Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. This is the best place to sense the soul of the Japanese people and experience their unique friendliness, customs, and costumes. Walking around the east side of Kyoto, you can detect real life Geisha among the kimono dressed locals roaming the streets and temples. This is where I would recommend everyone to spend their first day in Kyoto, exploring the Japanese culture.
I decided to try the first-class room in a capsule hotel in the city center. At “first cabin Kyoto,” I got a capsule with a bed, a table and room for my suitcase. On my bed, I found a pajama, a towel, and slippers. The bathroom had everything you need of good quality toiletries like creams, facial wash, shampoo and conditioner, hair dryer, curler, and straightener. It was shared with the rest of the passengers of this hallway of curtain draped capsules, possible to close with a magnet to the wall. A new and good experience supplying an excellent value for money in the central city, just around the corner from the Shijo station.
To do the east side cultural experience, I would recommend walking or renting a bike. There is a bike rental one street south of first cabin Kyoto. Get on the bicycle and bike yourself one block south, turn east, cross the Kamo river and continue for a few minutes until you find the entrance to the temple Ontani hobby. Follow the gardens, temple areas and graveyard from there, all the way up to Kiyomizy-deira. At the top, there is a beautiful view of the city, and even though this temple is touristy it is worth the visit – you will agree when you get there.
Make your way from the temple down Matsubara-dori and turn right in to Sannen street. Wandering around the narrow streets is a delight for your eyes. Go Geisha hunting among Japanese families, couples or girls with their friends in traditional kimonos, walking along the streets, taking selfies or posing for, or with tourists. If you are lucky, you will meet a real-life Geisha rushing along the streets for their next appointment in this area.
The narrow streets have stores selling Japanese specialties and souvenirs. Sit down at one of the many coffee shops and be amazed watching life go by while sipping a good cappuccino, or go for lunch in one of the traditional restaurants to get a taste of Japan. This is also a good place to wander around in Zen gardens, seeing beautiful temples and learning about the history of Japan. Just make your way through the narrow streets to the Maruyama Park. This huge park has shrines, temples, and gardens to keep you going for hours.
Make your way back to the city center along the canals leading back to the river. You will see more traditionally dressed people, beautiful houses and the vegetation along the channel that changes colors with the seasons. Try the cacao marked cafe here at the end of the canals. If you like mysteries and books, ask the staff to use the cafe and get a code to enter the secret angel cafe hidden under the cacao marked. The entrance is out back.
I spent a few days in Kyoto and visited several other areas around the city. The bamboo forest, the Tenruy-ji garden, and Okochi Sangso garden in Arashiyama was a beautiful area and easy to get to by train from the city center if you like gardens. But if you have limited time and want to go for a nice hike I would recommend the Fushimi Inari, also called the Thousand Torii gate in the south of the city. Get on a train to Fushimi station and make your way through the thousand orange Torii gates from the tourists at the bottom of the mountain and all the way up. It is a beautiful tour, unlike any mountain walk you ever did before.
The most famous temple and tourist trap in town are the golden Kinkaku-ji temple in the north of the center. This is a typical tour bus temple. All through the city, you can find shrines, and temples, gardens and ancient buildings, but Kyoto is also a modern city. The famous shopping mall Daimaru, and the roofed Nishiki marked shopping street is worth a visit. The good stuff is found along the east-west running Shijo Dori Street outside Daimaru. The food court in the basement of this mall has many Japanese snacks to try out. Sweet, salty or sour, take your pick.
The niche cafes in the city are also worth a visit. If you need to work, have lunch among books in the chic Café Bibliotics. you can find it here. Log on and work for a few hours, and stop by the next-door bakery for a sweet snack when you are finished. The café culture is superb throughout the city, with Wi-Fi and themed interiors to give you inspirational environments. If you love avocados, like me, try the Mexican restaurant “Avocado” by the river here. Good food, free Wi-Fi, power outlets and a great view of the river is all part of the experience.
Japanese people are amiable and polite. I had people follow me to where I wanted to go on numerous occasions when I asked for directions. Kyoto is the best place to get a feel for the culture. This is where you get the ancient history – both visually and verbally. You will also experience the core of Japanese friendliness if you ask for directions, and the politeness as they line up behind each other going off or on trains, escalators or anywhere else there will be queues. Get on one of the crowded commuter trains and listen to the silence throughout the train trip. You can hear a needle fall as nobody is talking and no phones are ringing.