One of many shrines in Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)

After exploring the island of Hokkaido and Tokyo, my husband and I headed south. For this segment, we moved around quite a bit. We tried to see as much as we could of Kyoto and beyond on lower Honshu Island, Japan. This included Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagoya, the Nakasendo Trail, Lake Kawaguchiko, and Mount Fuji. This leg of the trip started with a long Shinkansen bullet-train ride from Hakodate in Hokkaido to Kyoto (about eight hours). See below for links to articles for those destinations.


Cedar ball means sake is available in Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)

Our five nights in Kyoto were focused on food and drink, so our base at the Mercure Kyoto Station was well-situated to take trains and subways to the outer reaches of the city. Our foodie focus had sharpened by the time we reached Kyoto after some excellent meals in Tokyo and Hokkaido, so I scheduled several activities that allowed us to taste more and learn more about Japanese cuisine, besides seeing cultural sites. Many people enjoy seeing many temples and shrines in Kyoto, but we were satisfied with just a few. Our activities included the following.

Tea Ceremony

Chiemi (R) with her student, during the tea ceremony in Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Tea Ceremony. We were so lucky to have a personal connection to a friend of a friend who lives in Kyoto, teaches the art of the traditional tea ceremony, and agreed to conduct a private tea ceremony for us. We were honored to be invited into her home with one of her students. There were three rounds of preparing powdered green matcha tea, first by the instructor, then by her student, who had been training for years, and then by me, who was all thumbs and embarrassed herself, all in good fun. It was a special experience that we will treasure. You may find tea ceremonies through Get Your Guide or, but there are limited offerings to try to book this ahead of time if you’re interested.


Steve & Inga at Bell’s cooking class, eating the gyoza we learned to make (Inga Aksamit)
  • AirKitchen Cooking class. I found a cooking class through the AirKitchen app with wonderful Bell, who picked us up at the train station and brought us into her compact home. We learned to make delicious okonomiyaki (omelet-like) and gyoza (dumpling). She had prepared some ingredients, but others we chopped and measured. Shaping the gyoza intimidated me, but Bell made it easy. This activity was a highlight of the trip. See all of Bell’s cooking classes on AirKitchen.  

Gekkekian Sake Tour

Historic display of traditional sake tasting on Gekkekian Sake Tour, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Gekkekian Sake Tour. This fabulous half-day tour at the sake brewery on the outskirts of town included a detailed tour of the history of sake, many artifacts from the early days, a tasting at the brewery and a sake/food pairing at a nearby restaurant. We developed an appreciation for the many types of sake and learned that we like Daiginjo sake, a refined sake made with 50% or less polished rice. This Kyoto: Insider Sake Brewery Tour with Sake and Food Pairing was booked through Get Your Guide.

Gion Food Tour

Gion Food Tour, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Gion Food Tour. This was a comprehensive tour of the popular Gion area that included a visit to the Yasaka Shrine and the geisha district. The best part was the food. First, we stopped at a tiny underground bar that seated about ten people and had the lightest tempura I’ve ever had, paired with several delicious sakes. Next, we went to a lively upstairs bar where we enjoyed local beer and teriyaki. This Kyoto: All Inclusive 3-Hour Food and Culture Tour in Gion was booked through Get Your Guide.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Nishiki Market. This is required fare for tourists, and I enjoyed roaming through the enormous hall with all the food stalls in Nishiki Market, but the food was mostly so-so. We enjoyed grilled octopus, giant prawns and takoyaki, a fried dough ball stuffed with diced octopus and smothered with mayonnaise and BBQ sauce (though once was enough for the latter).

Imperial Palace

A peaceful garden at the Imperial Palace, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Imperial Palace. We enjoyed strolling the graceful grounds of the Imperial Palace, reading about the history and relaxing in the peaceful gardens. We particularly appreciated seeing a display of a cross-section of the thick thatched roofs that were common for traditional architecture.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Inga at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine. The Fumiri Inari Shrine, famous for its thousands of dense rows of vermillion torii gates, was impressive, the shoulder-to-should crowds less so. We appreciated making it through the gauntlet to the upper trails where the crowds thinned out.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove with crowds cropped out (Inga Aksamit)
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The dense stands of light-filtered Kelly-green bamboo in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove were stunning, but like the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the crowds were overwhelming. Go early to these popular spots if you can.


My motivation to visit Hiroshima was to experience the profound historical significance of being an atomic bomb site and to see how it is remembered. It’s a place that is impossible to forget—it’s tragic, inspiring, poignant, and beautiful.

We spent three days absorbing the history of the place through the Peace Memorial Park and Museum of Contemporary Art and one day hiking to clear our heads. We stayed at The Knot, which was a short walk from the park. A free tourist bus connected us to all the activities we did in the city.

Peace Memorial Park

A-Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings to survive the blast, Hiroshima (Inga Aksamit)
  • Peace Memorial Park. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is 120,000 acres devoted to remembering, anchored by a large museum, and surrounded by shaded walking paths and monuments. It’s a profound experience to move through the rooms of the museum viewing haunting images of the area before and after the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. It was horrifying to learn that the stunning setting of the broad delta sliced by seven rivers and surrounded by low mountains made it a perfect target as the bowl shape amplified the effects of the bomb. The city has been fully rebuilt except for the Genbaku Dome, also known as the A-Bomb Dome, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle (Inga Aksamit)
  • Hiroshima Castle. Originally built in the 1590s, the feudal lord’s castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb and rebuilt in 1958. Now a museum, Hiroshima Castle features several displays the illustrate the history of the area. There is a gnarled eucalyptus tree nearby that somehow survived the A-bomb blast and lives on.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima (Inga Aksamit)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a drizzly day, and we weren’t sure what to expect but needed a dry place to explore. The Museum of Contemporary Art turned out to be the perfect bookend to the Peace Memorial Park, as it featured several powerful exhibits that plumbed deep emotions related to the bomb. One dizzying exhibit featured aerial video over the city that approached, then hovered over the A-Bomb Dome, then started spinning like a wheel. Suddenly the screen was raised to expose a dozen industrial fans that blasted us with air. Another exhibit displayed three clocks showing fixed times: one for the time of the bombing of Hiroshima, one for the bombing of Nagasaki and one for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. An audio exhibit illustrated hope and the circle of life by playing recordings of newborns born in two hospitals over the course of the year. The lovely museum café was a good place to pause and reflect on what we had seen.

Manga Library

Manga (Inga Aksamit)
  • Manga Library. Next to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hiroshima City Manga Library was an excellent mood lifter as we perused the stacks and thumbed through Japanese comic books. A small international room held a section in English, so we settled in and read several manga graphic novels.

Miyajima Island

Floating torii gate in front of the hill we climbed at Miyajima (Inga Aksamit)

Miyajima Island. It was refreshing to take a small boat from Hiroshima to nearby Miyajima Island, the site of the famous floating torii gate, as well a number hiking trails that lead to the top of a rocky prominence. A small ferry on a World Heritage Sea Route from the Peace Park was convenient to our hotel. This excursion is detailed in a separate article: Hiking in Japan.


Noritake Garden featuring kilns from the orginal ceramics site in Nagoya (IngaAksamit)

This was a brief stop to get us close to the Nakasendo Trail. In Nagoya, we enjoyed seeing the Noritake Museum, which featured tableware patterns from the famed Noritake china producer since 1878, including a set commissioned for the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. If we had had more time, Steve would have enjoyed one or all three of the Toyota museums. A highlight was wandering into a small café at the Nagoya Station that only served kishimen noodles, which are unique to Nagoya. The noodles are like udon, but flatter and thicker, served in a light broth. We stayed in a tiny room with a miniscule but functional bathroom at the Sanco Inn across the street from the Nagoya Station.

Nakasendo Trail

Waterwheel on the Nakasendo Trail (Inga Aksamit)

After deciding to hike a section of the Nakasendo Samurai Trail at the last minute, we quickly discovered that this popular activity requires advance planning to reserve lodging on the trail. We accepted this obstacle as a consequence of our style of last-minute travel, which involves a flexible itinerary with few reservations. Eventually, a plan came together that involved an overnight in Nagoya before and after the hike. From Nagoya, we took a train to Nakatsugawa Station on the Nagano line and a bus to Magome at the beginning of the trek. This hike is detailed in this article: Hiking in Japan.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Lake Kawaguchiko (Inga Aksamit)

From Nagoya, we took a train to and a bus to Lake Kawaguchiko, one of the Fuji Five Lakes at the base of Mount Fuji. The original charm of the small lake dominated by views of the mountain has been supplanted by a profusion of identical schlocky stores selling inexpensive trinkets but is pleasant enough. We stayed three nights, hoping to get a good view of the iconic mountain. It was cloudy and drizzly when we arrived, partly cloudy on the second day, and perfectly clear the third day, our departure day. We considered this a success and enjoyed hiking on Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji’s upper trails to the summit are closed in mid-September when the season changes and the risk of snow can make it dangerous. It is still possible to hike with a guide, but we skipped that and took a bus to Station Five. From there we did a long hike down the lower flanks of the mountain. This hike is detailed in this article: Hiking in Japan.


Tokyo Station (Inga Aksamit)

Our trip concluded with a train ride from Lake Kawaguchiko to Tokyo, where we did more sightseeing and shopping.

Our three weeks in Japan left us wanting more, so we’re already planning our next trip, perhaps in winter so we can sample the skiing.

Japan Articles

Photo Gallery

Tea ceremony, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Train station, outer Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Teppanyaki chef, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Takoyaki in Nishiki Market, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Kyoto Station–sleek, modern, huge (Inga Aksamit)
Peaceful moment in the Okochi Sanso gardens near the Bamboo Forest, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Display at Imperial Palace showing construction of traditional thatch roof, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Sake and food pairing on Gekkekian Sake Tour, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Inga, Steve and Bell, our cooking instructor, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (Inga Aksamit)
A-Bomb Dome–photograph in Peace Memorial Park exhibit (Inga Aksamit)
Frank Lloyd Wright designed ceramics in Noritake Museum, Nagoya (Inga Aksamit)
Manga Library, Hiroshima (Inga Aksamit)
Shabu shabu, Lake Kawaguchico (Inga Aksamit)