Monday, May 2, 2016

Sakura in Kyoto (+ Travel Tips for Japan)

Hello Framboise Kyoto Outfit
Location: Kiyomizu-Dera Temple and Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Top: Topshop | Denim: J Brand 'Maria' | Bag: Valentino | Scarf: H&M (old)
Shoes: Splendid (also on major sale at Nordstrom Rack in limited sizes | Sunglasses: Karen Walker | Watch: Michael Kors

I'm so excited to start sharing some my photos and outfits from Japan with you! As most of you probably know, the week before and the week or two after a longer vacation are the worst. I've been running around like crazy trying to make sure things are under control at work. As soon as I got back, I had to grind through a killer week of legislative work, trials, post-work events, and getting through the piles of stuff on my desk, plus all the stuff that had accumulated at home. That left very little time for blogging, so that's why these pictures are showing up here a couple weeks after our trip.

We had a wonderful time in Japan and would highly recommend it to anyone who's ready to see a lot of beauty, technology, food made of fish, and a totally different culture. We loved being immersed in a new world of sights, sounds and tastes, especially during the incredibly gorgeous cherry blossom season. While Japan's natural beauty is stunning on its own, the cherry blossoms just made everything feel magical.

Kimono at Kiyomizu-Dera
Girls in kimono at the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple and Shrine

Kiyomizu-Dera Kyoto
The main temple house at Kiyomizu-Dera

Travel by train:

While we spent about a day and a half in Tokyo adjusting our body clocks, our first big stop was Kyoto, which was only 2.5 hours away on the express bullet train ("shinkansen"), the Nozomi Express. We loved the train system in Japan. Once we got our bearings a bit, it was easy to figure out, and it's such a nice, comfortable way to travel. We purchased first class seats when we could--they were not too much more expensive, but they gave us tons of space, a drink and snack service, and a nearly empty train car.

We couldn't take the shinkansen everywhere we went, but the local trains were nice, easy-to-access, and always on time. The best way for us to navigate the system was to use the "public transportation" option in Google maps when you navigate from one point to another. It would tell us how long it would take, which trains (and platforms sometimes) we should board, and how much it would cost. The tickets can be purchased as needed with a quick ATM-like transaction (in English!) at a computer before you enter the area to go to the platforms.

Quick tip: don't arrive at a train station with just enough time to get on your train--the train stations, especially the bigger ones, have a plethora of shops, food stands, restaurants, gift shops, clothing shops, bookstores, and even whole department stores inside the station. Leave yourself enough time to wander around the train station and check out all the fun stuff you can sample and buy before you board your train.

Kyoto Blossoms

Where we stayed:

We arrived at Kyoto Station, and the hotel we chose there, the Kyoto Century, was an easy two-block walk from the station. The hotel staff was extremely helpful and gracious, and it was nice to be able to converse with them in English since our Japanese is pretty much non-existent. Although the rooms were small, the location near the train and bus station was very convenient, and we had a huge, delicious breakfast at the hotel every morning, which was great for long days of walking and sight-seeing.

I had looked at a lot of higher-end options in Kyoto, but booking them was a challenge due to the high demand for rooms during cherry blossom season (generally the last week of March through the second week in April). If you want to go the traditional route, staying in a ryokan, or Japanese Inn, is such a fun and interesting experience. The ryokans I had seriously considered were in Gion, the old city: The Hatanaka and Kinoe (here's a handy list of the 20 best ryokan in Kyoto if you're interested). Luckily, we got to stay at a beautiful ryokan with a hot spring (onsen) up in the mountains in Hakone as soon as we left Kyoto.

Green Tea in Kyoto


What we ate:

Japan has so much variety in its delicious cuisine. While we were in Japan, we had sushi, ramen, yakitori, kaiseki, izakaya food, and lots of desserts made with matcha green tea (I've come back obsessed with it and have been drinking it nearly every day!). They use so much of what's in the sea in their cooking, and it's all so yummy. While we were in Kyoto, we celebrated our second anniversary at a fancy kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurant called Chihana, and while we enjoyed our meal there, the kaiseki meals we had in our ryokan in Hakone were better.

On many days, we would just stumble into a ramen or sushi shop and order something, and unfailingly, we got really excellent food for the price. Japanese food is pricy, so it was good to balance fancier meals with noodle shops and conveyor belt sushi when we could. We also tried to check out at which restaurants it seemed like the locals were willing to stand in line and then line up with them. The results were always worth the wait. We also found that searching for well-liked restaurants on TripAdvisor or Yelp was another way to make sure we got a great meal, which segues nicely into my next tip below.

Hello Framboise - Walled Streets in Kyoto

Staying connected:

There is no way we could have had such an easy, smooth trip through Japan without our smartphones. They were maps, translators, quick guides to sights we were seeing, and a way to communicate with each other in case we were separated--something that was definitely possible when we were in big cities with giant train stations and tons of people everywhere. On our first day out in Tokyo when we arrived, we found the nearest Bic Camera, which sells tourist SIM cards. Since both of our iPhones are unlocked, it was easy to insert a new Japanese data SIM with a preloaded amount of data on it that would be good for several weeks. This took about 30 minutes and cost about US$35, and it was worth every penny. I know I've given this advice before on previous travel posts, but for us, this is the best way to take a lot of the hassle and stress out of our trip.

Off Shoulder Topshop Blouse

We had some of our nicest weather in Kyoto (and some inclement weather too), so I happily got to wear my off-shoulder blouse I had brought with me, and I even busted out my platform sandals in the sunshine. Walking down cobbled, uneven streets like the ones in Gion in platform shoes is a little sketchy, so I had my trusty Cole Haan flats (in the photo below) with me as well.

Hello Framboise - Exploring Gion Kyoto

Fushimi Inari
At the entrance to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, home of thousands of torii gates; jumpsuit via Topshop

Street in Gion Kyoto
Walking through Gion, the old geisha district

Hope you all enjoyed my Japan tips and photo diary from Kyoto. I'm planning a few more Japan posts with more info on this gorgeous country soon, so stay tuned. When I travel, I always try to take lots of photos and videos and post them to my Snapchat story (I posted a couple minutes' worth each day while we were in Japan). If you have Snapchat, add me (username: helloframboise) to see the very latest of what I'm up to. There are also a few more Japan pics over on my Instagram.

Hello Framboise Kyoto

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you had a great weekend--happy Monday!

x, Tam