Road-tripping to Kansai: Kyoto

Greetings readers! I hope that this post finds you well amid all the COVID-19 craziness going on right now. I know most of you are probably stuck at home, so hopefully you enjoy this post about my adventure to the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara) a month ago. This post will talk mostly about going to and arriving in Kyoto, so you can stay tuned for another post on Kyoto, as well as Osaka and Nara.

Here in Japan, the school year ends in March and we are given about a two and a half week long vacation between the semesters. During this time, teachers still have to go to school and be at their desks, what we call “deskwarming”. However, we can use our vacation days easily during this time. So, some friends and I decided this would be a good time to go on an adventure. Since the cherry blossoms (sakura) usually start blooming at the end of March, we decided that the Kansai area would be a nice place to go and see all the sakura.

My friend Lexi and I primarily planned the trip, but we were joined at various times by other friends. Instead of taking a train or a bus, we decided to do a road-trip instead. It ended up saving on costs, and was a lot more fun that being stuck on a bus or train for 4-6 hours. For those of you who may not know, Japan has a pretty nice network of expressways that make it convenient to drive from city to city. However, you have to pay tolls on these roads, and it can be crazy expensive. For example, in my prefecture, it is about $20 to drive from the expressway entrance in Azumino (the closest stop to my village) to Ina, which is about an hour to the south. To go all the way from Azumino to Kyoto can cost around $75 in tolls for only about 4 hours of driving! It’s crazy!

To help lower our costs, we recruited our friends Se-Gil and Julie to drive with us there. They decided to stay in Osaka and focus on the other Kansai cities like Kobe and Nara, while Lexi and I focused on Kyoto. However, they decided to tag along with us to Kyoto and take the train to Osaka from there (which costs about $10). It ended up lowering our costs per person to about $40 for tolls and gas, which is $30 cheaper than a bust and about $60 cheaper than a train. We also hopped off the toll road early and drove along Lake Biwa the rest of the way into Kyoto, which saved us more money, though it did add an extra hour. However, the view of the lake was amazing so it was worth it. We also stopped in a cool town called Omihachiman, which had a nice shrine and some cool canals. Driving to Kyoto was a heck of a lot more fun than taking the train or bus. We jammed to some music and just had a blast in general. I love road-tripping!

Once we arrived in Kyoto we parked my car at our AirBnB, dropped off our luggage, then headed downtown in search of food and drinks. As soon as we stepped off the train I loved the vibe in Kyoto. I like living in smaller cities, but I do like to visit a bigger city. Kyoto has a really nice feel to it. It is a mix of old with modern and chic; and I loved it. We roamed around in search of dinner and decided on a super yummy Thai restaurant where I had an amazing curry ramen. After that we checked out two really cool bars. The first was called I Love You More Than Gin, and was this super tiny hole in the wall that served some crazy concoctions. It was quite expensive, about $16 for one drink, but was definitely worth it for the experience.  The drinks were almost a work of art in their design, and we got to watch as the bartender made them. It was my first time having gin, which is very interesting, but quite good. I definitely would go there again for the experience.

After that bar, we went over to another really cool place called L’Escamoteur, which was a French speakeasy style bar. I really enjoyed this place as well. It was pretty small, but the drinks they had were super good, and sometimes they did interesting tricks to make them. I had a fruity drink with tequila and chili powder, and it was amazing. Like the other bar though, you definitely paid for the experience at this place because it was super expensive. For a drink that wasn’t really that large it was about $16 again, so I only had one. The atmosphere was super cool and the bar tenders were really fun and nice to talk to. They were all foreigner, so I was actually able to chat with them. I was able to try cognac for the first time because one of them overheard me say I had never tried it and gave me a free sample of it. I would definitely go here again!

After this bar Se-Gil and Julie headed over to their AirBnB in Osaka. Lexi and I stopped by a local conbini (a convenience store, which in Japan are super awesome) and grabbed a drink and a snack. We then went down by the river and just chilled and chatted while we drank. One thing I love about Japan (and some other countries I’ve been to like Germany), is the fact that you are allowed to drink in public. You can take an alcoholic drink and go chill in a public park or along the river and it is perfectly fine as long as you aren’t disturbing anyone. I love being able to relax along the river with good company and a drink. It is quite nice.

For the sake of not having this post drag on and on, I will end this post here. Stay tuned for my post on exploring more of Kyoto and its amazing temples and shrines, as well as a post on wearing a kimono for the first! 

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