Now that I started to get the hang of Tokyo – it was time to check out Kyoto.
If you didn’t check out my Day 1-3 you can here, and here’s a couple of more things I learned:
- There are a lot of restaurants that have vending machines outside to place your meal order, you get a ticket and bring it inside for them to prepare your food. Due to not being able to read Japanese, I opted for the restaurants who’s machines had pictures.
- 7-Eleven and Family Mart are must hit convenience stores to eat/live on a budget, I favored 7-Eleven for the most part due to a better selection (the one by where I was staying).
The one place I’ve always wanted to visit due to the amazing pictures I’ve seen was the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari-taisha) in Kyoto, I even had to bring my matching Jordans for the photo op. The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto is relatively easy but just pretty long (roughly 3 hours) and it takes a little figuring out depending on your time + budget. I opted to take the Shinkansen high-speed bullet train (which clocked at 155 mph) which I highly recommend. When getting tickets use the clerks, they will give you the option of getting reserve or non-reserved tickets – the reserve tickets guarantee you a seat but are a bit more pricey, where non-reserve are luck of the draw. I learned that early in the morning non-reserve tickets are pretty reliable to get, you just have to get on line at the tracks early enough to rush in and get a seat, but coming back 100% I suggest getting reserve tickets as you don’t want to be stuck standing up for 3 hours after walking around all day. The seats are pretty comfortable, plenty of leg space and they each recline back pretty far letting you relax enough to nap, they also have a cart that comes through where you can buy food and drinks.
When arriving at Kyoto I had to connect to one of their local trains (the Nara line) for a couple of quick stops to the Inari station. Walking out of the station the entrance to the shrine is directly across the street and it was flooded with people. I read that it would be difficult to get a good photo under the rows orange Torii (Japanese gate) unless I hiked pretty far up, so I made that one of my goals for the day. Wikipedia says that the trail takes about 2 hours to walk up, I’m sure that’d be the case if there were no people, you were power-walking and there was nothing else to look at, but in reality the hike up could take roughly 4-5 hours. I made it about half-way in 3 hours as I kept stopping to take the off-shoot trails all along the way, each one takes you to smaller shrines that each have their own look and rich history. Once you’re roughly 2+hours in people will start to drop off, opening up for some really nice photo ops. By that time you’ll also be reaching the half-way point where there is a pretty large rest area with a sick view overlooking the town – you can pick up some water and continue the trek up or like many others use it as a place to chill for a bit and head back down. Why not continue heading up you say? I was only planning to spend the day in Kyoto and there was more to see, plus I already got my picture (* ^ ω ^).
The next stop was about an hour from Fushimi Inari by train; a fun little place I read about called Iwatayama Monkey Park where you guessed it – there’s macaque monkeys hanging around. The walk from the station to the park was a relaxing 15-20 min, it’s a cool town with a ton of small shops selling locally produced souvenirs. You’ll know you’re near the park once you cross a huge bridge that overlooks the Katsura river (you’ll even see people on paddle boats), you’ll also start seeing posters with little monkeys on them. Shortly after the bridge crossing you’ll turn right and see a small pathway on the left that leads up to the park entrance. You’ll have to get there before 4:30pm as they close up early when the monkeys head back into the forest for the night, plus you don’t want to get caught out there after dark. Once you’re in the park there’s about another 45min hike up to the top, along the trail you’re sure to see the random macaque hanging out, but at the summit is where they’re all hanging out. I made it to the top relatively quick, running into about 3 monkeys along the way but saw about 20 up top, I even saw a mother with a new born baby monkey walking around – pretty memorable. After taking in the sights and sounds, I made my way down and mentally prepared for the trip back to Tokyo. The short train ride back to the bullet train was chill, but it was getting the non-reserve tickets on the Shinkansen that was a mistake – it was a crazy packed train and I had to stand for 2+ hours, on a regular day that wouldn’t be the worst but after a day of hiking for hours it was brutal. Lesson learned.
After the long day yesterday I decided to do a more local tour of Tokyo and hit some of the highly recommended spots people told me about – so I opened up Google maps, noted where every place was and plotted my route. First was the Tokyo Imperial Palace, basically a giant park that houses a few buildings and museums, located in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo. It’s free to come in but they give you a token, I didn’t have any use for it but I guess it’s to keep track of the number of guests coming in. The grounds are awesome, with gates, gardens, flowers and ponds everywhere – great place to walk around and take photographs for a while. I walked there for about 2 hours before heading to the next spot, the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza.
I was excited to watch my first kabuki show, but having awesome luck and not being able to find proper show times online, all of the tickets for the day were sold out by the time I got there – looks like I’d be coming back another day much earlier. It was almost lunch time so I walked a few blocks down to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market to see what I could try – and try I did. The fish market is a few intersecting blocks full of crowds and some of the best sea food I’ve ever had. Small vendors line the streets each with their own specialty, from king crabs, shrimps, sushi, oysters, eel, squid and stuff I can’t even describe, I tried a bit of everything. I must have wandered around there for a good hour until my belly was full then picked up desert in the form of whale ice cream (it tasted like fishy vanilla) before heading to my next stop.
Tokyo Tower, who some call the Eiffel Tower of Japan, is communications and observation tower in Minato, Tokyo. It’s very easy to get to and you can’t miss it – you’ll see it as soon as you get out of the train. It’s a short walk up a hill to get to the base of the tower, but you’ll have to wait on a long (but quick) line to get tickets before you can get to the top. Once you’re in the main building you can opt to take the stairs or wait for the elevator – I had done enough stair climbing the day before so I opted for the elevator. A quick ride up takes you to the observation deck which lets you see the city in full 360º, it made me very reminiscent of being a top the World Trade Center when I was a kid overlooking New York. I hung out there for about 20 minutes, looked around, made my way back down and kept it moving.
I took up a 90 day alcohol-free(ish) challenge and had been pretty good about it so far, but this trip landed in the middle of it so I had to bend the rules and check out some of the local flavors. I headed over to Ebisu to visit the Museum of Yebisu, one of the local beers of Japan. The museum was located not too far from the train, you take a long elevated pathway that basically leads you to the shopping area its located in. You go downhill into and past a shopping center to reveal the museum which is pretty awesome once you walk in. I got there too late to book a tasting tour but took a walk through the museum exhibition itself, it told the history of the beer and it’s brewery. Next to the exhibition is a roped off section for the tour, but past that is a dining/drinking area where I picked up a tasting flight of their top 3 beers (you order by buying a drink coin and presenting it at the bar) and sat down for a bit. The beers themselves were great, I tasted the Premium, Silk and Black, all with their own unique character. Once I finished I hit the shop, picked up a shirt and headed to my final destination for the day.
To finish off the day I headed to Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley), a hidden nook in the Shibuya area. The strip of bars and eateries here only fit a handful of people at once – most notable was TIGHT bar which was a little difficult to find; it’s located on a second floor and to get upstairs you go through a nearly invisible door up a very small staircase. The bar itself sits 4 people and has standing room for about 4 more, thought it’s capacity is 20 – I was told people stand along the staircase as well, amazing. I had the bartenders recommended sake which he served in a masu, a wooden box to hold the overflowed nihonshu (sake) which basically giving you an extra drink. I chatted with the bartender for a bit and talked to a newly wed couple next to me who were on a 2 month sabbatical touring Asia and Europe – lucky. They asked me what I had been up to and were excited to see some of my Fushimi Inari pictures as they had plans to visit it soon as well. After I finished my sake, I bid them farewell and went back to the hotel to recharge for what was supposed to be an epic next day.