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Traveling Back in Time in Kyoto

Years ago I watched the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” and was completely taken by the scenery.  The movie was partly filmed in Kyoto and the more I saw pictures of the area, the more I knew we had to visit when we went to Japan.

Planning our trip there was the hardest part of the entire planning though.  Kyoto has more than 1600 temples and more than 400 shrines, so trying to figure out which 3-4 to visit was overwhelming especially since everything I read recommended different temples.  This is also where I decided we’d do the bulk of our activities so weaving it all together and not exhausting us was tough.  I partly succeeded, but partly failed as we didn’t see as many temples as I wanted and skipped some other things I wanted to do, and STILL ended up exhausted!

That said, Kyoto was a highlight of the trip for us!

Kyoto was the 2nd stop on our Japan trip after a busy 5 days in Tokyo.  We were all worn out from our whirlwind trip there and the gray, raining travel day didn’t help.

But our moods improved when we made it to our rental.  This place was so cool!  The kids loved their room and all the traditional touches.  Having a nice kitchen and a washing machine also made the place a great choice.  And it was once again cheaper than a hotel!

Kid’s bedroom

Street our rental was on

By the time we got settled in, it was already dinner time.  The kids elected to stay in for some downtime so Chuck and I went out for dinner and found this great gyoza place a couple of blocks away.  I love gyoza and enjoyed trying the different fillings.


Chuck and I were excited to see Gion, so we wandered the streets despite it raining.  We were also exhausted, but I didn’t fly the whole way to Kyoto to sit in the rental!  The area is just too perfect.  Its absolutely what you picture when you think of traditional Japan with the wood buildings, paper lamps, shoji screens.  We even saw a geisha and a maiko (an apprentice geisha)!

We found a grocery store and bought the kids food for dinner, breakfast foods (I even found pancake mix!), and headed back to the rental for the night.

Day 2

Day 2 started with breakfast at our rental before getting a taxi to the area around  Kiyomizu-dera temple.  We had a great time walking around the famous streets around the temple, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka.  After walking our legs off for over 5 hours, we went back to the rental for some much needed rest.

We decided to cook dinner at our rental as none of us wanted to go out to eat.  After dinner, Chuck and I went for a stroll to the famous Pontocho Alley and nearby Kiyamachi-dori Street.  Once again it was raining, but it was still cool to see.

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley

Back side Pontocho Alley buildings



Day 3

We had a relaxed morning on Day 3 before heading out for a very busy day.  Our first stop was Nishiki Market.  There we saw some really interesting sea creatures for sale along with the usual items.  We didn’t try anything exotic, but did share a bubble tea and bought some cool gelatinous face washes for the kids.

After the market and a lunch stop at an Italian restaurant for marginal pizza and Italian food, we went to our Ninja Class where we had an absolute blast.  On our walk there, we saw an Eggs ‘n Things like we ate at in Tokyo, so we stopped in after our class for some more yummy pancakes with a mountain of whipped cream.

At this point the kids were begging to go back to the room to rest, but this is when I was surprising them with a visit to the Otter Cafe.  They quickly realized something was up and spent the entire walk badgering me about where we were going and taking guesses.  As we got close, there was a sign and Beckett figured it out and got so excited!

Unfortunately, they were booked up, but had a window for us to visit an hour or so later at 5pm.  The time meant we’d have to leave early as we had 6pm tickets for the GEAR show.  We jumped at the chance though as some otter time is better than no otter time!

While waiting, we walked around the Shinkyogoku and Teramachi Shopping Streets where the cafe was located.

We had the best time with the otters!  You can read more about that here.

Then we headed to the GEAR show.  This is a 1 hour non-verbal show featuring street performers, wrapped in a story about robots and a doll that come to life.  The show was fantastic and the kids absolutely loved it.  You aren’t allowed to take photos during the performance, but I took one before the show started.  Beckett loved the show so much that he did the “robot walk” for months after.

GEAR show set

After the show, we hunted around for what felt like forever trying to find a suitable dinner and ended up at another Shabu Shabu restaurant.  There was a good hour wait and I felt like I was going to pass out, but eventually around 9:30pm, we finally got fed!  Phew!

Shabu Shabu

Day 4

Day 4 was an earlier start as we wanted to see the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine & Torii Gates before our 12pm Ramen Cooking Class

We were so exhausted at this point, that my entire afternoon plan of visiting a Zen garden, wandering the famous Philosopher’s Path, seeing the Silver Pavilion, and having a soft tofu dinner got completely scrapped.  Instead, the kids stayed home again while Chuck and I wandered around Gion.  We found an Indian restaurant for dinner that was quite good and a welcome break from Japanese food.  Then we found a place where I had a delicious mango cocktail, Chuck got sake, and we shared a ginormous kakigouri (shaved ice).

My mango cocktail, Chuck’s sake, and Kakigouri (shaved ice)

And then we stumbled upon the Yasaka Shrine.  It looked so cool all lit up at night and there were even food vendors selling various foods all around the shrine.

Yasaka Shrine entrance

Day 5

Day 5 had us going to beautiful Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) on the other side of town.  Originally we were thinking of going to a zen meditation class in the morning before visiting the temple, but that got scrapped.  I was also hoping to visit the nearby Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and maybe get a foot massage and tofu lunch in the area, but all of that got scrapped too.  We also had penciled in a samurai lesson that afternoon, but didn’t bother to book that as we all needed a break from scheduled activities.

Instead, we took a taxi back into the heart of Kyoto for another shabu shabu lunch, then rested back at the rental.

Chuck booked us another visit to the otter cafe, so we headed there for another hour with the otters before checking out the Gion Matsuri Festival that was happening.  Gion Matsuri is Kyoto’s biggest festival and is celebrated over a couple of weeks.  The first main event, the Yamaboko Junko, is a parade that was being held the next morning when we were headed out of town.  There are festivities on the 3 days leading up to the parade, where they shut down the streets, people dress up, and there is a big street party.

We saw none of that.  Sure, we saw the floats parked and the streets were closed with a lot of people out, but there wasn’t much of a street party happening.  So after wandering thru the streets and into Gion, we called it a night and went home to start packing up for our departure the next morning.

Float for the parade

“Street Party” the night before the first big parade

Day 6

On Day 6, it was time to leave Kyoto and head for Osaka.

Kyoto was such a beautiful place filled with such history.  I’m so glad we spent as much time as we did here and wish we’d gotten to see and do even more.  It is definitely a place I’d love to come back to some day with more time to meander and soak it all in.