All photos taken with the Nikon D5500
Right before coming to Kyoto I picked up Memoirs of a Geisha from a book sale, which I promptly devoured within a night. There’s just something about historical novels that enchant me – long time readers will be familiar with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, another favourite of mine. The result: a fascination with Kyoto way before stepping foot in what would eventually be my new favourite Japanese city.
We came down to Kyoto from Osaka on the train, guided via LINE chat by our Airbnb host Wakana, and found ourselves at our new place just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station down a rustic old street. Already I loved Kyoto. We’d booked a place in the centre of Gion, Geisha town, and more than that – we booked a traditional Japanese apartment – we wanted the full experience.
We already knew the apartment would be gorgeous from the pictures on Airbnb but it didn’t stop us from squealing when we walked in like overexcited teenagers – I think this is possibly my favourite airbnb place to date! All of Gion felt like living in a movie set, and this apartment was the cherry on top of the pie. Just look at how gorgeous it is:
Gorgeous natural lighting by the bay windows
This space transforms into a wall to wall futon covered wonderland at night
This apartment also comes with smiley faced girl (Don’t these cupboards remind you of scenes in Doraemon?)
I wanted to stay in all day (wouldn’t you?) but we only had a couple of days in Kyoto – my friends over at y5buddy are huge fans of Japan and they strongly advised against just a day trip, which is what most people do. We booked a 3D2N stay and it seemed like a lot at the time, but when we reached Kyoto itself we never wanted to leave…
How do I describe Kyoto? *cue Mean Girls Regina George sequence* But really, how? I don’t even know what I loved most about Kyoto. The place was incredible. The low rise burnt wood houses were a film fanatic’s dream. The entire Gion district smelt of wood, water, and slow roasted aburi sushi. Every morning takes you across the river, strolling along the district that’s split in two. Each new corner is a bamboo lined discovery. And when night falls, the sun spills over the city in the most beautiful way.
Sunset in Gion, Kyoto
We didn’t know where to begin. All right, well, we did. We came to Kyoto with three things on our agenda: 1. temple hopping 2. kimono wearing and 3. all the eating. We started bottom up.
Like every other Japanese city, ever, you never really feel hungry in Kyoto because you’re always snacking or eating something. There’s just too much to try! And forget three meals – most people average five or six a day. It’s sad but it’s true. Diet accordingly before flying over.
The most memorable meal has to be the insane kichi kichi omu-rice experience we had for our first meal in Kyoto. I love eggs, which stands to reason that I’ll love omurice, but the ones I’ve had thus far tend to always fall short somewhere – they’re a little dry down the centre, the egg is thin and flaky, the rice is uninspiring.. not this one.
Kichi Kichi is actually kind of famous. We made a reservation for lunch there even before reaching Kyoto because the entire restaurant only has eight seats and you either get it or you don’t. For such a famous restaurant though, it’s surprisingly hard to find. It’s seven minutes walk from our airbnb apartment, and tucked away in a tiny, tiny alley, and you’d miss it if you blink. So keep your eyes wide open, because this is a meal you really freakin can’t miss.
The chef doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’s incredibly charming and cheerful. We picked what we wanted (omurice, obviously, and supposedly famous bread rolls) and he started the performance.
That’s right – he doesn’t cook, he performs. It was incredible to watch. Look, I took a video.
I feel like half of your meal money goes towards watching this crazy performance and to catch him splitting the egg open so perfectly. The other half is spent marvelling at how amazing your omurice is. It was the best omurice of my life, hands down. No shadow of doubt whatsoever. Following the most amazing omurice in the world was the most intense food coma I have ever experienced. I spent the following hour zoning out – all of us did. It was hilarious.
While we zoned out, he started showing us his youtube channel and past TV appearances on his iPad! Unfortunately I was too zoned to register anything except being vaguely impressed. Candice fell asleep at the table though, so I think I did ok.
The meal was about 30-35SGD each accounting for exchange rate, which is not bad at all for something so legendary. TEN UPON TEN WOULD RECOMMEND.
185-4 Zaimokucho, Sanjo Pontocho-dori Kudaru,
Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Walking along the streets of Kyoto you also find many street food stalls. Soft serve is super popular – Kyoto has amazing matcha soft serve ice cream – but beyond that there are so many snacks available that just puts the franchises that pop up in Singapore to shame. Pictured above is something that I only know as the stuffed fish pastry. This was a random store we chanced upon, and we tried the crispy variation in chocolate custard. It was so good we nearly cried.
We also chanced upon this random store in the centre of Gion that only opens at night, selling some delicious smelling thing we couldnt identify. The queue was incredibly long, so being Singaporeans, we joined it. It turned out to be burnt mochi balls dipped in sticky syrup and peanut shavings. Yet another incredible gastronomic experience. The moral of the story is you cannot eat something bad in Japan. It simply isn’t possible. Everything is amazing.
Another thing I suggest ending your day and starting your night with is a good Izakaya meal. Izakaya establishments basically serve drinks and jap-style tapas to go with your meal. There are plenty of izakaya places in Kyoto, but the one I went to was recommended to me by Roz (my co-host on Hype Hunt) who I trust wholly with these recommendations because her boyfriend is Japanese!! So yes, local recommendation represent.
And it was damn legit – we nearly gave up looking for it because it was so hole-in-the-wall, but when we did finally find it we were so happy because it was brimming with locals while every other izakaya store on the street was still relatively empty!
A bit too brimming, actually, we had to wait for quite a long time before we got our table. But it was WORTH IT.
Yuki (that’s the name of the place) brews its own sake, and normally I would have gone for the umeshu but Roz insisted I order sake – and I’m so glad I did!! It was the smoothest sake I’d ever drunk in my life. So tasty and incredible and oh my word.. I’m dying now, remembering it. So great. The different dishes were great too, but being tapas style, they’re not really meant to fill you all the way up I think. We had a sampling of everything recommended, then headed for sushi at a conveyor sushi place.
111-1 Tominagacho, Higashi-ku | Okamura Bldg.1F, Kyoto 605-0078
The conveyor belt sushi that won our hearts this round is called Chojiro Sushi, which is located slightly off the main street of Gion. We queued about half an hour for it and as usual it was worth it. I’ve never had sushi as fresh… or worth the money. I had sushi once since coming back from Japan, and it was dismal and expensive. 🙁
Japan, 〒600-8011 京都府京都市 下京区橋本町103−2
Another must-do for meals, I think, is to hit a local departmental store’s food hall and then organise a night in. Japanese food halls go on discount after seven PM and close at eight, so that hour’s window you’ll have to rush and sort through the variety of things on offer. We went to Takashimaya, which was just by the train station, and bought a whole load of stuff back to our airbnb apartment.
Those of you who follow me on snapchat (snapchat:jemmawei) might remember one night we all looked completely drunk, with background audio of maniacal laughter. There was no alcohol had that night, you guys, but I think we *might* have been high off how good the food was…
Everything on the table was from the Taka food hall except the instant ramen. The instant ramen – get this – was instant ippudo ramen. As in, Ippudo, the really freakin famous and expensive ramen chain that they also have in Singapore’s Mandarin Gallery, which cannot match up to this three minute instant noodle variation. It’s embarrassing. Ippudo and 7-11 Japan collaborated to release a line of Ippudo instant mee, and it is AMAZING. It comes with actual pork slices, I don’t even know how that happened. We topped it up with the convenience store runny eggs that I’m so obsessed with. It was a good night all around 🙂
After laughing and digesting our food via laughter, we went out again the same night. Kyoto at night is a wonderland. We were intending to go out for drinks (again lol) but it turned out we were too full, so we just took a long stroll and hoped to get lucky geisha-spotting (we didn’t).
One last thing – as far as last things can go with regards to eating in Japan. Gyudons, or beef bowls, in Japan are out of this world, and the Japanese people are so used to them being out of this world that they’re also cheap.
Gyudons are generally sold in 24hr chain eateries, and the three at the top are Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya. The best (imho) is Matsuya, but you cant go wrong with any of them..
You order and pay at a vending machine, then sit by a long table to eat. Crack one or more eggs into it – you have to order the eggs too – and mix it in. It’ll be the most amazing thing you’ll ever eat for four dollars.
Alright, so that’s it for food. All the places above mentioned were walking distance from our airbnb place, which made it extremely convenient to pig out. Now, for the second thing on my list: Kimono wearing..
Renting a Kimono in Gion, Kyoto is one of those once in a lifetime things you kind of just have to do. There are plenty of shops all over, but to be honest the prints and choices can be a bit depressing. We got super lucky though, and chanced upon a small sign pointing to this shop at the fifth floor of a deparmental store.. so not the kind of place you would expect to get to rent a kimono. It was the best thing ever.
We were the first people into the store and I highly recommend waking up early to kimono hunt. About ten minutes after we strolled in the next customers appeared and started eyeing out kimonos (which were obviously the nicest designs in the store). Very stressful because one of the other ladies actually came up to Penny and tried to convince her to rent a different kimono so she could have Penny’s baby blue one!
Renting a kimono is a pretty interesting experience, really. It’s about 3.5-3.8k yen to rent per day, depending on where you go. Guy kimonos are slightly more expensive. And you can pay to get your hair done, which I initially resisted but then went what the hell, it’s once in a lifetime. The hairdo is about 1k more, if I’m not wrong. Add ons if you want hair accessories, which I didn’t. My total cost was about 43-45 SGD.
Like I genuinely feel like we got really lucky with this shop, given that we were prepared to just go to one of the random ones on the street that we spotted the previous day. Most of the shops we saw were really small and cramped, and had really gaudy designs (again, imho), but this one was huge, air conditioned, came with a salon, and we had fantastic Kimonos!! We were really pleased with ourselves all day because our kimonos were such great quality and looked so much better than all the loudly printed plastic looking shiny ones we saw on the streets lol.
The name of the shop was Kimono Rental 141, in the Shikata building, 5th floor. It’s along the city centre’s main street. I recommend this place ONE HUNDRED PERCENT because it was such a great experience and the shop people were so cute and they even took a picture of us when we were leaving – we thought it was just for their personal keepsake and what not, but when we came back to return our kimonos they gave us print outs of our group picture!!!! Best shop ever.
You can see more kimono pictures in my previous post here.
Kyoto is known for it’s temples – it’s known to be quite the cultural heritage town. We went to three temples in our three days there, and because it was our first time there they were the three most famous temples, so no undiscovered gem here for you guys, sorry! Still, the famous temples are famous for a reason and that reason is because they are awesome.
1. Kiyomizu temple
We headed to the Kiyomizu temple the same evening we arrived in Kyoto. It’s the only one that’s actually within walking distance and in Gion itself, the rest require a twenty minute and up train ride. It stands for water temple or something, and it offers a fantastic view of Gion because you walk uphill for a damn long time before reaching the temple.
A thing that you do there is queue to cup flowing water and also drink it and wash your hands and mouth with it. It will apparently make all your dreams come true! So I am expecting to be gifted a Mercedes S class anytime now.
Entrance to the temple is about 300 yen.
Keihan Line, approx forty minutes from Gion
The Fushimi Inari shrine is really famous for it’s thousand orange gates, and there we took the same photo that every single other person who’s been to Kyoto also has. Entry is free I think, but it’s really freakin crowded. How we got the relatively empty photos: we cut through the garden area to the other end of the gates which is coming down from the hill (the gates loop around) and hustled and blocked everyone coming down from the top so we could get our picture. We were a public nuisance, yes, but we got great photos, and after we did that everyone else started doing it too, ok?? Singaporeans know where it’s at you guys.
3. Bamboo Groves at Arashiyama
We couldn’t go to Kyoto and not hit the bamboo groves because they’re like, the bamboo groves, you know? The famous bamboo groves are located in a district called Arashimaya, which is like a little town all on its own. It’s about twenty minutes from the thousand gate shrine, and the bamboo grove was as crowded and majestic as expected. What we didn’t expect was the area surrounding it to be so lovely.
Entry is free, and walking around Arashiyama would have been really wonderful I think, if not for the fact that it rained when we were there halfway 🙁 Would have really loved to pop into one of the traditional matcha tea houses to people watch and cozy up with a cup of green tea, but we didn’t have time.
According to Roz, the best way to get around Kyoto is to rent a bike and cycle. Plenty of the airbnb places we saw listed also came with a bicycle that we could borrow, and there are many rental shops around with rates along the lines of 500yen/day, but we didn’t get to do it even though we really wanted to because no matter how much willpower you have, you cannot ride a bike in a kimono. You just cannot, okay? Yeah. So we walked everywhere – thankfully our apartment was central enough to allow for that, and Gion is so gorgeous anyway I could walk around in it all day and not be sick of it. When we needed to leave Gion, we took a train – it was ok, efficient, and relatively inexpensive.
Wrapping up, you guys, because this post is getting way too long and because some things should be left for one to experience personally anyway. As with the last time I hit Japan, I spent a couple of days shopping and picking up gifts for a mini airbnb x jemma giveaway back home. And as with the last time, Airbnb has graciously risen to the occasion and matched it with a SGD 100 airbnb voucher plus a bag of Airbnb goodies 🙂
All you have to do is pick your favourite Japan listing on airbnb.com and comment on the airbnb x jemma FB post letting us know how you would spend a typical day in your airbnb apartment. Giveaway runs a week from today, 2359 on 5th July, so chop chop! Another great reason to while away the afternoon browsing dream listings after dream listings – you are welcome x