Kyoto – Rain, Rain Go Away

We were excited for our one week stay in Kyoto.  The city is rich in Japanese history and we were ready to explore the temples, walk the streets looking for cherry blossoms, and participate in a tea ceremony.  Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate while we there.  It ended up being a week of really cold weather, with rain and even some snow!  We stayed in a small apartment in the historic district that was perfect for our needs.  The kids had their own room with mattresses on the tatami floor (which subsequently converted to our dining room during the day), but the best part was the bathroom.  It didn’t look like much, but the bathtub was like our own private onsen complete with fancy buttons to keep the water always at the perfect temperature!  We indulged daily in hot baths after walking around in the cold drizzle most days!

Dinner on the floor!

Our first day in Kyoto we walked to the Nishiki Market for lunch.  The arcade boasts several eateries that allow you to snack as you go along.  However, the market is packed with people. So, in order to prevent giant messes, they ask that you pull into the stall where you’ve made your purchase and eat your treat inside.  We tried sesame curry buns, dumplings, sushi, and sake! It was fun despite having to push our way through all the tourists. 

Lunch at Nishiki Market

Speaking of tourists, Kyoto was BUSY!  There were tourists everywhere! I’m not sure if it’s always that way, or because it’s spring and the expectation of the cherry trees but the crowd levels were the worst we’ve seen anywhere we’ve been this year.  Our youngest clung to James the whole time as his size made it easy for him to move through the crowd. 

Trying black sesame ice cream

The kids have been eager to explore all things Pokemon while in Japan.  We’ve seen references to the characters around most of the cities here but in Kyoto they have an actual Pokemon Center.  Like everywhere else, it was a zoo, but the kids had fun using their hard earned pocket money to buy a couple of Pokemon souvenirs.  Then, it was off to walk the chilly streets home, straight to the steaming hot onsen at our apartment!

Give them all the Pokemon!

We were staying just a few feet from Kiyomizu-dera temple and spent a day making our way up the hill to it.  The temple has an interesting history of around 300 people having jumped from the platform hundreds of years ago as a test to determine the fortune of their lives.  If they survived they would have good fortune and if not, well, clearly no good fortune.  The survival rates were 85%.  Thankfully, they stopped the practice after several years! 

We enjoyed taking in the beauty of the complex and especially the snow that fell as we were leaving! The kids were elated to say the least! Their happiness was on another level and it was so fun to experience their joy! After, we warmed up with ramen at Fuji Ramen, a recommendation from our host.  It was a hole in the wall diner with just counter seats and only ramen and dumplings on the menu, but it filled our bellies and left us warm. 

SNOW!!!!

One of the other things we enjoyed in Kyoto, was the Kyoto Railway Museum.  Japanese love trains! They do make it easy to get around and a friend told us there are multiple train museums throughout Japan.  The one in Kyoto was amazing as it had full size trains inside as well as the mechanics and engineering set up in exhibits so you could understand how they run.  We all enjoyed it and I couldn’t help but think of how much the boys loved their trains when they were little. The museum was beside the Kyoto main train station as well, so it was a fun place to sit and just watch all the trains pull in and out!

The one day we had good weather, we made our way to Fushimi Inari Temple where the tori gates are.  The temple has a 1-2 hour hike through the gates up in to the hill.  It was crowded the first couple hundred yards, but then the crowds dissipated as the stairs became steeper.  As we went up, mini shrines were placed along the path as well of sculptures of foxes.  They believed the fox was a messenger to the gods. Supposedly foxes carried those wishes from the bottom of the mountain to the top! The views of Kyoto were stunning from the top and we were grateful the sky finally cleared so we could enjoy the hike.

Beauty of the Tori Gates

Bingo was very excited to try a kimono in Japan!  One morning, we rented a traditional kimono for her to wear while we participated in a Japanese sweets making class and tea ceremony.  There are so many kimono rental shops throughout Kyoto and we chose one that was near our apartment.  They had a huge selection and Bingo enjoyed choosing the pattern, color of her sash, coat, bag, and accessories.  After choosing, she went to a separate building where a lady takes the time to dress her in all the layers of the kimono.  Bingo enjoyed the experience but did not enjoy all the attention she received as she paraded down the streets.  She was adorable and everyone was smiling at her!

Bingo in her kimono

After, we all headed to our class to learn how to make two types of sweet flowers made of bean paste.  It was a bit like working with play-do.  They were fun to make, but weren’t the tastiest unless paired with the matcha we were given at the tea ceremony.  The tea ceremony ended up being our favorite part of the class.  We binge watched Karate Kid in Kyoto and the second film features a tea ceremony.  The boys learned it was the exact tradition in real life and even knew what to expect!  

Working on traditional Japanese sweets made with bean paste

The Gion district of Kyoto is known as the home of the geishas.  The area police has put strict policies in place with fines for taking geisha photos.  We thought it may be hard to see any, but I had read that around 5:45pm was when they typically make there way to parties. 

Our plan was to have a drink nearby and then meander the district.  As we headed to the bar, Goose whisper shouted, “There’s a geisha!” We were all excited and were trying not to stare, but it was incredible seeing someone donning a kimono, with their hair perfectly done and a painted white face.  Just like in the movie, “Memoirs of a Geisha.” I highly recommend this movie!  We really enjoyed watching it because it was filmed in and takes place in Kyoto!  We then saw another young geisha getting in to a car. James waved “hello” to her and she gave him a polite nod.  Our night was complete after that! We celebrated our sightings with coke and a beer at an Irish pub!

Our last day, James and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary.  The weather was miserable, yet again, so we spent our anniversary doing the most fun thing ever—playing claw machines! We gave the kids each $5 and let them try their hand it.  Goose actually won lollipops right away and was able to snag some for his brother and sister.  He was ecstatic after that! I lost $10 trying to win a stuffed animal.  James had to drag me away to get me to stop! James was the biggest winner, grabbing five boxes of chocolates! Goose also went back and won a stuffed bunny for his sister.  It was finally a successful trip the claw machines!

Finally won at some of the claw machines!

We capped the day off with dinner at an Italian restaurant called Bigoli Kyoto.  The place had great ratings online, but I was worried we had made a mistake after walking in.  It was completely silent! The quietest restaurant we have EVER been in.  We were afraid to say anything! We read the menu and learned the restaurant only sold spaghetti Bolognese.  You could get it with varying portions of cheese on top, but that was all.  Well, it ended up being absolutely fantastic! Best Bolognese I’ve ever had!

Kyoto was lovely, but made even better by our host, Utaka.  He is an exuberant personality who was very traditional Japanese. Utaka always called James, “James-san” and constantly bowed in our presence. 

Goodbye, Kyoto and Utaka!

He made the time so memorable and we will never forget his hospitality!

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