Our first full day of the Adventures by Disney Japan trip started with a group breakfast. Yesterday was really just check-in, so this was the first time we were all meeting our fellow travelers. Our Adventure Guides, James and Tomomi, introduced themselves and talked about their experiences growing up in Japan before having a representative from each group stand to introduce their group and what they’re most excited for. This being an adult-only itinerary, there were no kids in the group. Our Adventure Guides also let us know that this is the first time where 100% of the group is doing the Tokyo Disneyland add-on at the end, which many in the group listed as their most anticipated part of the experience in the land of the rising sun.
After filling our bellies and introducing ourselves, we boarded a bus that would take us to our first adventure. The name of the day was “Bamboo Beauty” and stop number one was Arashiyama, a mountainous forest area that was named after a poem about a storm in that area. Tomomi joked that it’s Japan’s big thunderous mountain, or Big Thunder Mountain for Disney fans.
After getting off the bus, we were introduced to our rickshaw drivers and were split into groups of two for an up-close tour of the bamboo forests. Our driver was named Takato. He told us a lot of amazing facts about the area and its history and although tourists are welcome to walk the same forest area we traveled through, there were a few paths reserved exclusively for rickshaws. Takato stopped several times to take photos of us in some of the most picturesque spots on the tour. The route we followed also took us away from the more touristy areas of Arashiyama and into the residential and farming areas. At the end of the tour, we were gifted an illustrated card of a rickshaw driver, a sticker for our memory books, and a towel like the ones they used to wipe the sweat off their brow.
After regrouping, James and Tomomi were joined by Keiko, a local guide who gave an audio tour of the area through headsets that were handed out. We explored an area with hundreds of statues of followers of Buddhism when our tour was interrupted by an ancient samurai who was curious about our presence. He revealed that he had been trailing us through the bamboo forest and happened upon gifts that fell out of the bamboo tree, giving each of us our pin for the day. This one featured Chip and Dale in the bamboo forest we had just explored.
Keiko led us to our next stop, Tenryu-ji Temple, a Buddhist zen temple with magnificent gardens. The elevated area also offered a clear view of Kyoto and Keiko explained that later on, we would be on the other side of town seeing the city from the opposite directions. We had some time to explore the grounds on our own and we took an opportunity to check out the charms for sale.
Lunch was on the second floor of a shopping area nearby at a restaurant called Yoshiya. Fanboy and I had already encountered a location where shoes were not permitted, but most of our group was surprised by the fact that we had to remove our shoes before entering the tatami mat establishment. Our Adventure Guides did a great job of preparing everyone for it, pointing it out at breakfast and giving travelers time to go to their room to grab socks if desired. Everyone was served beef sukiyaki in a bowl over a flame that also included udon noodles, tofu, gluten balls, mushrooms, and sukiyaki sauce (soy sauce, sugar, and sake). A chilled soft boiled egg was provided to cool off the items as you removed them from the pot and a separate plate included some pickled vegetables, fried sweet potato, and we also had bowls of sticky rice. It was so delicious!
We had a short amount of time to explore the area before boarding the bus to head to our next location, driving to the other side of Kyoto to visit the most famous temple in the area. Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) is an impressive site high on a hill. The temple dates back to 780 and undergoes refurbishment every 100 years, which happens to be this year. It didn’t prevent us from going inside, but the exterior of the main building was under scaffolding. Keiko explained that the orange vermillion color is believed to ward off evil in Japanese culture, which is why it is so prevalent at temples.
The main highlight of the temple is that it was built on a waterfall that was trisected into three streams. Visitors are allowed to choose one stream to drink from and are given the choice of luck in romance, life longevity, or financial/academic success. Visitors wait their turn in line to grab a cup on a stick to hold under a stream to pour it into their palm and drink some of it. Don’t worry about germs, you place the cup in a UV box to sanitize it for the next guest. It was hard not to make a joke about the backside of water during this experience. Many of the guests in our group pointed out that the circular moss patterns in the pool looked like hidden Mickeys.
The hill leading up to the temple was lined with shops and we had some free time to explore. Many of them were based on matcha (green tea) items, but I was delighted to happen upon a Studio Ghibli Store! It was well hidden, tucked away down an alley with a small display of Totoro items as the only indication of what lay in store within. The shop used natural wooden shelves and leaves to make you feel like you had entered the realm of Totoro. Fans of the Japanese animation studio can find items from every Studio Ghibli film there, even more obscure titles like Whisper of the Heart.
Our bus returned to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, for a two-hour break before dinner. After the recess, we returned to the buses where we enjoyed a meal at Sodoh, a large restaurant complex that acts as a bit of an oasis in bustling Kyoto. We walked through the garden up to our private room where our five-course meal would be served. As it was our Welcome Dinner, alcohol was included, so many guests took the opportunity to enjoy a bit of sake. I was personally impressed with the combo chopsticks, fork, spoon, and knife holder that allowed us to rest all of our utensils without having to place them directly on the table.
While we dined we were graced with some entertainment. Our first performance was by a Geiko, which is what they call Geishas in Kyoto. Not only did she perform some traditional dances, she also participated in a question-and-answer session where we were able to learn a lot about the training and lifestyle of a Geiko. Our Geiko also performed internationally, so our group was thrilled to learn that she visited Disneyland during her one free day while in Los Angeles. While she sometimes wears her kimono while traveling, she said she didn’t at Disneyland because she didn’t want to draw attention away from Mickey Mouse.
Our next performance was by a three-person Samurai troup that did sword and fan routines. We learned about the culture of Samurai and the performance was quite thrilling. At the conclusion of the performance, we were given instructions to try on kimonos for photos. The group seemed to be quite experienced in getting foreigners dressed as they were very efficient.
Following the dinner we returned to the bus with the reminder that we have quite an early morning tomorrow as we are headed to Hiroshima by Shinkansen train. Falling asleep was probably not an issue for anyone in our group as we had a fun-filled, yet exhausting day. Until tomorrow, sayonara!
Other Adventures by Disney Japan Trip Reports
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.