Bamboo, Vermilion, Gold: Highlights of Kyoto

I made a trip to Kyoto back in the fall, but I figured I wouldn’t be back before leaving Japan. During Cara and Kevin’s visit, I was thrilled to revisit the city with them and see it in spring. We caught the Thunderbird train in the morning and set out from Kyoto Station for Arashiyama, famous for its bamboo grove.

We first walked from the station through the neighborhood, historic feeling like Kamakura or Narita. Stalls sold bamboo and cherry blossom soft cream and other famous Japanese snacks. At the end of the road, we stopped by a pond for coffee at Arabica%, the most scenic coffee shop I’ve ever visited. I realize that lately, I’ve used a lot of superlatives in my posts, but without a doubt, this coffee shop has the best view and vibe of anywhere I’ve been. The shop is small, modern, and sleek, overlooking the pond and mountains, and with windows that let in lots of natural light. Their iced lattes were incredible, and we all got a thrill from watching the espresso slowly mix with the milk.

We took our coffees for our walk through the bamboo grove, which was much less crowded than I’d imagined it would be. Light filters through the bamboo stalks, and the bamboo smells really fresh and clean, for lack of a better word.

Before catching the train back to Kyoto Station, we snacked on some mitarashi dango and passed by a school where parents were picking up their kindergarten children wearing straw hats.

Our next stop was to Fushimi Inari, the shrine famous among foreigners for its vermilion gates. This time around, it was much more crowded than when I went at 6AM, but we still got to some quieter areas once we’d passed the bottom. On our way down, we stopped at Vermilion, another scenic cafe where I had an awesome matcha latte. For lunch, we got delicious handmade udon at Kendonya. I had curry udon, which was delicious but a little heavy, and I was jealous of Cara and Kevin’s kitsune udon.

After some head-scratching trying to figure out transit in Kyoto, we went to Kinkakuji, the famous gold pavilion. It wasn’t too crowded, and it was shiny as ever, but the pond was a little less clear this time, so the pavilion wasn’t reflected in the water. Instead, the weather was perfect and the gardens were beautiful. Before taking a bus back into the city center, we had gold soft cream at Kinkaku Soft. Though pricey (950 yen), the soft cream is a once in a lifetime experience. The ice cream comes in vanilla, matcha, or twist, and is served with adzuki beans, sweet rice balls, and gold leaf on top. The gold didn’t have any particular flavor, but then we found gold on the corners of our mouths or on our clothes later.

Before returning to the station, we walked through alleys and quiet streets and along the river were people ate on restaurant decks with prime views, drank beers with friends, or listened to street performers.

Getting around Kyoto can be a headache because of the lacking public transit, but the buses are simple enough to figure out. This return visit was incredible, and I look forward to the day I can come back once again.

Back in Osaka for the night, we had dinner at Robatayaki Isaribi, a great basement izakaya near Umeda Station. We were the only non-Japanese people there, and we shared plates of yakitori, vegetables, and karaage, Japanese fried chicken, while drinking big steins of beer.

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