Japan Lifestyle slow travel travel

A sneak peek into life in Kyoto

It may sound corny and overly sentimental but I have to start with this – my dream came true. Living in a tiny Japanese house, like the ones I saw in countless movies, filled me with so many beautiful emotions I could just cry tears of happiness. It was also quite eye-opening to how life in Japan really could look like for us if we ever decided to move there for longer.

Our neighbourhood & accommodation

We really enjoyed our tiny house on a quiet residential street at the last stop of the metro line. It wasn’t perfect (no Airbnb is perfect) but it had more space and higher ceilings that we expected.

It came with some “smart” devices – the microwave that had some useful programs, the bathtub we could fill by pressing a button on the kitchen wall, the cooktop that would detect when you left an empty pan and turn off by itself. There were also sliding doors, tatami mats, futons to sleep on and one beautiful paper window. And it didn’t matter that for the first week every morning greeted us with a fresh sprinkle of snow (which I generally hate and didn’t want to see again any time soon) nor that we had to blast aircon all day long to not freeze in the poorly insulated house.

I was there to live my best Japanese life. Grilling fish for breakfast, properly separating the rubbish (including rinsing cans, plastic bottles and trays), enjoying the silence and greeting all my neighbours when I saw them on the street.

Our neighbourhood was quiet, filled with small houses and equally miniature veggie gardens between them. There were a couple of big supermarkets, a pretty temple, a small hill with great views of the area and three cats that everyone seemed to know, feed and pet. I was told on two occasions that the grey one was the mother and the black one was the baby. I never learned the story of the third one that was always hiding and avoiding people.

On one of the very first days, we also discovered a modest-looking bakery that sold very good croissants – but only on some days and there always were only a few at a time.

Impressions about Kyoto – likes & dislikes

Tourists

I really don’t remember Kyoto being this busy when we visited fours years ago. Back then, only Gion and the start of the Mt. Inari hike were extremely crowded.

This time around it was jam-packed in many more areas. The bamboo forest, early in the morning on a cold and snowy day was terrible, Gion, of course, hasn’t changed, Higashiyama during the day was really bad and Mt. Inari was cramped all the way to the top. The usual trick of choosing the parallel street to the main tourist’s routes worked well when we had to walk from A to B. It also forced me to look for some hidden places and I found some cool spots.

Small town

Kyoto, despite being one of the biggest cities in Japan, feels like a small town. There aren’t really many high-rises and when you’re not in the touristy areas there aren’t too many people on the streets or even in the metro in peak hours.

In many parts, Kyoto looks more like a beautiful set of a historical movie. But in this setting, people live their lives and go about their day the same they would in any present-day city.

Cute trucks

How am I supposed to take seriously a truck playing cute melodies you’d associate with an ice cream truck and not one that delivers gas to your home or a rubbish truck?

The gas one was on our street twice a week and while it was cute and new the first two times, we were just rolling our eyes every time we heard it. As a result, after four weeks, the song is embedded in our brains forever.

Language

We knew this is going to be the hardest part of our stay but turns out with my ability to read hiragana and katakana and with our knowledge of some basic words (mostly food related as usual) we went by without problems. We didn’t have to go to some official place though where our food knowledge wouldn’t be so useful.

The most we had to use Japanese-only was in a local udon restaurant. The owners, an older couple, had panic in their eyes when they saw us enter. We greeted them in Japanese, they asked if we speak the language and when I said no, they didn’t magically switch to English. The menu written on the wall was solely in Japanese but we managed to order what we wanted and said it was very good while paying.

We also learned some everyday words during the stay so we didn’t just smile and nod but really understood when people asked us basic things like if we want a plastic bag or chopsticks.

One day I’ll be able to have a real conversation in Japanese.

Prices

Exchange rate

In February 2019 ¥10 000 cost us around 127 AUD (at the same time, it would be around 90 USD).

Grocery prices

For day to day grocery shopping we usually went to a nearby big supermarket called Life or a smaller one called Fresco.

The prices of food items aren’t that high when compared to what we usually pay for similar things in Australia with the exception of fruits. $4 for a single apple is considered cheap while prices of strawberries or melons can easily go to $200 (or more) and no one is surprised.

How much do groceries cost in Kyoto? For example:

  • 1L sparkling water: ¥107 = 1.37 AUD
  • 6 eggs: ¥171 = 2.19 AUD
  • 250g pack of cherry tomatoes: ¥279 = 3.57 AUD
  • 110g of ham: ¥430 = 5.49 AUD
  • 200g butter: ¥443 = 5.61 AUD
  • 0.5L can of beer: ¥279 = 3.57 AUD
  • 2kg bag of rice: ¥1490 = 19.07 AUD
  • Thick toast bread, 5 slices: ¥149 = 1.90 AUD

How much you should expect to pay for:

  • one small flat white in a cafe: ¥450 – ¥510 = 5.70 – 6.49 AUD
  • a bowl of ramen: ¥1190 = 15.14 AUD
  • a fancy restaurant meal for two with drinks: ¥6400 = 81.98 AUD
  • a craft beer in a brewery: ¥780 – ¥980 = 9.90 – 12.45

How much we spent in 4 weeks (2 people)

Accommodation: ¥216 267 = 2 672.95 AUD
Groceries: ¥70 930 = 904.55 AUD
Eating out (we went out for meals, snacks or mochi 14 times): ¥29 374 = 373.62 AUD
Coffee: ¥8 331 = 106.05 AUD
Alcohol: ¥33 235 = 424.19 AUD
Transport (public transport, Taxi): ¥22 550 = 286.79 AUD
Entertainment (cinema, museums, tours etc): ¥21 600 = 275.61 AUD
SIM (one, internet only card, 3GB) : ¥3 024 = 38.22 AUD

Total: ¥405 311 = 5 081.98 AUD

Random thoughts

Recycling obsession & problem

Recycling at home is a big deal. People often have more than 3 different bins for different items. Our Airbnb host made things easy for us and we only had to separate pura プラ (plastic), glass and cans. The rest went to one bin. They also picked it up from us weekly so we didn’t have to be bothered with the rubbish pick-up schedule in our area.

I have to admit though, that once you start rinsing trays, bottles and cans as well as cutting and folding milk boxes it’s hard to stop once you move to another country.

The locals go really hardcore with their rubbish. There are not only special days for certain items – there are also special bags, strings to tie them and special ways of folding cardboard. If you have a moment and are interested in the topic, check out this video by Simon and Martina:

In the midst of that recycling obsession, no one seems to care how much plastic you bring home on a daily basis when every carrot, banana or onion are wrapped in plastic. When every piece of fish is on its own tray, with its own plastic lid and the lady at the checkout will wrap it in a plastic bag before you even realise and stop her.

Sakura all the things

From mid-February, over a month before all the cherries blossom, Japan starts its sakura-mania. If various foods and drinks aren’t sakura (cherry) flavoured they have to be pink-coloured or at the very least the packaging has to feature pretty pink blossoms and the words “limited edition”.

Shops, restaurants and streets are decorated and the festive spirit is in the air. At first, it may seem excessive but once the cherries start to open you get mesmerised by their beauty and realise it makes for a spectacular whole and there’s sense to the madness.

What’s your size?

Shopping for clothes in Japan when you’re a long-legged, big-breasted or round-hipped person may prove challenging. The clothes look beautiful on the mannequins in the stores, people on the streets are often wearing stylish clothes and you may want to get yourself something distinguishably Japanese to wear.

That’s when you may encounter a problem. It’s frustrating when shorts end on a size that in Europe would come as 38 or 10 in Australia. Or XL jeans are the biggest they have and it turns out they just fit you even though you usually wear size M. The shirts, t-shirts and dresses may have the right length but won’t fit in the chest area even if you try them few sizes too big. The list goes on and I pretty much gave up on buying clothes for myself in Japan (UNIQLO seems to be the only store when most things come in slightly larger sizes).

Add tax

It’s one of those little but annoying things that you need to remember about every time you go shopping. The prices shown do not include tax so if something seems like a bargain it may not look so good after the 8% tax is added to the bill when you pay.

At the same time as a tourist, you can get many things tax free. That doesn’t always work out all that well as you need to buy products worth at least ¥5000 to count on the tax-free offer.

Happened this month

Hubby’s Bday

Happy birthday, Hubby! We didn’t do much this year but I got a pretty good Japanese cake for breakfast and for dinner we discovered the best ramen we’ve had in Japan. Ramen Sen-no-Kaze is sensational and I’d recommend it to everyone visiting Kyoto (don’t forget to order extra meat!).

Trips and cooking

We went on a bike trip in rural Kyoto, visited a tea town called Wazuka, did a small hike which I will write a separate post about and attended a cooking class with tempura dinner where we mastered the art of rolled Japanese omelettes as well as learned patience while peeling daikon.

Next month: Budapest


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