Kumano Kodo 2023: Kyoto Pre-Hike Adventure

Last week, my friend Kaitlyn Bolland and I headed south from Tokyo to spend a “pre-hike” day in Kyoto before our week-long hike of the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi (my fourth, her first).

We set off just after 8 a.m. on a beautiful November morning–and snowy Mt. Fuji decided to bless our departure with an appearance:

Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen

Upon arriving in Kyoto, we waved hello to our hotel–the Kyoto Tower (a great choice, because it’s directly across the street from Kyoto station) and headed off for coffee with another friend who just happened to be visiting from Australia.

The Kyoto Tower hotel – one of my favorite places to stay in Kyoto

After coffee, we walked to Nishiki Market; on the way, we passed Higashi Honganji, one of the head temples of the Shin Jodo (True Pure Land) sect of Buddhism in Japan. The temple dates to the late 1500s, though the buildings have been rebuilt and restored as necessary since then.

One of the massive gates of Higashi Honganji

We even saw a heron perched on one of the gates.

Heron on the gate at Higashi Honganji

Nishiki Market has been a Kyoto fixture for centuries; the original fish market opened during the early 14th century, and over time, stalls selling everything from traditional Japanese pickles to matcha (powdered green tea) ice cream have added their scents, colors, and tastes to the mix. Today, it’s one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations–and for us, it was also a great place to pick up last-minute trail snacks for the Kumano Kodo.

The main arcade at Nishiki Market

Many of the stalls don’t allow photography (mainly to prevent tourists clogging the narrow walking path and preventing customers from accessing the shops) but some do–including this tempura shop. Everything looked absolutely delicious.

Tempura shrimp and eel on sale at Nishiki Market

We stopped for treats at several shops, including one that sells seven varieties of matcha gelato (ranked by the amount of matcha powder in the mix). I got the super-premium variety, which has the most matcha. It’s rich, not overly sweet, and looks like someone put Kermit in a blender:

It may not be easy being green, but eating it is delightful

After the gelato, we followed the scent of grilling meat to a stand selling grilled Kobe beef (right, below) and wagyu sushi (left, below). I love these, and they were a first-time treat for Kaitlyn–a great win-win!

Wagyu sushi (left) and Kobe Beef (right)

The sushi is served mostly raw – the vendor hits it with a propane torch just to give a bit of char before serving. It’s tender and juicy and absolutely delicious.

We spent about two and a half hours at the market, wandering through shops and buying snacks for the trail. When we finished, we hopped a ride back to Kyoto Station and descended to the underground Porta shopping area for dinner. (Yep…more food!)

The shopping area has lots of fun restaurants; we settled on an okonomiyaki shop, and shared a large order of pork and vegetable yakisoba (right, below) and a side of grilled cheesy potatoes – which we started eating before I remembered to get a picture!

Yakisoba and cheesy potatoes in Kyoto

After dinner, it was time to check in at the hotel and get ready for the evening. We had tickets on an early train the next morning, and didn’t want to waste a minute of our time in the ancient capital.

The photo below is the view (of Kyoto Station) from our room at the Kyoto Tower Hotel:

View from the room

As the sun went down, we headed out again for more adventures…which I’ll share in the days to come!