Kyoto doesn't sleep.
That's because the subway stops running at 11:48 p.m., forcing unsuspecting gaijin to stay up all night hoofing the commute back to their hostel.
And that's exactly how I passed the early morning hours on Sunday, walking the otherwise-deserted streets of northern Kyoto in the company of four friends, all fellow JETs. We'd been out to dinner and drinks and had missed the last train by exactly 7 minutes. Not so thrilled with the prospect of shelling out thousands of yen for a taxi back to our hostel, we opted instead for the two-hour walk back to the comfort of our hostel-floor futons.
Needless to say, my long weekend in Kyoto was an eventful one. Our gang descended on Kyoto, Japan's third-largest city, known for its 2,000 temples and a handful of latter-day geisha, for a much-needed urban fix. When we weren't temple-hopping or geisha-hunting, we kept busy.
Saturday found us taking in the soon-to-be-fall foliage from Kiyomizu-dera, a mountain-side temple built in 798. Next, we trekked to Sanjusangen-do, a temple housing 1,001 Buddhist statues (thankfully, no pictures were allowed, otherwise I would've been there all day). We wandered through Kyoto's alleyways on foot, and ended up at Nishiki Market, home to some of the scariest/weirdest/freshest seafood I'd ever seen, plus thousands of varieties of pickles (pickled eggplant, anyone?). We feasted on free pickle samples for lunch, and then headed to the Gion district, home to Kyoto's remaining 100 geisha. Geisha hunting was followed by dinner, drinks and the aforementioned loooooooooong walk home.
Sunday found us at Fushimi-Inari Taisha, home to hundreds of red torii pillars spanning a 4km walk up a mountain. Next we hopped on rented bicycles and peddled through Kyoto's back alleys, crashed a street festival, took a nap on a temple (ooops!), and then enjoyed some Japanese beers by the river. Dinner was at the ever-authentic びっくりドンキー (Surprised Donkey Restaurant).
Monday - a Japanese national holiday - afforded me the opportunity to do a bit of travel on my own. Armed with my Japanese-English dictionary and notes on how to navigate the train systems between the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, I set out solo to explore Himeji Castle. The castle was built in 1333, but is still lookin' sharp.
Life in Fukui has its perks, but perhaps the biggest is its proximity to this amazing city. I spent a whirlwind three days in Kyoto but barely scratched the surface, so I'll look forward to visiting again soon - but next time will be sure to either catch the 11:48 or pack some extra Diet Coke.