Japan Travel Diary/ Guide: Kyoto



After all the hustle and bustle, and byword of high-technology and space-age modernization in Tokyo, we moved onto Kyoto for the second part of our trip for something more slower paced. Kyoto is unquestionably a lot quieter, quaint, hilly, wood-paneled town...but don't be fooled.

Kyoto is considered by many to be the storehouse of Japanese culture and traditions. Temples, shrines, gardens and picturesque sceneries are on every corner of this city. It is what I've pictured on every postcards, posters, travel magazines, and my imaginations about what Japan truly is. Kyoto has its way of making you feel like you're stepping back in time. The number of times I said "wow" was unreal. And although this city is calmer, masses of tourists appears to be swarming just like it is in Tokyo.

So before I even start, please refer to my 'Tokyo Travel Diary/ Guide'. These two articles will tie in together, transportation, food and travel tip wise.


LODGING

Located in a quiet, traditional and cultural area of Kyoto, our Airbnb was great for temple and shrine hopping. It's a walking distance away to Kyoto National Museum, Yogen-in Temple, Kyoto Tower, a bus station, and some small local stores. It was nestled in a quiet neighborhood of houses and apartments. We stayed on a very basic but comfortable room. I've noticed that all of the apartments we booked were on the 3rd floor. While this was not an issue at first, it's something to consider because none of these apartment buildings have an elevator. So just imagine two little girls carrying big luggages on a tiny staircase all the way up. This is also a perfect opportunity to try and stay at a Japanese inn called Ryokan


PLACES TO VISIT

I organized the places we visited by area, since some are not as accessible to get to by train, unlike Tokyo. And although we may not be able to check everything on my list, it turns out to be that Kyoto is one of the highlights of my Japan trip. Fushimi-inari is my absolute favorite attraction in Kyoto, with it's one of a kind hike covered in 10,000 torii gates. It's an experience worth an effort. Second, is the Katsura River, which was originally not part of the itinerary. We were set to go to the monkey park, but they were preparing to close by the time we get there. We continued to work around the area and found some absolutely breath taking views of the river, the wooden bridge, and the Arashiyama Mountain. And at that moment, I fell into a great state of astonishment.

South Kyoto
  • Fushimi-inari Taisha
  • Tō-ji Temple
  • Daigo-ji Temple
  • Tōfuku-ji Temple
Go further up for taller and bigger torii gates in Fushimi-inari Taisha
Five-story pagoda, Daigo-ji Temple
One of the several entrances to inner shrines in Fushimi-inari Taisha

West Kyoto
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  • Tenryu-ji Temple
  • Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
  • Katsura River
  • Daikaku-ji Temple
  • Katsura Villa
Standing next to one of Kyoto's finest gardens and zen temples in my kimono, Tenryu-ji Temple
Katsura River, along Togetsu-kyo Bridge, with a view of Arashiyama Mountain and several other shrines
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Kimono from Akahime Kimono Rentals.

East Kyoto
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Higashiyama District
  • Kodai-ji Temple
  • Maruyama Park
  • Nishiki Market
  • Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine)
  • Ginkakuji Temple
Maruyama Park, a public park next to Yasaka Shrine and is a main area for cherry blossoms viewing during April
One of Kyoto's temples that perches on a hill overlooking the city. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Paper lanterns on Yasaka Shrine (aka, Gion Shrine)

North Kyoto
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple
  • Ryōan-ji Temple
  • Ninna-ji Temple
  • Kibune
Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as, Golden Pavillion

TRANSPORTATION

We reserved our tickets ahead of time to take an overnight Willer Express bus from Tokyo to Kyoto for 8 hrs. And I would say, it was a pretty good experience. If you're wanting a cheap way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo, rather that spending twice the amount on a shinkansen (bullet train), and would rather not spring for another night on a hotel, this is a good alternative. Down side is, you'll spend the entire time in the bus. It's actually not too bad. For someone who's a light sleeper, and don't take naps during commute, I was pretty comfortable in this bus, except the part where we have to get up and you feel sore on every part of your body. The seats recline, have adjustable foot rest, plugs to charge your phone, hooks for your personal belongings, overhead racks, blankets, and last but not the least, my favorite: a privacy hood! I call it our personal cocoon, which is like a canopy cover that extends to a baby stroller, but for a bus. It's pretty sweet. Suffice to say, I had a good night sleep, and next thing I knew, I was in Kyoto.

Sight seeings in Kyoto are all over, some are clustered next to each other like in Western part of Kyoto, while some are not ideally near each other. Here's what I learned in Kyoto, while trains are your main transportation, you will have to get on the bus and walk more no matter what. It may be less convenient, but it will get you around the city. If you're a walker, this city is for you! So factor in travel times when you plan a trip. That's what ate a lot of our extra time (plus, the tempting ice cream stands on every corner).


TRAVEL TIPS

  • Remember what I've said about Tokyo to stay on the left side of the escalator, and leave the right side open in Tokyo? It's the total opposite here.
  • A lot of the places are not easily accessible by train.
  • Most of the temples and shrines here charge admission fees.
  • In relates to the tip above, wear your most comfortable shoes. Eastern Kyoto is mostly very hilly and requires more walking than Tokyo.
  • Squat toilets are still very prominent here.
  • Trick to getting good pictures away from the crowd in Arashiyama and Fushimi-inari is to either walk further up, or go early in the morning.
  • You will find tofu ice cream in Nishiki Market and on one of the ice cream stalls in Arashiyama, and it will change your life forever. 
  • Night markets are not much of a thing here, and a lot of the places closes at 6pm, even Nishiki Market
  • Speaking of timetable, the Japanese are not morning people. Most shops and establishments opens late in the morning.
  • You will find geishas casually walking around. Rule of thumb: do not stop them. 
  • Take advantage of the coin luggage storages on the train stations. For a reasonable price ($3-$7), you can leave your things for a one time payment good for 3 days.
  • Cab/taxi doors open and close on their own.
  • You will hear "irasshaimase" a LOT.
  • Be a celebrity for a day by putting on a kimono (or yukata). Fellow tourists/travelers will stop and take pictures of you/with you.


Ever been to Kyoto? If so, would love to know about your experience! If not, ask away for more tips and tricks! Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for another Japan post coming up...OSAKA and NARA!



















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