The trip from the Fuji Hakone area to Kyoto was our first experience on a Shinkansen (bullet train). We reserved a seat on the express to Kyoto (something we didn’t bother doing again because there were usually plenty of seats in the unreserved cars), and then rushed to the platform and caught the next train, which turned out to be the wrong train – one that stopped at every station to Osaka (not Kyoto).
The seat numbers we reserved (on the express train to Kyoto) were in the smoking car in the train we caught, and the air was thick with smoke, so we walked through the carriages into an unreserved car. We had to get out at Osaka, but fortunately just across the platform was a train to Kyoto, and we got on and walked to a car that had no people in it, which we later realised was a green car (first class). We arrived at Kyoto Station by late morning. The station, designed by architect Hara Hiroshi, is a hub for shinkansen, Japan Railway, and local trains, including the subway, and buses.
We had tickets to the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) which occurs on October 22 every year, in which 2000 participants parade from the Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine wearing historic costumes to celebrate the foundation and history of Kyoto from the 8th to 20th century. Unfortunately the parade was cancelled because of rain, and most of the time we were in Kyoto it rained quite heavily.
We headed toward Kyoto Itoya Hotel (712 Yakushimae-cho, shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-city, Kyoto), a comfortable modern hotel. We stayed in an economy double room that was small but sufficient, with ensuite bathroom and separate toilet. Check-in 15:00; Check-out 11:00. 5 minutes by taxi from Kyoto station tower side (about ¥1,000). On the subway Karasuma Line, located between Shijo Station (K9) 5 minutes walk from Exit 6 and Gojo Station. There was a lounge area on the second floor, beside reception, where breakfast (7:00-9:30) and drinks (15:00-21:30) were available. After check in, we planned to explore the area, but the rain and wind increased, and my umbrella was turned inside out with one gust, so we retreated indoors, and ate dinner at Nikubar Daiki izekaya steak restaurant, located under the hotel. We returned to the hotel lounge to reflect and drink sake – after a long and mildly disappointing day, the sake was very good.
We planned to stay in Kyoto for about a week and use the city as a base for trips to Kobe, Hiroshima, and Miyajima.
In the morning, we enjoyed a delicious pot of roasted tea (supplied). We took our washing to ‘Laundromat on the Corner‘ through a lovely old area. We were fortunate that a kind and helpful staff member offered to put our load through the wash and dryer. We continued wandering the area of narrow streets and close little houses and shops – it was really lovely. We bought two ‘bread’ from a bakery for breakfast: one salmon and potato salad, the other bacon and cheese – they were OK. Next we changed money in a Seven-11 (good exchange rate), and savoured a double shot espresso and an Americano at the nearby Len coffee shop attached to a hostel.
From the cafe, we walked to the Kamo River, crossed the bridge, and then returned the way we came.
From Nishinomiya Croquette we bought two croquette to share: one with pickled vegetable and lemon rind, the other filled with blue cheese – both delicious, before returning to laundromat to collect our washing.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Inabado (Byodo-ji) Temple – a small temple in a quiet back street, with a row of lanterns above the entrance. The kind monk almost jumped up to accept and stamp my Goshuin-chō.
After unloading our laundry in our hotel room, we headed to Nishiki markets, where we ate our way from one end to the other! We bought fried crab and onion, and octopus on sticks; tea, seaweed, and sesame seed snacks, then enjoyed a beer at a small bar. For dinner, we had set meals with rice, miso, pickles: one with grilled salmon and one with deep fried breaded pork fillets, before going to Movix Kyoto – a large cinema complex next to the markets.
We watched Kabuki Renjishi, a 55 minute recording of a 2007 performance in a Tokyo theatre, with English subtitles and explanatory notes. Renjishi is about mythical ‘shishi’ lions. The ‘shishi’ thrust their cubs down a ravine and will only nurture the cubs that successfully climb up by themselves. The dance of ‘Father and Son Lions’ usually features a father and son duo as two powerful lions, but in this version the father lion appeared with two cub lions. The father was played by legendary Nakamura Kanzaburō XVIII, and his two talented sons Nakamura Kankurō and Nakamura Shichinosuke played the cubs.
The following night, we ate at Tuzuri – a small traditional izakaya near the Kyoto Itoya Hotel and the Inabado Temple. Luckily there was room for us at the counter on the ground floor. The service was really friendly. There was a menu, from which we ordered beef and potato croquettes; cold cucumber marinated in umiboshi with fish flakes; clams steamed in sake – a delicate and delicious light soup; grilled chicken marinated saikyo-miso; grilled salmon belly with pickled daikon and greens. There were also bowls of intriguing looking and smelling cooked food and fresh ingredients lining the counter. Eventually I asked about one of the dishes on the counter and ordered it: a huge chunk of daikon in broth with beef.
From Kyoto, we planned an overnight trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. Before we checked out of Itoya Hotel, we forwarded our luggage our next hotel in Kyoto, and then walked to the nearby subway station and squeezed into the packed local train (with a small overnight bag for Miyajima) toward Kyoto Station. There we caught the Hikari493 Shinkansen to Hiroshima at 8:00.am. We were feeling more confident navigating the trains, stations, platforms, unreserved, and non smoking Shinkansen cars.