We are so fortunate to have visited Kyoto a few years ago with our cousins, who know it well and with Harumi’s native Japanese navigation was a snap. We just did whatever Harumi told us to do and didn’t have to think much about which bus, which train, which sight or store to enjoy.
This time we are on our own–so different and so much fun in a different way. We flew into Kansei airport in Osaka, about an hour and fifteen minutes by express train to Kyoto station and by far the best option because it is direct (no changing trains) and quite comfortable. First thing I noticed was the hyper-organization of the country contrasted with Korea. Two uniformed men are on the train platform to make sure everyone is in the correct line–and they mean the exact correct line, with your suitcase “here!” and stand “here!” which was comforting. No way to make a mistake! But don’t stray out of the line–you will be quickly herded back into the queue. In no time, it seemed, we were at the station and had to find the hotel. It is just a block or so away but it was dark, we had a bunch of stuff with us, and we were a little daunted but there it was, and in the mailbox an envelope poked out that said David M Roth and inside was the key card and simple instructions (the office was closed) and all was well. I will write about the hotel/apartment in another post but suffice to say it works beautifully, location is ideal, price is right, and like our airbnb in Seoul we have a bit of a kitchen and a washing machine! Bed is luxurious. Great place.
This post will cover just a few exceptional experiences of our first few days–Mt. Kurama, Fushimi-Inari shrine, and associated meals.
Best Day Trip Ever–Mt. Kurama
You hop on one of the subway lines and take it (north) to the end; go upstairs and get on the electric trolley/train (the line starts at that station) and off you go into the suburbs of Kyoto. Very lovely, quiet, scenic, and within 15 minutes you are surrounded by trees brushing up against the windows on both sides and into the mountains. You get off at the last stop and are in a tiny village–you and the other 8 or so passengers who are clearly there daytripping, walk up the hill and in a minute you are climbing into a temple, large for the scale of the town, and in front of you are steps and paths winding into the forest.
It was magical how quickly we were out of the city and into an entirely new place. We had little idea how long, how high, how far we would be going. We picked up a map that showed stairs and paths and switchbacks up up up and off we went. It was about 9 in the morning or so, and while still hot and humid less so due to the forest and many streams winding down. Though we were sticky and warm it was just cool enough we figured we’d make it.
The route is not only lovely as mountain forest, but every 10 minutes or so you come across another temple. Some tiny, a few pretty big (big for the setting but not by Kyoto city standards). We were not totally alone on the trail–this is a popular day trip–and 90% of the people we saw were Japanese. It is not an easy climb in places–the stone steps as you get higher are obviously old and the dirt between them worn away–and in other places it’s similar to hiking in a northern California forest with slightly different trees. After maybe two hours we reached the summit, hurrah, and started down on the other side where it was quite a bit steeper and more unrelenting a climb.
We were glad we started in Kurama and ended in Kibune.
Kibune was described in the guidebook as almost impossibly quaint and yup, that is correct. A rushing river (though small) winds down through the town, so the background sound is lovely, and the town itself is just a string of inns and a few restaurants along the single road.
We were so hungry and thirsty so eating there was mandatory, and we decided we’d earned a fancy lunch so ate at Hirobun, an old style tatami-lined dining room with windows along the river. They have 3 different fixed price meals (roughly $27 each)–I had the tofu meal and David the tempura, and we ate our fill and more. This is a very welcoming place and the food was exceptional (including a whole fish each “cooked for 3 days, very tender” and they were–you eat the entire body, head and all and yum). We staggered out and walked down the road looking for the train station when we came upon a bus stop. A small bus was just pulling in so we hurried onboard and were whisked down to the train in 3 minutes and we came back to Kyoto. Peak experience, no question.
That night we decided it was time for yet another sushi orgy. We had gone to Musashi, a conveyer belt sushi place in Kyoto Station, the night we arrived, and now two nights later we went again. Suffice to say we ate more than enough, and with two beers the bill was a little under $44.
Above, our plates as we reluctantly wound down the meal.