We made it to our next stop in Japan, Kyoto, by bullet train after spending two days in Tokyo. Remember, we were on the other side of the globe from home and were incredibly sleep deprived. We boarded the Shinkansen Nozomi train in the morning and in just 2.5 hours traveling at a speed of nearly 150mph (250kmh), we arrived in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. This title is currently held by Tokyo, which in comparison, is in its infancy in serving as the capital of this island nation. I have to admit, we did pass Mt. Fuji along the way, but were seated on the wrong side of the train. And I didn’t want to be obnoxious and squeeze my way through all of the quiet, courteous Japanese locals just to get that perfect picture. So, I ended up with this beaut below. And as you can tell near the base of the mountain, bowling at Round 1 is also an option in Japan!
Once we deboarded, we hopped on a local train line and rode to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine on the south side of Kyoto. This Shinto shrine is one of the most popular in Japan and also one of the largest. It was full of tourists and locals alike. The shrine itself is traditionally a structure housing sacred items where people come for prayer. On entering the shine, you pass under massive red-painted wooden gates, called torii, believed to keep evil spirits out. Some of the older torii were even made from sculpted, engraved stone. Inside the grounds of the shrine, there are miles of pathways leading you under additional series of torii and through the trees. Once we had the opportunity to break from the crowds and find some less busy pathways, our visit became that much more enjoyable as we took in the peace, serenity, and sacredness of the area.
When exiting Fushimi Inari, you walk down a winding road filled with street venders, and shops. We picked up a few small gifts to bring back home and Gabriel was excited when we stumbled upon a takoyaki stall. Takoyaki is a type of batter containing ginger, onions, and pieces of diced octopus that gets cooked in a pan with hemisphere divots in a way that, when tossed and turned while cooking, turn into little bite size spheres. Ours were served with fish flakes on top which I didn’t mind because they were salty, crunchy little flakes of dried fish. I had never tried takoyaki before which is why he was impatient to have me try them. I am not an octopus fan by any means, so I was hesitant and selective in which ones I chose to eat, avoiding the ones that had large pieces of octopus with the suction cups exposed! I’m relatively adventurous in what food I will try, but overcoming the suction cups just wasn’t for me. That said, takoyaki with small, palatable pieces of octopus is delicious! They often come served fresh, straight off the piping hot pan, so be aware!
Around lunch time we took the train back to the city center and began walking; a) to see more of the city, and b) to hunt down some food. Gabriel’s refined nose and knack for finding exquisite food led us into a tiny neighborhood cafe. With their handy dandy picture menu, we ordered some hot tea (because the early spring days got chilly!) and some tonkatsu. This, my friends, is a tempura, or deep-fried, piece of pork slathered in hearty Japanese curry and served with a side of rice. If you are a consistent follower, you may have read about our tonkatsu style dinner we had in Seattle, Washington this past November. This dish really hit the spot, warmed our insides, and sent us back on our adventure feeling energized.
We eventually made it to the Otami Hombyo Buddhist Temple in the northeast area of the city. This temple was much smaller than Fushimi Inari and was made up of a series of buildings surrounding some quiet courtyards. As we exited the temple out the back entrance, we began heading up a hill on a narrow road surrounded on both sides by the Otani Cemetery. I wish I could have read Japanese as we walked through because these burial grounds were lined with all kinds of granite and headstones that likely had some impressive dates to display. The expanse of granite covered a huge amount of territory and guided us along our half mile hike up the hill.
At the top we were greeted by the Kiyomizudera Buddhist Temple. Also painted in bright red-orange similar to the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine, the temple towered over the city scape below. This was where we got our best views of Kyoto. This location was also touristy (the road we took up the hill must have been a back route through the cemetery), but not overpacked. And there were lots of local girls dressed in their kimonos!
We rode the Shinkansen back to Tokyo that night passing the now darkened farm land, small towns, and factories we had bulleted past earlier that morning. And the following day, we flew back home. In comparison to Tokyo, Kyoto was more historic, but also seemed to have more of a traditional feel about it. Not as clean and pristine as Tokyo, and you could tell parts of the city were much older, but I felt walking across Kyoto gave me a better feel of Japanese culture than Tokyo did.
To this day, I would be happy to return to Japan. The people were kind, the food was outstanding, and in an intriguing way, everything is just a little bit different there. Venturing all the way to Asia for this trip helped me prepare to explore more of the Asian continent. I hope to have more to say on this in Summer 2021!
P.S. For any other nerds out there, Kyoto is an anagram of Tokyo!