Hello folks! I’m so glad to be back with the first of my Japan travelogues: I’ve been blessed to visit Japan twice this year, once in February, and once in September. Both times were amazing experiences!
Our itinerary for this 8 days 7 nights trip in September went something like this:
Japan – September 2015 Itinerary
Narita to Osaka
Day 1: Arrived at Narita > Shinkansen to Osaka > Checked into Osaka accommodation > Dotonburi
Day 2: Universal Studios Japan!
Osaka to Kyoto
Day 4: Shinkansen to Takayama > Bus to Shirakawago > Back to Kyoto
Kyoto to Tokyo
Day 6: Shinkansen to Tokyo > Checked into Ebisu accommodation > Shibuya
Day 7: Sensoji, Asakusa > Omotesando > Harajuku > Shinjuku
Day 8: Tsukiji Fish Market > Narita Airport Express from Shibuya > Departure at Narita
It was quite a packed itinerary, but I think we managed to maximize our 8 days in Japan, especially when it’s YZ’s first time to Japan! I’ll be sharing as much as I can in regards to all the various different sights and sounds we explored!
Starting with one of my most memorable days spent in Kyoto: The day we dressed up in traditional Japanese kimono and yukata and explored Kyoto! I’ve always hoped for the opportunity to dress up in traditional kimono garb, but didn’t get to do so on my previous trips. This time, it was extra special because YZ and I did it together as a couple!
At Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most iconic temples in Kyoto!
Let me briefly talk about our kimono rental experience! There are quite a number of kimono rental stores in Kyoto, and a quick search will turn up a fair amount of options. I did some googling around and I’m so glad that I picked this particular store called Kimono Rental 41 (the name sounds dubious I know) which is located in a tiny building right outside Kawaramachi Station.
It’s right next to Takashimaya, and the lobby is narrow and hidden, so you might have to look harder to find it!
When we arrived at the shop at 9.20am, the shop already had a handful of Japanese customers, with no tourists at all! Always a good sign.
Kyoto Kimono Rental 41 – 41 Yonjuichi
Open from 9AM-8PM (Closed on Mondays)
Shijyo-Kawaramachi next to Takashimaya
Shikata Building 51,
Street of Shijyo,
Teramachi Higashiiru Otabicho39,
I was a little worried that the kimono rental shop would be closed, because I read online that they were not open on Mondays, unless it was a Public Holiday. But as it turned out, it was indeed open due to the public holiday (Silver Week)!
Imagine my excitement when I stepped into the shop: It was quiet and non-touristy, there was a huge array of kimono and yukata hung up on racks, and some Japanese ladies already in the midst of picking their kimonos!
There are a few different rental plans available: Plan A (basic kimono) Plan B (upgraded version) and yukata rental. For men, there’s also kimono and yukata.
I picked the Plan B kimono rental and YZ chose yukata rental because he liked the prints on the yukata better. You’ll get to select the kimono that you like, and I had a tough time deciding which one to pick!
Here’s Kimono 41’s brochure that I found online for your easy reference: It’s quite affordable I feel, I remember we paid around 9000 yen for both of us, which works out to be around SGD100!
Finally settled on this sweet pink kimono with an elegant floral print! The shop staff helped me with picking an obi sash!
There are also other bits and pieces to go along with the kimono, like an ornamental rope piece and another inner piece that goes between the sash and kimono. Depending on the kind of prints and colors you use, the feel can be vastly different! I finally settled on a purple obi sash and a green rope piece for a pop of color contrast.
The other cute Japanese ladies browsing through and deciding what to pick!
Of course, you should always go earlier because the proverbial early bird definitely catches the worm. Look at all the exquisite kimonos already donned on by these Japanese ladies!
I even managed to make friends with some of them because they were so friendly and sweet! The shop assistants weren’t so good with English (they can speak very basic English) and a kind Japanese girl, Hikari-san, helped me translate when I couldn’t understand what was going on.
Being dressed in a (real) kimono is an elaborate process, but not to be worried, the shop assistants will help to dress you in the kimono, which is a process that takes 20 minutes or so.
I was quite mind blown by how many different articles of cloth I had, put on me! We started with a white under robe, which was layered with sashes, another cape like white piece, the inner collar that will peek out from under the kimono, and then a piece under the obi belt and finally the actual kimono and obi sash!
Pretty sure if you go to a less authentic and more touristy kind of shop, you probably get like, three layers.
A group shot with this group of beautiful Japanese ladies! It was so nice to be acquainted with them!
I also paid an additional 540¥ for my hair to be done! Definitely definitely recommend getting your hair done up because the stylists are so good at it, even my short hair got magically transformed into an updo! It makes such a difference when you’re donning kimono because it really completes the look.
A group photo with the great folks at Kimono Rental 41! 😀 Thank you so much for the wonderful service!
Along with the kimono, you’ll also be provided with footwear, as well as traditional handbags to go along with the entire outfit! Your own bags will be kept at the shop, and it’s advisable not to leave any valuables behind, of course. You then have an entire day to explore Kyoto in kimono, as long as you get back to the shop by 7.30PM to return the kimono. If I’m not mistaken, there’s an additional charge for next day return.
We felt just a little self-conscious when we first stepped out onto the streets of Kyoto, but after a few minutes or so, you’d barely feel out of place: We saw many men and women all decked out in traditional Japanese garb as well! Some were tourists like us, while others were real Japanese locals.
It’s really not difficult to walk around in a kimono, though be prepared to have to take small steps because of how confined the bottom of the kimono is. I could go to the toilet too, no problem :X I won’t say it’s super comfortable in a kimono, because you’d basically feel like you’re being wrapped up in a sushi roll! That being said, once you get used to it, it’s totally okay.
First stop: Kiyiomizu-dera Temple!
We basically walked our way through the streets of Kyoto from Kawaramachi Station to the temple, about 2km distance! The weather was tooooo fine and it was so hot in the kimono under the mid-day sun! Had a quick lunch along the way with food from a convenience store: the convenience stores in Japan are the absolute best!
We wandered around and stumbled upon a small shrine along the way so we took the opportunity for a photo-op because we were so excited about being dressed in kimono!
This is the backview of my kimono, I adore that fancy obi bow!
It took us at least forty five minutes to walk from Kawaramachi Station to Kiyiomizudera temple! When we approached the temple street area (you have to climb at an upward incline to reach the temple), it was ultra crowded! Probably because it’s a Public Holiday in Japan the week we visited. The area was packed!
Made a pit stop to get some ice cream on the way because we were just dying. Sesame and sweet potato flavoured soft-serve!
This is just how crowded it was. The narrow street was teeming with people!
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
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.
This is my second time to Kiyomizudera, the first time was during the Night Illumination during Spring, in February earlier this year!
A photo with the hordes of people behind us.
There were so many people at Kiyomizudera dressed in kimono, by the way! I was secretly comparing all the kimonos we saw on the street with my own and I feel like mine was extremely classy and nice in comparison to what some of the other tourists were wearing. I could tell that some of the kimonos were not authentic, like costume kimonos just for show.
Okay, these looked quite authentic to me. Those worn by most tourists were so garish and loud, which I found unappealing.
We basically tried to take as many photos as we could! Which is half the point of dressing up in kimono, right? 😀
Found a nice spot for photo-taking!
Along the way, I also made some new Japanese friends! Kawaii, ne?
One of the most useful Japanese phrases I’ve learnt, and I’d like to teach you is,
It means, “Photo, please?” The Japanese locals are all so polite that you’ll almost never get turned down!
My favourite shot at Kiyomizudera!
Initially, my plan was to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, but we spent so long at Kiyomizudera that we decided to forgo Fushimi Inari Shrine to head straight to Arashiyama instead. I figured that Fushimi Inari Shrine would be just as crowded as Kiyomizudera too, and that perhaps Arashiyama might be slightly less crowded since it was a twenty minutes train ride away.
We opted for taking a taxi back to Kawaramachi train station because we were getting tired of walking around in the wooden slippers (geta). As a general rule, try to avoid taking taxis in Japan, especially long rides, because they are very expensive! Osaka/Kyoto is slightly cheaper, and Tokyo is ultra-expensive.
It’s straight-forward to get to Arashiyama from Kawaramachi Station. Google maps was my life-savior during the entire trip! I navigated all my train journeys via Google Maps.
We fell in love with Arashiyama the moment the train pulled into the station! It’s much less like a city and just looks like a quaint and quiet old town. It was slightly cooler there too, and there were leaves that were already turning into shades of autumn foliage! So beautiful!
It was so serene and peaceful the moment we stepped out of the train, that I just had to pause for a minute to admire the scenic surroundings!
I wish we were just a few weeks later so that we could witness the true autumn foliage! Nonetheless, it was already so lovely.
If you’re wondering how we got our shots… Best photographer award goes to Mr. Tripod who took majority of the photos I’ve posted here!
Behind the scenes… Passerbys must have been amused by this sight!
Best idea that I had of all time to bring along a tripod although it’s slightly cumbersome. I had to set the tripod in place, put it on self timer, run over to pose for the photo, then back again to check the shot! Hahaha.
Arashiyama (嵐山) is a pleasant, touristy district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Arashiyama is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons.
The Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama’s well known, central landmark. Many small shops, restaurants and other attractions are found nearby, including Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves and pleasure boats that are available for rent on the river.
We strolled along the river and made our way to Tenryuji Temple. What I really wanted to visit though, was the famous Arashiyama bamboo groves, just further up from the temple!
Here’s the entrance into the bamboo groves. Again, it was very crowded, but I guess that was to be expected, as seeing how it was a Japanese public holiday!
We shamelessly used our tripod again to position the camera somewhere in the middle of one of the bamboo paths in order to get our photos. Thankfully, most Japanese people (and I guess tourists in Japan as well) were polite enough to avoid our tripod, and we even had a couple of nice tourists asking if we needed help with a photo, or even asking to take a photo with us! (We must have looked pretty authentic, heh!)
End result: These gorgeous photos that I can’t stop admiring, even now! 🙂
Checked off my bucket list: Donning on a kimono in Japan!
If you have more time, I definitely recommend spending a day at Arashiyama, because we barely explored the area! There are many scenic spots, and temples/shrines all over. You can even take a boat ride on the river!
We only left Arashiyama when the sun set, and made it back to Kimono 41 just in time at 7.30PM to return our kimonos and call it a day!
Dinner: Yakitori at a random chain joint, affordable and satisfying! It’s hard to find bad food in Japan. We only had terrible food on just that one occasion! But in general, even the chain restaurants and fast food places serve up totally decent food.
Godiva soft-serve ice cream (along Kawaramachi-dori) is so good! We had it on two occasions because we loved it so much, plus it came in a seasonal flavour: banana mango sauce on milk and white chocolate soft serve!
No sharing, so we had one each to end the night!
One of my favourite parts of Japan was enjoying the cool weather at night, and walking back home to our apartment. I managed to book apartments in some beautiful neighbourhoods! It’s a great idea to stay around Gion in Kyoto, because then it’s easy to get back home every night.
It was a wonderful day!
We effortlessly covered this much distance every day, because we walked from our apartment to everywhere else and back again as long as it was within walking distance! A marvellous way to admire the streets of Japan, and just to slow down, stop and smell the roses.
Accommodation – Roomorama
My accommodation in Japan was booked via Roomorama: I loved all the different apartments I stayed in, with the great accessiblity and well-furbished amenities! Featured above is my Tokyo apartment at Ebisu, my favourite of the lot.
With over 300,000 properties, Roomorama is the largest platform for professionally-managed vacation rentals and accommodations worldwide! Roomorama is giving away US$50 credits so you can get US$50 off your next Roomorama apartment booking!
Wifi Device – VISONDATA
For my past few overseas trips (to Japan, Phuket and Hong Kong so far), I’ve been using VISONDATA pocket wifi and it has always worked wonderfully. VISONDATA wifi is available in 50 countries, and one pocket wifi can be connected to up to 5 different devices!
It’s extremely convenient and handy. I was impressed with the battery life of the pocket wifi device too, because it lasts at least a good 8 hours! I’m constantly updating on social media and checking on emails on-the-go, so that is quite a feat.
Quote “VDSGYINA” when you check out on VISONDATA for 20% off your order!
More Japan posts on the way, so if you’re planning a trip to Japan soon, remember to check back for updates!
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