Kyoto is exactly what I imagined visiting Japan would be like: Food that tastes as beautiful as it looks, picturesque natural scenery and architecture, and people that were incredibly polite and helpful even with my limited understanding of the language. Planning on visiting Japan? Make sure you visit Kyoto!
Here’s just a few of the fun things you can do in Kyoto:
1. Stay in a Machiya-
If you are looking for a taste of traditional culture and Old Kyoto, consider staying in a machiya. These wooden townhouses are over 100 years old, and because of their architecture machiya were popular living quarters for merchants and craftspeople. I enjoyed our little machiya in the heart of Higashiyama- one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts. You can find rentals on AirBnb. Most have been renovated and combine modern comforts such as wifi, washer, dryers, and a t.v. or two, with elements of traditional living.
2. Dress up in a beautiful Kimono.
This was actually at the very top of my list. When I was a kid, my good friend’s mom had this beautiful kimono hanging up in her house. It was this exquisite bright red and was made out of the smoothest silk. We were not allowed to touch it of course but we would always dress up in bed sheets and blankets and walk around pretending to be wearing a kimono while her mom would always do our hair up with the cutest barrettes. Imagine my delight when I finally got to do this for real! Kimono rental is PLENTIFUL in Kyoto and you can find a studio that can accommodate any budget. You will find a rental place on every corner because this is a very popular thing for foreigners to do there. We used Yume Kyoto Kimono Rental because of it’s location, range of services (professional hairstyling, baggage storage, etc.), and array of kimono choices. The staff was amazing and super professional so I highly recommend them.
3. Enjoy the matcha!
Kyoto is matcha heaven. It’s everywhere and can be enjoyed in the traditional way as a tea, or on tons of food especially sweets. Matcha is believed to have great health benefits so a matcha parfait loaded with matcha ice cream, and washed down with a matcha latte is a totally legit healthy dinner, right? Of course it is! Don’t leave without at least trying soft and creamy matcha ice cream with edible gold foil!
4. Fusimi Inari Taisha-
This shrine (one of many) to the Japanese kami (shinto deity) Inari is absolutely stunning to see in person. It is highly popular and gets extremely crowded, but it is definitely worth the visit. Wear good walking shoes and make your way up the mountain because the higher up you ascend through the torii the less of a crowd you have to deal with. Inari is the kami of fertility, rice, business, and general prosperity. I made a wish there and when I turned around a whole line of school children appeared and came walking in my direction. Considering what I wished for, I’ll take that as a good omen!
5. Feed the Monkeys!
Located in the Arashiyama region of Kyoto (you may recognize it as the region with the “instafamous” bamboo forest?), Iwatayama Monkey Park is home to over 100 Japanese Macaque Monkeys. They live and run free at the top of the mountain and, if you are willing to make the hike, you will be treated to an amazing view of Kyoto and see these fascinating primates up close. You can even enter the “human cage” and feed them food provided by the park while they climb around outside of the cage and eat from your hand. There are numerous signs warning you not to look the monkeys in the eye, or point the camera directly at them, which can be a bit unnerving! But really if you just calmly observe them, they go about their business and are actually more interested in the food then some amazed tourist taking a photo. I had much more fun watching my friends feed them rather than doing it myself. Some of the monkeys were swatting food out of peoples hands if they weren’t interested and I thought they were rather rude :-P. One monkey flicked nuts out of Tim’s hand and our friend quipped that “maybe he’s more of an apple guy.” 😀
We absolutely loved Kyoto. There is so much more to experience so one day I hope to visit again. Maybe in the beautiful cherry blossom season! I already have a kimono picked out 🙂