Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
On our final morning in Tokyo, we decided to check out early and head straight to Kyoto. Like most people, we got there via the shinkansen. Though taking these super express bullet trains are not cheap (about ¥13,000 to get from Tokyo to Kyoto on reserved seats), it is definitely worth it for the speed, comfort and amazing views along the way. The maximum operating speed of a shinkansen train is 320 km/h.
Being on the shinkansen is almost like being on a plane – there are overhead spaces for you to store your luggage, conveniently located toilets, and most important of all, staff who push carts full of tasty food, snacks and drinks down the spacious carriages every half hour or so. The food they offer is generally light though, so if you’re hungry (like we were), be sure to grab a bento box from the station before you board the train. Most shinkansen platforms will have shops with a range of foods to try for reasonable prices.
Bukkoji Buddhist Temple
We arrived in Kyoto a tad too early to check in, so we left our bags at the hotel and took a wander around the area, chancing upon the beautiful Bukkoji Temple. One of the things we like most about Japan is that the temples and shrines blend so seamlessly with the cities. Though the juxtaposition is more pronounced in hypermodern Tokyo, Kyoto’s enduring old school charm adds character to the beautiful blend. Bukkoji Temple is a great example, its modest grounds being surrounded by apartment complexes, Japanese-Italian fusion restaurants and contemporary clothing shops.
It probably goes without saying that walking around Kyoto is tremendously different to Tokyo. Everything is a rush in Tokyo – exhausted businessmen packed into trains after a long day of work, groups of laughing friends crowding sidewalks on their way to their favourite izakaya for a night of drinking, tourists attempting to navigate confusing stations – you must be constantly vigilant, which leaves little room for just stopping and soaking in the atmosphere. Kyoto is different. The vintage feel of Kawaramachi’s backstreets, the romance of Gion, the history of Higashiyama… I think Kyoto is best described as “manageable”. Getting around is almost relaxing to the nerves. The streets are wide, the train stations small and quiet, and the people friendly.
Kyoto Itoya Hotel, Shimogyo
We stayed at Kyoto Itoya Hotel, a stylish little designer hotel located along Karasuma Street in downtown Kyoto. Just five minutes from Shijo Subway Station and Karasuma Train Station, the hotel makes for a perfect base to get around the city. The room we got was incredibly cosy, with dark wood walls and furniture. We didn’t have much of a view, but the room was wonderfully spacious (and that’s saying something as you generally expect Japanese hotels to have tiny guest rooms).
In search of dinner, we wandered over to Pontocho, an atmospheric dining and nightlife area running alongside the Kamo River. Historically a hanamachi (Japanese geisha district, literally “flower town”), the narrow cobbled alley is packed with restaurants, bars, and ochaya (tea houses), offering everything from casual light bites at an izakaya to an extravagant, invitation-only kaiseki ryōri (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) at a hidden ryōtei. After gazing at menu after menu trying to decide what we wanted to eat, we finally settled on Manzara-Tei, a cosy, elegant restaurant located in a machiya (traditional wooden townhouse) that offers patrons modern Japanese food.
Most restaurants here serve a small appetiser prior to the meal (known as “tsukidashi”), included in the restaurant cover charge.
We ordered their Assorted Sashimi Platter (¥2800), full of fresh fish, beautiful garnishes and the best yuba (tofu skin) I’ve ever had. We also had their Grilled Black Cod Marinated in Miso (¥950) and Gratin with Kyo-eggplant and Miso Cheese (¥780). The black cod wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it had a beautifully crunchy skin, sweetened by the caramelised miso. The gratin was incredible. Deliciously creamy and slightly sweet, with chunks of silky eggplant to cut through the richness of the sauce.
Manzara-Tei is a place we’d likely return to, and possibly regularly if we lived in Kyoto. The food is reasonably priced, extremely well presented and, most importantly, mouthwateringly tasty! The convenience of them having an english menu is also a giant plus!
Pontocho-dori Shijo Agaru
Kyoto Prefecture 604-0906