I have been to Kyoto several times since my first visit while participating in a university student conference in the late 1970s. After I moved to Tokyo for work in 1980, my wife and I made a couple of short leisure trips during the 15 years we lived there, and I made five or six day trips for work between 1998 and 2005. However, I didn't have a good sense of the city, and was keen for a longer visit and the chance to make more photos.
My wife and I decided to plan a trip to Japan from Singapore to coincide with the arrival of autumn and my birthday in November 2013. After watching several NHK documentaries on compelling locations in Japan we decided to schedule 5 days in Kyoto.
We spent several months reading from a guide book ("Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide" by Judith Clancy) and watching more NHK documentaries, and I finally selected the Hyatt hotel in September, after discovering the Westin (our preferred choice) was fully booked.
We bought Japan Rail passes at the local JTB office in Singapore, which enabled our shinkansen journey from Tokyo to Kyoto, at what we trust was a modest discount.
After a few enjoyable days in Tokyo, we sent our suit cases in advance via the courier service, Yamato ('kuro nekko'), then on November 24 took the Yamanote line train from Ebisu to Tokyo station, bought lunchboxes, and took our seats on the shinkansen train for Kyoto.
From Kyoto station, we rode a taxi for the 10 minute drive to the hotel in the Higashiyama district, checked-in, and reclaimed our suit cases.
The first evening, we walked to two shrines next-door to the hotel before sunset: Sanjusandgen-do and Yogen-in. We enjoyed the walk and the introduction to the autumn colors in Kyoto.
On the subsequent days, we walked from the hotel each morning along Higashioji-dori towards Yasaka shrine and Gion.
On the first full day, we reserved a table at the Italian restaurant Scorpione, and greatly enjoyed the set lunches we selected, as well as the welcoming and flexible service.
In the evening, we walked from the hotel up one of the narrow lanes to Kiyomizu temple and were amazed at the seasonal lighting that beautifully illuminated the ancient structures and the deep red momiji leaves (Japanese maple). The crowds were large, international, and orderly.
On the 2nd day, we walked to Otani-Honbyo a smaller temple near the approach to Kiyomizu temple.
We had a very tasty lunch at the Chinese restaurant Baiwan Jukuairo, with Japanese-speaking Chinese staff in the kitchen.
On the 3rd day, we decided to take a taxi from the hotel to Nanzen-ji, and upon viewing the large crowds of fellow-tourists and listening to the advice from the driver, concluded it was best to hire him for the rest of the day.
Nanzen-ji proved to be one of the highlights of our time in Kyoto, with the wonderful setting of richly colored red momiji and yellow gingko leaves next to the dark grey tiles on the roof lines.
Our lunch that day was at Hanasaki, a small kaiseki restaurant in Gion--delicious!
In the afternoon, the taxi driver took us to the northern hills of Kyoto, with stops at Genko-an, Koetsu, and the grounds of the Shozan Resort. All three locations presented wonderful photographic opportunities.
On our final full day in Kyoto, we walked to Gion and found the inspiring grounds of Kennin-ji, at the southern end of Hanamikoji-dori.
Lunch that day was at Mametora, also on Hanamikoji-dori--which served very tasty kaiseki cuisine.
All four restaurants were reasonably priced and thoroughly enjoyable.
In the afternoon, we walked around Kodai-ji before heading back to the hotel.
Upon returning to Singapore, I exchanged notes with the author of the Kyoto guidbook, Judith Clancy, telling her how much we enjoyed the restaurants recommended in her book.
Of course, we are already looking forward to our next Kyoto visit.