Well, not to start with a spoiler but, you know you’ve done well when you’re first taste of a country is your favourite place there five years later. And that’s Kyoto in a nutshell! I challenge anyone to visit and not simply love Kyoto.
I flew into Kansai Airport. It’s on the coast and services Osaka and Kyoto. I was pretty excited about touching down in Japan despite the overnight flight I had taken. It was early April, the air was very crisp (I’d come from humid and hot South East Asia so this was a relief for me) and I was entering a country I had never been to before. It was the country on my 2011 trip I had built the most expectation and anticipation over. And now – I was here.
The airport was smooth-sailing through customs and the like. I had to take a train – a bit under an hour – to Kyoto from the airport. At the airport the slick Shinkansen waited. I was about to take my first bullet train! It was a serious thrill. They even had hosts and hostesses outside the carriages dressed immaculately with perfect manners to check my ticket.
It zoomed off at 200km/h or thereabouts one of the world’s real gem of a city. I marveled at how built up the place was even between cities – something that really tells the visitor they are in Japan, there aren’t any breaks between development, Japan makes use of all its land and then some with its raised train lines, raised roads, it’s quite remarkable.
And so I alighted the train at the large Kyoto station (nothing compared to Tokyo) and I looked at my lonely planet map to make my way to K’s House Hostel. It was quiet, I remember, which is rare especially at that time of year, but it was only a few weeks after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.
I found the hostel pretty easily, it was only 10 minutes’ walk from the station. It had quite a few storeys – seven I think it was. Shoes off! Yes, my first ‘shoes off experience’ in Japan, one that is compulsory in any abode. Very friendly reception staff, lots of people with face masks, and then into the lift to go up to the fourth floor where my room was. Ooooh, the lift talked to me! I still remember that soothing voice!
I had a futon bed on slats on the floor (that’s where you find futons generally!) and it was really clean. The whole hostel was a winner, spotlessly clean, friendly, excellent kitchen for self-caterers which I was when I was there.
The hostel offered a free tour to see the temples and Geisha neighbourhood. I said ‘yes thanks!’ Turned out I was the only person on the tour, but they ran it anyway and I got to see the geisha houses and some of the temples.
Of course, there’s lots to see and do in Kyoto. Kikankuji, the Golden Temple, is the most photographed and well-known temple in and around Kyoto. There are buses and trains to get you about, I found them pretty easy to navigate and any questions on routes etc were answered by the staff at K’s House. Off my own back I went and saw a Geisha performance which was done for the public so not in the surrounds for private performances (which if you’re interested in as are many visitors you can organise for a price). There’s also a bamboo forest that I explored as well which was well worth it.
But the highlights were the people of Kyoto. I went out a couple of times and made friends at karaoke, and also groups from the hostel went out and we joined a group of mostly university students who were aiming to meet foreigners and offer social gatherings. So it was incredibly friendly. I visited the train museum there too.
On top of all that, Kyoto was a great base to explore nearby cities, I visited Nara, Osaka and Takarazuka where I found the Osamu Tezuka museum (awesome for Astroboy fans!). Kyoto itself has a Manga Museum where people dress up in cosplay on Sundays and pose for photos. In short, I had a week in Kyoto and could have tripled it easily and not get bored.
So – Kyoto. As good a ‘first taste’ as I’ve had. Loved it to pieces. Have you been? How did you find it? May the Journey Never End!