Since we had that train pass for the bullet train during out entire stay in Japan, we decided to take advantage of it and use it for a couple trips outside of Tokyo.
The first place we went to was Kyoto and we stayed there for a total of about two days because the train ride there shaved a couple hours off a day for us. The winsome hostel we stayed at was actually a traditional wooden Japanese home that was about 100 years old and it was in great shape. It was called the Hostel Haruya Kyoto. It was the perfect location since it was quite close to the train station and it was in the middle of a narrow alleyway that consisted of many food shops. The front desk people were some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered. They were sure to give us a grand tour of the place and they were helpful in every way. They often sat down with us to ask us about our plans and would even help map out everything to ensure that we had time to see all the things we wanted to. The bathrooms were outside which was hard since it was painfully cold outside in the mornings but we powered through. It was in a quiet area too which was good because I was always exhausted after our days in Kyoto. Here is some more information on the hostel in case anyone was interested.
I was determined to see the unique pug cafe in Kyoto and thankfully I was able to reserve it for an hour or so at the Dog Salon Living Room Cafe. Although I’m someone who is allergic to all kinds of dogs, I wanted to live life on the edge and see those cuties anyways (I did later break out on my arm and ended up sneezing for the rest of the day but it was worth it) because I wasn’t too keen on seeing owl cafes or cat cafes. I heard great reviews about it from friends and from online blogs so I wanted to see it for myself. It was quite adorable and there were 11 of them in total. The owners of the pugs were really sweet and offered us some sweets along with tea. In addition to this, we were given a family tree that showed us the ages and genders of these dogs. We even got a pug calendar for free at the end of our visit! Be sure to make reservations for it if you’re interested.
The red towered shrine was an attraction that I had heard so much about so we went to find it during our first day in Kyoto. It’s also known as the Fushimi Inari Shrine and it was incredible. It was in enthralling to walk through the paths but it was a bit hard capture it all at once because numerous tourists surrounded us with their phones and cameras. I wished I could have decoded all the characters on the poles since they all had something written on them. The bold red color of the entire shrine was stunning and it was my favorite part of Kyoto.
Another precious attraction that we could not miss was the golden pavilion that is known as Kinkaku-Ji. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and the reflection of it in the pond water was stunning. There was an obnoxious amount of tourists everywhere but it certainly didn’t take away from the beauty of it all. It’s opened everyday from 9am to 5pm and there is a small admission fee of 400 yen.
Other things we did in Kyoto consisted of the Nishiki Market that had an endless array of foods and Gion which is known to have wandering geishas if you’re lucky enough to catch them late at night. The market has everything you need from souvenirs to local street food to local sake. It’s worth it to get lost there for an hour or so because you may eventually wander into an area that has clothing shops. My friend and I wandered around Gion to search for dessert and we stumbled upon the Kamo River along with countless restaurants and teahouses. This area is known for geishas but we didn’t see any while we were there walking about. Another thing that became my one of my favorites (other than the Fushimi Inari Shrine) was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
After Kyoto, we decided to go to Hakone for a quick day trip but we didn’t realize how much time it would take for the train and what not. We ended up getting there around 1-2 pm but by that time, many of the tour guides told us that businesses closed around 5 pm so we’d need to go somewhere that was quite close and easy to get to. It was disappointing to hear because had we known that shops closed at 5, we would have started the day much earlier. The only thing we had time to do was go to this naked hot spring that was located in a fancy hotel. This was unknown to me, but Hakone is actually known for onsens which are hot springs. This was called the Tenzen Tohji-kyo Hot Springs and it cost about 1300 yen to get in. It’s more popular among the locals than it is for tourists but that makes the experience even better in my opinion. I wasn’t able to take my smartphone anywhere so I didn’t get quality photos of the experience but it was a great way to unwind for a few hours. They had various pools of water that varied in temperature and they had a sauna room. A shower was provided which allowed you to clean yourself up a bit before getting in the pools. They had lockers and areas where you could reapply your makeup afterwards. Hairdryers and towels were also present which made this place seem insanely professional and sanitary. Not to mention it felt great to finally feel warm in Japan!