Japan

Sightseeing in Style: Kimono in Kyoto

Our first experience of the famous bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station to Kyoto in 2 hours 10 minutes! It was an expensive ride nevertheless: 14,110 yen with seat reservation per person, ouch! This was our only long-distance train ride as we only visit Tokyo and Kyoto, flying out of Osaka, so I did the math and it was cheaper to buy the one-way shinkansen ticket instead of the well-known JR (Japan Railways) pass. If you are visiting more than one major cities in Japan and will take a few Shinkansen rides then it’s a no-brainer to purchase the JR pass that is only available to foreigners! Make sure you Google JR pass to order it before you arrive in Japan!

The space in between each row of seat is wide enough to fit the full sized luggage if the luggage rack is full.

Before boarding the train, we bought breakfast for our long ride in a convenient store inside the Shinkansen terminal. Jason bought this bento (lunch box) that looked very cool for around 1000 yen.

Inside were those goodies but Jason thought the taste was just okay and doesn’t worth the 1000 yen.

I, on the other hand, bought the cheap but good rice ball for less than 200 yen 😉 Due to our past midnight laundry, I was super sleepy and fell asleep after the Shinkansen took off and woke up when we arrived Kyoto LOL! We arrived around 10 am and followed the signs to the hotel shuttle stop without getting lost in the huge Kyoto Train Station; itself is like a mall!!! We waited around 10 minutes for the Crowne Plaza shuttle bus, it is a pink bus so you can’t miss it. The ride to the hotel was another 10-15 minutes. Once we arrived at the luxury Crowne Plaza Kyoto Hotel, we stored our luggage at the front desk as it was too early for check-in. We used the restrooms before walking out to our lunch spot: Menbakaichidai Fire Ramen!!!

The walk was about 12 minutes and we were the first ones arrived, got the ticket #1, and waited for it to open at 11:30 am.

Instructions and photos of the famous fire ramen all over the storefront:

Once it opened its door, we were seated and the waiter took our cellphone to mount it on the selfie stick hanging down from the kitchen. This was to take video of our fire ramen experience….instruction said no photos during the pouring of oil for safety reason.

We put on a paper apron to protect our clothes, stow away our water cup under the table, seat back, and one final time of the safety instruction. Woah the atmosphere was intense!

Then, the hot oil pouring time which created the fire!!! Jason was the first one and I was the next one. When the fire lit up, it was super hot as the flame was only a few inches away from me. I can feel the burning heat whahahaha! Once my neighbor was done, I quickly pull out my DSLR camera and took photos, isn’t that cool?

Then, we can enjoy our fire ramen – the scallions cooked by burning oil released the fragrance of the scallions, it was light and yummy!

We both ordered the B set so it included a small bowl of yummy fried rice and freshly steamed/pan-fried gyoza (dumpling).

4 more customers entered and they have their separate fire show which this time, I was prepared to take the photos 😀

We recommended Menbakaichidai Fire Ramen, it was such a fun experience and yummy food. Once we were done, there was a line of people waiting at the outside so we were glad that we got there early! It was another 12 minute walk back to the hotel to catch the hotel shuttle bus once again back to Kyoto Station as I need to purchase the Icoca & Haruka Card (a contactless card that you can recharge money to pay for transportation around the Kyoto and Osaka area which made it convenient and it also give discount for the Kansai-Airport Express train called “Haruka”). When we walked past by the hotel to the shuttle stop, we noticed something unusual…….an umbrella “locker” LOL!!!

Once we arrived at Kyoto Train Station, I was having difficulty locating the ticket machine so we walked into the tourist information center where they have English speaking staff to help tourists. An old gentleman who spoke poor English “helped” us and pointed us to the train ticket counter which we were told was not the right place to purchase the card sighhh! The lady at the train ticket counter pointed us to the metro ticket machine where we finally purchased the Icoca & Haruka card. The machine accepts cash only, I think it is because any remaining balance can be refunded so they don’t accept credit card as payment as a mean of free cash withdrawals from the credit card.

Card purchased and the next challenge: where to take the city bus #100 to Yasaka Pagoda? There was no sign whatsoever to the bus stops and after walking around the streets outside, we went back to the tourist information center to ask for direction. Oh yikes, him again who came to me and “helped” yikes but this time he was right about having to cross the underground pedestrian walkway to the other side of the train station, the underground walkway is located near McDonald’s. I remembered vaguely where McDonald’s is located so we walked there and sure enough, there is an underground path. Let me tell you, Kyoto Train Station is like a maze!!!!! There is no store directory!!!! I can’t count how many times we wandered around to find this underground walkway back to the other side of the train station!

The underground walkway passed through a row of underground vendor stalls, stores, and entrances to the mall complex called The Cube. Once we passed through the underground walkway into the center of the underground mall, there are signs to the bus stops. We caught the city bux #100 and it cost 230 yen per person per way (expensive!). I didn’t realize how many times we have to ride on the bus that day and easily spent over 1000 yen per person on bus rides only! I should’ve purchased the one-day unlimited bus pass at 600 yen in addition to the Icoca & Haruka card 🙁

Anyways, the reason we went to Yasaka Pagoda was that I had an appointment at Okamoto-Kimono at 1:00 pm for my kimono rental. There are many kimono rental shops in Kyoto as it’s a popular tourist activity itself. I had compared prices among shops and found Okamoto-Kimono to have the best ratings, convenient shop locations, and good pricing plan. Others might offer a cheaper rental plan but the extras like hair styling, accessories, and next day return quickly add up to more than Okamoto’s pricing plan. Initially, I reserved the 3,000 yen set plan plus 500 yen hair styling plus tax which included free next day return. Once I got to Okamoto-Yasakanotomae Shop, I was the only customer there at that time!!! People tend to book the first appointment (extra $) when the shop opens to have a full day of wearing the kimono so my appointment at 1 pm was not the peak time. The downside to an afternoon appointment is that the best patterns/colors might already been taken! The lady showed me the racks of kimonos for my set plan but none of the patterns/colors I like so I need to upgrade my plan to a more expensive one for more choices. She showed us the different set plan racks and I splurged on the Full-scale Attire Plan for 5000 yen!

I was browsing through the racks to pick up light pink or purple kimonos…hum…which one is better?

I picked three different sets and I asked for advice; she said this pink one looked more elegant 😉 Next, she showed me the belt (obi) rack and oh boy so many selections! Which one matches my pink flower kimono? She pulled out a couple of different colored obis and immediately, I picked this golden yellow one that also has flower patterns! Then, the obi string but it was easy enough for me to pick up a light pink one.

We are not done yet! Next was the undershirt and I picked out this pink/purple flower pattern.

Drawstring pouch to carry my cellphone and wallet; obviously the pink one!

After all the items were picked (phew, it was a hard decision), the lady brought me to the 2nd floor where a professional kimono dresser awaited for me. At first, I thought kimono is like a wrapping dress until the dresser started to wrap me in layers and layers of belts!!! I lost count how many belts and clothes she wrapped around me and I started to feel that my waist couldn’t even bend due to the layers of belts tied on me!!! The whole dressing took at least 20 minutes and I was really impressed by the dressing experience that I felt kimono dressing is an art in itself!

Finally, I was dressed in a kimono and then the same lady did my hair. They offered a few hairstyles and I picked the curling on the side one, she said the curls not might stay long…yes I know…I have long, volume, and thick hair! She used the curling rollers and it took time to curl my hair…I wish they have a curling iron, it’ll be faster and the curls will stay longer! After an hour since I got in the shop, I finally dressed in kimono, ta-da!!!

I was very cautious about walking those stairs down to the first floor in a kimono; it was really tight! I paid the 5000+ yen (cash only) and I already decided to return the kimono before the shop closes by 6:30 pm instead of the next day return because I know there is no way I can undress myself neatly! Never mind the dressing the kimono by myself for the next morning for some early morning photos, no way, just no way!!! Afterward, we were off to explore the ancient city of Kyoto which was once the capital of Japan!

The Yasaka Pagoda right near the shop as we walked out:

The houses in this area of Kyoto are the traditional architecture houses and a lot of tourists were wearing kimonos so the whole atmosphere felt like I was traveled back to time! I couldn’t resist to take photos every few blocks with those cute houses! I love this traditional/ancient section of Kyoto, I much preferred this over any modern city!

We paid 400 yen admission to enter the Yasaka Pagoda and perhaps due to the entrance fee, not much tourists there so it provided a great backdrop for photos in kimono 😀

Inside the pagoda have Buddha statues and there is an old wooden and narrow staircase to the 2nd floor. My kimono was so tight that I don’t want to fall on the staircase so I didn’t go up. Jason walked up to the 2nd floor and he said the view was just okay.

More photos outside of the pagoda.

And more photos of those awesome looking houses!

Continued on our walk to Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful shrine without any entrance fee so it was super crowded. When we were there, there was a wedding ceremony just started! We were so lucky to witness a traditional Japanese wedding! You know what, wherever we go, we tend to bump into a wedding…..Holland, Portugal, to name a few 🙂

Once the bride and groom entered the gate, we were allowed to walk in.

And so many tourists were taking photos of the bride and groom! As the bride and groom about to walk into the temple:

Yasaka Shrine is very beautiful with those bright orange-red temples and the center has this pagoda filled with traditional paper lanterns.

It was so crowded that it was near impossible to have a photo without other tourists heads so have to crop!

We waited for people to move out a little and had a few seconds of opportunity to take some photos without being photobombed! We brought our tripod for our trip and we never have a chance to use it because the places were that crowded!

It was a beautiful day in the low 80s so technically not that hot but when wrapped in layers, I felt like it was 90s!

The Yasaka Shrine Mai dance stage is probably my most favorite architecture in Kyoto with those paper lanterns.

Next, we walked to Heian Shrine which is 20 minutes away but with my tight kimono that I can only take baby steps, it took longer. The way through many old streets was a very pleasant walk and provided photo ops along the way. There is also a flea market right in front of the shrine but due to limited time (we have one more shrine to visit and it’s closing at 6:00 pm), we didn’t check it out.

The beautiful Heian Shrine, once again bright orange/red color!

I like the bright colored shrine with the green metal lanterns hanging down!

All the tourists were hanging out at the main shrine building and no one at the side so we stepped aside for incredible photos without other tourists!

The map of Heian Shrine, the only entrance fee is to enter the garden at 600 yen. As you can see in the map, it must be a popular spot during the cherry blossom season!

We entered the garden to check it out and it was not that impressive in my opinion.

Cherry blossom and foliage seasons would be a different story 😉

The bridge is the most photogenic spot in the garden complex.

Back out to the shrine for more photos!

Tourists all hang out at this main building which we thought not as pretty as the side buildings!

To save time on walking back 30+ minutes to our next shrine: Kiyomizu-dera Temple, we took the city bus instead. To get to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, it required a 10-minute walk from the bus stop through the famous Higashiyama District to get there. Higashiyama District is beautiful with stores on both sides of the street but it was super crowded!

Finally, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple!

In reality, it looks like this……all those tourists!

It was hard to get a good photo without much crowds so we tried our best to wait and wait…

Once again, if you step out the main path to the side, you can still find some peace 🙂

The admission fee is 400 yen and the entrance ticket is super nice like a bookmark!

The interior of the temple is very dark and only lit up by those lanterns.

I love the colorful decors on the columns!

Unfortunately, the main temple was under restoration so it was completely covered by scaffolds 🙁 This is the postcard-perfect spot during foliage season but now….it looked yucky!

Without much to see, we walked down.

Back down to the Higashiyama District and I decided to return the kimono as I was starting to get sweating hot. The store was nearby so I returned the kimono and then back to the Higashiyama District for souvenir shopping.

Say goodbye to my beautiful kimono!

Back to Higashiyama District for shopping but the shop closes the same time as the temple at 6:00 pm so we didn’t get a chance to check out all the stores there. This nodding figure is super cute, I want to get one home but they are not selling it and too big haha!

Beautiful wall art on the street!

Most of the shops are selling pastries, glassware, and beautiful Japanese silk fans (very expensive).

Kiyomizu-dera Temple entrance at almost closing time and it was a lot less crowds.

The shops are also closing and it was a lot less crowded to take nicer photos!

The bun looked yummy!

We got an iced green tea latte, it tasted refreshing but very small cup that we finished within minutes 🙁

For dinner, we took the bus back to Kyoto Train Station for the highly rated conveyor-belt sushi – Sushi no Musashi. You must experience a conveyor-belt sushi in Kyoto!

Just like the one we had in Narita Airport, self-serve green tea 😀

Jason was super happy to try out special sushi, they are cheap and filling!

I am not a raw seafood person but there were plenty of cooked sushi available for me 😀 This one the imitation crab meat was really good!

Seafood salad ones were great too.

OMG, can you believe it? Grilled corn sushi, must try!

Oh boy, they even have smoked duck breast sushi…whahahahah my favorite!

Jason’s tuna, he said very good quality!

Our end result hehe…and it was like around $30 for all those dishes!

We left room for dessert, the famous Nakamura Tokichi located on the 3rd floor of the train station, it was a challenge to navigate around but we managed to find it, luckily. We arrived at like 8:30 pm and there was a line that we waited over 30 minutes! After our first bite of the green tea ice cream, no wonder why there was a long line; super good! Our favorite was the green tea jello that is only available in this Kyoto Station Store!

My green tea shaved ice was pretty good too!

After the late dessert, we walked to the hotel shuttle stop and found out that the last shuttle was at 9 pm urg! With Google Map, we took the metro to the Nijō Castle Station and it was a short walk to the hotel – ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto. It was a bargain to redeem IHG points for the ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto at only 30,000 points per night versus the cash rate of over $200 per night. We got an upgrade to a room located on the executive lounge floor so it included access to the lounge. The room was very comfortable and spacious, finally, space in Japan!

The room looked newly refurbished but I hate the vanity wash basin, I really don’t get the “art” of it, it looked like someone puked on it.

The “organic” shampoo, conditionor, and body wash have this strong smell of medicine herb so I’ll stick with the regular brand that Crowne Plaza uses.

I have to point out the high-tech toilet again haha!

It was a super long day of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto and sightseeing the ancient streets in a kimono but totally worth the effort. The kimono experience is a must in Kyoto!

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