So we arose this morning to catch our first bullet train, through to Kyoto. Unfortunately our journey to the train station didn’t go quite as planned. We jumped on a JR train we thought was heading to Tokyo central station but turns out it wasn’t going as far as that. Once we jumped off at the next station and got on one that WAS going that far it was too late, we ended up missing our train by just 3 minutes!
We had booked the Japan rail pass, this was our first day of activation so there was no cost to us of missing the train however it did mean our seat reservations were invalid. I went to the counter and the only train we could get booked on was an hour later, however we couldn’t sit together.
When we eventually boarded the train I was incredibly impressed. You get an insane amount of leg room on a bullet train. Although my research before the trip had led me to believe it wasn’t very luggage friendly on bullet trains we never had any trouble on journeys as there is a back row where you can store suitcases. It was about 2 hours 45 minutes to Kyoto and it was probably the most pleasant train journey I’ve ever been on in my life.
When we first arrived in Kyoto it had started to rain, luckily our guest house was only around the corner from the nearest metro. We stayed at the Guest house Kyoto Shirakawa. I absolutely adored it. Aside from the central location we were given the friendliest welcome and the place was impeccably clean and had all we wanted. We stayed in a traditional room with tatami mats and futons. In the landing area we had wash basins along with toiletries. Downstairs we had a kitchen, there were 3 all singing all dancing toilets and 2 shower rooms.
There was a communal umbrella stand so we grabbed a few and headed out, as we had worked up quite the appetite by this point. We grabbed some food from our local 7/11 as normal, noting how there were clear regional differences in the food sold in Tokyo and Kyoto.
We then headed on to Nijo Castle. Before we went I had read warnings about how Kyoto is a city where lots of walking needs to be done because their metro system isn’t that expansive but actually I found it was perfectly fine for our needs. By the time we reached Nijo castle the rain had stopped and we were free to explore.
Nijo castle was built in 1603 as the home for the first shogun of the Edo period, it was used as an imperial palace before becoming a public historic site. It was also a UNESCO world heritage site. The entry was 600Y.
The castle was really nice, I thought the gold leaf used throughout was really striking. The gardens were really lovely and when we entered the buildings the wall paintings were really beautiful.
We had a nice surprise when we walked around to a part of the gardens where a small food fair was set up. There were quite a few sake stalls there and we were able to do some tasting. I found a delicious sweet sake that I ended up buying for my dad as a gift. There was also lots of cherry blossom in the grounds, which was beautiful as always.
After the castle we went back to the guest room and had a bit of a chill, got unpacked and showered and then walked to the Gion District. The district is known for its geishas and wooden machiya merchant houses. We were so lucky to have them just around the corner from us.
Whilst walking to the district we walked around the shops. There was some really lovely souvenir shops, they didn’t sell cheap tat but rather were all lovely boutiques selling wonderful handmade items.
We walked around the restaurants in the wooden houses but found it incredibly hard to find a place that could accommodate walk ins so my suggestion would be to make a booking if you want to make sure you can enjoy dinner here. We ended up at an Italian called Rigolettos. It was set within a wooden house but looked very modern inside.
The meal was really nice, we had some amazing cocktails and I had a delicious Wagyu beef bolognaise for my main.
Kyoto certainly had a different vibe to Tokyo. It was more laid back but we noticed a lot more non Japanese people around, all clearly tourists. It was more traditional and not so glitzy. The Japanese people that we saw there looked more normal than the ones in Tokyo, dressed in normal attire. However despite it being more laid back because of the increase in tourists I did find Kyoto more difficult to manouvre around, people always seemed to be bumping into me!