Seeing cherry blossoms has always been my dream. Every year, we remember that we have to go there one day. And finally, that day has finally arrived!
As early as January, when we still didn’t know what we were going to do the next day, I put pressure on JB to book a hotel in Kyoto on March 29th and 30th, because the January forecast predicted the “full bloom” (the fact that all the flowers would be open) around those dates. And the forecast was absolutely correct. But unfortunately, as of January, the accommodations were already well booked, for both nights we will have to sleep in two different guesthouses
Part 1: Travel Diary
I don’t know why but the guesthouses only accept check-in from 4pm, we decide to visit Kyoto first before going to the guesthouse
What a good idea because we just take one backpack each, and we realize very quickly that even a very small suitcase would have prevented us from moving forward: the local train (Hankyu), a kind of RER linking Osaka to Kyoto is crowded, as well as the bus that takes us from the center of Kyoto to Philosopher’s Path
Note: we went to Kyoto from Osaka, following Google Maps directions. It cost us 860 yen each.
It is a small path along a canal lined with cherry blossoms and transparent water loaded with cherry petals
The show is of an unparalleled romanticism. I discover, as in Osaka Castle, that the flowers are all white, which is very different from the photos that we are shown in the tourist guides. But that does not prevent us from finding all that extremely pretty! There is a clear difference when the flowers are half open, and when they are in “full bloom” like today (the whole tree is in bloom)
We go along the canal for a few hundred meters, before landing on the canal side. What a relaxing activity, the hanami = the Japanese custom of contemplating the cherry blossoms
Unlike in Osaka, cherry trees can be seen everywhere in Kyoto. Even during the bus ride leading us here, we already see many streets lined with cherry trees. It’s really beautiful!
We are told that we are very lucky, because this year the full bloom comes one week earlier than in other years. Huh… It’s not really a chance because we have the advantage of being able to plan our stay in Japan only 2 months earlier (and the forecasts are correct at this date), contrary to those who have been planning it for at least 6 months, and who miss the full bloom by a week
The second chance, which we couldn’t anticipate, was the good weather. The flowers are beautiful but also very fragile, a little rain is enough to make them all fall. So with the super good weather for several weeks (not a single drop of rain), the flowers are intact, only a little wind makes some petals fall, but that only increases the charm of the city
Even Google lists all the spots where you can admire the cherry trees, it’s super convenient!
In the subway, we are also shown (in Japanese only) all the stops where we can get off and look at the flowers. Hanami is really at the heart of the city’s activities
After a long walk, we take a bus to go to a well known sento (public bath) (listed in Lonely Planet), we made a separate article here
If you don’t spend much time here, after Philosopher’s Path, it is advisable to visit the Silver Temple, not far from there.
Then we go to our charming guest-house located in the Gion district (the geisha district), which is called Guest House Rakuza. Well, I confess, I chose this guesthouse on purpose to increase my chances of running into a geisha in the street. I have had this obsession with geisha since I read two books on the subject
The guest house is so beautiful, it’s an old house and even if I’m given a bed in a “dormitory”, it’s a small futon that they give me in a corner of the room, with the wooden door, and leaves glued on it…. arrrgggghhhh too cute!
JB is entitled to a tiny single room (we took what was left and the dormitory is only for women)
The small garden in the middle of the house is really too beautiful. It can be accessed from the living room, which has a small balcony overlooking the garden
And in the living room, we have the famous Japanese heated table (with integrated cover). I love I love I love!
The two major drawbacks of this type of traditional house are (1) insulation: all the rooms look out onto the garden, so as soon as you open a door (especially the shower door), it is like being attacked by the great cold of the evening. The doors and windows are protected by a sheet, and with time, they aren’t adjusted perfectly well => draught assured!
(2) The second disadvantage is obviously noise. There is no sound insulation and you can hear everything: from the traffic outside to the neighbor snoring in the next room. But for one night, it’s largely bearable, especially since the blanket is really warm, I slept well
The second we set foot on the street again, we see a cab passing by. And inside, there are 4 geishas! I am like petrified because I was not expecting it at all! And I am so happy to cross them that even if they stop for a long time at the red light, I do not even manage to take out my camera. The other tourists run behind the cab trying to capture an image, but I learn later that this is absolutely not the right thing to do. There are even quite explicit signs forbidding to talk, touch, take a picture or even stop… when you see a geisha in the street. The poor, they are so much in demand that even walking in the street becomes an ordeal
Really too happy with this “appearance”, we then go to a well noted restaurant on Tripadvisor (oops we forgot to note the name), so small and so well noted that there is a long queue that forms 5 minutes after our arrival (I don’t know if people realize that they left for 2 hours of waiting). Tonight, there are only sets to choose from, between 4000 yen and 5000 yen for two. We are entitled to 5 dishes in all in teppanyaki, it’s delicious!
Then we go to Maruyama Park to watch people eating under the cherry trees: Part of the park is illuminated and there is a huge cherry tree in the middle
The choice of street food here is incredible, don’t hesitate to come here for lunch or dinner
We go to Kodai-ji temple where there is a small show especially for the evening (600yen/person). We discover in passing the works of a very talented Japanese artist (Baron Yoshimoto)
before seeing the real Japanese garden (with the sand well worked, forming a flower in the middle) and the sound and light show
The particularity of this temple is the huge cherry tree with pink flowers in the garden and a small bamboo forest. Walking among the bamboos in the middle of the night is so peaceful. The pictures don’t look good, but you should know that we really enjoyed this night visit
There are signs explaining the meaning of this or that Buddhist statue and which one should be caressed to bring us joy, success etc
It’s time to go to sleep. JB makes his good-looking with his yukata rented at the reception (200yen only)
It’s already time to do the check-out. We take all our things, even if the receptionist offers to keep them for us during the day. Kyoto is so big, not sure we want to come back here afterwards
First we go to Gion Corner where I find out about the shows that take place here every day. Finally, I come across flyers for a much more qualitative show at the Kyoto Art Center, which the geishas only give in April. I will go there in a week instead
Meanwhile, a look-alike of the famous Naoshima pumpkin, made by the same artist Yayoi Kusama, is on display next to Gion Corner
No geishas today for us, but a lot of tourists wearing kimonos wandering around the city. You can tell they are tourists because the kimono looks thinner than usual and the flip-flops they wear are still too comfortable vs. traditional wooden shoes
We go to the famous Kyoto Golden Pavilion(Kinkaku-ji) by bus. It is very famous in Japan. We buy the Kyoto City Pass (which allows us to take the bus unlimitedly for one day) at Family Mart (600yen/day). This pass is profitable from 3 trips because each trip costs 230 yen. It can also be bought from the driver, before getting out of the bus, give 600yen to the driver and say “kyoto city pass”. His machine also accepts the 1000yen ticket
Entrance to the Golden Pavilion is subject to a fee of 400 yen per person. There are a lot of people, whole coaches of tourists are emptying in front of the entrance, and we are all moving forward together, very slowly in this beautiful complex which looks quiet only on my pictures. Clearly it breaks the charm
We aren’t allowed to enter the pavilion, but some pictures in the guide that we are given show the interior, also golden
The small islands are beautiful too, with bonsais on them. The fish here are as big as an arm
The atmosphere, in reality, is anything but calm
At the end, you can buy a piece of paper that predicts the future (in English as well) via a machine. This piece tells me not to start traveling, but to wait a little 😀
We take a train to the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Then, it is important to note that the place to search on Google Maps is Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (if you type something else, you may be sent back to the other side of the river)
On the way, I fall on a sign “kimono for rent”, 3000yen for 3 hours and there, I do not hesitate any more. Here I am adorned with a pretty red kimono. I observed the tourists in kimono and I find that the pink of the kimono does not stand out well with the white or pink flowers. The red kimono is still in the theme and stands out more on the photos I find. On the other hand, for the belt, I chose a pink flowered belt 😀
They also do my hairdressing for 1000yen more, and at the time of payment, we discover that these rates are without tax => almost 5000yen in the end with tax. It’s not cheap, but hey, I always wanted to try a kimono, and moreover to take pictures with it, in full cherry blossom
The version I have is a light version, for example, I was able to keep a small top and my pants. Luckily, after tying the two layers + 2-3 belts, I can’t breathe very well. If I wore a kimono properly, I might die on the spot
There, I can’t do anything else but stand up straight, walking softly in these uncomfortable flip-flops. In fact, clothing does everything: it gives elegance, imposes a very feminine, elegant way of walking… but also limits a lot of things. Suddenly I have a lot of compassion (more than usual), for the geishas who have to wear much heavier kimonos, and a hairstyle full of accessories
The site is also crowded. The bamboos aren’t as green as in our imagination (with yesterday’s evening lighting, the bamboos of the Kodai-ji temple looked much greener)
I’ve always wanted to come here actually, since the famous fight scene, flying from one bamboo to another, in the movie Tiger and Dragon. It would have been shot here <3
The bamboo grove consists of two parts, the first part leading to a small temple
And the second, denser part begins at Tenryu-ji Temple
We also stop at the Tenryu-ji temple to take a picture of the beautiful temple garden (and to make the rent of my kimono ahahah profitable)
After hours of walking compressed in my kimono, I have aches everywhere, but I am hungry too. We opt for raw and fresh salmon at Sushi bar Naritaya. I have a lot of difficulty to eat because the belt is so tight, with each bite I have to breathe a good blow to make the food pass 😀 Rhalala..
After lunch, we return the kimono and it takes only 11 minutes to go to another onsen by bus. JB talked about it here
Zap this onsen if you don’t stay long in Kyoto. Instead, take the “romantic train” that leaves from the nearest station, taking you to see the most sumptuous landscapes (apparently it’s one of the ways to propose too). The train costs only 600 yen one way
Then cross the bridge and visit Arashiyama Monkey Park, there are beautiful cherry trees there along the river, it’s beautiful too.
On the way, we come across examples of bento characters from Line (a very popular messaging app in Asia). It’s really too cute!!!
We are on our way to our new guesthouse in the center of Kyoto called OK’s Inn. Once again, I have a soft spot for these old Japanese houses. There is a common space (the living room where we can admire two Japanese dolls), Japanese high-tech toilets (as usual), and the Japanese style bedroom !
Unfortunately the disadvantages remain the same: 0 insulation, you can hear the neighbors laughing in the next room, and they even put music on early in the morning when they wake up #norespect 🙁
On the other hand, the service is impeccable. Before leaving, the owner offers us a kind of pouch filled with herbs and tells us to open it and put it in our pocket when we are cold. That way, we can warm our hands. What a nice attention! Indeed, it is super cold this morning, and its small pocket held all the day (it remains tepid until late in the evening)
The continuation of our stay in Kyoto in the next article
A little word about the bus in Kyoto
Don’t expect to travel with your luggage on a bus in Kyoto. It’s crowded at all times. This is inevitable because there are only two subway lines in Kyoto and the bus is the only affordable way to cover the whole city
Be careful, google Maps can make a mistake and show you the wrong sidewalk where the bus leaves from. so always check which direction it goes, the trick is to look at the direction of the buses in your station (cars and buses drive on the left in Japan) and compare it with your destination; or look at the bus terminus (if it is indicated) on the left panel of the station – if it is in the same direction as your destination. I say this because Google displays the names of stations and terminals only in Japanese. Make sure you have 3G and battery on your phone or you may get lost in Kyoto
The small holes on the sign at the bus stations allow you to follow the location of the bus and when it is in the hole on the left, it means that it is coming soon
Part 2: Practical Tips
36,770 yen for two people, two days, two nights
or 280€ (1000yen=7,6€ in April 2018)
- Transportation Osaka – Kyoto: 860yen/person (we didn’t take JR, just local trains)
- Guest House Rakuza: one dormitory bed for me, one single room for JB (they have double rooms but we booked too late) 6650yen or 50,7€ for one night, without breakfast
- Ok’s inn : 8000yen or 61€ for one night in a double room, without breakfast
- Kyoto City Pass: 600 yen/day for buses only
- ICOCA: prepaid card for transportation and some beverage vending machines: minimum 2000yen (of which 500yen is a deposit, 1500yen can be used to pay for transportation), each recharge must be at least 1000yen. One card must be purchased per person
- Philosopher’s Path : free
- Maruyama Park : free
- Kodai-ji: 600yen/person
- Golden Pavilion (kinkaku-ji): 400yen/person
- Bamboo grove : free
- Tenryu-ji: just the garden: 500 yen/person
- Sushi bar Naritaya (near the bamboo grove): from 1000yen/person
- Teppanyaki restaurant near Gion: 4000yen/person
- Type “kyoto cherry blossom forecast” to find out the “full bloom” estimates in each Japanese city
- Check out this article for other points of interest that I should have visited in the middle of a hanami
- Remember to book your rooms in advance to benefit from the best price and location. The two guesthouses that I have presented above can be cancelled free of charge up to one month before the stay.
- The different attractions are very far from each other in Kyoto, think about buying the Kyoto City Pass, at Family Mart (supermarket) or from the bus driver, before getting off at your stop (600yen/pass)
- Also note that the Kyoto City Pass only allows you to take buses, not the subway. Use another prepaid card (such as ICOCA) to pay for subway travel (JR Rail pass isn’t accepted here in Kyoto).
- Plan to bring a lot of change because all the sites are paying and do not necessarily accept payment by card.
- It is absolutely necessary to have 3G because transportation in Kyoto isn’t easy without an Internet connection. The plans distributed in the hotels are all in Japanese.
- Even Google Maps displays bus stations and bus stops in Japanese, it’s painful.
- Accessibility info: Philosopher’s Path, the bamboo grove and Maruyama Park are wheelchair accessible. The rest aren’t (especially the guesthouses where all the rooms are upstairs).
- Do not take large luggage with you. If possible, leave with a small backpack and leave everything in the lockers in Osaka (for 700yen/day/baggage)
- or have your luggage delivered from Kyoto Station to your hotel in Kyoto, the same service can deliver your luggage to Osaka airport too, the same day (between 1000yen and 2000yen/baggage).