Alone in Kyoto
This trip all started when some friends at the office sent me a photo of their recently booked tickets to Hong Kong with the caption "You won't."
I quickly replied, "I won't."
But a couple of Fridays later, I found myself working late and depressingly alone in the office and I succumbed to mounting peer pressure and personal travel desires—elements easily fueled by a Silicon Valley startup going through "hyper-growth" with an unlimited vacation policy. Our CEO and founder always preached "Ready, Fire, Aim" and I applied that same paradigm to this new personal struggle. After purchasing tickets, I texted my friends a screenshot with the caption, "I make impulsive decisions after long hard days," which received a chorus of "YES" (this was before YAS was cool).
So fast-forward 2 months and Alone at 303 Second Street, Suite 401 soon turned into Alone in Kyoto. I had decided to tack on a little solo Japan jaunt to their Hong Kong trip as I had never been to Kyoto and also had a friend living in Tokyo. Landing at 5 am in Tokyo, I navigated my zombie morning self onto the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto and found myself speeding toward Japan's former capital.
Kyoto is captivating and cultural in a venerable way that Tokyo can never be. The shrines, serenity, and spirituality of the city are in stark contrast to its ultramodern neighbor to the east. I opted to stay at the understated, yet contemporary Hyatt Regency Kyoto, but I would recommend looking into a Ryokan if you're up for it. The city's subway is easy to navigate and my first day focused on the south eastern portion of the city. To experience some obanzai, I grabbed dinner at Mamehachi which featured a variety of traditional tofu and yuba focused dishes. For my second day, I ventured to the western outskirts of the city, to the Arashiyama district, before heading east across the northern section of the city.
- Fushimi Inari-Taisha: Quintessential orange torii lining a network of trails on the hillside of sacred Mount Inari. Many only venture as far as Yotsutsuji Intersection for the views of Kyoto.
- Tofuku-ji Temple: Beautiful Zen temple with spectacular autumn colors throughout a valley of maple trees. Several areas are free to enter, but make sure to check out the Hojo rock gardens.
- Sanjusangen-do: 1,001 life-sized wooden statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
- Kyomizu-dera: Picturesque temple in the eastern hills overlooking the city. The approach through the Higashiyama district is well worth it.
- Nighttime: Explore the Gion district, particularly the roads that run north-south along both sides of the river/canal in that area. Keep an eye out for Geisha walking along the narrow streets or within the numerous restaurants, shops, and teahouses scattered in the area.
- Tenryu-ji: Maybe the most famous of the city's five Zen temples. I really enjoyed wandering through the centuries old landscape garden that has been kept in it's original form.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Take a left out of the north gate of Tenryu-ji and you'll find yourself in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove.
- Okochi-Sanso Villa: Continue on from the bamboo forest and you'll encounter this villa and its accompanying gardens. The opportunity to view traditional Japanese residential architecture on this imperial property and wander the expansive gardens are worth the high entrance fee.
- Kinkaku-ji "Golden Pavilion": A popular Zen temple covered in gold leaf that overlooks a large pond.
- Daitoku-ji: A complex of nearly two dozen subtemples—perfect for viewing a variety of Zen gardens. I would recommend the Ryogen-in, Zuiho-in, Koto-in, and Daisen-in subtemples.
Two days, one ice cream cone, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites later I found myself speeding on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo to meet up with my friend Doug.