Kyoto and First Impressions of Japan

Konichiwa from Japan!

I normally schedule all my blog posts in advance but I couldn’t help but break from routine so I can tell you guys about my first couple of days in Japan! I’m here for a family vacation; we arrived in Kyoto a few days ago and (as everyone predicted) I LOVE it. Also: I only did the peace sign in photos for about half a day before I admitted that I can’t pull it off.

Kyoto was the former imperial capital of Japan; the emperor used to live there. It is called “the city of peace and tranquility” and is known worldwide for things we associate with classical Japanese culture: emperors, samurai, temples, shrines, zen gardens, kimonos, tea ceremonies, geisha. It’s an ancient city but a very well-preserved one.  It’s beautiful, to say the least, and our few days there have been really nice.

The people are so friendly, even if not everyone speaks English. My dad also very often gets mistaken for a local, so there’s even more confusion when they realize that we can’t speak Japanese. (That’s my family on the train on our way to Kyoto.)

Here are some quick observations about Kyoto (and Japan in general) and what has lured me into immediately imagining a life here. What I’m Loving So Far:

Even the cheap food is really good. Sure, I expected amazing meals here (I love all kinds of Japanese food) but I didn’t expect even the fast food grub to be super tasty. For our first meal, we went to one of those quick lunch places with ticket machines (a vending machine where you place your orders and pay). I thought the ramen and gyoza would just be okay, after all it’s technically fast food, but both were really good. In fact it was so good that my sister Patty and I came back at 10 pm later that evening only to be disappointed because it was already closed – the restaurant has the same hours as the department store, which brings me to my next favorite thing:

The department stores are huge. Forget the 10 floors of Saks in Manhattan – the department stores here are massive. Best of all, they often have floors dedicated to just restaurants PLUS a depachika, or department basement gourmet hall. Think food stalls and farmers market in one place. Shopping and food combined? I’m in heaven.

The architecture is magnificent but the stories are even better.  For instance I loved visiting the The Nijo Castle, which was the residence of the shoguns (a shogun was the head of the military). I’ve always been interested in stories about Japanese military and Japanese warriors (I loved the last Samurai exhibit at the MFA) and it was great seeing an actual castle where the floors are squeaking (squeaking!) to warn the guards if there are any intruders. The floors of the palace corridors are called “nightingale floors” because they were designed to squeak like the birds if anyone steps on them. Even if you step as lightly as a ninja!

There are photo ops everywhere. Or: there’s no need to be shy in taking photos. Not only do people respectfully stay out of your way if they see you pointing a camera or an iPhone, or do they volunteer to take your picture even with the language barrier, but there are also designated photo stations. The photo station we tried here is at the food floor of Isetan (one of the more popular department stores) where you can pretend to be a Japanese cook.

The Japanese love their sweets. This place is a dessert-lover’s dream. Japan makes incredibly smooth chocolate – my favorite is Royce, but I also particularly enjoy the strawberry-flavored novelties from the convenience stores. The pastries and cakes are also delicious. I read somewhere that one of Japan’s best kept secrets is their French pastries, so of course I had to try them myself. There is also a lot of ice cream. Yes, it is winter, but that did not stop me from enjoying a soft serve cone.

And in reality, when Patty and I went back to the department store late at night for ramen, in my head I was also thinking ice cream.

I hope you guys enjoyed this quick post about my vacation so far.  There is so much to see and do and eat in Japan, and I’m planning to enjoy every remaining minute here. Sayonara for now! Stay tuned next week for cookies.


25 Responses to “Kyoto and First Impressions of Japan”

  1. #
    Monica posted January 12, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Love peeking into your life this morning, Bianca! And Japan! My husband (then boyfriend) and I went right after we graduated college and we constantly talk about going back. Such an amazing place – everyone is so polite, it’s so safe, and the food is simply unbelievable! I gained about 8-10 lbs. from that trip, just a warning. ; ) Have a wonderful time!

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted January 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Thank you! I’m still here and really loving it. I’m wearing stretchy leggings to accommodate all the eating hehehe

  2. #
    Megan posted January 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Looks like you are having so much fun! The ramen and gyoza both look amazing!

  3. #
    Shelley @ Two Healthy Kitchens posted January 13, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I loved this post! My brother and his wife lived in Tokyo for a couple of years, but, sadly, it was right around the time that my kiddos were born, and my husband and I never made it there to visit Japan with them. Your post makes me realize even more how much I missed! Luckily, we’d had a fantastic vacation visiting them when they lived in Hong Kong – even walking the Great Wall and exploring Beijing in its pre-Olympic days. Now they live in London, so I’ll bet you can guess where we really oughta go next, right!?!?! Love all the pics and descriptions of your food adventures – exploring the culinary aspects of a culture are always one of my very favorite parts of traveling! Hope you have oodles more fun … looking forward to the next post! :D

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted January 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Thanks so much, Shelley! Someday I’d like to visit Hongkong, too. And London! :)

  4. #
    Eva @ Eva Bakes posted January 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I would love to visit Japan someday (I have been to the Narita airport, but that totally doesn’t count). I’d love to see all the fun vending machines and attend a live taping of a game show while I’m there! So jealous of you!

  5. #
    vanillasugarblog posted January 13, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Oh I miss traveling.
    I used to do so much when I was younger, now we have student loans and a mortgage. LOL!

  6. #
    Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health posted January 13, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    thanks for sharing this. I am so excited to see more of your posts :)

  7. #
    Alaina posted January 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    What an amazing trip!! My sister in law went to Japan and she enjoyed it immensely. I never thought about adding Japan to my travel bucket list, but I just might have to. Not until I conquer more of Europe though. :-P

    And seriously, you have the best palate. I want to eat all the things!

  8. #
    Samantha Angela posted January 13, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I’m loving this because I’m in the process of planning a trip to Japan too, but probably won’t take it for another 10 months.

  9. #
    Cailee posted January 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Wow!! This looks so amazing!! It is truly beautiful!! I would love to go!!! I would def appreciate the desserts! That ice cream looks amazing!! :)

  10. #
    Daisy posted January 13, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    lucky lady!!! Japan sounds amazing, loving your instas. keep the updates coming.

    oh and happy new year!

  11. #
    Erin | The Law Student's Wife posted January 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Can you put me in your purse so I can EAT all along the way!? What an amazing experience so far!

  12. #
    Liz posted January 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    What fun!!! Japan is on my bucket list and now I want to move it to the top!!!

  13. #
    vicky and Ruth @ May I have that recipe? posted January 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Sounds like such an amazing trip. Enjoy and keep sharing!

  14. #
    Patty posted January 14, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Really enjoyed this post and think I would like all the same things you’re loving about Japan-food, photo opps and shopping-sounds great to me!

  15. #
    Jordan Lynn // Life Between Lattes posted January 14, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I have heard such great things about visiting Japan, and this post is just reaffirming my desire to travel there! So glad I found your blog!

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted January 15, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks, Jordan Lynn, and welcome! Hope you get to visit Japan someday, too :)

  16. #
    Molly Galler posted January 14, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Love seeing all the photos on Instagram and getting even more details here! Keep it coming!

  17. #
    Meghan posted January 14, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Wow! This looks like one amazing trip. Your family is beautiful, and I love when you post about them!

  18. #
    El posted January 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Great photos. Everything looks like so much fun. Keep us posted!

  19. #
    Sacha posted January 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Trip of a lifetime! I hope you end up sharing some more. And if you’re missing Japanese/French sweets when you come back, try Japonaise Bakery—it’s great!

  20. #
    Chai a Cup of Life posted January 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Japan looks like a fun place to travel. That soft serve-yum!

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