I had nothing planned for Kyoto.
But I knew there was one thing I had to see.
So on our very last day when the clouds finally parted and the rain in Kyoto finally let up, Paul and I headed into a bamboo forest in the small town of Arashiyama - just 25 minutes from downtown Kyoto. We had just wrapped up a five day visit into Tokyo and caught the Shinkansen (high-speed train) for our two hour ride into Kyoto. If you can afford it, pay the $180 ticket (one-way) for a spacious and comfortable seat in first class. It tends to be less crowded and sort of what I was looking for after a week full of LOTS of people everywhere in Tokyo. It was just nice to have the extra breathing space.
The Weather – The one thing that did get me a bit down about Kyoto was the unpredictable and often rainy weather. I think it’s the trade-off of visiting in the winter. The weather is not so great, but the tourist attractions are not packed and you don’t have to deal with big crowds.
That being said – pack appropriately.
I suggest a pair of waterproof boots, a rain jacket that rolls up (you can get one at Uniqlo), scarf (so you don’t get sick) and a compact umbrella for carrying around in your purse. I was not-so-prepared and relied on my winter coat for warmth and an umbrella from my hotel. I also suggest good walking shoes since there are a TON of heritage sites to visit that aren’t necessarily paved.
The Bamboo Forest – I had no idea bamboo grew this tall and I’ve never been in a grove like this before. It’s such a majestic and peaceful site. The walking paths are all paved and the bamboo is behind a fenced off area – so you can’t go roaming through the bamboo itself – you can admire it from afar.
It was hard to believe with my own eyes that somehow I was nestled in the mountains of Japan wandering around a foggy bamboo forest. How did this even happen? It was a pinch myself kind of moment because I had been dreaming of going to Japan for so long and it finally came true.
For city girls like me, the word ‘hike’ terrifies me. I’m not much of a hiker (I think I just hate the unknown), but this was more like a nature walk with temples throughout where you can stop in and say hello. So definitely don’t be intimidated.
Make sure to purchase an Ema – a Japanese wish plaque ($5) and hang it on a shrine at the temple just outside of the Bamboo Forest. The gods will then be able to receive your wish. Sales of the Ema go towards supporting the temple, so it’s good karma all around.
My trick to finding a great place to eat while traveling involves two rules. #1 - look for a place that is jam-packed with locals and #2 – avoid any places that has a hostess or promoter outside trying to lure tourists into their trap.
Well Seisyuuan had one out of two. I spotted this restaurant from the street level and saw how busy it was. Since Arashiyama is kind of a touristy town, I can see how it can get competitive and you need someone on the street encouraging people to come up to your second floor restaurant. It also had a pretty view of the river and the oldest bridge in town.
Boiled tofu is a specialty in Arashiyama and I reccomend giving one of the meal combinations a try. A boiling pot of water filled with tofu is brought to your table (above) and a candle underneath the pot keeps the water warm (sort of like fondue) so you can cook the tofu tableside. It was one of the BEST meals I had in Japan because it was so simple, yet delicious. Also check out the cool spoon net for fishing out your tofu.
A traditional Japanese building inside a garden in Arashiyama
I ended the day as all days should end.
With a ridiculously hot foot bath at Arashiyama Station.
It’s the most unsuspecting thing. Imagine an outdoor subway platform with a picnic table and benches surrounding a foot spa at the end of it. That’s sort of what this was, in case you were picturing some sort of luxury spa (I was). It cost me $2 to use and I got a souvenir towel out of it – deal of the day!
Buy your ticket at the train station (really) and prepare for all foot pain, stress and fatigue to melt away. A ten-minute dip is all you need and make sure you rinse your feet before and after stepping into the foot bath.
If you’re looking for an easy day trip out of Kyoto, take the train to Arashiyama and explore a few of the things noted above. There is also a 25-minute tourist train on the Sagano Scenic Railway that is worth looking into. Otherwise, it’s easy to get there on a regular JR train.
Also check out my Travel Guide to Tokyo, Japan for more trip planning tips.