Lesson #1: Do not take Kyoto too lightly.
It was a fun place, for sure. We knew that as soon as we took the subway to Kawaramachi, because the seats were as green as tea:
We couldn’t stop thinking about getting some matcha after that, but maybe after we dropped our bags off at our hostel. So we did that, and then we found ourselves lost in the wilderness of Teramachi Street and Nishiki Food Market. Lost, as in there were too many things to try and we couldn’t decide what to check out first.
See what I mean? And this all happened in our first two hours in the city.
Lesson #2: Kyoto is lovely in the rain, but going outside is a pain.
We were really tired from the Naoshima trip the day before, it was literally a drag to carry our bags from one station to another, and the rain that showered Kyoto the whole of our first day there was not helping. I normally love rain, but we couldn’t afford to get sick. Unfortunately, everything worth seeing in the city was outdoors.
But that was the best excuse to look for a nice coffee shop, and that was how we ended up at Hanafusa East. Okay, another tip: this place does not mess around with coffee. Even the coffee jelly that Kat ordered was really strong.
This was also the place where I tried to converse in broken Japanese for the first time. Uemura-san, who looked like a cross between Ian McKellen and Jiminy Cricket, was thankfully very kind and made us feel welcome!
That gloomy day was also the perfect time to finally eat ramen.
I’m normally happy with the simplest type available, but the creamy potage made me curious. The crunchy topping was a nice contrast, too. And oh god, the chasyu…I have no words.
Lesson #3: Kyoto was made for sunny days.
We were luckier on the second day because it was so sunny, we forgot that the previous day was very depressing. Sadly, this was the only full day that we had to see the city, so we had to narrow everything down to what was nearby: Gion to get a glimpse of the maiko-san, Higashiyama because it was so close to Gion, Fushimi Inari Taisha to see all those torii, and then the final stretch to Uji to buy matcha. We wanted to go to Arashiyama, but it was on the other side of Kyoto.
Nope, you’ll never see maiko-san at daylight in Gion. But there was Kennin-ji Zen Temple, and killing time was so easy here. The hallways kept leading to more hallways, there were pocket gardens that were too lovely not to see, and the paintings were fascinating.
We had to hurry, so we scampered off to Higashiyama to see some shrines and eat takoyaki.
Fushimi Inari Taisha was as lovely as it looked like in photos. It was amazing how there could be so many torii in one place. It also meant a lot of tourists, but people-watching could never get boring in Japan.
Lesson #4: There is more to see in the outskirts of the city.
Case in point: Uji, my new love. Two hours there wasn’t enough!
Lesson #5: You will run out of batteries.
So bring a really powerful power bank.
When I started organizing my albums, I was surprised to find that maybe about 50 percent of my photos were all taken in Kyoto. Then again, it was the most photogenic place, and we spent only two whole days in it!
Oh, and if you want to take a clear shot of maiko-san in Gion, bring a powerful camera with fast shutter speeds. That’s because the maiko-san walk really fast and they don’t stop for photos. If you do want to take a shot, you have to do it quickly and you cannot block them. I gave up after a few tries with my camera phone, because it was actually better to just look at them while they were passing by. They were so beautiful that seeing them up close was kind of surreal.
Lesson #6: You will come back.
Because there are just too many reasons, and the ones I have aren’t even enough.