Winter is probably the worst time to visit Kyoto and Osaka. There weren’t any sakura or koyo (red leaves) in sight and we were freezing the whole time, but it was still a fun and memorable experience. We plan to head back someday to enjoy the city in warmer temperatures. The only good thing is hotel rates are low and flight tickets are cheap during this low season. Hence, we manage to keep our budget low. It is pretty amazing that we spent less than RM 3000 per pax (excluding shopping and souvenirs of course), as we never stinge on food – ate so much throughout the day, splurge on a very expensive matsusaka beef dinner and etc. We also had a very nice ryokan experience during our stay in Kyoto – not cheap but worth every single cents.
Our itinerary started from the quieter, old capital of Kyoto to the lively city of Osaka.
Period of travel: 28 January 2016 to 1 February 2016
First thing first, hot corn soup (from vending machine, 130 yen) and mentaiko onigiri (from convenience store, 108 yen) for breakfast! Hot corn soup in can is the key to our survival during winter in Japan. We preferred the Pokka brand better.
Upon arrival, we headed to the JR ticketing office to purchase a ICOCA and HARUKA pass.
“ICOCA & HARUKA” is a discounted set containing an “ICOCA” IC card (pre-charged with ¥1,500) and a reduced-fare ticket for the Kansai-Airport Express “HARUKA.” The ICOCA can be used on JR, subway, private railway and bus transportation and for shopping in the Kansai Area and beyond. The Kansai-Airport Express HARUKA provides direct access from Kansai Airport to Tennoji, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto.
Customers can select from either a round-trip (4060 yen) or a one-way type of discounted ticket (3030 yen) for the Kansai-Airport Express “HARUKA.”
For more information, click here.
Our first stop is Kyoto station. The journey took us 75 minutes (instead of the usual 90 minutes) as we accidentally went into an express train.
From Kyoto station, we took bus 206 to Gion Fukuzumi ryokan. We also reunited with our BFF Wen Ching, who is stopping by Kyoto just to meet us up.
I got to know about this great lunch deal at Tenshu Tempura, a famous tempura kaiseki place in Gion while doing research on places to eat in Kyoto. There are only 4 items on the lunch menu, and prices range from 1100 to 1900 yen. Dinner kaiseki starts from 5000 yen. We opted for the anago (sea eel) & ebi (prawn) tempura don (1700 yen). It was really delicious and the portion was so huge!
There are only 20 seats inside this tiny restaurant. Please get there early to avoid queues.
Address: Gionmachikitagawa, Higashiyamaku, Kyoto 605-0073, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-541-5277
Hours: 11 am to 2 pm, 5.30 pm to 9 pm daily. Closed on Wednesdays.
Getting Here: 2 minute walk from Shijo Keihan-mae bus station.
Dessert at Tsujiri Honten just across the road. We shared a dumpling and warabimochi (432 yen) and two types of parfait. I really enjoy having the Tsujiri Specialty Parfait (1383 yen) and the warabimochi.
Address: 573-3 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-561-2257
Hours: Open Daily 10 am to 10 pm
Getting Here: diagonally opposite Tenshu Tempura
We continued to walked around Hanamikoji Dori 花見小路, hoping to catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko. The truth is, 6-7 pm is the best time to spot geishas, as they are on their way to work. Travellers are advised to refrain from stopping them and grabbing them by their kimono sleeves in an attempt to get a photo. It is very rude to do so.
We saw a lot of tourist cladded in kimono instead. There are plenty of kimono rental places around and they charge reasonably at 3000 – 4000 yen for a full day rental. Spring or autumn season is the best time to do so, with beautiful sceneries and pleasant weather. Please wait for me!!
On both sides of this beautifully preserved street are the traditional wooden machiya merchant houses.
As I walked along the street, I felt as if I am being transported to the old Japan area.
From Gion area, we took a leisure walk up to Kiyomizu-dera.
This part of Kyoto reminds me of Jiufen, Taiwan.
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It is also a UNESCO Heritage Site.
I was praying for a good Fire Monkey year ahead.
Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
Hours: Kiyomizu-dera Temple opens at 6:00 in the morning, but closing time varies depending on the season.
Entrance: 400 yen
Getting Here: Kyoto City Bus 100, 202, 206, 207 Kiyomizu-michi stop
The many shops and restaurants in the area have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries, and products on sale range from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs. We tried some tofu soft serve (350 yen) and it was really good!
We retreated back to our Ryokan to enjoy public bath before dinner. Our tatami room was bright, spacious and clean.
The staff made us some hot tea and prepared us some snacks upon us checking into our rooms.
We looked so cute on yukatas.
We came back to a room filled with food after our public bath session. I lost count on the number of courses served, and we ended the night with some Japanese whisky.
I love Japanese’s hospitality. There were written notes and paper cranes on our beautifully made bedding.
Address: Nishi-hairu Shimbashi Higashiohji, Higashiyama-ku Kyoto-city 605-0062
Access from Kansai International Airport
Haruka train to Kyoto Station (about 90 minutes)
From Kyoto Station
-By bus (220yen) , Bus stop D2 ,opposite Kyoto Tower
Bus number 206 to Gion, then a two-minute walk
-By taxi (about 1,500 yen), Tell the driver : ” Higashi-oji-Shimbashi ”
Rise and shine! Feeling so blessed waking up to warm breakfast like these!
Weather forecast says that it will rain all day but it failed to dampen our spirit. Our first destination of the day is Fushimi Inari.
However, we were all wet within a few minutes stepping out from the train station.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
At the very back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate covered hiking trail, which starts with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”). The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies, and you will find the donator’s name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost starts around 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over one million yen for a large gate.
The hike to the summit of the mountain and back takes about 2-3 hours, but we were too tired to go up.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
Finally, it’s lunch time at Nishiki Market, also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. It is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.
From top left, clock wise: White Ichigo (1800 yen), Professor Takoyaki (plain, 190 yen), Miki Keiran’s famous dashimaki (omelet) made with kelp stock (1360 yen), Professor Takoyako (assorted flavours, 350 yen), cod sperms sac (shirako, 300 yen), Konnamonja (stall 50) tofu doughnuts (300 yen for 10).
Address: Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura)
9am-5pm, varies for individual stalls.
Some shops closed on Wednesday
3min walk from Shijo Station, Karasuma subway line
3min walk from Karasuma or Kawaramachi Station, Hankyu line
It was still raining so we spent the whole afternoon hanging out at Daimaru Department Store. Japanese Valentine’s Day is nothing like others. There is a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day. Hence I was captivated by the large displays of fancy chocolates.
We were hanging out at the Food Hall and could not resist queueing up for Horai 551’s Butaman (Pork Bun, 340 yen for 2) and gyoza (10 for 300 yen). So delicious that we kept buying them throughout the trip (Horai 551 is everywhere!). The strawberry short cake (540 yen) was also one of the best that we have tried so far.
Daimaru Kyoto Store
Address: 79 Tachiuri Nishi-machi, Shijo-dori, Takakura nishi iru, Shimogyo-ku
1min walk from Shijo Station, Karasuma subway line or Karasuma Station, Hankyu line
Remember to get the Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass for unlimited travel within the Flat-Fare Zone of Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus for 500 yen, children 250 yen. The pass is super worth it as a one way ticket is already 230 yen.
Download Kyoto Bus Map here.
We also checked-into our second hotel in Kyoto – Hearton Hotel Kyoto. Rooms were comfortable and modern, with western beds and bathrooms.
Hearton Hotel Kyoto
Address: Higashinotoin-Dori,Oike-Agaru Nakagyo-Ku, Central Kyoto
Walk – 2 mins from Exit 1 of Karasuma Oike Station on Subway Karasuma Line/Tozai Line
Taxi – 10 mins from JR Kyoto Station
Bus – 1h40mins from Kansai International Airport to Hachijo East Exit of JR Kyoto Station.
We found a quaint yakiniku restaurant in an alleyway near our hotel. There were only 3 tables inside the restaurant and a friendly old couple who can’t speak English manned this place. I love the homey and cozy vibe of this restaurant, as we got to interact with the other patrons while pointing to their orders. We tried many part of beef, including tongues and stomachs. Best to go with Kirin draft beer. Total bill was only 10,950 yen for the 6 of us.
Hours 18:00～24:00 weekdays, 17:30～23:00 weekends
Tabelog Page here.
Supper was snacks and beers from convenience store – limited edition ichigo beer (kirin’s one is yummier), hokaiddo scallop flavoured chips (so-so), mio sparkling sake (so nice) and royce chocolate match ice cream (so nice)!
Convenience store breakfast to start our day again.
Our first destination of the day is Arashiyama District! We crossed the Togetsukyo Bridge and spent a few minutes viewing the bridge.
Then we spent some time exploring the Tenryuji Temple. It was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site.
Tenryuji’s garden (entrance 500 yen) is created by the famous garden designer Muso Soseki, who also designed the gardens of Kokedera and other important temples. The beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains.
Then, we head into the bamboo groves behind Tenryuji Temple. I love the soothing zen vibe here!
We followed the bamboo forest path and came to Nonomiya Shrine.
This small shrine is famous for the kami (god) of relationships and learning, so many women seeking a good match and many students aiming to pass exams visit here.
From Kyoto Stn.: Take Kyoto City bus #28 or Kyoto Bus #71, #72, #73, or take the JR Sagano Line to Saga Arashiyama Stn.
From downtown: Take Kyoto City Bus #28 or #11 (#11 also can be caught from Shijo Kawaramachi), or take the Keifuku Arashiyama Line to Arashiyama Stn. (from Shijo Omiya Stn.).
Right on the main street, and very near the Tenryu ji shrine is Kyo-Ine, a restaurant dedicated to tofu ryori or tofu cuisine. We went to their branch that is about 2-3 minutes walk away. We ordered the Pail Tofu Skin Dish (1620 yen) and Kyoto-style Tofu Skin Starchy Dish (1620 yen). Initially the boys were complaining once they found out that we are going to have vegetarian lunch. However, they quietly up everything, this shows how delicious is the tofu – perfected by Buddhist vegetarian monks over the centuries.
Saga Tofu Ine Main Store
Address: 616-8384 19 Saga Tenryuji Tuskurimichi-machi, Ukyo-ward, Kyoto-city
Hours: 11：00 – 18：30 (Last Order)
Hours can be extended when busy
Open throughout the year
Saga Tofu Ine North Branch
Address: 616-8384 46-2 Saga Tenryuji Tuskurimichi-machi, Ukyo-ward, Kyoto-city
Hours: 11：00 – 18：30 (Last Order)
Hours can be extended when busy
Open throughout the year
After a few bus misadventures (long story), we arrived to Kinkaku-ji just before they closed their door. We were in awe as we saw the temple’s golden reflection shimmering across the rippled surface of the pond before it.
Hours: 9am to 5pm daily
Admission is ¥400.
Take bus numbers 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop. If you are coming from another part of the city, you can also take the number 59 and 12 buses to the Kinkaku-ji Mae bus stop.
One must go for a tradition tea house when in Kyoto. The Zen Kashoin tea room is a beautiful and quiet place with a zen courtyard. Here, you can enjoy various pastries, accompanied by your favourite matcha.
We tried the famous castella cake, yuzu cake and matcha sponge with black bean. Zen Kashoin is famous for its half-baked castella cake, using the best egg from hens raised on a special feed that contains powdered black beans from the Tanba region of Kyoto. I love the light hint of honey aroma too, so good but so expensive. 1 tiny piece like this costs 1000+ yen and it is obligatory for everyone to order something here. ‘
Hours: 10 am to 7 pm daily
310 meters from Karasuma Oike.
Thank you almighty google, I found about about this tsukemen place call Menyatakakuranijou (麺や高倉二条) from tabelog. The staff speak some English and will help with ordering. Just like any other ramen place, you need to decide on your order and pay for it via the coupon machine. Once you have paid, remember to pass the coupon to the staff.
There are only 10 seats inside this little restaurant, so be prepared to wait for a while. The unique thick noodles and umami-heavy broth were worth the wait however. You eat the ramen after swishing it in a separate bowl of thick soup. We opted for the wheat noodles and it was really springy. 1050 yen for a bowl.
Hours:11:00～15:00, 18:00～22:00(weekdays), 11:00～15:00, 18:00～21:00(weekends)
Getting Here: 415 meters from Marutamachi.
Finally, a proper sit down dinner at Hoshino Coffee, Kyoto Station. Just like any other chained breakfast place, you will get complimentary toast + egg when you order any drinks from the menu. We topped up for more varieties such as French toast, baked eggs and etc. Average 500-700 yen per person.
We arrived to Shin-Osaka station in half an hour on board the special rapid service (540 yen, deducted from ICOCA card). From there, we got ourselves a Osaka one day transport pass (600 yen weekend, 800 yen weekdays).
Hooray 551 budadon (pork bun) again!
We took the train to Osaka’s most famous shopping arcade “Shinsaibashi Shopping Street”. The Glico running man is such an enduring symbol of the city. It has been there since 1935!
2 min from Namba to Shinsaibashi Station by Subway Midosuji Line.
All the girls went crazy at Don Quijote! Remember to look out for the yellow ferris wheel when you are here. They sell everything under the sky such as daily necessities, sundries, jewelry, appliance, little restaurants and even luxury handbags. For any purchase above 5000 yen, you are eligible for tax refund. Tax refund can be done on the spot.
Address: 542-0084 7-13 Soemon-cho, Chuo-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka, 542-0084, Japan
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 24 hours
Getting Here: 5-min walk from Exit 14 of (subway) Namba station
This must be the most busy street at the Dotonbori area. Theres Don Quijote, Ichiran, Yakiniku M and also a famous takoyaki place. First timer here at that time so we had fun ordering via a machine. Then going to your table was another experience because the you will have your own booth. The broth was so good that we were tempted to finish every single drop.
Ichiran Dotonbori Branch
Address: 7-18 Soemoncho, Chuo-ku | 1F, Osaka 542-0084, Osaka Prefecture
Phone: +81 6-6212-1805
Aunties rejoice! Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street is lined with specialty stores of all kinds of cooking utensils and kitchen items. Recently it has become very popular among students on field trips with the takoyaki demonstration sale and food sample-making class.
I managed to buy some pretty cutleries from some of the sellers here.
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street
Address: 542-0075 Area around Nambasennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka
3 minutes walk from “Namba Station” on Nankai Line, Subway Midosuji Line, Yotsubashi Line, 5 minutes walk from “Nippombashi Station” on Subway Sennichimae Line, Kintetsu Line
When in Japan, one must indulge in top-grade beef! Matsusaka is one of the most famous beef types within Japan and internationally, with a high fat-to-meat ratio. It’s said that Matsusaka beef cows are fed beer to stimulate their appetite and given massages using a special mixture of shochu. Matsusaka Yakiniku M offers more than a dozen cuts of this delicious beef that diners sear and season on tabletop grills. We opted for the ‘Special Course’ set (5800 yen per pax), featuring four different cuts of beef along with soup, salad, sushi, appetisers and a dessert. Reservation is essential.
Yakiniku M Dotonbori
Address: 2F, Inaka kaikan Bldg. 7-17 Soemoncho, Chuo-ku, Osaka-city, 542-0084
12:00-15:00, 17:00-24:00 Open 7 days a week
Good night Osaka!
Getting Here: 2-minute walk from the subway Nippombashi Station.
Look at all the regional varieties of Japanese strawberry! We manage to try quite a few regions throughout our stay in Japan.
We also visited the famous Osaka Castle that is being surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats. Read here for more information on Osaka Castle.
The recommended approach to Osaka Castle is through Otemon Gate at the park’s southwestern corner. The closest station is Tanimachi 4-chrome Station along the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line.
The closest JR station to Osaka Castle is Osakajokoen Station on the JR Loop Line, a 10 minute, 160 yen ride from JR Osaka Station.
Mizuno is a famous is another much-loved okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka and the long queue at the restaurant is a testament to their popularity. For around 1,000 to 1,600 yen you can get a large pancake topped with various ingredients.
Address: 1-4-15, Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, 542-0071
Hours: Monday – Sunday 11:00 – 22:00
Subway Midosuji Line Namba Station 5-minute walk
Subway Sakaisuji Line Nippombashi Station 5-minute walk
Nankai Main Line Namba Station 10-minute walk
We had a blast eating around the Dotonbori area – takoyaki, daruma kushikatsu and kinryu ramen. They are everywhere at the Namba area.
How could we leave out Pablo Cheese Tart? There’s a perpetual long queue at the take out counter but not the restaurant, this is because for the same price, dining-in size is a lot smaller. However, there are only two such ‘eat-in’ Pablo cafes in the whole of Japan; one being in Himeji, Hyogo, and another one located in Dotonbori, Osaka. There are also a lot of varieties in the dine-in menu. We also dabao-ed two large cheese tart back to KL =)
PABLO Dotonbori Shop
Address: 542−0085 Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Shinsaibashi-suji 2-3-15
Opening hours: 11:00 – 22:00 (Food L.O. 21:00, drink L.O. 21:30)
We left Japan with a heavy heart in the evening. AA flight time is at 11.30 pm so we continued to shop at the Kansai International Airport. Shopping haul from Kyoto & Osaka! A shopping post coming up next!
Last but not least, thank you Chris & Christine, Aiwei, Wenching and Edwin for such a memorable trip <3