After almost a week of urban Japanese pleasure seeking it was time to hop on the Shinkansen Japanese bullet train to Kyoto. The bullet train was built up in my head as being one of the highlights of visiting Japan and Hannah heard my endless fascination with the train...how fast does it go, where does it go, can any ticket get us on it, do they serve food, blah blah blah. It didn't disapoint. On our trip up to Kyoto I turned on MapMyWalk and watched intently as the speed reached 170mph.
Planning our stay in Kyoto was something we did off the cuff and without much forethought. This meant that there were no hotels available for a reasonable rate. Things in Japan tend to cost twice as much as anywhere else in the world anyway, and booking a hotel the day before at one of the busiest times of the year isn't advised. This lack of planning meant that we ended up at the amazing Granvia Hotel located right in the amazing Kyoto Central Station.
Even though Kyoto is one of Japan's largest cities it maintains a beautiful, traditional feel. Wandering through the Gion neighborhood we got lost in the streets of quaint wooden homes and restaurants. We didn't see any Geisha but heard this was the area that a Geisha encounter could happen. We were surprised that many restaurants and bars in Kyoto were unmarked. The local establishments didn't seem to want the tourists to visit, they were reserved for locals. At times restaurants would actually politely turn away tourists telling us that they were full.
Dinner the first night was a bust. For some reason I thought that Shabuzen would be the best Shabu Shabu we had ever had. It turns our that Shabuzen is The Olive Garden of Shabu Shabu. It was, however, entertaining when the waiter thought I was Adam Sandler and had to have a picture taken with me.
The next few days in Kyoto we spent wandering the shopping areas of Shijo Dori and introducing ourselves to our new love...ramen. Hannah and I had both never had Ramen, and especially not the ramen of Japan. Finding the best ramen noodles in Japan became an obsession and by the end of our time in Japan we think we had a large enough sample size to make an informed decision. We had many favorites in Osaka and Kyoto but the winner was called Gogyo. We ate lunch here 2 days in a row and would have gone more if we had more lunches to spend.
Kyoto was much more touristy than Tokyo. We definitely felt the crowds much more than the busy metropolis we had left behind and it was hard to not feel like we were surrounded by others like us. Japan being Japan, it still felt unique and culturally more interesting that any other places we had seen. The simple, wooden, Japanese architecture, gardens, temples, and homes were beautiful and had an amazing understated simplicity.
We had a few more things to do and see in Kyoto but first we had to hit the road again bound for Kobe, the home of the famous beef, and Osaka, the urban home to Japan's street food culture. Both of those distinctions were awarded by Hannah and I and you probably won't find them being a claim to fame in any tour books. We were headed off for a week, planning a return to Kyoto after exploring more of Japan.