Catching The Vapors

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Japan 2019
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Roughly a year ago, our friend Rebecca said “I’m planning a surprise trip to Japan for Mike’s 40th birthday: you want in?”

Well, yeah.  Of course we want in.

So, we’re in Japan.  This post is going up on a delay, because the surprise has not yet been sprung.  We ended up heading to Japan a few days before team Woodworth – free (credit card miles) tickets dictated our dates.  Although we’ve transited through Japan a few times, and spent some overnights here, we’ve never properly dug in.  We’ve only got a week though, so we limited ourselves to two destinations: Kyoto and Tokyo.  

Our travel day was long, but relatively uneventful.  Aforementioned free tickets meant we went from Minneapolis to Toronto to Montreal to Tokyo.  From Tokyo, we took a train to a train to a subway to get to our hotel in the middle of Kyoto, arriving very late at night on Sunday.  

Monday threatened to be a rain-out, but we mostly lucked out.  Because it’s been a bit of a busy 2019 so far, we honestly haven’t done much pre-planning for this trip.  On the train ride to Kyoto, we thumbed through our guidebook and filtered out some key sights.  Kyoto is packed with amazing temples, gardens, shrines and trails.  

Doing our best to fight jetlag, we woke up at a reasonable time and strolled down the street to a place with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet – mostly local seasonable vegetables, soups, and pickled things.  Then we set out for the northeast of the city, aiming to get our bearings with a nice long walk.  About 15 minutes into the walk, we came across and over the top donut shop, and breakfast number two was in order.

Full of sugar, we double timed it to Honen-in, via the start of the Philosphers Path, a picturesque trail along a small stream that connects many sights in that part of the city.  It’s amazing how quickly the city melts away and you step back in time.  The Japanese attention to detail, in everything from food to hotel room layout to rock placement in a garden is truly unreal.  Everything has been made that little bit nicer, that little bit more perfect. 

We spent our day strolling through temples and gardens, with a detour for some udon.  We wound up our day at Nanzenji temple.  We ended up stumbling on some of the hiking trails up in the hills to the east of the city, and wandered through the forest by ourselves for a while, before dropping back into the temple at a small waterfall shrine.  We sat and contemplated for a while, before the rain finally moved in and nudged us on our way. 

Looking for somewhere indoors, we went to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, where Kat learned about everything from sake brewing to lacquered wood.  I found a pleasant spot to read, working my way through (naturally) a Murakami novel.  

By 5pm, we were feeling the effects of our travel, and decided to swing back to the hotel for a quick nap.  Our efforts at finding a fancy place for dinner were squashed by a lack of understanding of the types of restaurants which have a fixed number of timed seatings. Ah well. We were pretty braindead by the point anyways, and turned in early for a long night’s sleep. 

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