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Japan Travel Tips: Kyoto

Kyoto is the capital city of the Kyoto Prefecture and one of the best hub cities if you are vacationing in Japan. It is home to hundreds of shrines and temples, dozens of museums, renowned for its local cuisine and hosts a number of traditional Japanese festivals. Kyoto Station is also one of Japan's largest railway stations and has Shinkansens connecting it to Tokyo and other train lines connecting it to great tourist cities like Osaka, Kobe and Nara.

Like I said in my planning your stay article you really should consider visiting multiple cities when you visit Japan and Kyoto is one of, if not the best, hub cities to visit.

Ponto-chō Alley

In downtown Kyoto, right beside the Kamo river, is a little alley called Ponto-chō and it is where you should go to eat dinner on your very first night in Kyoto. The alleyway is packed with restaurants and bars on both sides and features a wide range of cuisine. If you've never been to Japan before and have no idea what options are available you should go walk up and down this alley to see all the possible food that you can eat during your stay. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

I really don't want to prescribe any restaurants you must try in Ponto-chō because half the fun is just wandering around. However, at 六傳屋 先斗町店 I had some absolutely delicious black sesame dan ban noodles that I would recommend to anyone looking for a safe meal before broadening their palette with some of the more exotic dishes that Japan has to offer.

Iwatayama Monkey Park

I don't know about y'all but I haven't seen many monkeys in my life so when I heard that there was a park where monkeys roamed free and you could hand feed them I knew we had to beeline for it. The Iwatayama Monkey Park was easily one of the most fun activities we did during our whole stay in Japan as well as one of the most unique.

The park itself is located a 20 minute hike up a mountain that also happens to have a breathtaking view of Kyoto as well. At the peak you simply walk amongst a colony of Japanese macaque monkeys that are just going about their day. You'll see them wandering around, bathing themselves, suntanning on the roof of buildings and a number of them hanging onto chicken wired windows where you can go and buy some peanuts or apple slices to feed the monkeys.

If you are not afraid of some tiny primates I would highly recommend checking out the Iwatayama Monkey Park. You've probably never experienced anything like it in your life and probably won't ever again.

Ginkaku-ji Temple and the Philosopher's Path

If you are in the mood for a little walking the Ginkaku-ji Temple and Philosopher's Path are right up your alley.

Ginkaku-ji is beautiful temple located on the western edge of Kyoto about a 30 minute bus ride from downtown. Its landscaping is absolutely out of this world and is home to a sand garden and moss garden that you have to see to believe.

Just outside of the temple is the start of the Philosopher's Path, a 90 minute pedestrian path from Ginkaku-ji that follows a canal down to Nanzen-ji temple. There are lots of great sights along the path including a number of temples and shrines as well as a bunch of little holes in the wall where you can eat. It is a major tourist attraction during cherry blossom season because of the large number of cherry trees that line the path.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha is a shrine that sits at the base of a mountain. It has a trail that runs up to the mountain's peak and down the other side which is about 4km in length and takes about two hours to traverse. Along the trail are over 10,000 torii gates.

Fushimi Inari-taisha is a popular tourist attraction so be prepared for the crowds. If you go early in the morning or as the sun is setting you can probably beat the crowds. We arrived just as the sun was setting and it made for a really interesting hike because by the time we got to the peak everything was pitch black except for the lights directly on the trail and in Kyoto in the distance.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

I feel that I am constantly falling into hyperbole here when I say "you've never seen something like this before" but Japan really has so many unique sights and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is no exception. There really isn't much to say here except look at this picture and watch this video and if you aren't interested in walking through bamboo stalks that reach a hundred feet into the sky then I don't know what else I can say.

A heads up though, this place is an incredibly popular tourist attraction and felt like we were walking through a herd of zombies from The Walking Dead. Just set your expectations correctly or show up super early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Heian Shrine

The Heian Shrine is worth seeing because of the sheer size of the grounds. Everything there is larger than most other shrines you will see while you are in Japan. The shrine's torii gate is one of the largest in the country and the garden is over 30 square kilometers and home to all sorts of wildlife.

Yadoya Kikokuso

A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn and we decided to stay in one for a single night during our vacation.

We found Yadoya Kikokuso by searching the Internet and we could not have been more happy with our choice. It is impossible to overstate how quant staying in this ryokan was. It was run by an elderly couple and their children who were incredibly welcoming and accommodating. They spoke the best English out of anyone we had encountered but in true Japanese fashion they would not stop apologizing for their "poor" English.

We had a Japanese tea ceremony performed for us, ate a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast, bathed in an onsen and slept on futons (good Japanese bedding not those shitty fold out sofas). We went the whole nine yards and it was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend that anyone going to Japan try staying in a ryokan and I can vouch for Yadoya Kikokuso being absolutely top notch.

Arabica Coffee

If I don't put this here Jarques will kill me. If you are looking for a great cup of coffee Arabica has some locations in Kyoto and they really are a high quality coffee shop. One of the places we visited actually had an barista who had immigrated from Los Angeles and not only brewed a solid cup but was fun to chat with as well.