From Tokyo station we arrived at Kyoto station after about 2 hours and 30 minutes. From the station we walked to our Hostel which was located about 1 mile away from the station.
The hostel was the J-Hoppers hostel chain – http://j-hoppers.com/. It is the only hostel chain I know about within Japan. We stayed at the j-hoppers in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima; the other one we didn’t stay at was is Takayama. Since it is a chain it is easy to know what to expect. They’re all clean and they have a cool “perk” program where every 3 nights you stay with them you get to pick a perk, like free laundry, and bike rentals. Free Wi-fi and A/C too. We stayed in the private room for about $28 per night. All the employees speak English and can definitely point you in the right direction for places to see. You can’t really go wrong with J-Hoppers. Although, if you want to really mingle with others, J-Hoppers is not really the best choice. People seem to do their own thing when they are at J-Hoppers. At other hostels we had a lot more interaction with other travelers as well as the hostel hosts, but this is to be expected from a chain.
After getting settled at the hostel we decided to go out and check out a few temples. They say Kyoto is a city that is very traditional and holds to its roots. After walking around we definitely understood what people mean. We walked the philosopher’s walk, it was a lot of fun just to walk the entire stretch. It is very peaceful and connects a couple temples which are good to see. It has a stream with fish stretching nearly the entire walk which makes the experience even more serene. You are basically walking behind and along a few neighborhoods being able to observe how people living on the edge of Kyoto really live.
Towards the end of the walk we ended up getting kind of lost and noticed a Japanese girl walking the same route a little behind us taking pictures. She seemed like a traveler as well. So with my poor Japanese, and her avg English I asked her about how to get to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Turned out she was going there as well. So we decided to walk there together. Turned out she was visiting from Kobe for the day to take photographs.
Learning the Language
It was the first time I really got to test my Japanese since I had been studying using an online site called Japanesepod101.com for about 1 hour a day for about 5 months. I just downloaded their lessons, put it on my iPod and listened to it in the car. It actually worked pretty well, I could always get my message across and understand enough to get help. Definitely worth it if you just want to learn the basics before you leave. They also offer a “fast track” travelers course which is a quick crash course before you leave. I went through the in-depth options. It is very affordable, around $5 – 10 a month, and you can cancel at anytime.
Anyway…unfortunately by the time we got to the palace it was closing. It was around 5PM. So we all decided to go to the Geisha district and get dinner together.
It was pouring rain pretty hard so we walked until our new friend found somewhere appealing. We walked into a very small restaurant, maybe sat 10 total. We were the only three there and it was run by a nice husband and wife in their 40’s. Very friendly couple. We had great food and even shared beers with the owners.
After dinner we ate and our new friend had to head home. It was fun to share the experience with her, we still keep in touch over Facebook. After that decided to go check out downtown Kyoto. Downtown Kyoto is pretty cool since it has the Kamo river flowing through it. The Kamo actually runs through much of the city.