kyoto wander guide
I feel like I'd watched a "trailer" for Kyoto. I’d heard other's reviews, seen pictures, read blogs... and created high expectations for myself when I finally got around to seeing it! I was worried there was basically nothing Kyoto could do to meet my expectations.
Kyoto was breathtaking, and I wasn’t even there during cherry blossom season. Whatever your preconceptions might be, Kyoto will get you. Kyoto steals hearts quite efficiently.
I had lists and maps of places to go and things to see and, honestly I was a little overwhelmed at trying to fit it all into a few days. But, at the end of each day, we shuffled back to the Len Hostel, feet blistered and muscles taut; happy.
My favorite hour of the trip was when Tyler and I (a little sick of being glued to each other’s side at this point… ) split up. He went to hunt down a good t-shirt for our future hike (cause he only packed button up dress shirts of course ;) and I went on a walk with my camera.
I moseyed down to the dirt path beside the canal and sat down along the walls to watch a white crane fishing on the water’s edge. Minutes of concentration and stone like stillness finally paid off as he snapped into the water and out, wriggling fish in beak. I watched him swallow. Evolution made him savor it, though. As I watched the fish get stuck at the bend of his long neck and I could see his muscles flexing to force it down. In the middle of my will-he-get-that-fish-down-his-neck trance… a voice called out:
“It’s a lovely place, Kyoto!”
I looked to my left about ten feet to see a wide smile and narrow squinty eyes attached to a wrinkly face, attached to a grey haired head, attached to a body that was rather soft looking, all perched on a blanket with a nest of coolers and bags. I quickly agreed that yes, Kyoto was a lovely place, and went back to my newest craneiest friend.
“I’ve been here nine years and I can’t get enough of it. I just sit here and soak it all it. Never gets old.”
Oh, I guess we’re having a conversation, I thought, and semi-reluctantly chimed in amazement at his living here nine years. Oh this is the part where I mention his skin an voice betray him as a white American. It may have been more socially appropriate to have asked him why he’d come to Kyoto in the first place, or what he did here… but truly, he didn’t seem like the kind of person that needed or had a reason to be anywhere for nine years or a hundred. He just was there. And he was happy! He chuckled his words and told me, “I’m from Milwaukee,” (I think only nice people come from Milwaukee… no one who lives in a city spelled like that can take themselves too seriously), then he asked where I was from.
“New York City!” I proudly said. And suddenly a guitar that had been hidden on his opposite side was in his hands:
“Start spreadin' the news, I'm leavin' today... I want to be a part of it, NEW YORK, NEW YORK!” He belted across the canal, attracting the gaze of people from above and across.
“Y’know why I love Kyoto? No one tells you what to do. I can sing, I can dance, I can drink by the side of the river *holds up a plastic cup* No police tell me what to do!”
I chuckled, realizing there was more to his giddiness than I thought.
“Do you play tennis? The best tennis courts are just past this bridge. They’re clay! Oh you’d love them. Would you like to play? I can reserve the court?”
Wow. I wish I had the balls to invite random people in Kyoto to play tennis with me! “I have to catch a train in the morning, I’m sorry!” Wow. I wish I had the balls to accept invitations to play tennis with random people in Kyoto.
Now, I wish I’d asked for a photo. His eyes were so happy, and they're glued in my mind. I feel like my words aren’t enough to describe it for you. If you squint you can see him here sitting on the left of the canal (white shirt).
As I watched him, I imagined a world where I lived in Kyoto for nine years and spent my Sundays strumming my guitar and dusk-drinking my favorite wine by the canal. For a moment I forgot all my goals and plans and that constant tick in my brain saying “do more”… and just loved that man and the past that led him to that place that night.
Maybe one day I’ll grow up to be him. Wouldn’t be half bad.
All the places I went and things I did in Kyoto, and somehow, the random interaction with this *questionably sober* man on the canal is what I remember most.
Tyler and I agreed we shouldn’t view solo adventures as a negative thing, like somehow not being together all the time doing the same thing and loving it is evidence we’re not happy together. On the contrary, Tyler and I met back up that evening over THE BEST sushi (AWOMB…. see below) and had a great conversation about our separate adventures. Maybe I’ll plan a whole solo trip soon so I can have more canal moments.
KYOTO WANDER GUIDE & MAP
If you've ever stayed at hostels while backpacking, multiply that by a hundred and you get the Len. Super nice design and layout, with a bar + cafe on the bottom level. They have a variety of rooms from shared to private. We shared a 6 bunk room (at a steal for 25 bucks a person!) The cafe has great coffee, and delish breakfast food. From the bathrooms to the rooms, to the common room - the Len is supurbly designed and offers backpackers an awesome A/C + wifi oasis. (they have bag storage too! Super helpful!)
Though we didn't end up staying here (they were all booked out, unfortunately), this place is stunning. Truly picturesque Kyoto inn with a more luxury feel. I was shocked at how affordable it was too!
If you had one night in Kyoto, you HAVE to go here. Get a reservation though! Don't count on just showing up. This hidden restaurant was our favorite of the entire trip! They serve sushi arranged in artistic ways on gorgeous stonewear, in a sort of make-your-own adventure way. We had a ton of fun rolling our own sushi and it was crazy tasty. Stay tuned - I'm gonna try my hand at AWOMB inspired sushi soon.
Quick noodle spot we liked that was close to the busy markets. Super reasonable prices and tasty food.
Nishitomiya Croquette Shop:
Just down the street from the Len, stop in for quick bite of croquette (think big tater tot), and if in season, try their cheese and peaches salad. Tyler will be chasing the dragon for this salad the rest of his life.
% Arabica Coffee:
A must see in Kyoto. World famous latte artist serving sublime coffee. Not only tasty, but visually inspiring space & design. They roast beans in house and have great vibes.
Artisan shop for cook wares. Tricky to find in the Nishiki market, but well worth the hunt. Watch craftsmen make and chisel beautiful metal instruments and peruse their professional knife collections dreaming of the day you become a chef talented enough to use them!
Naito Shoten Broom Shop:
Little shop and studio with hand crafted brooms and brushes of all shapes and sizes. Beautiful and inspiring - easy to find something you'll need for your home.
"West meets East" clothes store. Reminded me of Brooklyn, but with a Japanese twist. Lots of amazing denim and super hipster looks.
All sorts of shops: food and goods. Beautiful experience walking in and out of vendors, snacking and poking around.
Mumokuteki Cafe + Antique Shop:
Not sure if the antique shop is called Mumokuteki, but in the basement of this cafe & shop area, there is an amazing antique shop with some seriously good selection. Has sort of a post war + cowboy vibe. Across from the stairs to the antique shop is an amazing packaging shop with some super interesting pretty goods.
Women's clothing shop with some great styles. Seamstress in house.
Hard to miss spot, as it runs through the center of the city! This is a great spot to take a chill out from walking. As my friend from above suggested, maybe grab some wine and sit and watch cranes!
Shopping and lots of local digs! Just a fun place to meander.
Yasaka District Buddhist Temple:
This whole area is a blast from the past. Tons of "preserved" old shops and cute little pop in pop out places. The street winds it's way up to the Buddhist Temple perched on the hill.
Chion- in Temple & Maruyama Park:
You could easily get lost in this area. So many temples, shrines, gardens, and cemeteries to walk through. The Chion-In Temple is my favorite building among many.
We almost skipped this, but I'm so glad we didn't! We heard it was quite touristy, and yes, that was true, at least in the entry areas and initial torii gates. If you follow the path up the mountain, not only will you shake the crowds, but with every step you will be shocked at how far, long, and many torii gates there are! The full hike is about two and a half miles up the mountain and down. Not to be missed.