FIRST GETAWAY SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Kyoto (京都) and Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Japan. 2022.12.26 – 2023.01.01
After returning from Sri Lanka in December 2019, we never thought it would be another three years before we could travel again. Haven’t traveled for such a long time, it almost felt a little surreal when we went online to purchase the plane tickets. In fact, our trip was a rather ad-hoc decision made less than ten days before departure. To resume traveling after Covid, Japan was an intuitive choice for us, where cities are clean, people friendly, and the food fantastic. A revisit to Kyoto was always in our mind since our last visit in 2016. Kyoto is such an amazing city where we can wander around aimlessly from dawn till dusk, just to take in the rich history, seasonal colours, and serene ambience. Apart from Kyoto, we picked Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town 2.5 hours train ride away, as a side trip. After booking one of the last Kinosaki ryokan rooms available online, buying a new suitcase (we threw out the old one during the pandemic), and uploading our vaccination papers to the Japanese authorities, we could finally think about what to do in Kyoto. The planning turned out not as easy as we thought, since many attractions, museums, shops and restaurants would be closed around the New Year. On the other hand, staying in Kyoto for the New Year to witness their traditional celebrations could be a unique and remarkable experience.
After hosting our best friend for dinner at our apartment on Christmas Day, we left for the airport before dawn on Boxing Day. Hong Kong International Airport was full of outbound travelers like us, who were desperate to fly out the city as soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed. We were overwhelmed by joy and excitement as soon as we boarded the plane. Didn’t recall we have ever got so excited just to look out the window and watch the plane lifting off. After three hours of flying, our plane made a turn over the mouth of Yoshino River (吉野川) and Tokushima (徳島), and gradually descended over the waters of Wakayama Bay (和歌山湾) and Osaka Bay (大阪湾) towards Kansai Airport. Several minutes later, our plane gently touched down onto the tarmac runway, signifying our return to Japan after 3.5 years. Despite the additional Covid related procedures, our arrival at Kansai Airport was rather smooth and hassle free. After picking up the JR rail passes and topping up our old ICOCA cards, we hopped on the Haruka Express train bounded for Kyoto Station (京都駅).
Evening had already fallen upon by the time we arrived in Kyoto. Under the glazed canopy, the splendid station atrium was teeming with rush hour travelers. We found our way to Shijo Karasuma (四条烏丸), checked in at our hotel, and immediately headed out to look for a restaurant (as we had skipped lunch on the plane). In Downtown Kyoto, we were spoiled with dining options. Before eating, we stopped by a small shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物), a regional household delicacy dated back to the pre refrigeration years. All kinds of local vegetables pickled in salt, soya sauce, vinegar, or miso, and packed in lovely wrapping. It was impossible to resist and we ended up getting some to bring home. For dinner, we picked a cozy izakaya with a decent menu of deep fried Kyoto snacks. Fried shrimps and beef skewers topped with sea urchin, all washed down with sips of local sake. What a perfect treat to make us forget about the pandemic misery and officially kick start our short Kyoto vacation.
DAY 5 (3/3): FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan, 2016.12.07
After we came back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, we thought it would be a good idea to find a place for lunch in Downtown Kyoto. There was still a few hours before our 18:30 flight.
We opted for a revisit of Nishiki Market (錦市場), the five block long market street known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”.
For the past few days we didn’t really have a decent meal of sashimi. We ended up sitting down at a sashimi restaurant Nishiki Daimaru Yoshi (錦大丸). The restaurant was hidden behind its fishmonger shop.
At this popular restaurant, we were the first customers sitting down at the long counter in front of the food preparation area.
There was only set lunch available. We wouldn’t mind as long as the sashimi was fresh. The set included sashimi, tempura and grilled fish.
The washroom at the restaurant was small but full of character.
After lunch, we went outside of the Nishiki Market and arrived at the back side of Daimaru Department Store. There was a small vendor selling farmer’s produce. We couldn’t resist but bought a few items to bring back to Hong Kong.
Then we headed back into Nishiki Market for another stroll.
We passed by a vendor selling all kinds of traditional sweets and snacks. We picked up some regional roasted peanuts.
There were quite a few shops selling Tsukemono (漬物, Japanese pickled snacks). Many items were seasonal.
Then we passed by the chestnut shop where we bought some delicious local chestnuts before.
At the end of Nishiki Market, we arrived at the entrance of Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine, a Shinto shrine conveniently located at the heart of the downtown.
Another shop worth noting in the area was Tamaru Inbo (田丸印房), a Hanko shop, a store selling traditional stamps and seals made of wooden or stone blocks. With over a century of professional reputation, Tamaru Inbo was a great place to check out Japanese hanko.
From Shijo Dori, we walked east to the Kamo River (鴨川). We decided to walk south along the river for a final stroll along the peaceful river.
The weather was perfect for a relaxing stroll.
Like us, many preferred to take the route along the river instead of the city streets.
We passed by many restaurants facing the river. Hopefully next time we would be able to enjoy a meal at one of the many waterfront dining patios during the summer months.
We left the riverbank when we reached Gojo Dori Street. We decided to get a good cup of coffee before leaving for the airport.
We landed on a cafe called Efish just south of Gojo Dori, at Kiya-machi Dori, a small neighborhood street sandwiched between the Kamo River and Takase River (高瀬川). Unlike several blocks up north where Kiya-machi Dori represented the vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene of the city, here the narrow street became a laid-back neighborhood alley.
Efish is great for its relaxing atmosphere by the river. Other than refreshing food and drinks, Efish also showcased cool design housewares inside the cafe.
On our way from Efish to Kyoto Station, we walked past Umeyu Rakuen (サウナの梅湯), a retro 80-year old bathhouse. In 2015, 25 year-old Yusuke Minato, a long-time devotee to traditional bathhouses, took over the declining bathhouse and transformed it into a hip venue to promote traditional bathing, as well as occasional gigs and flea market. We didn’t have time for a soak and would have to save it till next time.
After another few minutes of walk we could see Kyoto Tower from a distance. A big crow on the treetop over our head was making loud noises, as if yelling out our parting wishes with the ancient capital.
Minutes later we reached the futuristic Kyoto Station once again. We took the escalators down to the basement to pick up our backpacks at the lockers and hop on a Haruka Express for the Kansai Airport. As the train leaving the station, we were already planning for a return trip sometime in the near future. Kyoto was and always will be the perfect venue for us to dwell in the power of heritage, nature, and spirituality whenever we were overwhelmed by the dull and routine work lives.
This concludes the record of our 5-day Kyoto trip in December 2016.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan