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BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
After a week and a half in Vietnam, we caught a flight out of Hanoi to Osaka via China Airlines. It connected through Taipei. The Taipei airport, despite its apparent age, was really nice. Landing in Osaka was fun. The airport is an island in the bay. Luckily the plane was equipped with forward facing cameras to make things a little less nerve wracking. That was a new plane feature to me.

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Customs in Osaka was crowded, but it moved fairly quickly. Once through we had to catch the train to Kyoto. It was good customs went smoothly, because we got one of the last trains of the night.

Japan Rails offers a JR Pass to foreigners. You need to get this before getting to Japan. They do not sell it there. We opted not to get it. I had crunched the numbers, and it would be close as to whether or not we’d break even. Looking back, it would have benefited us, though we’d have been forced to spend more time at kiosks for the buses and local trains to get those tickets separately. We went with what’s called an ICOCA card. It was a special ICOCA card made for foreigners that came pre-charged and gave discounts on rides within the Osaka region. All the rail lines and buses accepted it. It did not work for us in Tokyo, but we’d only be there for a couple days whereas we’d be in Kyoto for a week. In Tokyo we just bought single tickets.

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Japan has tons of railways. Some are operated by JR, then some on a regional level, and then some more local trains on a private and city level. The JR pass only works on JR trains, some regional trains, and some local trains. It would not have worked for half the trains in Kyoto or most of the buses in Kyoto, which we took a lot.

We took the Keihan Limited Express from Osaka to Kyoto. Took about an hour with a few stops. I had one of those “we’re different, but we’re all the same” moments on the train as I looked around and every woman on the train, whether they were Japanese, Chinese, Indian, White, whatever, were all streaming the royal wedding on their phones- my wife included.

Kyoto’s main train station was a little hectic, though if I knew what was coming In Tokyo I’d have said it was calm and not crowded. It had been 100 degrees in Vietnam. It was now 50 degrees in Kyoto. It felt like 20 degrees to us. We jumped in the first cab we saw and got to our Airbnb.

Our Airbnb was centrally located a block off the river right by the Kiyomizu-Gojo station of the Keihan main line. A lot of the tourist spots on the east side are easily accessible from that train line.

Our room was I guess standard size for Japan, but cozy for our standards. Whatever, we weren’t there to stay in the room. The entry hallway was the kitchen, and the single room was taken up by most of the bed and some stupid chair. The room came with a pocket wifi device we could use around the city. The only downside is that it had a data cap of 512 mb/day. The place was located on a quiet side street.

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We dropped our bags, threw on some long sleeves, and sought out some food and drink. We ended up at a ramen place nearby. Perfect for a cool, rainy evening.

The next morning we slept in a little, then we walked down the street to the Takashiyama department store to get some clothes and an early lunch. I’d heard the greatness that are japanese department stores. It did not disappoint. This is also where I got to experience my first Japanese fancy toilet. It plays noise to mask the kids jumping in the pool, and then freshens you up with a warm wash to the rear. It finishes with a little jingle to let you know you’re good to go.

The basement had an incredible food court. I grabbed some tuna sushi and a mushroom something or other to-go. I don’t know what it was, but it was good.

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Let’s talk about crosswalks. If you see the red man, you do not walk. It doesn’t matter if the road is 10’ wide and there isn’t a car within 100 miles. YOU. DO. NOT. WALK. It was a completely alien concept to me. Maybe it was the half decade I spent living in New Orleans where people DGAF about walking in to traffic whenever and wherever.

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We were within walking distance of Kiyomizu temple, so we headed that way. We got sidetracked in a cemetery on the way there. My wife and I like visiting cemeteries. I don’t know why. It’s just what we’ve always done.

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The major temples and shrines in the city can get crowded. Stupid crowded at some points. If you want to go without the crowds, either get there early, or go later in the day. Mid morning to afternoon at the hot spots can be overwhelming.

Kiyomizu was packed, and it was also under construction. When you’re at these places, don’t be afraid to get off the main trail. At all the spots we went, it seemed you could find a peaceful side trail that was empty or near empty.


BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
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Afterwards we walked over to Gion, which is their architecturally old part of town. The main parts were packed, but we ducked off to the side and found some quiet gardens.

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A lot of the tourists in Kyoto rent old-style clothes and walk around. Mostly the women, but some of their SOs looked like they got roped in. It’s not my thing, but if dress-up is your thing, then Kyoto is good for that.

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It was getting on about the end of the day. I had heard dusk was a good time to visit Fushimi-Inari. Outside Fushimi were some food kiosks. We grabbed some squid balls, crab sticks, and bean things. I didn’t know what the bean things were, and still don’t. They weren’t my favorite thing, but they filled me up. One of the food items would later come back to haunt me.

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Fushimi-Inari is the well-known shrine/mountain/park/whatever with all the orange tori gates. We hiked a good ways up the hill. If you go to Kyoto to visit the shrines and temples, just know that you will be climbing a lot of stairs. And I do mean a lot. The go and go and go and go.

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We got to the top about sunset. About that time my belly started to rumble a little bit.

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What’s coming next is a poop story. If that bothers you, eh, whatever. It’s human and part of the experience.

As I was watching the sunset with a background soundtrack of stomach rumblings, I recalled on the way up that we passed a sign that said something to the effect of “The mountain from this point on is sacred and there are no bathrooms.” That was like an hour ago. frick me.

The sunset was beautiful, and it could have used a few more moments of admiration, but things were in motion. I looked at my wife and said, “I’ll see you at the bottom.” It was a race to get to the midway point down the mountain where the Gods didn’t get offended at gastrointestinal distress. Upon re-entering the non-sacred realm, my hopes were dashed as the bathrooms had been locked for the night. frick me twice! Things were getting critical. I still had approx. 3500 tori gates to traverse before relief was in reach.

I think I made it down the mountain to the main gate bathrooms in 15 minutes, whereas it took us an hour or two to get up there.

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Crisis averted, we ended up at a bar/hostel called Len Kyoto for drinks and eats that evening. I tried some local craft beers and some sake. I’m really glad Vietnam was so cheap, because Japan was expensive. Beers were 1000 yen, or about $10. I had a Japanese version of a NEIPA that was fruited with yuzu. It was the best beer I had in Japan by a long shot. Their beer scene is less than stellar. They have some new craft guys trying to break out of the traditional pale lager tradition, but it still needs some work. I also tried a pale ale and amber ale. Both were meh.

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The next day we got up early because I wanted to get to Ryoan-ji right when it opened to avoid the crowds. I have been pretty interested in Ryoan-ji for quite some time. It’s not the only reason I wanted to go to Kyoto, but it was the top place I wanted to see.

Ryoan-ji is located a good walk from any trains, so we navigated the bus system to get there. Google Maps helped us out a lot when using the buses in Kyoto. Had it not been for Google’s clear directions, we would not have navigated the city by bus as easily.

We timed it right and got there as they opened. It was peaceful and beautiful. It was fulfilling to finally be in a place I had studied so much and place I never thought I’d see with my own eyes. I got to sit there for a good half hour with just a couple other people. I could have sat there longer, but the school groups started to roll in and it was time for me to move on.


BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
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No one ever mentions how beautiful the gardens are outside of the main garden at Ryoan-ji. I spent a good time wandering around there.

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We left Ryoan-ji and walked over to Kinkaju-ji. Holy shite was it crowded. You can’t tell by the picture because of how the place is laid out, but it was a fight just to move down the pathways. The building was beautiful once you fight through the crowds.

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We hopped on a train and headed to Arashiyama. It’s a popular tourist part of town in the northwestern portion of the city where the river comes out of the mountains.

We grabbed lunch. I had some Japanese curry. My wife had something that would be at home in the southern US. Fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, and rice. They called it something different, but it was southern as all get-out.

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My wife spotted a cat cafe. We ducked in there. When in Rome, ya know?

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Continuing on with our animal theme, we walked across the river to the monkey park. Once again, more steps.

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Followed that with some yuzu sorbet and cherry blossom ice cream and a stroll through the famous bamboo grove. Like most places, it was pretty packed, though it was beautiful.

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Dinner was sushi. We’re far from a sushi experts, so we went with a basic sampler thing. Not pictured was the fatty tuna, which was very good. I’m sure there is better sushi to be had, but I enjoyed it.

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Most japanese restaurants have plastic displays out front. It’s super handy for window shopping meals.

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Dinner was followed with a stroll down Kiyamachi Dori, which is a very narrow street with tons of bars and restaurants. We ducked in to a couple and had some drinks. We then strolled along the river back to our place.

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The following day we took the train down to the sake district. It apparently has a long history of sake production, and still does, but there are only a couple places one can visit. They don’t really follow the taproom model.

First stop was Gekkeikan. They have a museum, tastings, and souvenir bottles. The museum was pretty informative. The sake samples were delicious. As with most styles of drinks, trying things side by side is the best way to pick up the differences. I’m admittedly very ignorant of sake styles, but here I got a good education.

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We went around the corner to another sake place called Kizakura Kappa Country. They also brewed craft beer. They had a museum, but it was all in Japanese. The sake was good. The beer not so much.

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It was time for lunch, so we hit up Nishiki Market. It’s a very narrow market, but very long. It has tons of unique food. I didn’t get a lot of pictures because phone battery issues.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing along the river.

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We wanted ramen for dinner, so we did a little research online and found a place nearby called Ichiran Kyoto Kawaramachi. We got there and there was a line out the door. No biggie, it was only a dozen or so people deep. Little did we know the line went much further inside. Had I known what I know now about the length of time we’d be in line, I’d have found some place else. Once you get inside you are almost trapped.

You order at a kiosk, then you’re lead in to a room with individual seats. You face a curtain, slide your ticket underneath, and then food pops out. I must say, despite the wait, it was almost worth it. This ramen was the tits.

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Rain was forecasted for the next day. We had planned to go up into the mountains north of town. We almost made other plans, but decided to brave the weather. It was an excellent gamble.

We took a train north a half hour or so up to a place called Kurama. More steps.

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BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Image: https://i.imgur.com/ncCvfIt.jpg width=700


The hike up was a series of shrines. We had the place to ourselves, minus a monk chanting at one of the shrines.

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The top of the mountain was an old-growth pine grove. The whole backside ended up being a spectacular forest. You could tell they had recently had an intense storm as some 1000+ year old trees had been snapped in half.

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That took up most of the day. Worn out, we had a quick bite to eat, and then hit bed.

Next morning we were headed to Tokyo via the Shinkansen. I’ve ridden on some European bullet trains, but they ain’t got shite on the Shinkansen.

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We stayed in Shinjuku in Tokyo. The Shinjuku station is incredible. More people pass through this place a day than live in my hometown of Nashville. It was mind-boggling. We got lost several times. Tons of good food. Tons of people. Tons of trains.

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From there we just decided to explore with no real plans. We only had a night in Tokyo,so seeing everything was not remotely possible. We started out in a place called Omoide Yokocho. It’s a couple blocks of narrow streets that are full of yakitori places. We tried two places. Things like heart, intestines, liver, and other assorted body parts were common and delicious.

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Then we strolled around Shinjuku to see the lights and crowds. I stopped in a couple arcades. I couldn’t convince my wife to go in to some of the finer gentlemen establishments. I tired.

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Then a subway ride to Harajuku to see the anime thing. Maybe it’s not anime. I don’t know enough about it. It’s not really my thing, whatever it was, but it was interesting to see. After that we walked across the Shibuya crossing, because why not?

We then ended up back near our hotel in a part of town called Golden Gai. It’s sseveral narrow streets with a couple hundred small bars. Some of the bars were tourist-friendly, but most were not. Some openly said so. Can’t say I blame them. We stopped in a few bars. They either had covers with moderately priced drinks, or no covers with expensive drinks. Pick your poison.

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After a long night, I hit up the beer vending machine on the way home to try some Japanese malt liquor. Again, why not? I’d never bought malt liquor from a vending machine. Now I can say I have.

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The next morning we had some time to kill before getting to the airport. The National Garden was nearby, and me being a plant nerd it was a must stop. I’ve been to a lot of gardens and arboretums in my travels, but this one takes the top prize as far as number of amazing specimens. I wish I had a full day here.

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Getting to the airport from Shinjuku was super easy via the Narita Express.

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A relatively quick 11 hour flight to Chicago on a 787-800 and we were back in USA.

I loved Japan. One night we were watching the sunset over Kyoto from the balcony of our room. I looked at my wife and said, “We’ll be back. I have to come back.” It was the cleanest, most peaceful, most polite, most organized place I’ve ever been. I left a lot out of this report. I could have gone in to much more detail. We only spent time in two cities, and it wasn’t enough. I can’t recommend Japan enough, especially Kyoto.



Teddy Ruxpin
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TX
Member since Oct 2006
33276 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Neat!


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Y.A. Tittle
Winthrop Fan
Member since Sep 2003
74154 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Badass!!!!

Thanks for posting.


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Lsupimp
Colorado Fan
The Mean Streets of Baton Rudge
Member since Nov 2003
60293 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Well great. Now I have the feels. I lived in Japan with a family for a couple of years and I have been insanely nostalgic lately . It’s calling my name. Someday soon I hope to do a Shikoku Henro pilgrimage report that is half as good as yours. Thanks for a great thread.


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Zappas Stache
Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Member since Apr 2009
24622 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
japan is on my list. Any language barriers?


L Boogie
LSU Fan
Boston
Member since Jul 2009
3453 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
This is great! I'm heading to Tokyo at the end of October so I will definitely revisit this thread.


luvdatigahs
LSU Fan
Alameda, CA
Member since Sep 2008
2512 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
I was in those two cities in April, Japan was amazing. Did you visit an onsen in Kyoto? I stayed at one about 20 min north of the city which is serviced by a JR train line.


BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
quote:

Any language barriers?


Not really. I know like two words. Maybe one. "Sumimasen" seemed to be the most versatile word for me. We encountered a lot of places that didn't speak any English, and a lot of places that did. The places that didn't speak any English were still really easy to maneuver because the majority of Japanese are so cool and patient and put up with ignorant people like myself.

I was most worried about the trains, but every JR office has an English speaking attendant to help you navigate the complexities.

Google Translate on my phone worked great in Vietnam and Japan. When we got in to an impasse, I'd whip out my phone and type it in there. They'd type back.


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BottomlandBrew
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2010
20021 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
quote:

. Did you visit an onsen in Kyoto?


No. We were undecided about going to one, so it got pushed off the agenda. Maybe next time.


44tiger
LSU Fan
Member since Aug 2013
753 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
I'm a simple guy and terrible with languages so I've never considered leaving North America but these two reports sure do make me want to! Thanks for sharing!


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thelawnwranglers
LSU Fan
Oakland, NJ
Member since Sep 2007
23936 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Awesome I am going to Koyoto and Osaka for work


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SpartyGator
Minnesota Fan
Minneapolis, MN
Member since Oct 2011
53436 posts
 Online 

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Japan has tGOAT transit system IMO. On a side, great pics and report . It's an amazing country for sure


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SpringBokCock
South Carolina Fan
Columbia, SC
Member since Oct 2003
2791 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Great report. Well written incisive and informative.

Headed to Japan next year for rugby World Cup. Already excited.


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Nole Man
Florida State Fan
Somewhere In Tennessee!
Member since May 2011
3530 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Great trip report and pictures! I went years ago to the World Jamboree as a Scout near Mt. Fuji. Wonder what it would be like now. I remember the people were so hospitable. Glad your food choices were good. I don't remember the food being good back then (in fact, I remember a line of Scouts waiting to get into a McDonald's in Tokyo!)


SpartyGator
Minnesota Fan
Minneapolis, MN
Member since Oct 2011
53436 posts
 Online 

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
quote:

Glad your food choices were good. I don't remember the food being good back then (in fact, I remember a line of Scouts waiting to get into a McDonald's in Tokyo!)


Surprisingly, even the convenience store food is actually quite good


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thelawnwranglers
LSU Fan
Oakland, NJ
Member since Sep 2007
23936 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Curious how getting around public transit work wants me to take train to hotel


Icceytiger
LSU Fan
Princeton, NJ
Member since Aug 2010
1244 posts

re: Japan Report - Kyoto and Tokyo
Thanks for posting this... Japan is on my bucket list to visit!


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