Last week we set off to Japan for our summer holidays (our fifth trip to Japan! Bwaha!) Last year, our hagwon only allotted us 4 days of vacation at a time, but this year we got a whole week off for summer (and we may very well be getting ten days off for winter; amazing or what?!) We divided our week in Japan into hotel stays in Kyoto and Tokyo, with day trips to Osaka, Hiroshima, and Miyajima. I had grand delusions of squeezing in day trips to Nikko, Okunoshima (a.k.a. Rabbit Island), and Mt. Fuji as well, but there just wasn’t enough time (a great excuse to go back again, right?!)
We flew into Haneda Airport in Tokyo, and thanks to our 7-Day Japan Railways passes, hopped onto the Shinkansen straight down to Kyoto. About the JR passes: holy shmoly, these things were quite possibly the smartest holiday purchases we’ve ever made! You have to buy them before entering Japan (from this website), and at $281 per pass they will seem a tad overpriced, but TRUST ME: if you have any intention of traveling between at least two cities, you will certainly get your money’s worth and then some. You can also use the pass to make seat reservations on Shinkansen trains at no extra charge, and you can use them on local JR trains. I have no idea how much money we saved by using these things, but it was a buttload.
We stayed at the super swanky ANA Crowne Plaza hotel in Kyoto, which I got for a ridiculously cheap deal on Expedia. We stopped in at an information office in Kyoto Station to find out how to get to the hotel, and an exceptionally polite and kind old man informed us that the hotel operated a free shuttle bus between Kyoto Station and the hotel every 15 minutes or so; this also saved us heaps of money!
This was our second visit to Kyoto; we fell head over heels in love with it the first time, and our feelings only intensified during this trip.
I am always amazed by how seamlessly Japan weaves its past and present together, and this is so evident in Kyoto, where its brightly-lit shopping arcades are punctuated by dim alleys leading to tiny shrines and ancient relics.
The entrance to the Teramachi shopping arcade: shopping and Shintoism combined!
Super old restaurant; the lanterns were covered in plastic sheets to protect what was left of them.
We did so much sightseeing during our first Kyoto trip, so this time we focused more on food and shopping. Last time, we found Kyoto pretty confusing to navigate, and got lost a lot…(most memorably, at night in the mountains of the Fushimi Inari shrine…). This time, we knew our way around pretty well, and walked straight from our hotel to our favorite burger joint in the whole wide world: Matsuontoko!
We were in Kyoto for four days, and we ate at Matsuontoko…four times. Yerp. IT’S JUST THAT GOOD!
Matsuontoko’s menu is completely vegan; their burgers are the real draw, but they also do main dishes, outstanding desserts, cocktails, organic wine and beer, and crispy, fried side dishes.
I had their Kyoto-style veggie curry on our first evening (but we were so hungry and exhausted, we didn’t bother taking photos); it was SUPER DUPER yums but so, so spicy. One thing I noticed about Japan this time around was the prominence of teeny tiny bite-sized eggplants; they were in curries, stir fries, and I even saw a tub of them in a convenience store. SO CUTE.
Matsuontoko has a real olde-timey pub feel to it, and they’d recently built an upstairs section; so nifty!
I never ever want this place to shut down EVER, so I was super pysched to see that they’d been doing enough business to make this kind of addition.
The following night, we tried their main meals for the first time: a breaded gluten cutlet and a hamburger steak.
Plus a side order of crispy onion rings and two frosty Heartland beers (my absolute favorite Japanese beer; I wish they’d start exporting it T-T). The hamburger steak was their ‘Matsuontoko Dinner’ that evening, so it came with a bowl of brown rice, a cup of soup, and a free drink. The meals were okay, but they had nothing on their burgers…which we didn’t take any photos of this time around (why not?! I guess we were too busy stuffing our faces…)
Eoin did manage to snap a pic of these donuts and Japanese parfait before I’d attacked them with my spoon…the Fried Yatsuhashi wasn’t so lucky, though…way too tasty to wait for! (Check out my original post here about Matsuontoko for burger and Yatsuhashi pics!) They have three donut flavors daily, and usually three or four ice cream flavors, so you get to choose your own combo. We got a maple nut donut, a matcha green tea one, and a scoop of rum raisin ice cream. The maple nut donut was out of this world: so firm and crispy on the outside and all ooey gooey on the inside.
Matsuontoko is located down an alley inside Kyoto’s shopping arcades, just across from a big WEGO clothes shop, so it’s the prime pitstop for post-shopping noms. And Kyoto is SO GOOD for shopping. It has many of the same stores you’d find in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi shopping arcade, but with a much more peaceful, less crowded atmosphere.
Here are a few of my faves:
I don’t know what this place is called, but it’s so bright and funky there’s no way you could miss it. They sell a hodge-podge of kawaii clothes and accessories, including a wall covered in Swimmer cuteness.
Swimmer is one of my all-time favorite Japanese brands. They sell EVERYTHING, but adorable. Nail clippers, headphones, clothes, cutlery, ANYTHING you want, basically.
I have four of their sporks and two of those macaron plates. Their stuff is so incredibly cheap, as well; the plates were under 3 dollars!
Another favorite for cheap ‘n’ cheerful shopping is this place (I know, I really need to learn Japanese; I’m working on it.) It’s like Daiso, but EVERYTHING is pink and adorable. UGH.
The famous Pink Latte bus shop! Unfortunately the shelves inside were looking pretty bare.
I also discovered Sirotan for the first time here ♥♥♥
It’s a baby harp seal dressed up as all kinds of stuff: rainbows, mushrooms, toast…whatever your heart desires, really.
These guys aren’t cheap, but oh my glob, could you resist that face?! Really?!
I’LL TAKE THEM ALL!!!
Last but not least, Village Vanguard; this place and Don Quixote are where you wanna go if you’re looking for strange and quirky quintessentially Japanese souvenirs.
My Melody face sheet masks featuring various internationally-themed essences, like red wine for France.
And all the snuggly plushies you can wrap your arms around.
Kyoto’s arcades are also filled with loads of gachapon and claw machines.
I totally suck at these things, and they’re really not that cheap in Japan (think between $1-5, depending of the quality of the prize inside).
Anyway, I had to try my luck at least once, right?!
Too much Kitty cuteness for one machine to handle!
OH THE SUSPENSE!
Oh, poop. I told you I suck at these things.