Kyoto – a step back in time…

Kind and beautiful Kyoto…

Konichiwa all. Morning. I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop in Kyoto train station awaiting my bullet train back to Tokyo. I’m feeling a bit emotional to be honest. Let me explain why.

I was here in Japan on business. The last week was spent at a conference in Tokyo. That was great fun, but so exhausting. Normally on these business trips (and the first week was no exception) we go from airport to hotel, to meetings to dinner and to sleep. A bit like the song – Eat, sleep, network, repeat. Or something along those lines… (see the tired eyes below)

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Japan is a country I have longed to visit, but for one reason or another it hasn’t quite happened. So  as I am here for 11 days on business I decided to escape for the weekend to the old Capital of Japan – Kyoto.

Friday I left the amazing Capitol Tokyu hotel (who kindly kept my suitcase for me until I get back to Tokyo – that’s not a big thing here) with my wekekend bag, my matcha latte and my guide book. I hopped on the Subway (so easy, all lines are colour coded like the UK) and headed to Tokyo station to catch the Shakinsesen (bullet train). Kyoto is 536 miles away, and the train covers that in 2 hours and ten minutes. I treated myself to a green ticket (first class here) as it was only £20 more! Total return – £165.

Embarking the train was an experience – the crew bowed to me, and escorted me to my seat (Network Rail & all UK train companies take note).  The seats are huge. They recline, and have footrests. I laid back, put my feet up, and thought of Kyoto.  Until we sped up. Then I was not so comfortable. It was a little weird to begin with – a kinda out of body weird. However, after the initial stages of panic, it all became quite a pleasant experience! If you ever get the train, sit on the right to see Mount Fuji. What a delight, even on a grey day.

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Mount Fiji – stunning!

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Before I knew it we had arrived. I’m staying at the Westin Kyoto, as they offer free shuttle buses & Japanese style accommodations (Ryokans). I’m not brave enough on my own to go fully local! Many Ryokan owners do not speak any English, and although they provide traditional breakfast and dinner each day, I want to explore more. This option gives me the best of both worlds.

My room was beautiful- a traditional layout with low seating and a plunge cedar wood bath. Just walking into the room made me feel calm and serene. Japanese culture is one of respect, calmness and happiness- something I really wish we could do more.

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Despite the rain I decided to take a walk. Due to the rain not much was open, but I found somewhere to sit and stare at a temple whilst sipping some tea. A pure moment after the weeks work excursions!

Tired and hungry I headed back via the sushi counter (see the piccie below). I could literally eat my body weight in the stuff (currently quite large). As I headed to my room, my futon had been made up for me and I fell asleep in seconds – first time this week!

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However, my slumber didn’t last long – I was woken by a dripping noise on my futon. I had a leaky roof. Not what you need at that time of the night. So after a call to reception, a lot of apologising I was moved to the normal part of the hotel. Gutted to say the least! Even more gutted when I was told the hotel was fully booked the rest of the weekend and I needed to move hotels. However, the Regency Hyatt was an amazing alternative! Well worth the price. So welcoming and beautiful. Rooms were clean, comfy, and with a huge walk in shower certainly washed away the aches and pains from the sightseeing- over 22km in 2 days was tiring!

Saturday morning (after moving hotels) It was time to see the old Japan. Via various shrines and temples I headed on foot to Gion, renowned for its traditional way of life. With its miriad of little lanes, full of wonderful Japanese style shops and restaurants it was truly breathtaking – I felt like I had walked into another world, or jumped back in time. After some perusing I stopped for lunch in a traditional restaurant serving a set menu (called Teisoko). Only 4 tables, very serene and calm. A break from the world outside with its bustling and winding streets. My beautiful lunch of fish, sushi, vegetables, pickles, rice made me human again. Followed by a wonderful ice cream from red beans. Delicious! Ready for the afternoon! As I left, I was so lucky to catch a glimpse of 2 beautiful Geisha girls scurrying along the street to their next appointment – a rare and beautiful sight which left me mesmerised and brimming with joy.

 

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I spent the afternoon meandering around Downtown Kyoto – not forgetting the sensory overload that is the food market. Wow. Small alleyways laden with produce – from fish of ALL kinds, to vegtables, noodles to rice, spices to teas the place is a MUST for anyone visitors Kyoto. Full of bargains, I only wish I could bring it all home! Instead I settled for squid on a stick, and a cucumber on a stick to munch on as I browsed. Both delicious as you can see (suprisingly!).

To my delight I found a tea shop. Here I bought some wonderful teas which are roasted gently in house on traditional and old roasters then mixed to make a perfect blend. The owner didn’t speak a word of English, but he ushered me to a seat to try 4 types – kind of a try before you buy gig. Needless to say I left with 2 kinds, and a very big smile.

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Downtown Kyoto is a mix of Western chain stores and small coffee bars, cake shops, bars and restaurants. Totally fabulous. I spent hours here trying the local delights – mainly all delicious (avoid the omelette and blue tofu though). Sake sampled I wandered back a little hazey to my hotel, bath and bed exhausted but buzzing from the day..

Sunday – I woke up feeling the effects of the day before.  My legs were sore, but it was time to grab breakfast and head to the Temple (it is Sunday). And if you are going to visit any Temple make it a Golden One! Kita-Ku (golden pavilion) is a UNESCO world heritage sight, and deservedly so. A truly beautiful area of natural beauty – with the most amazing golden temple.  I didn’t expect it to be so shiny! I sat up on a hill just taking it all in – the vibe was so peaceful despite the crowds. People flock in their thousands to visit here and I can totally see why. I can’t describe how it made me feel, I guess the best phrase is ‘at peace’. Not something I experience very much it has to be said.

After a quick visit to the Imperial Palace (don’t bother) I headed to Fushimi Ku. Yes, another temple and shrine – but one of architectural brilliance. Time out describes it as “unmissable  ”

First – lunch. I stumbled off the train into a ramen shop. It what a hidden gem. The staff and chef were so friendly as I watched them cook everything freshly for its 10 customers (maximum capacity). I was gobsmacked to see gluten free fried chicken by using a little rice flour to hold the marinade, keeping it juicy and crisp. This led to a mini cookery lesson from the larger than life chef – and a plate devoured by moi. Along with a bowl of ramen (rice noodles) I was so gluttonous I had to leave before I burst!

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Off I rolled to the shrine itself. Like all places in Japan despite the crowds, everyone is polite and calm. Maybe it’s all the temples and good vibes! Let’s just say Time Out were not wrong. What a marvel. I wandered along the pathways through the beams, marvelling at the sheer brilliance of it all. Photos do not do it justice at all, but hopefully you get a sense of how amazing it is here.

My legs and feet told my brain it was time to head back to rest a little, so off I went. Always good to listen to the mind and body when they agree! Snooze complete I headed to dinner. I decided to treat myself at Touzan – the stunning restaurant in the Hyatt. It was a delight. Small, perfect portions (after ramen and fried chicken I wasn’t starving!) of dreamy sushi, figs in miso, and Wagyu beef all washed down with a super sake, amd a matcha ice cream to end.

Bedtime called, signalling the end of my Kyoto weekender. It was a certainly a special one – brain button reset, ready to head back to the madness of Tokyo for my last 48 hours in Japan to work and play hard. And what an amazing few days it was… next instalment to follow!

Axx

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