Japan Trip Highlights – Part 2

July 21, 2015

On to the second part of our trip in Japan!


May is supposed to be a good month to travel in Japan because the weather is still pleasant enough.

But as we moved farther south and farther inland, the climate became noticeably hotter and more humid.

Which was fine because we never feel that kind of weather here in San Francisco, aka Sweater Weather Land. And it’s something that I miss from time to time.


When you arrive in Kurashiki, the main city itself is nothing special.

Instead, you should make your way to the picturesque historical area.

You’ll know it when you see it because it’s lined with willow-draped canals and old warehouses.







We loved exploring the narrow alleys.

And discovering the various small shops that specialize in handmade crafts, from ceramics, bags, hats and fabrics.

I was enamored with this hat shop called Chapeaugraphy.


The one on the left is so cat in the hat!

Most of the shops we visited specialize in a trade that has been passed down their families for generations.

It seems artisanal craft has long been appreciated in Japan way before the rise of the hipsters 😉


We arrived in town later in the afternoon, so we didn’t do much other than sightseeing.

And stopping in a teahouse for afternoon tea.


Other highlights:

  • Stopping by the post office to ship off some packages, one to Scotland and the other to Istanbul. Of course no one spoke a lick of English. It took one hour to sort it all out, but the lady helping us was very patient and determined!
  • Dinner was another lost in translation moment. We found ourselves in a restaurant with absolutely no english and no pictures on the menu. We had to resort to pointing our finger at random items on the menu and hoping for the best.
  • My beautiful blue floral-print parasol! Which I then left behind in a taxi not so long after (T_T)


The three days we spent in Kyoto was a very special time during our trip.


Not only because Kyoto is a city endowed with natural beauty and rich in history, culture and cuisine. But also because it happened to fall on our one year anniversary.

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment located by the Kamo river right across from the historical Gion District.

Air Bnb Kyoto

Air Bnb Kyoto

The best part about our apartment was that it came with two bicycles!

We arrived in the afternoon, dropped our things off and immediately went on a bike ride.


So the first thing that struck me about Kyoto is the river culture.

People sit and lounge next to the river, which made me think of Paris and how people there relax and picnic by the Seine river.


The second thing that became evident is the overwhelming number of temples and shrines that you can visit!

Although we admired all the temples we got to visit, by the end of our trip in Kyoto we had gotten to feel “templed out.”

Our first full day in Kyoto was sunny, hot and humid.

We took a bus to the bamboo grove in Arashiyama.



Even though the area was crawling with tourists, it still was worth it.

Just to find a moment of stillness, and listen to the creaking of the trees and the rustling of the wind…

Also the light filtering through the bamboo tree tops makes for dreamy photos.





There are several shrines and gardens in the area which you can pay a small fee to visit.


Once we’d had our fill of the bamboo grove, we stopped at a cafe for tea and cake.

By this point tea time had become a strict ritual for me. Much to Oliver’s dismay 😉



There were these spongy green tea cakes that I loved.

And the iced green tea was a refreshing summery take on an ingredient that kept showing up in different forms.

I admire how Japanese serve food based on the seasons. They also have great pride in locality. Every new city and town we visited had their own regional delicacies.

After Arashiyama, we escaped the heat by getting massages (hello honeymoon!).

Once the day had cooled off into the late afternoon, we walked around the Nishijin neighborhood and floated in and out of the cute little shops.



At night, we walked through the narrow alleys of Pontocho looking through the different menus.




We looked for a restaurant with a view of the river but many were either way too expensive or served only drinks and fried foods.

In the end, we still ended up getting ripped off. The food was good, but we had to pay a cover fee. Which seemed senseless. I mean it was a restaurant, not a club.

Many restaurants in the Pontocho area charge a cover fee so be wary of that.


The following day, we sat in a tea ceremony…

I won’t write anymore about it here, because the tea ceremony deserves its own write-up.

I’ll just say that it gave me greater insight into Japanese culture’s deep respect for others and for harmony with nature.

After the tea ceremony, I felt like a different person. More relaxed and appreciative of the little details around me.

Of course we knew this calm would not last, so we headed to the nearest temple for another dose of zen.

The Heian-jingu temple has a large beautiful garden. When we visited, the iris garden was in full bloom.






Side Note: Some high school students interviewed us for a class project and asked as what we liked most about Japan. We said we liked how everyone is so polite.

Then they asked us what we liked least about Japan. At first we had a hard time coming up with an answer. But then thought of the one thing that’s a little off.

So when you take a bus in Kyoto, you have to enter from the back and exit at the front, paying on your way out.

Well, I think this system kind of sucks. Especially if the bus is crowded. But I’m only bringing it up because the students asked me 😉


As I said, we visited a lot of different temples so I won’t mention them all here.

But the red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha are very iconic and deserve to be highlighted.




For dinner, we ate at a restaurant in Kiyamachi and sat next to a large window overlooking a beautiful canal.


We had sukiyaki which is a Japanese stew type dish that’s served in a hot pot and piled with vegetables and meat that you slow cook. It’s similar to shabu shabu and just as yummy!

On our last morning in Kyoto, we dropped our bags off inside a coin locker and headed off to our final temple.

To get to Daikakuji temple we ended up having to walk through narrow streets and quiet neighborhoods full of cute little houses.




Right outside of the temple is a pond.

It’s filled with a whole army of koi that follow you around begging for food with their gaping mouths.

We then meditated inside the temple by the rock garden.




Right as we were leaving Kyoto, we found the best food!

It was at a restaurant that serves traditional fermented food, called Kamoshika Café.

Ok, fermented foods like natto and random pickled plants may be an acquired taste for most people.

But I luv it.

Luv it.




To be continued!

4 thoughts on “Japan Trip Highlights – Part 2

  1. Yusuke

    Hey, I am so glad that you guys enjoyed Japan so much! Your posts made me feel like I also took the trip and made me realize there were so much to appreciate about Japan which I tend to ignore. Just very happy for you guys! Great post.

    1. Kareen

      Thank you for reading, Yusuke! I suppose it’s much easier to appreciate a country when you are only there for vacation. But nevertheless, you ARE very lucky to come from such a cool country!

  2. Océane

    Your photos really make me nostalgic ; been in Japan only once, and I can’t wait to go back ! It seems to me that there is no end to my delight of discovering Japan.

    Really a nice post !



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