Japan: Why we fell in love with Kyoto

This is the second part of our adventures in Kyoto, have you already checked the first one (Japan: The temples of Kyoto)?

Aside from the temples, Kyoto is amazing for the traditional neighborhood in the city center: Gion. The buildings and streets date from the middle age, and have remained exactly as in its origin thanks to (somehow) have managed to avoid the bombs from the 2nd world war. That is the reason that Kyoto is possibly the Japanese city with most original historic buildings and art. The most famous street in Gion is Hanami-koji dori because it is the middle street of the Geisha’s tea houses area, and is where you can spot them quite frequently.

This part of Gion appears in a 1953 movie called “The sisters of Gion” that we had the chance to watch in the Filmoteca de Catalunya movie theater in Barcelona a few months back. Every corner in Gion looks exactly in the movie as when we were there and the same atmosphere is created, so it was great to be there for a second time through the moving images.

There are three parts we consider as Gion (that may not be very precise but is how we felt it): one is the Hanami-koji dori surroundings, another one is Pontocho (a single street next to the river, one of the top visits in Kyoto) and the last one is Gionmachi or the east of the river, where our hotel Mume was located!

Although all the guides recommended to stay next to the train station (because is where all the bus lines start and/or stop) we had the hunch that it would be better for us to stay in the city center to have all the restaurants and places of interest within a walking distance. That’s how we started to look at more centric locations in tripadvisor, and that’s when we found the loveliest hotel called Mume.

The Mume is a 7-rooms hotel, at the east of the river, next to what the enchanting staff called “the lovely area” (and indeed it is!). The hotel has been carefully decorated in a Chinese style, each room has a name of a flower and its decoration is inspired by its characteristics or smell. We were in the Karasuuri room which is a white delicate flower in China and is sometimes used also for medical purposes. The Mume has the most thoughtful staff and its proprietary is a charming hostess, she looked up the scientific name of the flower for us which is trichosanthes cucumeroides in case you are curious about it :)

Our room was cozy (we booked the small one), the bed was comfortable and the bathroom had the most amazing Japanese toilet (and you sure know how incredible they are :P) we saw during our trip (even the Conrad hotel toilet was of a slightly less category).

Breakfasts were one of the best things about the Mume, they homemade jams and bread in addition to the fruit salad, boiled egg and veggie soup. They asked you everyday your breakfast time for the next day to be able to have the food prepared just in time, it was such a treat! The food was amazing, you can tell by the pictures! And it was perfect because it allowed us to have a light lunch and then have a good dinner in the evening

Another luxury treat of the Mume was that they offered free drinks (and snacks) for their guests every afternoon. In Kyoto everything is closed at 6pm, and until dinner time at 8pm we had a gap to refresh, change clothes and have a little snack at the hotel. During that time we also seize the opportunity to both look for a nice place to have dinner and to prepare the route for the next day. We had the help of the staff for searching for good restaurants, which was a key for our stay in Kyoto. I found quite difficult to discern between restaurants (and even know if it was in fact a Geishas tea house), and that’s why their recommendations were important. We just had to told them which type of food we were in the mood for and they always came with a recommendation, the address and picture of the door (I told you it may quite difficult, so they made sure we did not get lost).

Thanks to them we had the most amazing meals of the whole trip! We ate in two excellent Izakayas (similar to a tapas restaurant) called Manzara and Yorozu Enraku, a yakitori place in Pontocho called Wabiya Koreki Do, an okonomiyaki called Tanto and the most incredible Yakiniku restaurant: Hiro. We always include eating as part of the experiences of travelling, and because we are very much in love with Japanese food, our Kyoto stay was probably the best gastronomic experience we’ve ever had out of Barcelona.

For its historic city, the lovely stay at the Mume, seeing Maikos and Geishas every night, walking in the most wonderful paving, and the excellent restaurants, Kyoto quickly won our hearts :)

Gion at night - the cat you and us Heart taxi in Gion - the cat you and us

Taxis in Gion have a heart sign to show if it is available or not. Such a cute detail!

red door Mume hotel - the cat you and us

The red door of the Mume hotel. The first day we couldn’t see the ring bell (which is quite hidden If I may say) and we knocked directly in the door, oops :)

Mume hotel - the cat you and us Mume lamps - the cat you and us Mume breakfast - the cat you and us

Breakfast was one of the highlights of our stay in the Mume hotel. It consisted of 3 types of homemade breads and jams, croissants, a fruit salad, a boiled egg, a veggie soup, a fresh fruit juice and coffee or tea latte (yummy!)

hanamikoji dori - the cat you and us doble picture - the cat you and us Dani closeup - the cat you and us Damaris closeup - the cat you and us Hanamikoji dori doors - the cat you and us Gion street - the cat you and us Mume hotel happy hour - the cat you and us Snacks Mume - the cat you and us

Afternoon snacks, planning the next day!

Planning the next day - the cat you and us Izakaya - the cat you and us

We were seated (shoeless) in the counter and had the most exquisite traditional lady eating next to us, that I had only seen in old japanese movies. Restaurants in Kyoto are more traditional than in Tokyo and they always request to take off the shoes.

Izakaya - the cat you and us Izakaya - the cat you and us Izakaya - the cat you and us

Name of the food and prices in kanas in the menu of a traditional Izakaya. Luckily you can leave it to them to recommend the most popular dishes from the menu.

Soup at an Izakaya - the cat you and us

Tastiest soup I’ve ever eaten, it was made with a local cereal (sorry we can’t remember the name!).

Izakaya - the cat you and us Tempura - the cat you and us Maguro tartar - the cat you and us

Maguro (fresh tuna) avocado tartar.

Izakaya - the cat you and us Izakaya - the cat you and us Waiter waving goodbye - the cat you and us

Chefs or waiters “waved” you goodbye until you were out of their sight (turn the corner) until then, they constantly bowed to you (I blushed a little every time!)

Mume hotel - the cat you and us croissant - the cat you and us Homemade jams at Mume hotel - the cat you and us

Our planning agenda next to that day’s handmade jams. The agenda was a birthday present from our friends Albert+Anna (thanks guys!)

Nijo castle entrance - the cat you and us

Kyoto has an impressive feudal castle. It is specially incredible the Ninomaru Palace with its “nightingale floors”; the sound of the floors, which remind to the bird chant, alerted the emperor of the presence of a ninja intruder.

Nijo castle - the cat you and us Nijo castle - the cat you and us

Changing film rolls in the LC-A+ from b&w to slide. It is like an open gate to the unknown ;)

Nijo castle lca - the cat you and us Nijo gardens - the cat you and us Pontocho riverside - the cat you and us Pontocho building - the cat you and us Pontocho - the cat you and us Hiro yakiniku - the cat you and us Yakiniku - the cat you and us Hiro meat - the cat you and us Hiro yakiniku - the cat you and us Hiro yakiniku - the cat you and us So hot - the cat you and us Pontocho - the cat you and us Taxi driver waiting for a Geisha - the cat you and us

A very solemn taxi driver waiting for a Geisha in front of a tea-house.

Lovely Ayano-san maiko - the cat you and us

*edit: We have learned, thanks to a flickr comment, that she is called Ayano-san and that she was a Maiko back then. Thanks for the info!

Geishas - the cat you and us Walking back home - the cat you and us Mume bedroom - the cat you and us Mume bedroom - the cat you and us Mume bedroom - the cat you and us Mume toilet commands - the cat you and us

Only half of the commands of the japanese toilet, on top there were a few more options. It made you feel powerful :) (just kidding… kinda)

Dani with a Geisha - the cat you and us Cute bus - the cat you and us Kyoto train station - the cat you and us Kyoto train station - the cat you and us

15 Comments / 11 

  1. Fiona - 25th July 2013

    I was really looking forward to this post :) A lot of things to say but mostly that your pictures make me feel like I’m back in Kyoto, so magical! I’ve scrolled through this post a handful of times now picking up all the sweet details, thank-you so much for sharing!

  2. The Life In A Year - 25th July 2013

    Gosh when I look at your Japanese trip photos I always feel a little jealous! Lucky you you got this opportunity to see these places, I’m totally in love with this country and I can’t wait to go there too, as soon as it’s possible.

    Nadia from The Life In A Year

  3. Jane Y. - 25th July 2013

    Wow. I love your photos (again!) and captions and story. I can’t get over the night time pictures. Love how these moments are captured. I really can’t wait to go~~

  4. Irela - 26th July 2013

    Such lovely photos! They make me miss Japan so much. I’m still a Tokyo girl at heart, but Kyoto truly is a beauty.

  5. Louise - 28th July 2013

    Oh whew, these photos are so elegant and full of …feeling? I’m not quite sure what to call it, but it’s damn pretty. All the little details you guys got on camera, so good!! I’m still so happy to have found your blog, I feel like I’m back in Japan, even for just a while looking at these pictures. I’m craving yakiniku, so much! Is this the end of your Japan-series? (I adore all of your photography, so I will still follow you guys, haha!)

    • We reply...

      Oh thank you so much Louise! :) :) We still have the Nara post pending of the Japan series and then maybe some tips or other details with some mismatched pictures. We will be the ones missing more the Japan pics as we are now vicarously living again the travel thanks to the posts ;) hope you will like our new adventures!

  6. Lilyzab - 29th July 2013

    Omg, you are SO lucky. It’s my dream to go to japan, it looks so beautiful and peacefull.
    Amazing pictures!


  7. Dus of Cuddly Cacti - 13th August 2013

    wow looks stunning again!! sounds like such a nice hotel & that is amazing they make the breakfast fresh for you. good call staying by the downtown, anytime we don’t do that (usually to be cheap) i think we’ve regretted it. Looks like an amazing place to visit!
    Cuddly Cacti
    Mitla Moda

  8. zmm - 13th January 2014

    I love your photos! I googled Hanamikoji Dori and it brought me here… We were there recently, and some of the places you’d visited we didn’t go.. sigh.. now you make me want to return

  9. Dee - 20th January 2014

    Hi I’ve just discovered your blog through Tripadvisor and love it! I’m off to Japan in 2 weeks and your posts are so useful, thank you! Do you know if any of the restaurants you mention have websites? Or do you know the addresses? Of course I tried to find them myself but when I search, there are 2 or 3 different restaurants with similar names! I’d love to find the right places as they look amazing! Thanks! x

    • We reply...

      Hello Dee! So glad that you find our posts useful. We have made a few searches and we found the restaurants websites or location in Kyoto! (not easy). The Yakiniku Hiro (the meat one) was this one: http://www.yakiniku-hiro.com/kiyamachi.php just at the end of Pontocho st. Manzara was an excellent izakaya: http://www.manzara.co.jp/gion/index.html, we have seen there are others of the same owners but we went to that specific one in Gion. And finally the most difficult to find was Yorozu Enraku izakaya, we had to use google street maps to find it ourselves, here it is: Yorozu Enraku’s door in google street map also in Gion, you won’t be disappointed at all, the soups and the duck rice were beyond amazing. Wish you a yummy stay in Kyoto!

  10. Dee - 21st January 2014

    Thank you so much I really appreciate it! Its difficult trying to locate blog recommendations in Japan as many restaurants seem to use the same name! I can’t wait to try them all! One more question did Gonpachi in Tokyo live up to expectations? I’ve read mixed reviews… What was your favourite restaurant in Tokyo? Thanks again! Dee

    • We reply...

      Totally agree, it was very difficult to find the addresses. Also google maps sometimes is very confusing in Japan :) Gonpachi was a really good experience for the atmosphere its decoration creates, the food has good quality but you can find better food for the same price in other places (for example Kyoto izakayas!). Nevertheless I think the decoration well deserves a visit! :) We have a ramen place and a sushi one recommended here for Tokyo: The best of Japan. And also what they say is true, almost every place will be a good one ;) just go to the most crowded ones!

  11. Dee - 21st January 2014

    Thanks so much for your replies and all the great posts about Japan!

  12. Nieves - 8th May 2016

    Me encantan todas las fotos están hechas con mucho gusto y también con mucho cariño

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