We spent nearly two weeks in Japan, and I can say wholeheartedly that it was not enough time. If I could, I would spend a month there just to soak up everything. Even then, I feel I wouldn't be completely satisfied. That is because Japan is such an amazing country. Especially being someone like me who was born & raised in the United States. In this beautiful country, there is peace, humility, wonder, & good energy to be felt. It's so hard to express just the general feeling of Japan, as it is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
(Slideshow above of us navigating the Train system in Japan)
We primarily resided in Tokyo for the duration of our trip, but purchased JR Bullet Train passes to allow us to travel to places like Kyoto, which normally took about 6 hours to travel, within three and a half hours. We decided to stick around in Tokyo since most of the things on our lists were in the Tokyo area, but if we were to plan this out again, we would definitely stay at multiple places in different cities for two to three days at a time, then stay in Tokyo for around three to five days. So I recommend that yes, the JR Bullet Train can take you far quickly, it's still a long time to account for and lots of travel back & forth. Unless you love waking up really early & being done with everything in that day by seven or eight o'clock to catch your Bullet Train rides everyday, just stay at multiple places in Japan.
Japan is bursting with history as it is with modern day living. You can be walking the streets in a busy city like Tokyo, with all of it's modern transportation & buildings, but still find Temples & Shrines on your daily routes that have been there for years upon years. Just like when we arrived in Kyoto from our Bullet Train, the station was just bustling and alive but just walk a couple streets away from it and you are thrown back into time with Japan's many historical & spiritual places right next door to people's homes, and there is nothing to be felt but peace & tranquility.
Throughout our trip, we aimed to have a more relaxed schedule. We would make one place our objective for the day, then let whatever happen, happen for the rest of the day. Our day in Kyoto had an objective of visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the infamous shrine filled with 10,000 gates(called Torii). As we headed towards the Shrine, we made a few detours. Some that were on our list of possibilities to see, and some that came up last minute as we approached them.
When we first arrived in Kyoto, it was about 11am, so everyone was feeling a bit hungry. We found a Ramen shop in the station that looked great, so we all chowed down in there. Being vegetarian, I ordered just a small bowl of fried rice, as most dishes in Japan use fish oil or are meat based. Even then, the fried rice ended up having VERY tiny pieces of meat in it. Like I am talking the size of a cuticle that you get on your finger. So I ate what I could & tried to get each piece out, but just a reminder, if you're vegetarian, be very careful! I honestly mostly had spaghetti & pancakes as meals in Japan, but I won't complain about that! Every meal I had was still wonderful & fresh. I'll get deeper into my experience as a vegetarian in Japan in a different post which will highlight my trip to the new Pokemon Cafe at the Pokemon Center DX. Which by the way, is AMAZING.
Once we were full, we headed out & hit the streets of Kyoto. We were heading towards the Nishiki Market, but didn't get there for probably an hour & a half because we made a few detours. On our way, we stopped by the Chion-in Temple. This was really the first Temple I had gotten to see up close in Japan, and I just remember being in so much awe over it. I can recall that I had seen pictures of this place & others so many times before, but until you're at one, you just don't understand how enormous & magnificent these places are. Not only was the Chion-in Temple filled with architectural beauty, but it also just overflowed with peace & harmony. All of us were certainly feeling very immersed as we walked through here, with thoughts of "wow, we are actually here" and "this place is unlike anything I've seen", but there was so much more to be seen and felt.
Before heading out from the Chion-in Temple, we used the Chozuya (Purification Fountain) to cleanse. To use it properly, you take the wooden ladle and pour the water over each hand, left being first, then pouring some water into your cupped left hand, drink the water in that hand, then spit it out below and not into the standing water where you retrieve the water. You're actually supposed to do this before approaching a Temple or Shrine, but we couldn't find it the Chozuya at first. Of course, we wanted to try it regardless if we were leaving or not.
Once purifying ourselves, we got back on the road towards Nishiki Market, a place where many vendors sell food & goods. Along the way, we saw many small shrines, a little dog cafe(not pictured as to not disturb the cafe as it was in a little neighborhood), and daily living. The little shrines were encircled by homes, and the streets as we walked through the neighborhoods were peaceful & quiet. Despite that first picture in the gallery, we were very respectful & quiet. I just asked the boys to turn around for a picture and those are the poses they went with as I snapped.
The dog cafe was a little cafe amongst a bunch of homes. The owners were very polite, and one spoke a little bit of english and was very kind. She even said to me in english & japanese, "your hair, very kawaii!" since my hair was a bright shade of pink. For those who don't know, kawaii translates to cute in English, so I thanked her for the compliment, of course. She was super cute & sweet herself! There were a couple of dogs in there, and very well behaved in fact. One of them was the primary dog that is always in the cafe, while the other was with it's owner who was a customer. So this place isn't like your usual 'dog cafes' that you can find in Japan, it's more of a local little cafe where you can bring your dog, I believe.
While we were in there getting tea & lemonade, a couple of people came in, such as a taxi driver & locals, just to have a small drink & relax for a moment. I wish I did have pictures of this place, as it was very humble & lovely. I'll leave the address here though! You can find it under "dog cafe K3" in google maps, here's the address it provides but note that this could be a little incomplete due to translation:
Japan, 〒600-8119 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Motoshiogamacho, 559 シャトルduex
After some detours along our path, we reached Nishiki Market. Nishiki Market is a place filled with Japanese Street Food and Japanese goods to get for souvenirs. It smelt so good walking through there! Even if it was meat I was smelling, I can appreciate a good smell when I come by one! I wanted to try some of the ice cream in there made from Taro, but I was already full from my lemonade that I had gotten from the little dog cafe. I didn't want to push it! And yes, lemonade fills me up, okay. I shouldn't be drinking it anyways due to my darn esophagus condition, but by golly, I had to have some darn lemonade from a cute little dog cafe! Anyways, my husband tried some of the street food & really enjoyed it. Definitely recommend coming through here for some snacks! Just one rule, and a major rule throughout Japan, don't eat while walking. So if you bought anything, you needed to go sit inside any seating area that was available. Even if it was a snack item.
As we exited Nishiki Market, we came across a random anime goods store. Of course, being the trash my group is, we went inside. We each came out with a bag, too. It's actually where I got my Madoka Nendoroid for $12-$15 and my husband got our Komala plushie for $5-$8! Very great prices. Even if we were in Kyoto to experience the Temples & Shrines, we ended up buying anime goods.
Once we were done exploring Nishiki Market, we took a train towards our main objective for the day which was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. While walking towards the Shrine, there were several lovely views of Kyoto, along with little shops selling Japanese goods for souvenirs themed around the shrine. There were also several little shops with snacks & food. We found some gashapon machines amongst all of them, one containing Pokemon enamel pins saying "Kyoto". I got some of those to collect from my day in Kyoto, cause come on, it's Pokemon! And the pins are so cool! I don't have a picture of them, but you'll probably see pictures of me wearing them in the future!
Once we entered, we found the shrine to be kind of busy. After all, it was a Sunday. Nonetheless, we started to take in all of the buildings at the start of the shrine. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is very big as it is filled with many smaller shrines and its 10,000 gates (torii). It was about 4pm when we finally arrived at the shrine.
Before starting our journey through the shrine, there was a big cherry blossom tree near the start. I of course had to go and gawk at it. I had always seen cherry blossoms in pictures with a hope that I would one day get to see them in landscapes in person. That hope became reality while we rode the bullet train towards Kyoto, where I saw many cherry blossom trees amongst homes & other woodlands. And though I had seen many throughout my day in Kyoto, this was the first one that was low enough that I could take some up close photos with it. Of course, I had to pull in my cute friend, Katy, as well to get some posed photos with the tree! And why not grab a good portrait with the brother & husband while I was there as well?
As we started our hike through the gates, I was snapping away to capture the moments. It was very surreal, as I had seen so many pictures & videos about this place, and now I was actually there! Going through the many gates in the shrine was very amazing, especially knowing that a lot of what is in this place is hundreds of years old!
And as is tradition with my group, we detoured from the main path of the gates. It was first to use the bathroom, but then it turned into an adventure of seeing what was off the main path.
As we detoured, we found so many small shrines that no one else was at! Despite the Shrine being a bit busy, no one went off the main path like we did. Hence why we were able to get a good group shot of us by some Torii(gates), and get some good portraits with them as well. My husband is a bit, well, a bit is underselling it. My husband IS an adventurer, so he started running off all sorts of different little paths. One which led him to this eery area, and another leading to a bamboo path that led to a little shrine adorned with cute lamp posts. At every shrine, we took a moment to bow as to show respect as we traveled through.
After going far off the main path for quite some time, we jumped back in and started to travel through the Fushimi Inari Shrine once more. But that was short lived! We of course detoured AGAIN before making it very far. So lesson to be learned here, there are MANY detours you can take at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. All worth it, as well. The views and sites you'll find are incredible. On our second detour from the main path, we found a really pretty shrine area that was covered in a huge cherry blossom tree. It was honestly the prettiest shrine I had seen, especially when the wind blew and cherry blossom petals flew around. Sadly I didn't capture that as I was too enthralled in the moment of witnessing it with my own eyes. This shrine also had the cutest little Purification Fountain I had seen, which Taylor promptly used.
Since we had detoured twice from the main road of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and it was about 7pm at this point, we decided we needed to go ahead and head out. Though I wish we had went through the whole thing, I just knew we weren't going to see it all with how much with we detour and catch the last bullet train home. However, I am not really bummed out about it. I know I'll go again one day, but even if I don't, I had such a lovely time with my husband, brother, and friends. We shared memories, laughs, & adventures at that Shrine. Oh, and Taylor found a cat on our way out.
So we started our journey back to Tokyo for the day by catching a train that took us to our JR Bullet Train. After visiting once, I definitely want to go back and stay a couple of days so I can truly immerse myself in Kyoto. There's so much history & beautiful sites to see & experience there, and truly brings you a feeling of Japan's rich culture.
I will be posting more about my trip as the weeks go on as I want to document what I experienced there. Pictures are great, but I definitely love having words written down to further enhance the memories I created on this trip. I hope you enjoyed reading, and tagging along through the pictures!