We hopped aboard one the famed Shinkansen “Bullet Trains”in Tokyo and enjoyed views of Mt Fuji and the Japanese countryside.while approaching speeds of 200 mph to arrive in Kyoto in under four hours.

As the former imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years Kyoto is still considered to be the cultural center of Japan. Kyoto luckily was not among the 67 cities bombed during WWII and is home to over 1200 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines along with a seemingly endless variety of traditional Japanese architecture and gardens.

Since we were celebrating a birthday, we decided to splurge on our accommodations and chose the luxurious Suiran Hotel. Fashioned like a modern Ryokan, but with western conveniences and modern decor, its located on the banks of the Katsura river and adjacent to the Kameyama-Koen Hill park. It proved the perfect locale for exploring western Kyoto. If you’re looking for tradition and tea rooms, consider Ugenta, a two-room, 200-year-old ryokan in the mountain woods just outside Kyoto.

Knowing that our time was limited we rose early and were treated with a gorgeous view of the sun rising over the river. We started at the Tenryu-ji Temple ranked first among the city's five great zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. We were blown away by the Sojan pond garden, a landscape garden featuring a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees, and the forested Arashiyama mountains.

A quick jaunt through the park brought us to our next stop, the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. One of Kyoto's top attractions, the trick is to arrive very early in the morning (just after sunrise is ideal. Based on the season and time of day, we had the grove almost to ourselves, so we engaged in some ambitious high wire drone flights through the length of the grove. After a few successful flights, the crowds started to arrive, so we moved on to the Hogonin Buddhist Temple and it’s stunningly vibrant “Lions Roar” gardens. Spending the remaining morning in quiet contemplation we eventually arrived at Kameyamya, a traditional Kyoto style restaurant, open only for lunch, located on the river bank.  Feeling refreshed and refueled we set across the river to explore the Senkoji Temple which we had spotted earlier in the day, Perched on a lush hillside overlooking the city it is well worth the semi-strenuous trek to the summit. Completing the day we opted to jump aboard a guided Hozu-Gawa River Boat Tour and float peacefully down to our hotel. We finished the evening with a traditional Onsen private bath.

The following morning we set out to explore central Kyoto. Although more heavily touristed than the western outer regions, the area is home to some of Kyoto’s most iconic sites and certainly warrants a visit. Our first stop was the Iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto Shrine. Originally constructed in 711A.D the shrine is known for it’s over 10,000 Vermillion red painted gateways (this color is considered an amulet against evil forces) that climb steeply through a heavily forested mountainside. Having now experienced a wide variety of both temples and shrines we decided to investigate the Nijo Castle. A World Heritage Site, the castle/Imperial Villa was constructed in 1611A.D during the Tokugawa Shogunate.

A brisk walk from the castle led us the famed Nishiki Markets. A sprawling mostly covered marketplace, the area is frequented by locals and visitors alike. Although the sheer size and kinetic pace can feel a bit intimidating we found ourselves sampling a seemingly endless variety of local dishes (it pays to be bold here and explore outside of your normal culinary comfort zone). Needing to unwind a bit from previous frenzied hours we stopped off for a well deserved Japanese whiskey at the dark and smokey Bar Codon Noir. After some consideration perusing the menu with hundreds of whiskeys, we chose a 21-year-old Nikka, which turned into another. By then a strong craving for ramen had developed. Fortunately, only a few blocks away we located Ippudo. With locations throughout Japan and now internationally, this is the spot for authentic Tonkotsu ramen and a cold Asahi. This served as an ideal ending to our Kyoto adventures.

Onwards to Tokyo….

Suzann Stone