It’s easy to see why everyone loves Kyoto, the formal imperial capital of Japan. The temples, the castles, the gardens, the old shops, the canal, they’re beyond beautiful.And unlike Tokyo the scale is small, the atmosphere intimate, except for one small intimate problem: Kyoto is crammed with tourists.Here in Gion, the ancient night life district, it’s nuts on the weekend.Not to mention, expensive. But at the very height of the high season, in a posh neighborhood.I found a hotel that would let me stick to my weekend budget of five hundred dollars: the Nishiyama.The Nishiyama is Kyoto, a traditional inn with a garden in the front yard, a koto player in the lobby, and cozy futon rooms.Let’s see if we have a view, mmm… not so much.A cup of tea, some wagashi or traditional candy, and wacky Japanese TV.Well worth one hundred dollars a night.
But outside the hotel I still face the challenge of Kyoto.How to get beyond the tourist experience and penetrate to something real. With very little time, I wasn’t sure.I’d be able to look into every nook and cranny but I figured I’d give it a shot.So I took the Kyoto subway to the Philosopher’s Path, a neighborhood with some of the most gorgeous temples and shrines in Kyoto.
The main temple in this complex is called Namzen-ji and it would be incredibly peaceful here except for all these people.All of them seem to be taking the exact same photo.Sure it’s lovely, but I felt claustrophobic until I found this empty path off to the side.Up and up I went, sure I’d discover my own little nook or cranny.And there it was, a little shrine to call my own.I even had my own shower.But the path led even further, soon I came face to face with American college students.Okay, so I wasn’t alone anymore, but I didn’t care.Joe and Chelsey offered their own recommendations for frugal travel in Kyoto.
So in Kyoto you must be eating kaeseki all the time.
Haha no, kaeseki, as delicious as it is and as healthy as it is, it’s expensive.I recommend you go into any of the big department stores and you go to the basement because the basement is where all the gourmet foods are sold and they are always samples and you can have pretty much a meal on samples alone.
And so that’s what I did. Where are the free samples? Do I have to ask for them?Oh look at these big, delicious eels. Can I try? First sample.
Then I got lucky.
What is this?
It’s radish, pickled in plum juice.
I think I’ll stay on the samples. Mmm…..
This is exciting. Oh, it’s so good. Ah, more daekon.
As I gorged myself on free samples I suddenly realized, for the first time all weekend, the crowds didn’t matter.
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