Taking the Shinkansen
Jan 4. Early morning at around 8 AM, we left to take the train from Tokyo to Kyoto. We had decided that we were going to take the Shinkansen, an extremely fast bullet train which made a 6-hour drive into a ride that was a little over 2 hours. Taking the Shinkansen was a really pleasant experience. It was really comfy with spacious seating. You also get to pass by a lot of nice sights. But since it was so comfy, I fell asleep for a good part of my ride.
We got off the Shinkansen at Kyoto Station to transfer to a local line. At that station, we passed by Manneken and the aroma of fresh Belgium waffles immediately caught our attention. We went to check it out and to our wonderful surprise, this stand sold a huge assortment of Belgium waffles. There was chocolate, maple, almond, green tea, honey, and much more. Andy got the chocolate-dipped waffle and I got the sweet potato waffle. And honestly, it was the best Belgium waffle that I have ever had. I love sweet potato and I love Belgium waffles, but I never thought the combination of the two existed. It was perfection. Not to mention that it was only 150 yen, which is just a little over a dollar.
Lunch in Arashiyama
At around 10:45, we arrived in Arashiyama, a cute district in Kyoto full of both history and nature. At this point, we were starving since we hadn’t had breakfast yet. Like in Tokyo, most of the restaurants opened at 11 AM. We found a promising steakhouse near the station with really good reviews online, so we decided that we were going to wait there until it opened in 15 minutes. But about 8 minutes in, I decided to translate the sign on the door, which actually said they were closed for the holidays. We felt so dumb since we were waiting for nothing. But no matter, there were tons of amazing restaurants nearby and we would’ve had to wait for them to open anyway.
The next restaurant that we decided on was Taishou Hanana. When we got there, there was a pretty long line of people waiting for the restaurant to open, so we knew that it had to be good. Also, a lot of people were taking pictures with the name of the restaurant. The hostess approached us when we joined the line to let us know that there would only be one option for lunch, which was fine for us since we never know what to order anyways. The line, though long, moved very fast and we were seated less than 10 minutes after the restaurant opened. They were also really efficient with serving since they only offered one meal option.
Immediately as I stepped into the restaurant, I felt like I was at the cutest restaurant in old Japan. We were seated upstairs and given some nice hot tea. Then we received the main course which consisted of raw sea bream, sesame sauce, plus some more. The sea bream was absolutely amazing, so fresh and delicious. It was perfection on its own, so I was surprised that pairing it with the sesame sauce made it even better! The rice was also really good somehow, even though it was just plain white rice. The best combination for a bite was definitely some sea bream dipped in sesame sauce with some sesame seeds eaten with rice soaked in green tea. That meal was so good, I still dream about it.
The Bamboo Forest
After lunch, we set off for the nearby bamboo forest. I’ve seen small patches of bamboo before, but I’ve never seen such a grand and beautiful forest filled with bamboo that stretched tall towards the sky. It was such a serene and peaceful experience. Even though there were other people also walking that forest, it was very quiet and I felt like I had the entire place to myself, to just be there and reflect on where I was and why I was there.
The Iwatayama Monkey Park
From the bamboo forest, there was a trail that led to the Iwatayama Monkey Park on the other side of Katsura River, which runs between Mount Arashi and Kyoto. Finding the entrance to the park proved to be quite a challenge because we followed Google Maps instead of the actual signs. But after running around for a bit, we found the park and embarked on our journey up the small mountain to see the Japanese macaque monkeys. It was about a 20 minute walk, and half way up we started seeing some just hanging about on the trees. When we got to the top, there were tons of monkeys, just walking around and sitting on the ground next to people. There was also an amazing view of Kyoto from up there.
The monkeys were adorable. The baby monkeys were the best. None of them were shy. They would run around everywhere, maneuvering around people as they scavenged for food. There was a caged building that was dedicated to feeding the monkeys. The monkeys would stick their arms through the cage and people could hand them food. They sold small bags of peanuts and apple cubes for the monkeys and we bought a bag of apples.
Feeding the monkeys was tons of fun. These little furry creatures were adorable and full of energy. And to make it even better, Andy would do magic tricks for the monkeys, making the apple cubes disappear and the monkeys would go crazy and scream.
Walking from Nijo Castle to our Airbnb
After we finished playing around with the monkeys, we hiked down the monkey mountain and bussed to Nijo Castle. However, we got there just before 4 PM, which is when the castle closed. But it was fine, we got to see the inside of the castle before the gates closed and you could still admire the majestic ancient building from the outside. Also, we were getting tired and it was turning cold. Our Airbnb was a 30-minute walk from Nijo Castle, so we decided to walk to our Airbnb so that we could take in Kyoto as a city.
As a city, Kyoto had a really different feel from Tokyo. It was way less busy, more quiet, and the streets were bigger. Walking to our Airbnb was pretty fun actually because it was just a great feeling walking in a completely new city with Andy. Halfway there, I got hungry and thirsty, so we ducked into a 7-Eleven and grabbed some hot tea and a sausage on a stick. This small snack actually really hit the spot and was definitely well needed for me to make it to our Airbnb.
Eventually, we made it to our cute little Airbnb. The layout was pretty much the same as my Tokyo apartment, except it was more spacious. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for dinner.
Andy has always loved Japanese dumplings. Every time we ever ate at a Japanese restaurant, he would get an order of gyoza. So, we found a nearby restaurant called Gyoza Takatsuji Sukemasa Honten, that specialized in gyoza.
It was a cute restaurant with only about 6 small tables. It was really cozy, which was perfect since it was getting pretty chilly at night. The food there also really warmed you up. The gyoza was absolutely delicious and it was fried just the way we loved it, crispy on one side and soft on the other. The sides that they offered were also really good, such as the pork miso soup and potato salad.
After dinner, we walked around trying to find dessert, as we always do. There was a McDonalds nearby and Andy really wanted to do McNuggets for dessert, but we eventually decided on going to Komeda Coffee. There, we ordered a coffee jelly ice cream sundae and some pastry with some ice cream on top. Both were really good. This restaurant was again super cozy.
After dessert, we just walked around a bit, going into random stores. And then we called it a night.