Tokyo & Kyoto

Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in Asia, Japan, Travel | 0 comments

Tokyo & Kyoto

Japan is like nowhere else in the world I’ve been.  The people are the most courteous and polite I’ve ever experienced, they are the ones who will always hold the door for you, line up in an orderly fashion, and take great pride in what they do.  Getting buses in Japan and observing the bus drivers’ perfectly clean and pressed uniforms and their white gloves, I suddenly realised why the Japanese tourists are always taking photos of seemingly ordinary things in Australia.  To them, the Sydney bus driver wearing a dirty polo shirt and shorts is probably crazy!

If you have to “wait” for two minutes they’ll be apologetic, and everyone wants to help you and make sure you have a good time.  As a tourist a few things I’ve picked up is that it’s polite to bow when you say hello and goodbye, use “sumimasen” for excuse me, and “arigato gozaimus” for thank you.

Kyoto st

Walking the streets of Kyoto

The cities in Japan are always spotless, and it seems that if there’s a better way to do something they’ve already though of it.  They have the most efficient public transport, the bullet trains (shinkansen) connect the cities and every bus and train departs on the exact minute scheduled.

Then there’s the toilets, going from grimy squat toilets in China to the futuristic Japanese models is definitely going from one extreme to the other!  Not only are the toilet seats always warm, but you have the option for music, ‘flushing sound’ and of course cleansing sprays of water.

The food in Japan is fresh, healthy and always beautifully presented.  There is amazing sushi and sashimi, as well as my staple favourites miso soup, edamame and yakitori.  But don’t think you need to like seafood, Wayne loves the gyoza, pork katsu with curry sauce and teriyaki chicken.  And don’t even get me started on the green tea, they don’t make green tea anywhere else like they do in Japan.




Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful cultural city filled with ancient temples, you can practically feel the zen wash over you as you wander the city.  I would love to come back during cherry blossom season, I can imagine it would be even more divine.

We stayed in the cutest traditional Japanese townhouse or “machiya” in Kyoto which you can check out here.  One of my favourite things about the house was the “kotatsu” downstairs, which is pretty much the best invention ever.  A low wooden table sunk into the floor covered by a blanket, your legs go underneath where there is also a heat source, so basically it keeps you super cosy and toasty!

We spent our days walking the city, taking in the many temples and shrines and stopping for regular tea breaks.  Kennin-ji is a nice Buddhist temple, and another Buddhist temple Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera) provides great views.  The Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine) is also worth a visit.

The Ryōanji Temple (Peaceful Dragon Temple) is definitely a must see, a beautiful zen temple and World Heritage Site with a stone garden that inspires quiet contemplation and self reflection.

Another unique experience is to wander through the towering bamboo forest that is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.


Kyoto geisha

A geisha we spotted in Kyoto


bamboo forest

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove


stone zen garden

The Ryōanji Temple



Tokyo is a vibrant city full of life that races along at lightning speed.  There is history and ancient sites mixed in with the latest gadgets, kitsch themed restaurants and delicious food.  There is always something happening at any time of day, and the bright lights make Times Square look dim.

We were in Tokyo over New Years Eve, and it actually had a strong spiritual feel.  Many people flocked to the temples to make their wishes for the new year, and pictures of horses and horse paraphernalia was everywhere (I loved it!)

Hot chocolate, hot coffee, cold beer... too many choices!

Hot chocolate, hot coffee, cold beer… too many choices!

The ancient Buddhist temple Sensō-ji is a must see, it is particularly spectacular lit up at night.  But my favourite was walking through the expansive and beautiful Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken.  It felt so serene and peaceful, even though there were many other people there.

Nearby is Harajuku, a colourful mess of neon fashion with young people everywhere, there are lots of market type small shops, as well as boutiques and international chain stores.

If you’re feeling run down from running all over the city never fear for at every street corner is vending machines where you can refuel with hot or cold beverages.  Beer and cigarettes are also available from vending machines, with nothing stopping minors from accessing it other than their respect for the rules (can you imagine if they had this in Australia…)

There are plenty of places to go shopping, Roppongi Hills is nice and has a garden, cinema, cafés and restaurants (as well as a really creepy giant spider sculpture!) and when we were there also had a live music show.

Shibuya Crossing is a sight to see, the traffic lights all turn red at the same time allowing pedestrians to come from every direction surging into the intersection, like a gate opened on a dam.  If you’ve had enough of the chaos on the ground, grab a green tea latte from the Starbucks on the crossing’s north side and watch the moment unfold from the second floor.

There’s plenty going on, jump into some karaoke or take on your friends in one of the gaming arcades.

Allow yourself to get swept up in the city and just go with the flow!


The lights of Tokyo

The lights of Tokyo


Shibuya Crossing, NYE 2013

Shibuya Crossing, NYE 2013


Tokyo night

A night stroll through Tokyo


Tokyo man bbq



Read about where to go skiing in Japan here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *