I find Japan one of the most interesting places to visit because of its culture. People are all very polite and courteous at almost all times. This is because the people in Japan are all brought up under the same system and teaching. You don’t see many different cultures in Japan because there is a strong tendency for everyone to become Japanese-like. Speaking your mind is not something that is encouraged in Japan. Nonetheless, these cultural aspects make exploring Japan quite fun and exciting. We spent 3 nights in Kyoto and 2 nights in Tokyo.
Highlights of Kyoto
We spent the majority of the first day exploring the main sites which included the Silver Pavillion (Ginkakuji) and the Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji). We took the city bus across the street from the Hyatt Kyoto. It took about 30 minutes to get to the Silver Pavilion.
To get to the Silver Pavillion, you walk down an open air street market where they sell Japanese foods, snacks, and souvenirs. At the end of the road is the entrance to the Ginkakuji. It costs about $5 for an entrance fee.
My initial impression of the place was that it was a really nice Japanese garden. It was a great place to escape the busyness of the city and get some fresh air. The actual pavillion itself was nice, but by no means as impressive as the Golden Pavillion. The atmosphere and gardens is what you go see at the Silver Pavillion.
We walked around for about an hour and left to eat lunch. The concierge had recommended a nearby udon place called Omen, easily the best udon I have eaten. They prepare fresh toppings that you eat your dry udon with. Presentation is very nice and price was reasonable, about $11 for basic udon and $16 with tempura. (Sorry forgot pictures)
After lunch, we took the bus to the Golden Pavillion (about 45 minutes). The Golden Pavillion, on the contrary, was very crowded and the atmosphere was not relaxing. However, the Golden Pavillion itself is quite stunning. I would say it is definitely worth going for the picture. However, I wouldn’t allot that much time for it.
The next day in Kyoto we woke up late, checked out, and took a taxi to Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan. We decided to take it easy and just walk around town. We went to Nishiki Market where there are lots of food stalls and street food. Everything looked so appetizing and I wished I had a big enough appetite to try everything. We ended up picking a noodle place to eat lunch in Nishiki Market.
Our last day, we went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is where they filmed Memoirs of a Geisha. It was incredibly packed because of the New Years. We skipped most of the traditional New Years rituals and made our way through all the Tori Gates, which was quite scenic.
After checking out of our Ryokan, we were on our way to Tokyo via Japan Airlines ITM-HND. The bus from Kyoto station to Itami airport took about an hour and cost $10 per person.
Highlights of Tokyo
We were only in Tokyo for about a day and a half which was way too short of a time. We spent time meeting with a friend and my sister. It was fun walking through some of the neighborhoods of Ginza, Harajuku, and Omotesando Hills. We did end up splurging at a Michelin Star restaurant, Sushi Aoki, which I will save for another post. We also had a chance to eat Ippudo Ramen, which did not disappoint and was definitely a Rom’s deal at about $7 a bowl including tax and tip! Our last day we went to a famous Tempura restaurant for lunch. The shrimp was incredibly fresh as you can see the live shrimp swimming in the tank.
Hope you enjoyed my highlights of Kyoto and Tokyo. We had a great time in both cities and would definitely recommend visiting both cities. Kyoto is a must if you are into history and like nature. It definitely feels like Japan and a samurai movie at times. Tokyo is an incredible modern city with so much to do and eat. There is just too much to do in Tokyo in one trip. I would say Kyoto is worth visiting at least once, but Tokyo is a city worth coming back to a few times. I am really thankful to have airline miles and points from credit cards to be able to travel to these places. My strategy is to save money using points and miles and then use that money to eat and eat :).