If I have any regrets about this trip, it's that we didn't spend one more day in Kyoto. The cherry trees were at their peak, the people are a little warmer and more sociable than in Tokyo (and seem to speak more nuanced English too), the food is meticulously prepared and delicious, and it's just a beautiful city, maybe the prettiest I've seen.
They call the cherry blossoms sakura and the act of enjoying the sakura hanami, and so we hanami-ed the shit out of all that sakura.
We walked a lot, along Philosopher's Path, which was lined with trees, and in Maruyama Park, where they lit up the trees at night so people could have picnic dinners beneath them.
We ate a lot too. There were dozens of food vendors in the park, so we had fried chicken, octopus balls, steak-on-a-stick, and ice cream.
We also ate at a 547-year-old noodle shop that provided the soba noodles for the Imperial Family when Kyoto was the capital of Japan. The broth was so good; it had the richness and tang that I love in any food, and it was finished with a sliver of yuzu peel, a fragrant citrus that is a lot like a Meyer lemon. I am going to crave that soup for a long time, I can tell already.
The most memorable meal of the the whole trip--maybe ever--was at Okariba, an izakaya joint in north Kyoto that's owned and run by a game hunter. We'd read he served what he bagged, and since the menu was in Japanese we just indicated that we were hungry and thirsty and left the rest up to him. He did not disappoint, bringing us boar on skewers, bear jerky, rare venison, smoked goose, dry sake, sweet plum wine, snake liquor, and liquor infused with terrifying Japanese hornets. Then he asked if we wanted the house specialty. This turned out to be candied locusts and bee larvae, served with a toasted rice ball for dessert.
The bee larvae was a little squashy for my taste, and the locusts were a tad...pointy, but everything else was delicious. We chatted with the owner a little between courses; he was funny and friendly, and like everyone else, he was excited about the cherry blossoms. He even gave us a little bottle of plum wine for the road.
It was delicious; it was fun. We marched happily back to the train station and were so distracted by the fun deliciousness that we took a line going further out of town instead of inbound and had to figure out our way back with a half-hour left of daily train service to spare. Stupidity! Alcohol! Adventure!
Eric has some pictures of the meal here.
We toured a beautiful, freaky, and very moving Buddhist temple and a slightly boring castle. We saw a pair of geishas walking to work in the entertainment district and a whole passel more arriving by taxi. We drank beer and poked through shops and visited the modern art museum because it was just right there.
But mostly we just walked around Kyoto, looked at flowers, and stuffed our faces. Maybe it was best we left when we did. Two days of that was fantastic; three days might have ruined us forever.