For as busy as Tokyo was, Kyoto matched it in absolute beauty. I knew the moment we started walking the streets in Kyoto that I would love this city. It’s filled to the brim with history, culture, amazing food, and wonderful people.
Day 4: Exploring Kyoto & A Night Walk in Gion
Being Japan’s original capital, Kyoto has the feeling of old Japan. Ryokans line the streets and there are temples and shrines scattered everywhere around the city. Our first night in Kyoto, we took our one and only group tour in Japan. (We typically shy away from guided tours – as we honestly just love to wander and get lost!) It was a night tour of Gion and I am SO glad we took advantage of this amazing history lesson. Our guide, Mia, took us around Gion, sharing the history of the city and their most loved celebrities – the Geiko (geisha). While we didn’t see any Geiko that night, it was fascinating to learn about this mysterious part of their culture directly from the source (Memoirs of a Geisha was not a very accurate history lesson)!
Day 5: Cooking with Cooking Sun!
During our second day in Kyoto, we took our cooking class! We love to take a class in every country that we visit. It’s an amazing way to learn more about that culture’s food and meet people from all over the world.
This time we made bento boxes at Cooking Sun! I only had my iPhone in the actual class but here are some fun pictures from our experience! We would definitely recommend their class to anyone traveling to Kyoto!
Later that afternoon, we headed back to Gion! We were very interested in photographing the Geiko in the area and knew where to go after our tour. For those who don’t know, Geiko (or Geisha) are trained artists who perform music, dance, and other art forms at small parties at the Tea Houses in Kyoto and other areas of Japan. They are highly skilled in their craft and lead pretty secretive lives. Their mysterious nature allows them to entertain very important guests, such as presidents, company owners and even royalty! This privacy gives their guests the ability to enjoy themselves in a way they potentially wouldn’t at a party with photography or press.
It’s pretty rare to encounter Geiko within Gion and Japan. There are only about 280 in the entire country and they move to their appointments very quickly! It’s also extremely expensive/exclusive to attend a party at a tea house! You can’t go to one unless you’ve been invited by the owner! We got very lucky and saw several heading to their appointments for the evening! We were also fortunate enough to see several Sumo wrestlers on their way to a dinner event in Gion! It was amazing! They are so tall and they definitely command the entire street as they walk by!
But our luck didn’t stop there! While waiting to take photographs near the oldest tea house in Gion, a gentleman started talking with Brad. He had been waiting next to us for almost 15 minutes before initiating a conversation. It turned out that he was the owner of a local tea house and offered to take us to see the interior of the house. He indicated that there would be no Geiko, but we didn’t want to turn down the opportunity to see the inside of one of these historic locations. Before we knew it, he was taking us to a second Tea House where we had the opportunity to meet three stunning Geiko. Of course, I had the super zoom lens on my camera and no time to change it out, so my iPhone had to capture this amazing moment, but WOW! We were so fortunate to have this experience!
Day 6: Fushimi Inari
The following day we headed to the Fushimi Inari shrine. I was extremely excited for this as it has been on my bucket list for years and it was amazing to actually experience this wonder in person. Fushimi Inari celebrates Inari, the god of rice. There are over 10,000 torii gates scaling the side of a mountain and is typically a 2 hour hike to the top. We made it about half way before we realized we should probably turn back!
Day 7: Arishiyama – The Bamboo Forest & Monkey Park
On our final day in Kyoto we headed down to the Arishayama area to visit the Bamboo Forest and Monkey park! Even though we arrived very early to the bamboo forest, it was still so crowded and made it hard to get any pictures of just the grove. Brad did manage to get this awesome photo of me at the grove (and the picture above at Fushimi Inari), and I’d like to think the photography lessons I’ve been giving him are paying off!
After the bamboo forest, we explored this gorgeous area of Kyoto before we made the crazy hike to the monkey park! I loved getting to see the fishermen at work as well as the busyness of this small town early on a Saturday morning! You guys, I was not prepared to climb a mountain to see these monkeys. Granted, I love animals, and I was SO excited to see them, but that climb was STEEP. The best part? They quoted like 10 minutes to the top when we bought our tickets. 10 minutes in, we were at the FIRST of three rest stations before you reach the top. Regardless, it was totally worth it and I loved getting to spend some of our last day with these little guys.
Check out this view!!!
Later that day we headed to the sake district in Gion, tasted some amazing Sake and explored the “Kimono Forest”
For our final meal in Kyoto, we visited a restaurant that’s entire menu consisted of different variations of Wagyu Beef: Raw, seared, grilled, and roasted. And it was Ah-mazing!
We had an absolutely amazing time in Japan. It is really unlike anything we had ever experienced and such a culture shock from our every day lives in Virginia. We loved the beauty, the history, and the culture and can’t wait to continue to explore this incredible continent!
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