Kyoto: Temples & Taiko
Last time I was in Kyoto, I was still in college. What’s crazy is that I thought it was boring back then. I know, I know - how is that possible? I’m not sure whether it had to do with my youthful focus on partying or maybe I thought sightseeing was lame or overrated back then. And sometimes it can be. When we planned this trip, we only scheduled 2 days in Kyoto. Big mistake - definitely not enough time.
I feel like I could stay a week and I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted. Maybe even two weeks! It took me a few hours to really nail down which temples to prioritize based on such a short stay. I do remember visiting a handful of these temples last time I was here. Some were worth repeating and the others will have to wait until next time. During this trip, I realized that Avery's super excellent at figuring out how to get us to our destination and I am super excellent at planning what to do once we’re there. I have to keep in mind that Avery gets a bit tired after a few hours so I have to be even more selective when it comes to our itinerary, especially with the amount of time we had. Ah decisions, decisions!
First of all, our hostel in Kyoto was the bee's knees. They call it a hostel but really it's more like a boutique hotel. Sure, they have your iconic shared space and kitchen where you meet all travelers around the world. Sure, they have dorm rooms with shared bathrooms. The decor in this place was on point. We booked a private room and for how small it was, it was very comfortable and it was very well designed to make you feel comfortable. If you need a cheap accommodation in Kyoto, I highly recommend Piece Hostel Sanjo.
We visited 3 temples: Kiyumiza-dera, Nanzen-Ji, and Shimogama Shrine. I’ve definitely visited these shrines during my last visit but this time, it all felt new. Not sure whether I’ve grown and I’m seeing them with brand new eyes with a different perspective and appreciation than before. I tried to pick a one temple in each major neighborhood of Kyoto and they all really had a unique feel to each of them. Kiyumiza-dera was my favorite - I loved the massive scope of the grounds and the journey of walking through the cobblestone shops, through the shrines, and up the dirt roads. I know it’s a very touristy spot but the scenery and architecture really pulls at my heart strings. It’s an iconic location. In general, most touristy places are the worst. For example, in NYC, the Empire State Building is the worst. The first time I was dragged there by my ex because he demanded to see. It was pure agony (both the visit and the ex. So glad I don’t have to deal with either one of them ever again!). However, there are some touristy gems, like the Met. No matter how old I am, whether I’ve had the best day, or the worst day, I can always go to the Met to ground me amongst the masterpieces.
If you want an uber chill vibe, go to Nanzen-Ji. It was way less crowded and the vibe reminded me a lot of the Cloisters in New York. Shimogama Shrine was Avery’s favorite because the surrounding area was way more spacious and open. The colors there were just breathtaking - the color was like a saturated burnt orange that consistently lived in the hour before sunset. It was the beginning of November so we were really blessed with the leaves changing color. Honestly, this wasn’t even our intention with the timing - it was just meant to be. We were also blessed with the most incredible weather - mid 60s bright and sunny for the two days we were there.
After Kiyumiza-dera, you must visit the best coffee shop in Kyoto: Arabica Coffee. They have stores all over the world but none in America (yet). This was the one café we were going to visit in Kyoto. Their design is incredibly alluring - very neutral driven, which is my favorite. It also seemed like the chicest people in Kyoto came to Arabica for their caffeine. I wanted to shout out like paparazzi, “You look fabulous! Who are you wearing??” Their logo was a percent sign - can't help but love that minimalist approach.
In addition to all of Kyoto’s natural and historical glory, our favorite part of Kyoto was the Taiko Drum Class. That’s right. We took a Taiko Drum Class and played authentic Taiko drums for an hour and learned how to play a song. At Taiko Kyoto Center, we had the best teacher. He really needed a dentist but he was just the funniest, most animated teacher. You could really tell that he loved teaching and he loved this instrument with every bone in his body. There’s a lot of shouting when you play which was fun to do. My face hurt for the rest of the day because I was smiling so much during class. It was also a bit of a workout - Avery and I were significantly sweating and our forearms (and my biceps) were super sore for the rest of the time in Kyoto. TAKE THIS CLASS.
We went to the famous Chojiro for sushi. To be honest. it wasn’t amazing. Maybe it was Hokkaido that spoiled us but our sushi bar (haha) has been raised very high after that trip. Their uni was actually pretty delish but at the same time, I’ve never had bad uni. (Ew, bad uni just sounds terrible). Honestly, don’t eat sushi in Kyoto unless you want to throw down. And if you do decide to go to Chojiro, read very carefully: do NOT get their yellowtail. It had a tough texture to it that was bizarre. I didn’t even know something so horrific tasting could exist. I’d even think middle America would have better yellowtail than that. Blech.
All in all, despite the worst hamachi, I really wish I spent more time here in Kyoto. And I know we will go back in the future. Maybe even with the kids, just like the way our parents did. I can’t even believe that - thinking that the next time we’d be back, we’d have little ones. Oh no, what if they think it’s boring or what if they don’t remember all the sights…Maybe we treat them after college when they need a good excuse to see their mama. Or who knows - maybe one of them will be living in Japan and they will be showing US around. I guess no matter what - I think the third time will be probably be my favorite.