Our third destination on our Japan adventure was Kyoto and Nara, both past capitals of the country, where we met up with my mom.
Kyoto was easily one of my favorite cities during our trip for its beautifully preserved streets, gardens, imperial palaces, temples, and shrines. Our hotel, Hotel Resol Shijo Muromachi, was pretty centrally located and had elegant rooms.
Our first stop was Nishiki Market where there’s tons of fresh seafood, various food vendors, and delicious goodies. I tried two types of dango, Japanese dumplings made from rice, one flavored with sweet soy and the other with kinako (soybean powder).
One of the most famous tourist destinations in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, a Buddhist temple. Absolutely breathtaking!
Our last stop of the day was Ryoanji, a zen temple known for its rock garden, a prime example of “dry landscape”.
Later that day, we dined at Sushi Gion Matsudaya for a delicious omakase showcasing seasonal nigiri sushi.
The next day we took the train to Nara to spend the day with my extended family who live in various suburbs of Osaka. Growing up, I would visit them every year but unfortunately, I hadn’t visited Japan since middle school! We had lunch at Edogawa, a famous eel restaurant that my aunt reserved. My bento box was on point with fresh sashimi, soup, chicken salad, unagi with rice and pickles, and mochi desserts. It was so good to see my aunt, my cousins, and my cousin’s children. Good thing my mom was there to help translate as my Japanese was a bit rusty (it definitely improved throughout the trip).
After lunch we saw the most beautiful owl which almost looked fake. We also saw men making mochi by vigorously pounding rice, very cool.
Nara is known for the plethora of deers walking around the city. They can become slightly aggressive if you have any food with you so be careful.
The main attraction in Nara is Tōdai-ji, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Buddhist temple was originally founded in 738 and houses the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue.
We had a great time walking around Nara and catching up with my family. Not only was it amazing to see them, they finally got to meet Tommaso as well!
Once arriving back in Kyoto, we had a late dinner at social media hot spot Kichi Kichi, a westernized Japanese restaurant known for their omurice. I first learned about this restaurant after watching an episode of “Worth It” on Youtube.
It was super entertaining to watch the chef make his signature dish. Fried rice is topped with a fluffy runny omelette and topped with demi-glace.
Kichi Kichi is more about the lively theatrical experience than the food as the dishes were fun but not outstanding. Some of the western styled dishes such as the chicken cutlet had a peculiar taste that was not our favorite.
The following day we were off to explore the city where we walked around the Higashiyama Ward, a historic district with the Hokan-ji Temple also known as Yasaka Pagoda. Typically these streets are packed with tourists but since the majority of foreigners had cancelled their trips, it was a pleasant surprise to walk freely around the area.
Nearby is the famous Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple dating back to 780 with a large wooden terrace where you can get a nice view of the city.
Next up was Fushimi Inari Taisha, another shrine, where there’s thousands of vermillion torii gates that lead up to sacred Mount Inari.
Our last stop of the day was Byōdō-in, another Buddhist temple, that’s actually on the 10 yen coin.
Our third night in Kyoto we dined at Hatakaku, a traditional restaurant with private rooms and set seasonal menus. Since it was winter, we were lucky enough to have their famous botan nabe, wild boar hot pot where the wild boar had the most incredibly rich porky flavor. Highly recommend coming here for an authentic experience.
After dinner we walked around Pontocho, a district with narrow alleyways with various restaurants. Of course, I had to stop for some gelato!
Our final day in Kyoto was jam packed where we started off by going to Aya in the Higashiyama Ward, a professional Maiko/Geisha makeover studio. They provide makeovers for locals and foreigners where you can transform into a maiko or geisha. I chose to become a maiko since they are young apprentices of geishas who wear slightly different attire such as hair accessories with various charms. It was such a fun experience to get my makeup done professionally and to wear a traditional kimono. I had no idea how many layers of clothing were necessary when wearing a kimono and how uncomfortable it is (it almost feels like wearing a corset). Picking out a kimono was also challenging as all of them were absolutely beautifully designed with every color of the rainbow.
After my maiko makeover, we walked around the Higashiyama Ward and went to Maccha House where they have matcha flavored desserts such as matcha tiramisu and matcha parfait. So yummy!
We walked to Yasui Konpiragu, another Shinto Shrine, where you can crawl through the hole in the large stone and make a wish. Miraculously, Tommaso made it through!
Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, was one of the most beautiful temples I’ve visited with gorgeous gardens surrounding it. It almost looked surreal.
Our final destination of our Kyoto trip was Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a forest of bamboo with various pathways. Beautiful.
Our final night we dined at Otagi, a high-end modern kaiseki restaurant. Definitely one of my favorite meals during our trip.
No wonder Kyoto is one of the top destinations in Japan with its rich culture and endless attractions. I could have easily spent a few more days exploring the city and the surrounding towns around it.