Two weeks ago two national holidays here in Japan fell in such a way that many people, myself included, had a 5 day weekend. This holiday weekend was called “Silver Week” after the “Golden Week” holidays in Japan in the spring. Having that much time off of work is exceedingly rare, and myself and a group of other ALTs took advantage of it accordingly.
We spent our Silver Week vacation visiting Kyoto and Osaka, two of the most famous and culturally rich cities in Japan. In this post, I will talk about the time I spent in Kyoto. You can read about Nara Park and Osaka here.
We set off Saturday afternoon from Shimada station, and took the train to Kakegawa. Kakegawa is about twenty minutes away, but with the energy and excitement of starting a new adventure, it was over by the time I found a seat. In Kakegawa station we braved going to the ticket counter to buy tickets for the shinkansen, otherwise known as the Japanese bullet train. After being pleasantly surprised that the young guy working the ticket counter spoke English reasonably well (and didn’t laugh at my fabulously mediocre Japanese before he started replying in English) we had time to grab some coffee at the station’s “Café de Laugh” before boarding our train.
The first time you see the bullet train is an experience. The whole station shakes as the train blows through with a torrent of wind. Riding the shinkansen was on my list of “must-dos” for my time in Japan, and it was just as exciting as I wanted it to be.
Actually riding the train is a remarkably calm experience. It’s quiet and smooth, and many people simply curl up against the window and take a nap. We had elected for the cheapest train that would take us directly from Kakegawa to Kyoto station, which was about 8000円 (or $80) and took two hours.
Kyoto station on the Saturday afternoon of Silver Week was a beautiful example of how chaotic, loud, and disorganized humans are in massive groups. Having always preferred smaller towns, I find each visit to a large city, whether it’s L.A., New York, London, or Kyoto to be both astounding and low-level terrifying. Trying to comprehend the number of people simply living their lives around me is like trying to comprehend the size of the universe or why I still love vampire romances; there is just no way to understand but my brain still is constantly looking for an answer. It’s alienating in a beautiful way.
After an expensive and delicious dinner in a restaurant above the station, we parted ways with one of our intrepid travelers (who was staying in Osaka) and grabbed a taxi to our hostel. After being surprised that the taxi driver also spoke English (“In this area?” he asked, practically scaring me) and finding our hostel (“The map says it’s right here…”) we set off for a walk around the neighborhood. We ended up going to the top of Kyoto tower, and trying Japanese Starbucks for the first time (another item off my Japan must-do list).
The next day we were out of the hostel by 8:00, and after some breakfast we were on our way to Fushimi-Inari. The gates of Fushimi-Inari are one of the most well-known images of Japan. They are all bright orange, and range from a few inches above my head to towering above the hordes of people like benevolent giants. There were so many people visiting on that Sunday morning that at times it was impossible to move. It was like Walmart on Black Friday but with less TVs and more selfie sticks swinging wildly in an air filled with cacophony of countless languages being spoken.
The path goes all around a gorgeous hill, but we only followed it a short ways before turning back. Someday I would love to return and walk the whole thing. There never seems to be enough time.
Next to Fushimi-Inari is a cat café called “Neko Café Time”. Visiting a cat café was, of course, also on my must-do list, and let me tell you it was worth the 700円 to spend 20 minutes playing with some adorable cats and drinking a mango juice drink from a can. My photo of the store manager, a cat wearing a bow tie named Bob that looks every bit like the middle-aged man you’d expect quickly became the most popular content I’ve put on the internet. (Check out this and more pictures of my life in Japan on my Instagram)
The woman who owns the cat café is probably the happiest person I have ever met. The minute you walk in the door you are surrounded by her joy and her playful spirit. Each time one of the many cats does anything, she is there laughing and calling them affectionate nicknames. If I ever settle down somewhere, I think cat café owner may be a good career choice. How can you be sad when your life is literally playing with cats every day?
Gion is an area of Kyoto full of historical looking streets, expensive restaurants, even more expensive stores, and on that afternoon, hundreds and hundreds of tourists. Because of its more traditional Japanese vibe, you can see many people walking the streets in rented kimono.
My experience wearing and renting the kimono is something that will get its own blog post at a later date, but all in all it was a great experience to walk the streets and be complimented by strangers. Kimonos are beautiful, and while I’m not in a rush to rent one again any time soon, I’m happy to have had the experience.
That night we met up with the other two girls for dinner (good, cheap ramen) and ended up at an “Irish Pub” where I had some very disappointing Guinness. (Guinness in Japan was not on my list, but after studying abroad in Ireland I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try what the Japanese version of an Irish Pub had to offer.)
Our one full day in Kyoto was busy, hot, and exhausting, but I would definitely want to return one day. Kyoto seems to be a beautiful city full of endless opportunities to explore, experience, and see.
Our Silver Week adventures were just beginning, but the rest is a story for another post.