Monday, October 8, 2012


Last weekend was Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving, and we had several days off from work, soooo my awesome friend Jennifer and I headed out for a long weekend in Japan!

We stayed in Kyoto for 4 days.  It really was picturesque.  It had exactly what I'd hoped to find in Japan!  Castles, Buddhist temples, the Imperial Palace, Shinto shrines, you name it.  We even saw real Geisha while we walked around in Gion, one of the last Geisha districts!  We hit a snag when Typhoon Jelewat hit on Sunday, but we continued sight-seeing as long as we could before calling it a day and heading back to the guesthouse.  We got a lot accomplished AND stayed on a really tight budget.  Word to the wise: take your Korean won with you to exchange, because a) banks are not open on Saturday or Sunday and b) you probably won't be able to access your Korean bank from Japan.  The things we learn ;)  

We stayed in the Gojo Guesthouse, which was a nice place to stay.  If you're going to Kyoto, you should check out their site.  We slept on traditional Japanese beds on the floor, but I think they also have proper beds in other rooms.  They had a cafe downstairs that I wouldn't exactly recommend, but they include a drink ticket with each night's stay, so that was nice.  Probably my favorite part about staying there was that we could do laundry after the typhoon AND (get this) they had a DRYER!!!  Our apartments in Korea do not have dryers, so it was such a treat to wash and dry our clothes!  I even washed all my clothes again before we left, so that I'd have properly dried clothes for a week once we got home to Korea.

We spent the first day getting our bearings and wandering around, marveling at how CLEAN and BEAUTIFUL Japan is!  We found Nijo Castle, which was beautiful and photographable from the outside, so we decided to forgo paying an entry fee and kept wandering, then found the Imperial Palace grounds.  Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, before Tokyo, which is how/why it has an imperial palace (and a ton of history).  They only give tours of the Palace itself twice a day, so I decided that I'd do that later in the week when we rented bikes.  We had Japanese ramen for dinner (and it was indeed delicious, just like we'd heard!) and went for a walk in Gion, walked through Yasaka Shrine in the dark, and saw Geisha!

Day two (also known as Typhoon Day) started with (what else) Starbucks... yeah, not even kidding, we did that every single day, cause Starbucks in Japan has the most rockin' menu you'll ever enjoy!  They've got these chocolate marshmallow cookies that make my mouth water just thinking about them... we were in Japan for 5 days and I think I had 7 or 8 cookies on the trip.  They.  Were.  Amazing.  After breakfast (yum), we took the train to Fushimi Inara, home of the endless red arches.  We are talking endless.  They're gorgeous  but it's not hard to get lost in them!  Up at the top of the Inari mountain, there was a beautiful pond surrounded by Shinto shrines with kitsune, or foxes from traditional Japanese lore.  It really started coming down while we were there, but we wanted to get in a little more sight-seeing, so we took the train back to the bus station and made it to the Golden Pavilion in the POURING rain.  Jennifer's umbrella broke as soon as we got in (remember when that happened during the last typhoon???) and we about died laughing.  I think she had JUST said something like, "watch my umbrella break as soon as we get there" and WHAM.  Thanks Typhoon!  On our way back to the guesthouse, we stopped for lunch at a place where you push buttons on this crazy menu with NO English (I tell ya, we are spoiled in Korea with all the English everywhere!).  I have no idea what I ordered, but it was pretty good!  After lunch, we headed back to the guesthouse and played cards with some other backpackers, did laundry, and I took a nap that Jennifer so rudely interrupted to talk about our plans for rest of the week.  Lame.  And then we had chicken teriyaki pizza in the guest house which was absolutely awful.  I don't even think it was chicken.  Oh well.

We had hoped to take a day trip to Hiroshima, but the train tickets were hella-expensive (the cheap tickets there from Kyoto ran to the tune of $120 for a 12 hour round trip on a train... unfortunately that was not gonna happen!), so instead we made a quick trip to Nara for a day.  Nara is famous for their deer and I tell you, they were SO cute!  It was interesting to see deer act so comfortable around humans!  That's what comes with a life of being hand-fed by tourists, rather than shot at by hunters, but hey.  I'll take it!  (Speaking of hunters, it's bow season back home!  Hey Zane and Stephanie, want to send me some deer jerky??  Not that I'm serious, cause that'd be illegal... but, you know, if yall want to...)  We ate dinner at another place with no English on the menu and, again, I'm not sure what I ate at all, but it was delicious   Glad I'm an adventurous eater, that's for sure.  

Tuesday, we rented bikes!!!  We had so much fun with them!  If you've ever considered renting bikes to do touristy stuff, Kyoto is the perfect city for it!  It's very bike-friendly and easy to navigate, especially because the city was laid out as an imperial capital city (on a grid).  It's great.  (Later in the day, I got lost but I didn't even have to get out my map; I just headed "thatta way" and found my way again.  That's a HUGE accomplishment for this directionally-challenged girl!)  We rode our bikes along the river, stopped at Starbucks of course, then rode through the Shijo-Dori shopping district looking for a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that Lonely Planet recommends.  We finally found it a couple hours later. Ironically, we rode RIGHT past it on our way into the shopping arcades, but that's ok.  We got to shop a little and see Nishiki Market.  I was brave enough to eat a fried minnow from one of the vendors.  Gross.  Got to mark that on the list of random Japan things I did, though!

We parted ways for the afternoon on our bikes, so I went back to the Imperial Palace to see about the tour.  Turns out I read the time wrong (not surprising, if you know me), so I missed the last tour of the day, so I biked on up to the far northeast part of the city to see the Silver Pavilion.  I didn't get to see that either... see, I was thirsty, so I bought a coke cause the vendor didn't have water, then I got up to the gate and I was 120 yen short of the entry fee.  My coke cost 160 yen.  Well, crap.  No matter, though!  I took a lovely little walk up near the pavilion, wandered around on my bike, found another temple, got lost, found the oldest theater in Kyoto, the birthplace of Kabuki!  Biking around all afternoon was incredible!  The sunset was astounding that night and people were parked with their bikes all up and down the river.  Jennifer and I met up to turn in our bikes and we got some interesting news... See, we booked 4 nights at the guesthouse instead of 5... and we were OUT of money... so we took the train to the airport about 12 hours earlier than we planned and slept in the airport!  Whoop for extra adventure! ᄏᄏᄏ

In conclusion, Japan was AMAZING!  If you ever get a chance, go!!!

Without further ado... Pictures!

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