Kyoto is lovingly referred to as the “heart” of Japan. This is where many of the country’s temples and shrines are located and is a place where traditions from the past live on. I had an amazing time visiting Kyoto. Here are some of my favorite highlights from this beautiful city.
We had the unique opportunity to attend an Omote Senke tea ceremony with one of the most famous tea masters in all of Japan. It was an amazing experience. We learned so much about Japanese culture and traditions, had the chance to see the beautiful gardens and temples (which are closed to the public), and then learned how to make our own Macha tea. Macha tea is similar to green tea, but instead of using whole green tea leaves soaked in water it consists of crushed green tea leaves which makes a powder and is mixed into hot water. It was delicious!
Biking to Temples
A very common way to get around Kyoto is by bike – so we spent much of our time in Kyoto biking around to the most beautiful temples and shrines including the Golden Temple, Fushimi Inar-taisha, and many more. Each one was more beautiful than the next.
The food in Kyoto was spectacular. One of my favorite meals was enjoying this udon noodle dish. Yum!
I also highly recommend a restaurant called Tempura Endo. They served us delicious tempura (which means it is fried in a special batter and can include anything from vegetables to seafood.) We ate so much food and drank endless cups of tea–we left feeling completely satisfied.
One of the highlights of visiting Kyoto was getting to pick out and rent kimonos of our own! We were greeted with hundreds of colors and patterns before being tasked with picking out a kimono. Getting dressed in a kimono is no easy feat. We went to the back of the shop and each had someone assist us in getting dressed. 12 layers later, a hair bun decorated with flowers, and socks with sandals meant we were ready to hit the town.
We all walked (shuffled) through the streets in our bright colors in pursuit of Geisha Alley, also called Ponto-cho. Ponto-cho is known for its narrow streets and is a Hanamichi (Geisha) district in Kyoto. It is home to many Geiko houses as well as traditional tea houses.
We then made our way to Gion, another popular district in Kyoto known for geisha. In my research I was interested to learn that geishas in Kyoto actually refer to themselves as “geiko.” Geiko means “a woman of the arts” whereas geisha means “artist” or “person of the arts.”
It was so surreal to be wandering the streets of Kyoto wearing a kimono and visiting the place were real geishas once worked (and where some still do.) We must have been quite a sight for many of the locals, several people even stopped to take our picture. It was definitely an experience we will remember forever!
Finally, I highly recommend booking time to see a Samurai Experience. We visited the Samurai Kembu Theater to watch performances by trained Samurai. They were beautiful performances and taught us so much about the history of Japan under Samurai rule. At the end we had the chance to learn some samurai moves and were presented with certificates. It was a pretty bad-ass experience!
Kyoto was one of my favorite places in Japan. The quaint feel, lasting traditions, and delicious food made this a must-visit destination.
To learn more about my time in Japan, read here:
Have you ever been to Kyoto?
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