Posted in Travels in Japan

Golden Week Adventures: To Kyoto!

It’s been awhile everyone! Yes, I know, sorry. I should’ve put out a post before I left on vacation, but I had literally NO TIME. From the second I posted my last article to now has been just non-stop, can’t stop, all the things!!!

See my friend from high school, Rebecca, came over to visit me. She’s super cool and going to be a doctor pretty soon. I’m still thinking of calling her Dr. Becky with the Good Hair, but then I’ll have to have my coffin with me when I do it (She’s never liked that name and it’s only gotten worse with time).

She wanted to go to a lot of different places in Japan, with my original list including fox village and cat island with a possible Hakone excursion. However, we only got about a week to do all the things. In the end, she decided the number one place to go to would be Kyoto.

And I agreed. Hakone in Golden Week is terribly, oppressively crowded. Fox Village and the nearby Cat Island up in Miyagi are a long trek from my area. With only a week, Kyoto and Tokyo seemed the best course of action. I had to be back in Tokyo on the weekend for Tokyo Rainbow Pride.

We headed off as soon as she touched down. Poor thing had already flown for over 30 hours and here I was forcing her onto a Shinkansen. I mean, it’s a comfortable train, but still added 2 hours to her already long travel time.

“Proof of Shinkansen!”

When we arrived at Kyoto station it was pretty late, so I opted to just get a taxi and head for the apartment. I found this pretty cheap place through, an apartment that we could stay at near Kinkakuji for only about 3,200 yen per night (plus a cleaning fee). Wheat a steal, right? The place was really nice, too. My only worry had been that maybe the apartment would be hideous in real life, but instead it was just a typical Japanese show box apartment.

The next morning, we headed right out to Kinkakuji. The Golden Temple was a bit packed at the beginning, with a lot of tourists using selfie sticks to try and get some good angles. I expected as much, Golden Week meant that everywhere would be either packed or super packed depending on the time of day. I was just surprised that so many were there so early in the morning.


Rebecca wanted to buy some charms and some yatsuhashi (famous Kyoto style mochi that’s in the shape of a triangle…that you can also totally buy at grocery stores, but shhhhh). She wanted to get some marriage good luck charms as well as some studying/knowledge charms.


We also stopped by the fortune area. Omikuji are like lottery fortunes, you put 100 yen inside a machine and then a random fortune pops out. I think only in Kinkakuji and maybe a few other main shrines can you get the English versions. Usually, I have to give my fortune to the nearest Japanese person to read and translate. Rebecca and I both got the “Good” level fortune. There are actually several levels of luck with these that range from “Awesome!” to “Absolutely wrecked.”

Omikuji Levels.png
Via Next Stop, Japan

After Kinkakuji, we ran off to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. As it was getting to be around lunch time, high noon and very sunny at that, there were less people milling around. I like the Palace mostly for the gardens. In the spring there are cherry blossoms and in the fall the leaves change colors, so I definitely recommend those.

We stopped there for some udon, and discovered to my horror that Rebecca is a pod person because she didn’t like the udon. Everything I thought I knew about her is a lie. In case you didn’t know, kitsune udon and soba are a staple in Kyoto. Everywhere you do there is an udon and/or soba place.

My version of fine dining

After resting up, we figured out the bus to take to Kiyomizudera. Just as an FYI, the bus schedules are a bit hard to navigate without Japanese translation assistance. I discovered much, much too late that there are actually bus maps in English available online through the Kyoto Tourism site. There’s also a whole PDF that you can easily download to your smartphone or tablet. Don’t use Google Maps, it’s all kind of wrong and confusing.

At Kiyomizudera, it was super packed again. Ladies were running around in yukata, kids were playing tag on the steps, couples were holding hands and taking selfie shots. Rebecca and I did the whole purification ritual before entering, and discovered unfortunately the main temple is under construction for the 2020 Olympics. There is scaffolding all around it for the foreseeable future. If you’re planning to go, just a heads up.

Not terrible, but not as picturesque as normal.

After walking around, we waited in line to drink from the spiritual waters from the waterfall. Each stream is different, and you’re supposed to drink from the one you want and make a wish.

The one on the left is for knowledge, the middle for love, and the last for a long life. 

I chose knowledge, because living long is fine and love is alright, but I would rather just be smarter in general. Rebecca chose the same, because future doctor, it’s kind of important for her.

After a full day, we walked around to find dinner and had a couple of drinks at a bar before heading back to the apartment. We planned to hit up the Fushimi Inari Shrine as well as Heinan Temple the next day before heading back to Tokyo the next day, with possibly squeezing in a tea ceremony if we could manage it.

We did one of those things, that being the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and that’s kind of my bad. The morning started off with us checking out and then getting on the buses. We were only supposed to transfer once to another bus in order to get to Kyoto Station to drop off our stuff. As it was, we transferred onto the wrong bus, and had to get turned around.

Once arriving at Kyoto Station, we discovered that everyone and their mother had taken the lockers. I managed to get lucky and find one, but then Rebecca had to do a baggage check instead. By the time we finally got on a train and hit Fushimi Inari, the day was already half way eaten up.

Fushimi Inari Entrance

And of course, it was congested with people, so going up the mountainside of tori meant slowly meandering our way towards the top. I felt really guilty for getting us on the wrong bus, so by the time we got halfway up the mountain, we had to turn back so we could get to Kyoto Station for Heinan Temple.

But then I messed up again, and we went down a wrong path. According to the map it was supposed to take us back to the main area, but it didn’t. Instead, it brought us into the suburbs surrounding the mountain. We got lost, not for terribly long, but still too long in an already crunched timetable.

By the time we righted ourselves and headed back towards the station, it became fairly obvious we couldn’t do the other temple or a tea ceremony. Rebecca wasn’t super upset about it, she’s kind of really laid back like that, but if I ever do another tag along to Fushimi Inari, I’m going to just stay on the main paths. No adventuring out to short cuts, it’s not worth it.

Right across from Kyoto Station is the Kyoto Tower. We didn’t go up for the view, but instead did some last minute onomiyage (souvenir) shopping, because I needed some for my co-workers.

Kyoto Tower.jpg

At the base of Kyoto Tower there’s a mini-souvenir shop. You can buy Kyoto sweets and the yastuhashi I was talking about earlier, along with other specialty Kyoto things. I bought some matcha cookies, because Kyoto is pretty famous for green tea.

And from there it was back to Tokyo. All in all it was a good trip, but next time I will be better about planning for certain things. However, in the next post I’ll talk about our Tokyo adventures, and then of course about Tokyo Rainbow Pride, so stay tuned!



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