We spent three days and two nights in Kyoto and looking back at the pictures now, it truly is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. Although the weather did not cooperate while we were there (it rained pretty much the entire time), we still hit many of the major sights and were extremely thankful that so many of the ancient temples and sites are still standing. Indeed, Kyoto was on the initial list of atomic bomb targets, but was scrapped from the list thanks to Henry Stimson, then US Secretary of War.
Where we stayed:
Westin Miyako Kyoto – For accommodations, we had a Japanese style room at the Westin Miyako Hotel, which is located about 1/2 mile from the major Kyoto business district. Since the Westin is on a hill, on the rare occasion when it wasn’t raining, we would walk downhill to the main business district, but take a taxi ride back up the hill.
With only six Japanese style rooms on the property, we were thrilled that we were able to book one on points. The six rooms were set apart from the main property, near the gardens, and after checking in, we went in search of our room:
Turn down service as the Westin Kyoto is a lot more involved than just fluffing some pillows and making the bed. While we were out exploring, housekeeping came and made up our beds for the night. They tucked the small table and chairs away and replaced them with heavy futon and bedding. Having grown up sleeping on a true tatami mattress, I felt right at home. My son seemed to enjoy the novelty of it and slept very soundly both nights we were there.
In addition to the Japanese style room, we also loved the breakfast buffet at the hotel. We ventured over to the main dining room our first morning there and quickly decided that it would be the perfect place to start our day. At the time, breakfast was ~$30USD per adult for the buffet, but we were happy to sample the different cuisine from the comfort of our hotel room.
Although my husband and I were thrilled to sample the traditional Japanese foods for breakfast, they also had a number of regular breakfast items. It was no trouble at all getting my son fed and, in fact, we saw numerous groups of families there with children ranging from infants to teen.
The other nice thing about the Westin is that they have their own private trails behind the hotel. We took advantage of the trails the morning of our departure, to stretch our legs.
As I mentioned earlier, the Westin is on the top of a hill, so at some point on the trails, you come across clearing where you can look down and see the commercial Kyoto district. The hotel had this handy guide to point things out.
What we did:
We didn’t let the rain deter us as we knew there was tons to see in Kyoto. After filling up on breakfast, we took a taxi ride from the hotel to our starting destination. Luckily, the taxis outside the Westin were familiar with the tourist spots, so we had no problems communicating where we wanted to be taken.
Our first stop was the Arashiyama District, where we intended to catch at least two major sights: the bamboo grove and the Tenryuji Temple.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – My husband said we were going to a bamboo forest and I wasn’t quite sure why. That is, until I saw the magnitude of the forest!
These photos do not accurately portray just how surreal walking in a bamboo forest is. Luckily, the “trail” is paved so even though it was wet, we had no issues walking the path. It would easily be something a stroller could accommodate. There were still a fair amount of tourists, though, even in the abysmal weather, so I imagine this is a place that can become overwhelmingly crowded very quickly.
Tenryuji Temple – Our walk in the bamboo forest conveniently let us out at the Tenryuji Temple. The temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and there were plenty of tourists, even in the bad weather.
Much of the area surrounding the temple is pebble/gravel, so it could be difficult to maneuver a stroller. If necessary, I would prefer using a baby carrier to a stroller for that reason alone.
Fushimi Inari Shrine – No trip to Kyoto is complete with a trip to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. We visited on our third day in Kyoto and the weather was decidedly nicer than the previous day.
The first thing we encountered when we arrived on the main temple grounds was this water/bamboo/cup fountain. It wasn’t a hand washing station and it wasn’t a drinking fountain (but I saw quite a few people sip from the cup and then back wash it back into the basin).
There were numerous stations around the temple where you could write a message and hang your message/wish/prayer.
The Fushimi Imari Shrine is probably most visited, however, for the famous torii gates. Behind the temples, there are two trails of parallel torii gates.
As you get further up in the trails, the crowds get sparse and the density of the gates also diminishes. The path also starts off paved, but eventually you find yourself winding your way through actual trails.
I would not recommend attempting to maneuver a stroller on these paths, and children who do not stay close should be watched closely, especially in the early part where there are dense crowds. After turning back, we went down to the commercial area near the shrine, where there were numerous tourist shops and street food vendors.
What we ate:
Our first night in Kyoto was a colossal fail. We walked down to the business district from the hotel and had a difficult time discerning restaurants from residences. We ended up dining at what could only be described as a Japanese truck stop before giving up and heading back to the hotel. The next day, my husband ventured out for a run through the business district while my son and I attempted to dry out our shoes. He located two restaurants, confirmed that they would both be open for dinner and later that night, we headed over to one of them.
As you can see, the menus we were presented with weren’t exactly helpful. Luckily, I can read the numbers on the bottom of the menu, telling us how much the meals cost. We blindly ordered our food and just trusted that it would be fine – and it was. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but I can tell you were enjoyed it tremendously. The hosts were also fantastic – serving my young son his own bowl of noodles and tamago (the baked egg dish you see on the bottom right of the photo with the noodles).
In addition to dining at the one restaurant in downtown Kyoto, we also dined at a restaurant in the Arashiyama district, after touring the bamboo forest and temple. We blindly chose a restaurant in the tourist area after a colossal fail on our part – based on a glowing recommendation in a tour book, we had walked over three miles in the rain and wind to find a restaurant nestled somewhere in the woods. We found the restaurant – but learned upon arrival that it was reservations only.
Luckily, the food at our randomly chosen restaurant was delicious and they even had instructions for eating the special tofu skin soup. I was thrilled, by that point, to get out of the rain and eat something warm, but the food was delicious. We typically stay away from restaurants in tourist locations when traveling, but Japan might be the exception.
The Kyoto train station is massive and has dozens of eateries. On the day of our departure, we wanted to ensure plenty of time as we were taking a scheduled bullet train and didn’t want to miss it, but of course, that left us with extra time at the train station and right around lunch. Luckily, we didn’t have much difficulty figuring out what we wanted to eat – eel bowls! These were delicious! I’ll also say that we did not have a lot of trouble figuring out what to order or what the different restaurants served, as plastic food samples are a big thing and each storefront had 3D samples of what they were offering.
How we got around:
We arrived in Kyoto via train and from the main train station, we took the Westin Kyoto shuttle to the hotel and back. Finding the shuttle stop at the train station proved a bit difficult. I believe when we booked our rooms, the Westin website only said there was “shuttle service,” so upon arrival, we simply wandered to where most of the shuttles appeared to be picking up the guests. The Westin pick up location, however, was at a separate entrance than the one we had been waiting at — which we discovered only after waiting for 45+ minutes. The website has since been amended to state: The resort shuttle can be found at the Hachijo Exit and the shuttle runs every 20 minutes.
We also traveled around Kyoto via taxi and had no trouble communicating with the taxi driver. I suppose they get enough tourists to know the words for the main destinations and we simply handed him money based on what was on the meter.
We did continue to experience difficulty in purchasing train tickets, however. We never got proficient at purchasing train tickets during our time in Japan.
We quickly learned to always use the customer service window where someone who spoke some English could help us. This included purchasing our Tokaido Shinkansen (the bullet train) tickets, which took us on to our last destination — Tokyo!
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