Five Unique Experiences in Kyoto

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Today our guest blogger is Toyoko, born and raised in Kyoto, Japan’s most traditional city. Toyoko is one of ToursByLocals’ most popular Japanese guides, having led almost 60 tours around Kyoto in the past year, and earning a slew of 5 star reviews from happy travelers. Below you can find her five suggestions of unique and enjoyable things to eat, drink and see while visiting her hometown.

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine Hike
It is a nice light hike to go up to the top of Inari mountain. There is a pleasant 2-hour hiking route behind the Shrine. The route is covered by vermilion coloured Torii (bird perch) gate all the way from the start till the end. It is a very atmospheric path and the hiking is not very tiring. When you are finished and reach the top you can see the whole view as well as the head office of the world famous (and Kyoto-born) company called NINTENDO.

2. Iwatayama Monkey Park - Feeding roaming monkeys from a cage!
There are about 100 wild monkeys on IWATAYAMA Mountain (200 meters above sea level) and it is nice upward hike to reach the top. When you reach the top, you are asked by the staffs to go into the cage where snacks for monkeys (apple chunks or peanuts) are sold. You can buy some snacks and feed the monkeys safely from inside the cage while they are outside.

The staff are amazing! They recognize all of the monkeys there and know the hierarchy of the monkey community. The staffs can give us in-depth talk about the monkey world such as how the head of the monkeys is chosen or what kinds of social rules monkeys follow. Sometimes we come across Japanese school groups and customers can meet with Japanese kids.

This is an ideal attraction for children.

3. Tempura (lightly fried vegetables and seafood) Restaurant
Established in 1936, this family run restaurant has used high-quality sesame oil for deep-frying vegetables and sea-foods. Customers can order favourite vegetables and/or seafoods and ask the chef to fry in front of them. There is no surer way to know that your food is JUST fried now. It is very fresh and the chef is very proud of it.

In Kyoto there are many good Tempura restaurants but many of them ask you or almost force you order a 5 to 6 course dinner including sashimi (raw fish), soup, rice, simmered fish and customers have to eat other courses although what they want are just TEMPURA. This is one of a few restaurants which are offering very fresh fried vegetables on a la carte basis. Roast duck, Sashimi, Beef stock soup are also available. Good warm (or cold) sake can also be ordered.

4. Abura-cho for sake tasting
Fushimi is a small town located in the south of Kyoto city. It is famous for lots of sake (Japanese rice wine) breweries. People can visit a few sake breweries and visitor centres to enjoy tours, learn about the brewing process, and try sake sipping.

Abura cho is a small sake bar letting people try different kinds of sake. It is basically a sake retailer but at the back of the shop is a small sake counter with about 10 seats. People can order a "sake tasting set" which comes with 2-3 cups of sake and cooked snacks. If you want go further you can order a few more cups for 150 yen to 500 per cup. (One cup is about 40 to 50 cc).

If you go to an ordinary bar, when ordering sake, you have to order one small decanter which is about 180 cc to 200 cc. But at Abura-cho you can order small amounts of as many kinds of sake as you wish. The staff are all friendly and willing to explain to you about sake.

5. Enjoying a local, organic cooking lesson with my friend Miki!
Miki is an expert in organic cooking having worked as a diet advisor to a very popular restaurant in Kyoto. She believes in the philosophy "We are what we eat".

Modern people are taking so much artificial seasoning and too hot (spicy) foods that their tastes buds on their tongues are getting numb or less-sensitive to delicate tastes. Worrying about this tendency, Kyoto-native Miki has decided to start "Miki's cooking lesson" at her house by using organic foods, vegetables with minimal fertilizer/pesticide, and safe/natural ingredients. She is currently quite popular with many local people wishing to share this idea, but she is also very happy to help foreign visitors to Kyoto share this very informative and fun cooking lesson.

If you’d like to start a conversation with Toyoko on how you’d like to spend your time in Kyoto, you can contact her here: Toyoko’s Guide Page.
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