Clay and I spent five days taking in all the sights and sounds of Kyoto, the former capital city of Japan. Kyoto was a refreshing change of scene from all the crowded subways, busy shopping districts, tall skyscrapers, and sensory overload (i.e., Akihabara the electronics district) of faster-paced Tokyo. So much history rooted in the city of Kyoto to learn about! There was so much to see and do in Kyoto, that we didn't even get a chance to visit the neighboring cities of Osaka, Nara, or Hiroshima!
Our first day in Kyoto was spent visiting Yasaka Shrine (a shinto shrine located in the Gion District) and Maruyama Park, which had plenty of cherry blossom trees that were still in bloom. There were so many food stalls set up throughout the park. Clay and I bought some grilled tofu on a stick (with all the toppings, please!), as well as some sakuramochi-flavored soft serve to help us cool down in the warm afternoon. As the sun was setting, we walked down to Pontocho Alley (an ancient food alley that has been around for at least 500 years), where we had an omurice dinner at L'oeuf. Afterwards, we walked to Nishiki Market, which had lots of shops, restaurants, and night life.
Day two in Kyoto was spent in beautiful Arashiyama! One could definitely spend the whole day exploring this district. Early in the morning, we headed straight to the Arashiyama bamboo forest, a short but stunning path lined with tall bamboo. The grove, however, was filled with tourists and wedding photo shoots, as expected. After, we visited the Tenryu-ji Temple right next to the bamboo forest. We then walked across the Togetsu-kyo bridge to visit the Arashiyama monkey park, where we saw so many red-faced Japenese snow monkeys. Clay got to feed a baby macaque some apples. Lunch was spent at Yudofu Sagano, a restaurant (with the most peaceful courtyard) that Clay found for us. There, we were given a set course meal involving yudo, soft tofu chunks simmered in broth, served with a variety of side dishes. Even though it was a pricy vegetarian meal, Clay and I were glad to try the tofu that Kyoto is known for! The rest of the day in Arashiyama was spent enjoying some coffee from % Arabica, cookie samples from Malebranche, souvenir shopping, and going on a relaxing pleasure boat ride on the scenic Oi River with its gorgeous mountain backdrop.
Early on our third day, we visited Fushimi Inari with a couple of our friends, Kristen and Danny. Of course, Kristen and I couldn't stop excitedly photographing the stunning vermillion tori gates, as our husbands teased (and modeled) for us. Afterwards, Clay and I sat down for some coffee at the nearby Vermillion coffee shop and then headed to Honke Owariya for lunch. Our lunch spot was the oldest soba noodle shop in Kyoto and has been open since 1496. It even used to serve the Imperial Palace! This actually was the first time Clay and I ever had soba. (And since we've been back home, Clay has been making simple, clean, and light soba noodle meals for us.) Next door to the restaurant, we found my favorite donut shop, Nicotto & Mam Doughnut Cafe. After lunch, we spent the first half of the afternoon walking though Nijo Castle (where some of the last shoguns lived!), before heading back to our Airbnb for a nap. In the evening, we went back out to eat udon for dinner and also visited the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which was lit up for special night time visits in the spring!
Day four was dedicated to checking out some well-known temples of Kyoto. We started with Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavillion. We also went to Ryoan-ji, a temple famous for its zen rock garden. For lunch we went to Oosakaya, a restaurant I found on Tabelog that served hamburger curry, chicken karaage, and shrimp coquettes. After our yummy lunch, we headed over to Kyoto Yunohana Hot Springs Resort. This was the part of the trip that Clay and I had been looking forward to! Since our trip had been so jam-packed with sightseeing thus far, we were very ready for our one-night stay at this ryokan, where we had a room reserved with our own private onsen bath on the balcony! It was seriously the best...I just wish we could have had a couple more nights there to slow down and relax. The accommodations there were very thoughtful. We were given yukata to wear on the premises. There were so many fun drinks stocked in our fridge. Everything about our room was so comfortable. Our stay came with a kaiseki dinner and breakfast. The dinner was 12 courses and came with great service (there were even heated mats underneath our feet). Clay and I shared several funny moments during this meal -- at one point, as one of the other guests was walking outside our private dining booth, we laughed so hard until we cried. Another funny moment (which Clay recorded on his phone) was when we were presented with our live sashimi course swimming around in a bowl of vinegar.
On our last day in Kyoto, I was very sad to check out of the ryokan after our lovely breakfast (it felt like we had just arrived!). Good thing we had one last special destination on our itinerary to visit: Saiho-ji, also known as Kokadera or "moss" Temple. My cousin Mariko had actually recommended this temple to us, saying that it was one of her favorite places in Kyoto. She was very kind to help us to make a reservation by postal mail 2 months in advanced! Once we got to Saijo-ji, we were asked to gather in the main hall of the temple with the other visitors to quietly copy sutra and observe a chant of the sutra by some priests. After that, we were free to walk around and enjoy the serenity of the temple gardens at our own pace. The temple was beautiful and indeed covered in green moss everywhere! This final stop was a great way for me and Clay to end our time in Kyoto.
This spring, Clay and I managed to plan a 9-day trip to Japan, where both of us had never been! We spent the first 3 days of our trip in Tokyo, where we stayed with my Aunt Hellen (my dad's older sister), my Japanese uncle, and my cousin Mariko. We then spent 5 days in Kyoto and returned to Tokyo for our last full day. There is so much that I want to say about our time in Japan, but for this post, I'll just share three of my personal trip highlights below:
1. Family reunion: I loved that this trip offered an opportunity for me to reconnect with my dad's side of the family. Growing up, I didn't get to know my dad's side of the family very well since most of them lived in Taiwan or Japan, both of which I had never been to. I actually didn't meet Aunt Hellen and Mariko until 2016, when they traveled to California for my wedding! This past semester, I had to make a genogram mapping out my entire family, which allowed me to learn a good deal about the relatives on my dad's side. It was really neat getting to spend time with them in person after I had just completed this assignment! My Aunt Hellen was super welcoming, meeting me and Clay at the Haneda airport when we arrived. She was so helpful in getting us oriented with the subway system during our first couple of days. Her whole family was very hospitable to us and we enjoyed staying with them in their humble home, where we got to sleep in a small traditional tatami room. One evening, Mariko took us all out to eat okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese (usually seafood) pancake. Spending time with them also inspired me and Clay to want to live a healthier lifestyle. We saw how intentional they were about eating light, healthy home cooking, as well as how mindful they were about exercising regularly. My uncle even measures his blood pressure twice a day and has been monitoring it for a couple years now. (Clay was inspired to start doing this for himself after we came back home.)
2. Cherry blossom season: Clay and I are truly thankful to have been able to experience cherry blossom season in Japan! My Aunt Hellen kept telling us how lucky we were to have made it there just in time to see the last few days of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. She said that a lot of people make plans to travel to Japan during cherry blossom season, but sometimes end up missing it because it's so hard to predict when it will come each year. It's tough to know whether the season will come early or late. Other aspects such as wind and rain also affect how long the cherry blossom season lasts, which is usually about a week or two. Cherry blossom season is quite a phenomenon to witness in Japan. Everyone from tourists to locals will go outside to enjoy it, whether it be by having a picnic underneath some cherry blossom trees or by walking along the river canal (lined with cherry blossoms) with a flute of champagne in hand. Most of our time in Tokyo was spent enjoying the cherry blossoms at several different well-known hanami spots: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Nakameguro river canal, and Chidorigafuchi moat near the Imperial Palace.
3. Japanese food: Japanese food has always been one of our favorite cuisines, but now that we have tried Japanese food in Japan, eating at a Japanese restaurant back in the States just isn't the same. Pretty much every meal was a highlight for us, whether it was eating melt-in-your-mouth sashimi at Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market, delicious quality katsu at Tonkatsu Maisen in Harajuku, or tasty beef curry at Bondy in Jinbocho (a rec that Mariko gave us). Out of everything that we ate, my favorite -- that I will forever crave until I return to Japan -- is tsukemen, Japanese dipping ramen. Clay and I got to eat this a few times at Fuunji in Shinjuku and Rokurinsha (we had this one twice, once inside a subway station and one final time at the airport). If I could only have an authentic bowl of Japanese tsukemen right now...those chewy ramen noodles with a satisfying bite...and that rich dipping broth...so good. In addition to all the meals we had, we also enjoyed some yummy Japanese desserts: sakura-flavored soft serve, triangle-shaped mochi, delectable matcha cookies, "healthy" animal donuts, and even Totoro cream puffs (that were almost too cute to eat).
Clay and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Japan, both in Tokyo and Kyoto. After this trip, we decided that Japan was one of our new top favorite travel destinations. Since there were so many places that we didn't get to see (i.e., Mt. Fuji and Hokkaido), we are very determined to return again in the future! [Note: Pictures above were only from Tokyo. Stay tuned for another post featuring Kyoto.]
Just capturing as I go.