Thousands of people are walking fast passing by, looking without seeing while 2 ladies bow to each other repeatedly with joy in their eyes for an unexpected meeting.
Japanese culture is so fascinating and such a mix of old traditions and new ways of living that it would be worth spending a day sitting in a café just to watch the Japanese and try to get a glimpse of this incredible people.
Kyoto is the place where Japan seems to keep everything together old and new without discrepancy . It is a big city and there are millions of things to see and to do. Realistically considering that with toddlers everything is slower I would try to stay 5 or 6 days, especially if you want to go to visit Nara that requires a day by itself.
But let’s just have a quick recap. This is the 4th post about the trip to Japan we did while Liam and Santiago were 17 months old. It was November which is a perfect time to see the stunning autumn color.
As a recap here our 17 days long itinerary:
Where we stayed
We arrived in Kyoto from Hiroshima with the shinkansen in less than 2 hours. Our accommodation was in Gion, a perfect area to start exploring. Choosing the right place wasn’t easy because Kyoto is super touristic, especially with Japanese people, and all the good hotels were reaaally expensive!
After searching a lot I decided to book Japanican Gion. After being there I can tell you that I was happy with my choice and the value for money considering the super-central position, but I would shop around next time to see if I can find something better.
Japanican Gion is an aparthotel, we had a small studio flat with a handy kitchen. The building and the flat were clean and well-kept but there is no lift.
There are no staff there, so the biggest downside was that we had to send our luggage to their main office which isn’t far from the station but it still was a bit of an inconvenience.
If you look online you will see that many people leave negative reviews, but if you read some of them you realise that they were frustrated, because they did not know that you need to do a self-check-in which can be a bit awkward. I was prepared (of course!), so with the code I got in their welcome email on the arrival day, I opened the door and then followed the instructions on the iPad, situated at the entrance, to do the check in, and in 5 minutes we were in the room. Overall the price is very competitive for the area and for the quality they offer, but it isn’t a place for princesses!
HOT TIP: From the hotel office I had in my notes to take a bus to get to the hotel itself, but we couldn’t locate the bus stop, so we ended in a taxi. Even with all our stuff the taxi driver managed the impossible and fitted everything in. I would have really liked to tip him, but don’t forget that tipping is not usual in Japan and people can be really offended by this.
HOT TIP2: Don’t try to open the taxi door, the driver will do it for you, they are automated.
HOT TIP 3: if you are planning to use the tube or train a lot (to go to Nara, to Fushimi Inari or to the Arashiyama area) you can maybe evaluate if staying near the station is more convenient for you. I was definitely happy with my choice the, position was unbeatable.
What we did in 4 days in Kyoto
The first day
We walked a lot! First we joined a free walking tour in the lower higashiyama area: we walked to the Yasaka shrine, Maruyama park, Nene-no-michi street, and Ninenzaka street to end to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. This area was packed with tourists, as was all of Kyoto to be honest, especially with Japanese tourists.
HOT TIP: if you can, go back in the evening at the Yasaka shrine, the guide said it is beautiful when all the lanterns are on, unfortunately we were too tired to go back.
In the temple areas there are some simple take away shops where we got some lunch, and then we went straight to walk through Gion, Pontocho and the downtown areas…and I managed to fit in some shopping in Uniqlo and Loft (seriously I could have spent days in Loft, don’t miss it when you are in Japan, there are shops in most cities)
The day was quite tiring so we had an early night to be ready for day 14 when we rented 2 electric bikes.
The second day
In the morning we walked to J-Cycle which, after searching several websites I decided was a good option as it turned out to be.
The price was also good too, we got 2 electric bikes plus the baby seats for £30 for the full day!
The day was cool but dry and it was a pleasure to cycle around. We decided to start exploring the top part of Higashiyama, we reached the Silver Pavilion after a couple of stops along the way, but then our day suddenly had a change of programme, because when we were trying to park, the bike where Santiago was sitting fell with him onboard. Fortunately he was wearing his helmet, but it was a big shock for him and for us!
Initially we waited to see his reaction, but he became really sleepy when Mark put him in the carrier to walk around, so we thought we pay for an insurance to also be reassured in these situations and that’s what we did.
The insurance company was great, they quickly identified the best hospital, gave us all the information and we went immediately in a Taxi.
Now, let me tell you the language barrier is a major issue when you end up in these situations but, after a little acting and drawing, a doctor checked Santiago quickly and even though he asked us to wait a half hour to check him again we realised soon that everything was fine.
Leaving the hospital was also an adventure, we thought the insurance would pay them directly, they didn’t understand us, we wanted to pay but they didn’t know what for…seriously was a bit comical…
Anyway everything was fine, 3 hours out of the schedule but we were happy the little man was ok, so we took a taxi back to the temple, made a quick visit and then moved on. After that we had a beautiful ride along the philosopher’s path, walking or biking I really recommend you don’t miss this lovely walk along a calm canal.
At the end of it we visited Kumano Nyakuoji shrine, the Eikan do temple, The Kumano Nyakuoji shrine and the Konchi-in, unfortunately we couldn’t spent enough time but it was really enjoyable. In our plan there was the option to visit also the Nijo castle or the Imperial Palace, but there wasn’t enough time.
We returned the bikes at 6pm as arranged but as we loved them so much we rebooked for the following day. Our day ended after some more beauty product shopping and had some take away from the family Mart.
Day 15 started the same way as the previous day, we went to J-cycle to get the bikes (I even bargained a bit of discount because it was the second day!!!), and from there we cycled all the way up to the Golden pavilion. Cycling with an electric bike is pleasant and not tiring at all, but the areas outside the city centre were quite grey and not so interesting…a lot of residential buildings with little personality, but I liked to see also this side of the city.
As moving around with an electric bike is quite fast we decide to visit some of the temples and shrines around the golden pavilion and then to move in Arashiyama. There are actually a lot of things to see and activities to do in both areas, so if you want to see everything it is probably better to dedicate a day to each area.
We only entered Kinkakuji temple (the golden pavillion) the Ryoan-ji temple (the temple with one of the most beautiful zen garden), the Ninna-ji temple and of course the bamboo forest.
As I mentioned few times Kyoto is full of tourist (I can’t imagine how it could be during cherry blossom), so you should try to get to the most known places early in the morning if you want to avoid the biggest crowd of people…unfortunately we didn’t so we enjoyed the bamboo forest with another million people!!!!
At the bamboo forest one of the funniest things happened. Ok, I knew that going around with identical cute red curly haired twins would attract attention (it does in Europe), but I didn’t expect SO MUCH!!! Everywhere we went people asked us if they could take a picture of Liam and Santiago, same people maybe asked to touch them or to take a selfie with them…but in the bamboo forest we reached the top. As you can see in the picture a group of girls stopped us and we couldn’t continue because they all wanted to take pictures/ selfies and get close to them…Mark took a quick video with the phone…watch it below if you want a laugh! Thankfully everyone was really polite and respectful of the boys so we never felt intimidated despite all the attention they got (and maybe a little proud!).
The third day in Kyoto was quite cold, so around 5 we returned the bikes and brought the boys to play in an indoor playground that I found on the blog of an expat. It was a lovely experience, I recommend a visit if you are in the area with toddlers, it’s called Kodomo mirai kan. It is part of a community centre run by the government, it is fun, clean and free…and also an amazing opportunity to see everyday real life in Japan.
Komodo mirai kan close at 6pm so we still had a bit of time walk the downtown area near the Nishiki Market (unfortunately at that time almost everything was closed). As usual I found so fascinating to enter shops in Japan that I’m glad we arrived in the shopping area towards the end of the day when the pressure of feeding the boys and bringing them to bed not too late is high, otherwise I would spend always too much time and money!!!
We happily ended the day in one of the restaurants on the top floor of the Daimaru shopping mall, delicious!
This was our 16th day in Japan. Sad to leave Kyoto we packed quickly and decided to reach the main station with the bus. Ops! Wrong decision, the traffic was heavy and it took us more than half an hour…next time I would definitely get a taxi…anyway just to loose more time we spent at least another 20 minutes wandering in the station looking for the luggage storage.
Until you see a Japanese train station you will always think that people exaggerate, I can only repeat myself here: the statiosn in the main cities are like small villages, and if you are not careful you will get lost really easily. I knew that if the lockers at the entrance were all occupied (and they were) we could leave our luggage at the storage in the basement. I also followed the instruction from the detailed station website, but I still managed to get lost!
After asking few people we finally got there, queued, left everything, and we got on the busy train that in 10 minutes brought us to the Fushimi-inari shrine, the last shrine we were planning to visit! The shrine is just outside the Inari station.
The shrine is stunning, and if you manage to arrive early not at midday like us, you maybe can get some decent pictures, we couldn’t. we would have loved to walk through all the vermillion gates up mont Inari, but it takes 2-3 hours, which for me with Liam on my back definitely wasn’t an option!
HOT TIP: the shrine isn’t accessible with the pram. I’ve seen a few people “abandoning” light strollers at the bottom of the first set of stairs, but we didn’t want to risk our beloved companion. Luckily after asking around someone pointed us in the right direction. On the right hand side of the access area (looking at the shrine) there is a building across the parking lot. On the right hand side after entering in this 80’s feeling space there is a lovely person that in exchange of few yen (sorry I cant remember exactly how much) will let you leave the pram in the room behind her.
After walking for 20 minutes we made our way back down and we stopped to eat lovely dumplings and and xxxxxx at the many kiosks selling food on your way out…incredible how good food was in Japan everywhere!!!!
We went back to Kyoto station the same way we arrived and as we had an hour or so before our train to Tokyo, I insisted on going to the Aeon mall just few minutes walking from the Kyoto station’s south exit. There were several interesting national shops that I would have loved to check out in detail, but I didn’t have time so after leaving Mark at the changing facilities(with the kids) I went straight to the 4th floor in the Sakura building (there are 2 buildings connected on the 3rd and 4th floor). There I found a big Daiso shop (100 Yen shop) where I bought enough stuff to make my luggage 4-5 kg heavier!
After Mark and I split up, because we were running late for the train, he went to collect the luggage and I went directly to the track (taking lifts could add some time), but we managed to board the train to Tokyo in time, where we then took the monorail and arrived around 8pm at Haneda airport.
HOT TIP: If you have an extra day I recommend you to visit Osaka, even if just to have a walk around Dotonbori, you will not regret it.
Our flight was early in the morning so I booked us a room in the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda. The hotel is just beside the check in desk. it is sleek and sophisticated, but with the usual mini room, but even this time we managed to fit the boys cots.
HOT TIP: when you try to book Royal Park The Haneda through their system or some website like booking, it seems they don’t accept reservations with kids involved, however we booked through a website called www.japanican.com and we didn’t have any problem.
The day after the check in was smooth and the staff at the desk lovely. At the Haneda airport there are little metal strollers available so we even checked in the pram instead of bringing it to the gate as usual!
With a smooth 12 hours flight, when I even managed to watch a full movie while the boys sat on their reclining seats (see pictures on my 10 tips to make a trip to Japan stress free article)our journey ended.
Japan was a memorable trip and I’m ready to go again probably in a year time, let me know what I missed that I should definitely include next time!