For our trip to Japan in 2015 I roughly sketched out an itinerary with places that I wanted to visit, leaving enough room to deviate from it whenever we felt like it. So before visiting Himeji and its beautiful white castle, we rented bicycles and went off exploring Kyoto. I love straying off the beaten paths and discover new places that are not written down in any travel guides yet. This is also how we found this lovely tea house at the river in Kyoto!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
When we went to Arashiyama to admire the bamboo grove, I didn’t expect it to be located in an incredibly touristy area. Souvenir shops everywhere and masses of tourists, too. We hurried through the crowd and made our way to the bamboo grove. Unluckily, it was quite crowded there, too, albeit not as bad as in Arashiyama itself.
After walking through the groves (and trying to take pictures without people in it, which is completely impossible), we ended up in a lovely hilltop park. No tourists to be seen anywhere, so we went off to enjoy a pleasant stroll through the park and see where it would take us.
We found some steps leading uphill and decided to walk up, just to see where it would lead. I’m so glad we did because we found a spot with an amazing view over the Ôi river winding its way through the nearby hills. It’s a perfect spot for an afternoon picnic, too bad we didn’t bring any snacks with us.
We made our way down to the river via a different road because we thought it would be nice to walk along the river back to our bikes (that we parked in the designated area, of course!). When we arrived at the river and started walking down just a few steps, we saw a little yellow boat on the riverbank and a tea house on the other side of the river.
The tea house at the river
One of our friends laughed when he saw the boat, joking that we could take the boat and row to the other side to the tea house. Actually, there was a sign next to the small path we were walking and since I could read a little bit Japanese, I tried to decipher the weathered sign. And guess what? It did say that guests are welcome to use the little yellow boat to get across the river and to the tea house!
So, of course, we had to get on it and make our way there! It was quite adventurous and so much fun! I don’t think the boat was made for four people, though, the boat was quite deep in the water but we arrived at the tea house without any accidents. There were two older gentlemen taking care of the boats at the tea house who cheered us on and helped us get off the boat. Such a fun ride!
The tea house itself mainly consisted of a covered seating space with lanterns on the roofs and a magnificent view of the river. I can only imagine how wonderful it must look if you’re sitting there in the evening, with the lanterns lighted and looking over the quiet river.
We ordered a few snacks and something to drink to relax for a bit and enjoy the view. There were just a few other people sitting there and as we found out later, they had made their way to the tea house by walking down the bridge further down the river and then walking here. So, in fact, we took a shortcut and a very entertaining one as well.
When we had rested up and were ready to leave, one of the older gentlemen offered to take us back (in a larger boat and with a motor) to the other side of the river. We took up his offer, said goodbye to the friendly waiters and got into the boat.
This little adventure was such a highlight during our Kyoto visit, especially because we simply didn’t expect something this funny happening to us. We had a lot of fun and it was nice to get away from the massive tourist crowds.
Have you had any similar adventures during your travels? Please share with me, I’d love to hear about them!
Getting around in Kyoto
My favorite method of getting to know a foreign city is usually by walking as much as I can. However, if you want to see most of Kyoto in a short time, renting a bike is probably the cheapest and most fun option for you. You can find some tips on renting a bike in Kyoto here.
Day trips from Kyoto
If you’re based in Kyoto for a longer while, you might be interested to do a few day trips outside of Kyoto? Why not go Himeji and visit its beautiful white castle. It’s one of the many world heritage sites in Japan, very well worth a one-day visit. If you’re there already, why not also check out the Omotenashi Dining Fukutei and get an affordable Kaiseki lunch here? A trip to Himeji takes just about 45 minutes!
Or you could go and visit the many deers residing in Nara and check out the world’s biggest wooden building, housing a huge bronze Buddha statue inside. The trip is just about an hour from Kyoto Central Station.
Planning your trip
There are a lot of good hotels or hostels around in Kyoto. The first time I came to Kyoto I stayed in a hostel, which was quite central as well. This time, however, we decided to rent an airbnb apartment. In my experience, it has often proven to be much more affordable and comfortable as well. If you haven’t signed up for airbnb yet, you can use this link and get 18 € (or 20 $) off of your first booking!
If you are planning a longer trip through Japan, consider getting the Japan Rail Pass! Read here to find out more about the pass!
To help me plan all my trips and itineraries in Japan, I mostly used the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*. I’ve used it a lot when I was living in Japan and found it a great help this time as well!