads. But it was all worth it. Not only did I manage to grab two more Go-shuin, we also got to enjoy an amazing view of Kobe up until the port area.
Right next to the shrine, there was this old “Thomas house” which is an old residence of a deceased German import trader. Another random find and my girlfriend was excited to check it out as she’s interested in German architecture and style.
Time to have one last great meal
It was now almost time to have some amazing steaks so we made our way down the mountain. On the way to the restaurant, we stopped by some souvenir and sweet shops which all sold some very interesting stuff.
Kobe beef. It is my second time that I get to enjoy this delicious dish and I recommend everyone coming here to try it out if you can. The steak was yet again cooked right in front of our eyes Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) style. It was just as I expected it: so incredibly smooth and rich of taste. I took my time enjoying every single piece of this expensive meat. A heavenly experience.
Our Shinkansen back to Tokyo was scheduled for 7:52 PM so we still had a little time to spare. Luckily for us, there was an illumination going one to commemorate the 25th anniversary since a strong earthquake hit the city of Kobe.
And that’s when we realized that Kobe also has well over one-million inhabitants. There were so many people there, it looked just like Shibuya (渋谷) crossing. I still managed to sneak some awesome photos here and there that I will show you below.
With that our very short trip to Kobe had found its end. We now had to fight our way through the masses at Sannomiya Station in order to board a train to Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅). Finally arriving, we made some last quick purchases for the Shinkansen ride and off we went. Bye Kansai (関西)! I’ll see you again in 2020.
We arrived at Tokyo Station at around 10:20 PM and we still had to get to Western Tokyo where we live. By the time we got home, it was almost midnight.
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Takeaway on my trip to Kyoto/Kobe
What a great little trip it was. Even though it was relatively short at just 4.5 days, we had a lot of fun! As my go-to recommendation for everyone interested to travel to Japan, it will always be to go for 2 weeks and have one week in Tokyo and surroundings and one week in Kansai. That is of course if you can manage to go for two weeks. Less time is also fun!
It is hard for me to pick one single highlight or a single best dish as it was just awesome as a whole. Gion is a very nice area to stay in so go for that if you can! If you have more days for Kansai, you can also check out other nearby cities such as Nara (奈良) and Osaka (大阪). For both of these cities I have released a bunch of articles for things to do there. Be sure to check them out.
That’s it for my two-part series of my trip to Kyoto/Kobe, I hope you enjoyed it!
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Thank you very much for reading and I’ll hopefully see you next time!