If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know by now that I absolutely adored my time in Kyoto last weekend. In the week before I left I was feeling really overwhelmed with everything going on – I felt like I didn’t have enough time to keep up with anything, let alone plan a vacation, and I wasn’t sure how my trip was going to turn out. Of course, I needn’t have worried. Japan is a wonderful place, and my time in Kyoto was magic in all kinds of little ways. The city itself was so welcoming. It’s small enough not to be overwhelming but big enough to offer hundreds of beautiful temples, shrines and other attractions. The people are so friendly and helpful. It’s easy to navigate and the whole city is pretty walkable.
I was really only in Japan for four nights, but it really stretched out and felt like so much longer. I had some amazing sushi, and even befriended one of the sushi chefs – before I left, he hand-carved an intricate design into a bamboo leaf using an enormous knife the size of a small sword and gave it to me as a gift. I went on one of the most gorgeous hikes of my life, on one of the hottest days I can remember, through an old, old forest that made me feel tiny and grateful in the best possible way. One day, I spotted a wild monkey eating only ten feet from where I was standing, and the next day I held hands with a monkey (for approximately 1 second while feeding it a banana) at a monkey park. In both cases, the monkeys lived wild in the forests, but at the monkey park there is a bit more supervision, and a cage for humans only (!!) that you can enter to feed the monkeys who otherwise run totally wild. I was lucky enough to see some truly stunning temples and shrines and actually have some pretty spiritual experiences there. I made new friends from all over the world (but funnily enough, mostly from Canada!) and also enjoyed myself so much just wandering around on my own.
It was absolutely the perfect trip, exactly when I needed it. I came home feeling re-energized and excited about living abroad. It was a great reminder of exactly why I chose to come live in Korea in the first place – precisely so that I could do things like go to Japan for a long weekend and a less than 200 dollar flight. It reminded me that I love to travel alone and that I am totally capable of anything I set my mind to. It made me feel inspired and alive, as all good trips should. Most of all, it made me feel calm, which means it was the perfect vacation. There was no pressure and no stress, just lovely sights, a gorgeous river, a cozy downtown, breezy rooftops, friendly people, delicious food, huge old trees, lots of bright orange, and lots of smiles. I hope to go back to Japan and the beautiful Kyoto some time very soon.
- Ganko Sushi: where I befriended the amazing chefs, right near Sanjo bridge
- Sitting by the Sanjo bridge on the river bank: lots of locals and ex-pats gather down here by this bridge! I had drinks (bought at the convenience store right around the corner) down here and appreciated the water every night I was in Kyoto.
- Fushimi-Inari Shrine: probably my favourite part of my trip to Kyoto. I hiked all the way to the top even though I was exhausted and sweating more than I have in recent memory, it was totally worth it just for the hike back down. On my way down the late-afternoon light was filtering perfectly through the trees and I saw barely another living person most of the way. And then I saw a monkey. It was magic.
- Gion: I stayed at a hostel in this area (called A-Yado Hostel) and I absolutely loved the whole neighbourhood. It’s so quiet and feels so old and mysterious, with lots of tiny little alleys and a river running through it.
- Arashiyama, for the monkey park and the bamboo grove. I really liked the nearby Tenryu-ji Temple also, but I preferred touring the gardens to the actual temple itself.
- Tokasaikan: I didn’t actually eat at this Chinese restaurant, but went to it because it’s right on the river and looked like it had a gorgeous rooftop patio. I went for drinks up there twice and fell in love with the atmosphere and the view, as well as the ride up on the oldest elevator in Japan!