Kyoto is something special because you get the best of everything. The city itself is so modern and spectacular with its bustling people and mirrored high-rise buildings, but since Kyoto is located in the middle of a bowl (as in it’s surrounded by green hills), you also get to explore nature at its finest. That was the purpose of today when we planned to go to Arashiyama on the outskirts of the city.
When you get right off of the subway, you are thrown into kind of an empty, old-timey town that resembles what Japanese towns must have looked like many, many years ago. However, once you take a five minute walk around the corner, you encounter the main tourist strip of Japanese shops. There were quite a few stores that were themed after popular cartoons, such as Miffy and Friends and Rilakkuma.
The first place we stopped at was the Arashiyama bridge which looked down the river with the town on one side and massive green hills on the other. The water was calm, but I think the main attraction of the bridge is when it’s the fall and the trees turn yellow, red, and orange or when its winter and the entire landscape is coated in white.
From there, we walked over to the bamboo forest which looked like something straight out of a movie. Granted, the lighting was absolutely terrible for portrait pictures because the sunlight was spotty through the stalks. but the wind whistling through the bamboo and tossing it gently back and forth was so calming.
I felt like a panda 🙂
There were also these weird carriage things up for rental where you pay a young guy to basically drag your carriage through the bamboo forest. I think they’re called rickshaws. There were many times where we almost got ran over by a few because they take up a lot of the small main path.
The bamboo forest provided a lot of nice shade and a break from the direct scorching heat of the sun. The downside of Kyoto is that since it’s in the middle of the bowl, all the heat gets trapped and the atmosphere becomes super humid. We tried going into a national park that was right next to the bamboo forest, but it became so hot that we just had to keep going until we found shade.
The national park was beautiful, though. There was a temple at the end of the path that became a museum, and right next door was a garden. We didn’t go inside because the entrance fee was quite expensive for a family, and we figured that it would be more beautiful to come back in the fall when the colors would add dimension to the scenery. In the summer, everything is just green and while green is gorgeous, I think that Japan in the fall is the real prime time to visit.
After some failed photoshoots in the bamboo forest, we went to grab lunch. The strip of stores along the street boasted many, many matcha stores to my pleasure. We settled on an izakaya restaurant because it had all the food we were craving. We had Japanese curry, zaru-udon, zaru-soba, and zaru-ramen. So good 🙂
Because there were so many matcha stores, we HAD to try the matcha soft serve, and I think that the matcha soft serve we got might be one of the best matcha soft serves I have ever tried.
The consistency wasn’t watery, unlike a lot of other matcha soft serves I have tried. It was perfectly creamy, almost the type of soft serve that you chew. The bittersweet taste also shined through without an overpowering amount of vanilla that often offsets the matcha flavor. I really wish we had matcha soft serve like this back in the U.S. 😦
The matcha soft serve marked our final stop on that side of Kyoto, but we had one more touristy place to hit on the other side of town. There are many famous picture of endless golden gates in Japan that create a tunnel within the forest. This place is called Mt. Inari where it is home to a magnificent temple and a beautiful hike that passes through all of the golden gates, if you’re willing to walk uphill on stairs endlessly for an hour.
We made it up about three quarters of the way before turning around. The highest point we got to was about fifteen minutes from the top but this viewpoint had a spectacular view of the city.
Another interesting thing about the temple is that it had a lot of statues of foxes. You can read more about the history of Inari and foxes here.
The many gates of the Inari shrine come from years and years of donations from families and businesses. The names of the families or businesses are engraved onto the gates and lined up over the path that scales the side of the Inari Mountain and all the way back down.
We had to rush from the Inari shrine to the city again in order to catch a dinner with family friends. We went to a fancy shabu shabu restaurant (shabu shabu is a Japanese hot pot), and I got to play with their little kids. The ladies we met with are the daughters of a close friend of my grandpa, and my dad has actually known them since he was 19 and they were five and eight. Their children are now eight and four years old along with a newborn two month old baby, and I got to play with them a Mr. Donut simulator. I got along really well with a little girl who taught me a bit of Japanese, and her younger brother even held my hand as we walked back to the train station 🙂 I love these little kids and I hope that I can see them again one day.
I think that Kyoto might be my favorite stop of this entire trip because of how versatile everything is. I look forward to exploring more tomorrow!