3 Days in Kyoto - Experiences

Welcome back to part two of my Kyoto diaries!  Today I'll be sharing what we actually did (if you want to see a sampling of what and where we ate, see this post!).  We definitely packed in a lot in the three days that we were there, and some of our experiences are my favorites of any trip I've ever been on.  I would highly suggest putting Kyoto at the top of your travel wish list!

3 Days in Kyoto


Hotel

 Hyatt Regency Kyoto
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, which was another amazing hotel (like I mentioned before, we used all of the hotel points that we earned for the past few years, so it was definitely a splurge).  Every night, we were invited to see a maiko (apprentise geisha) perform and were served champagne.  It was a great way to relax after walking around all day, and the maiko were always so beautiful with their performances and just looked absolutely perfect.  After the performance, they would walk around and interact with the guests and take pictures.  The geisha lifestyle was always intriguing to me, and it's apparently difficult (or expensive) to see a live performance in Kyoto, so we were lucky to have it available in our hotel.
We also really enjoyed the hotel bar.  It was a very cozy spot, and the walls were all made of old books!  Each night after the performance, we would order drinks and sit down to write in our travel journals to remember everything that we did.  This became a tradition for the rest of our trip, and was such a nice way to soak in everything that we had experienced.


Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha
Every time I looked up things to do in Kyoto, this shrine was always one of the top suggestions. It's easy to see why- it's a nice, longish walk (2.5 miles each way) up a mountain, and the entire route is covered in torii (Japanese gate to symbolize the transition from the mundane to the sacred) and spotted with sub-shrines (as many as 32,000).  There are so many torii because this is the head shrine for the spirit/holy power Inari, who is the god of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success.  So, local businesses donate a torii to wish for prosperity or to show thanks for wishes being granted.  
Fushimi Inari-taisha
Along the way, we also noticed a lot of stone foxes, some with keys in their mouths. After looking it up, I learned that foxes are important in Japanese folklore, and are seen as messengers.  They are also known as servants of Inari, and the key is for the rice granary. 


Tea Ceremony

Camellia FLOWER tea ceremony
Besides the geisha performance, another important part of the Kyoto culture that we wanted to experience was a tea ceremony.  After some research, I settled on Camellia FLOWER, which had a fantastic location in the historic area of Higashiyama, and steps away from the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera (see more info about that below!).  We were greeted at the door, and took off our shoes.  After the rest of our group arrived, we were taken to a small room covered in straw mats (tatami).  Fun fact- room sizes in Japan are often measured by how many tatami mats can be laid down, since they're standard units!
Camellia FLOWER tea ceremony
After getting settled on the ground, we learned about the history of the tea ceremony, and also learned about all the different tools that are used.  There are particular ways to hold the tea bowls, how many times to whisk the matcha, and even what part of the mats you should sit.  It was fascinating to learn!  We all got to make our own matcha and had a traditional sweet.  It was such a great experience, and I really liked the place that we visited.


Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera
Everywhere you look in Kyoto, there are temples and shrines, which is why it's considered the cultural center of Japan.  We visited a number of them and were amazed by each and every one, but Kiyomizu-dera was one of my favorites.  It sits on the top of a hill in Higashiyama (can you tell this was my favorite neighborhood?), and features a ton of small buildings and pagodas around the gardens, as well as the main temple with a huge veranda. 
Kiyomizu-dera
The main building had a fee, so we just stayed outside and really enjoyed the views and wandering around.  The streets around the temple are also really fun, with lots of vendors and souvenirs.


Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle
I heard a lot about Nijo Castle before the trip and was really excited to visit it!  We went on a perfect day, one of the rare sunny days we were in Kyoto.  The blue sun really contrasted beautifully against the stark white guard towers, and the gardens and ponds around the castle were great to walk around.  
Nijo Castle
Inside the main building, we walked around barefoot on the "nightingale floorboards", which make a chirping sound when you walk on them.  The sound is because of the nails rubbing against the floor jack or clamp when you walk on it, and it sounds melodic.  Legend has it that the floors were built this way to alert guards when someone entered the castle, but I've also read that the sound was unintentional!


Arashiyama

Japanese macaque monkey
After exploring the castle, we hopped on a train to visit the district of Arashiyama.  There were a few things that we wanted to visit here, the first one being Iwatayama Monkey Park.  Monkeys have always been my favorite animal, but I've never gotten to see them outside of a zoo before.  This park sits on top of a hill and is completely open to the 170 Japanese macaque monkeys that live there.  You're able to feed them by going in a caged building (great idea- having the people caged and the animals free!).  
Japanese macaque monkey
It was such a great experience, especially seeing the feeding frenzy when the workers came out to throw food for all the monkeys!  Plus- the view of the district from the top of the hill where the park sits was fantastic.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
After the park, we hiked down to the Bamboo Grove, which is a very popular spot for photos.  It was really interesting- the bamboo shoots up all around you, so you feel completely secluded to the busy streets around you.  On the other hand, it's a very busy area, and was a very short walk.  I enjoyed it, but it seemed to be hyped a bit too much.


Have you ever felt let down by a hyped-up landmark?
What's your favorite animal?

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