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Kyoto, Japan

Nestled among mountains in Western Honshu, Kyōto (京都; [2]) has a reputation worldwide as Japan's most beautiful city. However, visitors will be surprised how much work they will have to do to see its beautiful side. Most visitors' first impressions will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station.

Nonetheless, the persistent tourist will soon discover Kyoto's hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city center, and find that the city has even more than meets the eye.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the Emperor from 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. During its millennium at the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion, it accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. Almost alone among Japanese cities, Kyoto escaped the Allied bombings of World War II, although it could be argued that the concrete redevelopment that turned 95% of Kyoto into an ordinary Japanese city did just as thorough a job.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Not arriving at Kansai or Itami?

* A small number of air flights operate daily from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Itami and Kansai, for the benefit of international passengers. Otherwise, Kyoto is no less than four hours away by taking the Narita Express limited express train to Tokyo station, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

* If you happen to arrive at Nagoya's Chubu Centrair International Airport, Kyoto can be reached in no less than 80 minutes by taking the Meitetsu Airport Line to Nagoya, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

Kyoto does not have its own airport. The nearest international gateway is Kansai International Airport in Osaka. JR West's Haruka limited express train runs to Kyoto twice per hour (1 1/4 hours, ¥3490, no charge with Japan Rail Pass). Cheaper limousine buses run once or twice an hour to the south entrance of Kyoto Station (1 3/4 hours; ¥2300).

Most domestic flights land at Osaka's Itami Airport. Airport limousine buses run three times per hour to the south entrance of Kyoto Station (1 hour, ¥1280).
[edit] By train

Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Nozomi trains make the trip in approximately 2 1/4 hours and cost ¥13520. Hikari trains, which run less frequently and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2 3/4 hours, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge.

Travellers can also take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket (in Japanese), which offers a discount for the all-stopping Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥9800 and takes 3 3/4 hours. Note that there is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.

For travel in the Kansai region, a cheaper and nearly as fast alternative is the JR shinkaisoku (新快速) rapid service, which connects to Osaka, Kobe and Himeji at the price of a local train. Slightly cheaper yet are the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka and Kobe, or the Kintetsu line to Nara.
[edit] By bus

As Kyoto is a major city, there are many daytime and overnight buses which run between Kyoto and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to shinkansen fares.

The JR Bus Group (Japanese Website) is a major operator of the routes from the Tokyo area to Kansai. Buses operate via the Tomei Expressway (to/from Tokyo Station) or the Chuo Expressway (to/from Shinjuku Station). You can receive a discount of between 10 and 35 percent off the cost of the ticket if reservations are made at least 21 days in advance on most routes.

Other bus companies offer trips between Tokyo and Kyoto, but it should be pointed out that seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Moreover, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on ALL JR buses operating from the Tokyo area to Kyoto. (Note that the pass is NOT valid on buses to/from Yokohama.)

From Tokyo, buses run to and from Kyoto in approximately eight hours. Major bus locations are as follows:

* Tokyo: Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit (東京駅八重洲口), with a few buses discharging at the Nihombashi Exit (東京駅日本橋口)
* Shinjuku: Shinjuku Station New South Exit (新宿駅新南口)
* Kyoto: At Kyoto Station, most buses stop at the Karasuma Exit (京都駅烏丸口) to the north, while others use the Hachijo Exit (京都駅八条口) to the south.

The following services are available: (Current as of January, 2007)
[edit] Daytime buses from Tokyo

There are two daily departures from Tokyo Station on the Tomei Expressway, departing at 10:20 and 12:20 in either direction.

There are two daily departures from Shinjuku Station on the Chuo Expressway, departing at 9:20 and 11:20 in either direction.

All runs cost ¥6000 one-way and ¥10000 round-trip.
[edit] Nighttime buses from Tokyo

The nighttime bus service from Tokyo to Kansai is called Dream. This route name has several variants.

* The Dream Kyoto is a bus that runs from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station via the Tomei Expressway. There are two nightly departures from Tokyo at 22:00 and 23:10, with a third departure at 22:10 on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Returning buses leave from Kyoto Station at 22:00 (Fridays, weekends and holidays only), 23:00 and 23:40.

* The Ladies Dream Kyoto is a special bus for women only, running from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station. The bus departs from Tokyo at 23:10, and departs from Kyoto at 23:00.

* The Chuo Dream Kyoto runs from Shinjuku Station to Kyoto Station via the Chuo Expressway. The bus departs from Shinjuku at 23:50, and departs from Kyoto at 23:10. An additional bus departs at 22:30 in either direction on Fridays, weekends and holidays.

* The Seishun Dream Kyoto-Nara runs from Tokyo Station to Nara Station via the Tomei Expressway, with a stop at Kyoto station. There is one nightly departure from Tokyo at 21:50, and one departure from Kyoto at 22:40.

* The Seishun Chuo Dream Kyoto runs from Shinjuku Station to Kyoto Station via the Chuo Expressway. It departs from Shinjuku at 23:10, with the return run leaving from Kyoto at 22:50.

The ride costs ¥8180 one-way and ¥14480 round-trip, except for the Seishun buses, which cost only ¥5000 one-way and ¥9500 round-trip. The notable difference is that Seishun buses use four-across seating found in standard buses, while the others use more comfortable and wider three-across seating.

* An overnight bus, the Harbor Line Kyoto, serves Yokohama. The bus leaves from Yokohama station's east exit at 22:40, with the return trip leaving Kyoto at 22:40. The cost is ¥7950 one-way and ¥14310 round-trip.

[edit] Get around

The sheer size of the city of Kyoto, and the distribution of tourist attractions around the periphery of the city, make the city's public transport system invaluable.
One of the easiest ways to plan a route is through Hyperdia, [3]. . This website contains station-to-station route plans, which reference public and private trains and subways as well as buses throughout Japan.

The Kansai Thru Pass (Surutto Kansai) stored-value card can be used on all means of transportation in Kyoto (and the rest of the Kansai region), with the notable exception of JR trains. You can purchase the cards in denominations starting at ¥1000 at any train or subway station.
[edit] By bicycle

Particularly in spring and fall, but at any time of year, getting around by bicycle is an excellent option. Cycling forms a major form of personal transport year-round for locals. The city's grid layout (copied from Xian), arranged between mountains on three sides, makes navigation easy. You can also rent bicycles in many places in Japan for a reasonable price. During the peak tourist seasons, when roads are busy and buses tend to be crammed beyond capacity, bicycles are probably the best way to navigate Kyoto.

Kyoto's wide, straight roads make for heavy traffic in many parts of the city, but it is possible to find back alleys that are quieter and offer better chances to happen upon all sorts of sightseeing/cultural gems. Riding on major roads is OK, especially if you are confident and used to riding with traffic on the road, rather than on the sidewalk and especially again if you are used to riding/driving on the LEFT-HAND side of the road. If you have no experience riding on the 'wrong'-side of the road, you may want to reconsider as a visit to a busy city may not be the time or place to experiment with a potentially dangerous activity.

* Kyoto Cycling Tour Project, ☎ 075-954-3636, [4]. A five-minute walk from the North Exit (the side with the buses and Kyoto Tower) of Kyoto Station, immediately turn left (west) and head down the street that runs between the station and the Post Office, continuing across the street and past the Kyoto Campus Plaza. Soon the street dead-ends and then you turn right and you will see the shop (orange awning) right away. Bikes range from ¥1000 to ¥2000 for an actual 27-speed mountain bike with city-tires on it; perfect for the average foreigner who is used to a 'real' bike in their home country. The following options can be added: bi-lingual cycling/walking map of Kyoto ¥100; light ¥100; helmet ¥200; back pack; ¥100; rain poncho ¥100. They can hold on to your luggage while you are riding. There are four other locations of KCTP and you can return your bike to any location, however you will incur a ¥200 charge if you return the bike to a location other than the one you rented from. Guided bike tours are also available ranging from ¥3900 (three hours) to ¥9800 (7.5 hours) than include guide, bike rental, lunch/snacks, accident insurance and admission to some attractions on the tour. Minimum of two people to guarantee departure/maximum of 10. A walking tour may be substituted in the case of inclement weather. Must reserve three days in advance if you want a tour. The map is excellent value for ¥100 - it is very easy to read and includes some sensible recommended itineraries. Don't worry if the mountain bikes sell out - Kyoto (like Tokyo) is a city with perfect kerb transitions so a 3 speed with basket and bell is fine, if a little bumpy on the river path.

* There is a bicycle rental shop across the street from the Keihan Demachiyanagi station. It is ¥300 yen for a day, ¥450 for a day and night, and ¥2000 for a month.

[edit] By train

The Keihan train line can be useful for traveling in eastern Kyoto, while the two Keifuku tram lines are an attractive way of traveling in the northwest.
[edit] By subway

Kyoto is criss-crossed by several subway lines, all of which are clearly sign-posted in English. Although the lines are run independently and prices vary slightly between them, transfers can be purchased at most of the ticket machines. The north-south Karasuma Line runs under Kyoto Station, and the west-east Tozai Line links up with it near the city center. Both are useful for travel in the city center but not really suitable for temple-hopping. The Tozai Line does connect with the Keihan Line, however, which runs parallel to the Kamo-gawa, and is convenient for reaching Gion and southern Kyoto; it also gets you within a short walk of many of the sights in eastern Kyoto. Across the street from the northern terminus of the Keihan Line is the Eidan Eizan line, which runs to Mount Hiei and Kurama.

The Hankyu Line starts at Shijo-Kawaramachi downtown, and connects to the Karasuma Line one stop later at Karasuma. It's useful for reaching Arashiyama and the Katsura Rikyu; it runs all the way to Osaka and Kobe.
[edit] By bus

The bus network is the only practical way of reaching some attractions, particularly those in north-western Kyoto. Many buses depart from Kyoto station, but there is also a bus station closer to the city center at Sanjo-Kawabata, just outside the Sanjo Keihan subway line. Most city buses have a fixed fare of ¥220, but you can also purchase a one day pass (¥500 for adults and 250 yen for children under 12) with which you can ride an unlimited number of times within a one day period. The day passes can be bought from the bus drivers or from the bus information centre just outside the Kyoto Station. This is especially useful if you plan on visiting many different points of interest within Kyoto. You can also buy a combined unlimited subway and bus pass for ¥1200.

Unlike most Japanese buses, Kyoto's buses have announcements and electronic signs in English. The municipal transport company publishes a very useful leaflet called Bus Navi[5]. It contains a route map for the bus lines to most sights and fare information. You can pick it up at the information centre in front of the main station.
[edit] See

Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.
[edit] North-western Kyoto
The Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji
The Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji

Visiting the vast temple complexes of north-western Kyoto can take the better part of a day. A suggested itinerary is to take the subway (Karasuma line) to Kitaoji station, and walk west along Kitaoji-dori. Daitokuji, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji Temples are all on Kitaoji-dori, and about 15-30 minutes' walk apart. En route, you will see the giant "dai" (大) symbol burned on Mt. Daimon-ji, which can be climbed in an hour or so - look for the entrance near Ginkaku-ji (see below). If you're in Kyoto at night on August 16th, look up - you'll see the (大) aflame. Hirano Shrine is a short walk south along Nishioji-dori from Kinkakuji. If you still have time left at the end of the day, take the pleasant electric railway (Keifuku Kitano line) from Omuro to Katabiranotsuji, then take the JR Sagano line from nearby Uzumasa station back to central Kyoto.

* Daitokuji (大徳寺). A small and understated temple complex, boasting several small, secluded subtemples. Daitokuji is the quietest of the temples in north-western Kyoto, and if you visit it at the start of the day, you could virtually have it to yourself. Eight of the twenty-four subtemples open to the public (most days 9am-5pm), and each charges an admission fee (around ¥400). The highlight of the subtemples is Daisen-in, located on the northern side of the temple complex, which has a beautiful Zen garden without the crowds of Ryoanji Temple. Koto-in is particularly noted for its maple trees, which are beautiful in autumn. Nearest bus stop: Daitokuji-mae.

* Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺). The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, formally known as Rokuonji (鹿苑寺), is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 12th century, and converted into a temple by his son. However, the pavilion was burnt down in 1950, by a young monk who had become obsessed with it. (The story became the basis for Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.) The pavilion was rebuilt to look even more garish than before - extending the gold leaf covering it to the lower floor. The beautiful landscaping and the reflection of the temple on the face of the water make for a striking sight, but keeping the mobs of visitors out of your photos will be a stern test for your framing abilities (and a dilemma for your photographic honesty). Get there early if you can to beat the school groups. Visitors follow a path through the moss garden surrounding the pavilion, before emerging into a square crowded with gift shops. It's only a short walk from Ryōan-ji (below), making for an easy pairing (and study in contrasts). Open daily 9am-5pm, admission ¥400. Nearest bus stop: Kinkakuji-michi or Kinkakuji-mae.

* Hirano Shrine (平野神社). A small shrine, which is an especially popular destination during the cherry blossom season, setting up amusement and food stalls. A small park of cherry trees next to the shrine is hung with lanterns and drawings by local schoolchildren. Sufficiently far off the tourist trail to be worth a look. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Waratenjin-mae.

* Ryōan-ji (竜安寺). Famous for its Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style. Surrounded by low walls, an austere arrangement of fifteen rocks sits on a bed of white gravel. That's it: no trees, no hills, no ponds, and no trickling water. Behind the simple temple that overlooks the rock garden is a stone washbasin called Tsukubai said to have been contributed by Tokugawa Mitsukuni in the 17th century. It bears a simple but profound four-character inscription: "I learn only to be contented". There is a fantastic boiled tofu (湯豆腐 yudōfu) restaurant on the grounds, which you should be able to find by following the route away from the rock garden and towards the exit. It is slightly expensive, but serves delicious, traditional tofu dishes. The rest of the grounds are worth a look too - particularly the large pond. Open daily 8am-5pm (Mar-Nov), 8.30am-4.30pm (Dec-Feb). Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ryōanji-mae.

* Ninnaji (仁和寺). Another large temple complex which is often overlooked by tourists. Admission to the grounds is free, allowing visitors to view the 17th century five-storey pagoda, and the plantation of dwarf cherry trees (which are always the last to bloom in Kyoto, in early-mid April). However, visitors shouldn't miss the temple itself, which demands an admission fee of ¥500, and features some beautifully painted screen walls, and a beautiful walled garden. In the hills behind the temple, there is a delightful miniature version of the renowned 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku, which takes an hour or two (rather than a month or two). This can provide a delightful end to a day of looking at tourist attractions. Open daily 9am-4.30pm. Nearest bus stop: Omuro Ninnaji.

* Jingoji (神護寺). An overlooked gem among Kyoto temples, it is an ideal place to visit for those wanting to escape the tourist hordes. It is located in Mt. Takao in the north-western corner of Kyoto. In front of Kyoto Station, take JR Bus bound for Takao/Keihoku and get off at Yamashiro Takao Station (free with JR Pass), walk down a flight of winding stairs, cross a small bridge, and walk up for about ten minutes. Make sure you walk all the way to the back of the temple ground to a commanding view of the Kiyotaki River below wedged between two hills; here you can buy clay disks, which you throw down the mountain after making a wish. The temple is especially lovely in the fall, when the leaves all turn colors. Admission fee: 500 yen. Open: 9AM-4PM.

[edit] Western Kyoto
A walk through the bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Western Kyoto
A walk through the bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Western Kyoto

The Arashiyama (嵐山) area to the west of the city is dismissed in most Western guidebooks in a brief paragraph suggesting "other attractions". However, the area is rightfully very popular with Japanese tourists, and is well worth a visit. To get here, take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama, or take the Hankyu Line from the city center to Katsura, and change to the Hankyu Arashiyama Line.

* The walk through a forest of bamboo to Nonomiya Shrine and Okochi Sanso (a traditional house, previously occupied by a Japanese silent screen legend), is a real highlight of a visit to Kyoto. No admission fee for the shrine, ¥1000 for Okochi Sanso (price includes a cup of matcha, traditional Japanese tea, in the tea garden).

* Feeding the macaque monkeys atop the mountain in Iwatayama Monkey Park, to the south of the river, is worth the entrance fee (and the demanding climb!). Don't bring food up with you, though - peanuts are on sale inside the shack on top of the mountains, and the monkeys are well aware of it. There's a pond next to the shack, and the monkeys seem particularly fond of the keeper's motorcycle, which is usually parked there. There's ¥500 admission fee to enter the park; peanuts cost extra, but you know the monkeys appreciate it.

* Just outside Saga Arashiyama station is the 19th Century Hall - a museum covering the unlikely combination of steam locomotives and pianos. Probably best to look at it from the outside, and listen to the amusing tinny music it blasts out.

* The picture-esque Togetsukyo Bridge spans the Hozu River, which usually has at least a bit of water in it. If you're interested in a cruise down the river, you won't have to look far - small and large boats, both rowed and motored, are waiting on either side of the river. Be sure to confirm how far and how long the trip goes, though. Some are as long as two hours, and others will do a quick turnaround in less then twenty minutes.

* Tenryu-ji (8:30am-5:30pm Mar-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb; admission ¥600) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the main temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism in Kyoto; it's also considered one of Kyoto's Five Great Zen Temples. Tenryu-ji was founded in 1334, but the current buildings all date from the last century - pleasant, but unremarkable. However, there is a lovely garden and pond, designed by the Zen master Musō Soseki, that is worth a look. The main gate is just beyond the busy intersection with the Togestu-kyo bridge.

Sharing a cup at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji
Sharing a cup at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

* Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is omitted from virtually all guidebooks, but it's one of the true unknown gems of Kyoto. It was founded in the eighth century, and went through an unlucky patch for a millennium or so; by turns it was destroyed by flood, fire and typhoon, and had to move location a few times. Today, it sits in seclusion, far away from anything else. Two fierce statues guard the entrance. Once you're through the gate, though, you'll find over 1200 small (knee-to-waist high) statues, each with its own unique character - you'll see a cheerful boxer near the entrance, but you could spend hours checking out the rest, and you'll do it in relative seclusion, since this is well away from the tourist trail. The statues were carved in 1981 by amateurs under the direction of master sculptor Kocho Nishimura. Moss and forest have begun to reclaim the area, and if you've ever wondered what Angkor Wat would look like crossed with Japanese kawaii, this is your chance. By bus, take #72 from Kyoto station to Otagidera-Mae, or within Arashiyama, catch #62 or #72.

[edit] Central Kyoto

* Nijō Castle (二条城). Certainly one of the highlights of Kyoto. The series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru complex is particularly impressive, and known for its "nightingale floors" - wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on. From the donjon of the inner castle, you can get good views over the castle layout, and the rest of the city. Open daily, 8.45am-5pm, with last admission at 4pm. Admission ¥600. Nearest bus stop: Nijojo-mae. Nearest subway station: Nijojo-mae.

* The Imperial Park is a large, peaceful area in the centre of Kyoto, centred around the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is only open to visitors on pre-booked guided tours - English tours take place at 10am and 2pm Monday-Friday, and bookings must be made at the Imperial Household Agency, located to the west of the palace complex. The Palace is a reconstruction, though, and the Emperor doesn't actually spend much time there; don't consider it a priority. However, if you're in Kyoto for an extended amount of time, the park can make for a very pleasant afternoon, and it's large enough to let you forget the noise of the city outside the walls. It's home to 50,000 trees, including cherry, plum and peach tree orchards.

* The Museum of Kyoto is particularly worthwhile if you have a burning interest in ancient pottery, otherwise not really worth a visit. Open daily 10am-8.30pm. Admission ¥500. Located on Takakura-dori. Nearest bus stop: Shijo Karasuma. Nearest subway station: Karasuma Oike.

* Higashi and Nishi Honganji Temple are currently under construction, which is expected to be completed in 2008. The majestic main hall of Higashi Honganji, said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, can accomodate up to 5,000 people and is the headquarter of the Shinju Sect of Buddhism. From Kyoto Station, Higashi Honganji is a five-minute walk; Nishi Honganji, a 15-minute walk.

* Toji Temple is an oasis of calm near central Kyoto. Its pagoda is the tallest wooden structure in Japan. There are also flea markets at various times of the month.

* Kyoto Tower, just north of Kyoto Station, [6]. A sightseeing tower that provides views of Kyoto's urban sprawl. Open from 9 AM to 9 PM, adults ¥600.

[edit] Eastern Kyoto
Picturesque street near Kiyomizu Temple
Picturesque street near Kiyomizu Temple

Some of the most picturesque parts of Kyoto are located in the eastern region of the city, across the Kamo River. Visiting the main tourist attractions of eastern Kyoto will fill a full day - a suggested itinerary is to work north from Kiyomizu-dera to Ginkakuji, passing through Gion, and visiting Yasaka Shrine and Nanzenji before following the Philosopher's Walk to Ginkakuji.

* Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). This temple complex, with a spectacular location overlooking the city, is a deservedly popular attraction, approached by either of two tourist-filled souvenir-shop-lined streets, Kiyomizu-zaka or Chawan-zaka. Admission ¥300. Open daily, 6am-6pm. Nearest bus stop: Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka. Highlights of the temple complex include;
o The main hall's wooden veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars and offering incredible views over the city,
o Jishu-jinja, the love-themed shrine selling countless charms to help you snag the one you love, and featuring two "love stones" positioned around 18m apart which the lovelorn must walk between with eyes closed to confirm their loved one's affection, and
o Otowa-no-taki the temple's waterfall, which gives it its name (Kiyomizu literally means 'pure water'). Visitors stand beneath the waterfall, and collect water to drink by holding out little tin cups.
o mountain hike If you're up for a mountain walk, steer to the right-hand pathway instead of taking the left toward the Jishu-jinja. The path leads through a gate and winds up onto the mountain. You can walk up for a good hour and not reach the end of the path. Has lovely forest and great scenery, and makes for a nice short excursion out of the city traffic.
* Gion district (祇園). The flagstone-paved streets and traditional buildings of the Gion district, located to the north-west of Kiyomizu, are where you're most likely to see geisha in Kyoto, scurrying between buildings or slipping into a taxi. The area just to the north of Shijo-dori, to the west of Yasaka Shrine, is particularly photogenic - particularly around Shinbashi-dori and Hanami-koji. Sannen-zaka ("three-year-slope") and Ninen-zaka ("two-year-slope"), two stepped streets leading off from Kiyomizu-zaka, are also very picturesque - but watch your step, slipping over on these streets brings three or two years' bad luck respectively. At the northern end of Ninen-zaka is Ryozen Kannon, a memorial to the unknown Japanese soldiers who died in World War II, with a 24-meter-tall statue of Kannon. Admission is ¥200, including a lit incense stick to place in front of the shrine.
* Yasaka Shrine at the eastern end of Shijo-dori, at the edge of Gion, is the shrine responsible for Kyoto's main festival - the Gion Matsuri, which takes place in July. The shrine is small in comparison with many in Kyoto, but it boasts an impressive display of lanterns. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Gion.
* Maruyama Park is the main center for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto, and can get extremely crowded at that time of year. The park's star attraction is a weeping cherry tree (shidarezakura). Main entrance to the park is through Yasaka Shrine. Admission is free.
* Nanzenji, with its distinctive two-storey entrance gate (sanmon) and aqueduct, is another popular temple in Kyoto, but its larger size means that it doesn't seem as crowded as many of the others. Nearest bus stop: Nanzenji, Eikando-michi. Nearest subway station: Keage. Open daily, 8.30am-5pm. Walking around the temple complex and along the aqueduct is free, but there are three regions of Nanzenji that you can pay to enter;
o Sanmon - the two-storey main gate to Nanzenji Temple charges ¥500 for admission, and offers pleasant views over the surrounding area of the city.
o Nanzen-in Zen Temple - a small, but relaxing temple and moss garden behind the aqueduct, dating back to the 13th century, charges ¥300 for admission, and is probably only worth it if you have a particular interest in Zen Buddhism.
o Hojo - the abbot's quarters, is a more interesting building, with a small raked gravel garden and some impressive paintings on the sliding doors of the buildings. Admission is ¥500.
* The Philosopher's Walk (哲学の道 tetsugaku-no-michi) is the name given to a 2km-long path through north-eastern Kyoto, along which a philosophy professor, Kitaro Nishida, used to frequently walk. It is a surprisingly pleasant and relaxing walk even today, though you will undoubtedly share it with more tourists than Kitaro did. The walk runs south from Ginkakuji beside an aqueduct to Nyakuoji Shrine, many guidebooks suggest that the walk continues further south from there to Nanzenji, but this southerly section of the walk is less consistently signposted. The route passes several temples en route, notably Honen-in, a beautiful secluded temple with a thatched gate. Suggested route for the walk and surrounding area.
* Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, the Silver Pavilion) is at the northern end of the Philosopher's Walk. Much like its golden counterpart at Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion is often choked with tourists, shuffling past a scrupulously-maintained dry landscape Zen garden and the surrounding moss garden, before posing for pictures in front of the Pavilion across a pond. Unlike its counterpart, however, the Silver Pavilion was never actually covered in silver; only the name had been applied before the plans fell apart. Be sure not to miss the display of Very Important Mosses! Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ginkakuji-michi.
* Mt. Daimonji isn't much more than a hill, but it provides a breathtaking (and perhaps the best) view of the city. So if you're in the mood for a hike, this is a pleasant forest walk, taking a little less than an hour. At the summit, you can take a breather and check out the views over the city, or climb the steps and keep hiking through the forest at the top for hours, as long as you don't mind winding up far away from where you started. There's a clearly marked path up the mountain that begins near Ginkakuji. To reach the trailhead, turn left at the gates of Ginkakuji, and, before the stone torii (the iconic gate found throughout Japan), turn right and follow the path upwards. You'll soon be greeted with a map of the hill. If you don't know Japanese, don't worry, just follow everyone up the very-obvious path to the summit.

Back near Kiyomizu-dera and further to the southeast, along the Kamo River, are a few more sights:

* Sanjusangen-do is definitely worth a visit. It was founded in 1164 and became famous for its 1001 beautiful wooden and gold-leaf covered statues of Kannon, goddess of mercy, housed in thirty-three bays (sanjusan = thirty-three, gendo = bays) in the main hall.
* Kyoto National Museum [7] (9:30am - 5:00pm, closed Mondays; admission ¥500) is near Sanjusangen-do, and has a large collection of ancient Japanese sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, painting, and other artifacts. (It's quite similar to the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo/Ueno.) The Museum building is fairly grand, but the statue of Rodin's The Thinker out front is a bit out of place, as there's no Western art inside. It's seven minutes east of Shichijo Keihan.

[edit] Southern Kyoto
The torii at Fushimi-Inari-taisha
The torii at Fushimi-Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi-Inari-taisha). Another of Kyoto's often-overlooked jewels, about twenty-minutes to the south of Kyoto. Dedicated to Inari, the Japanese fox goddess, Fushimi-Inari-taisha is the head shrine (taisha) for 40,000 Inari shrines across Japan. Stretching 230 meters up the hill behind it are hundreds of bright red torii (gates). A visitor could easily spend several hours walking up the hillside, taking in the beautiful views of the city of Kyoto and walking through the torii, which appear luminescent in the late afternoon sun. Countless stone foxes, also referred to as Inari, are also dotted along the path.

Approaching the shrine, local delicacies are sold at the roadside, including barbecued sparrow and inari-sushi (sweetened sushi rice wrapped in fried tofu), which is said to be the favourite food of the fox. Watch your fingers as you go - the fox spirits are said to be able to possess people by slipping through their fingernails.

Admission is free. From the city center, take the Keihan line to the Fushimi Inari station, and the foxes will point you in the right direction.. Be warned, the shrine is located close to Fushimi Inari and Inari stations, but is nowhere near Fushimi station! You can also take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station to Inari station, which exits immediately opposite the entrance to the shrine. When you are done walking the entire path, you have to walk through residential streets to get back to the train station; if you get lost, listening for and walking toward the sound of the trains will help guide you there.

Fushimi Castle was a favorite of Toyotomo Hideyoshi. The original was dismantled in 1623, but a 1964 reconstruction went up in its memory with a small museum and gold-lined tea room.

Tofuku-ji To get there, get off on the way to Fushimi-inari shrine at Tofuku-ji station. Large temple complex with many small and beautiful gardens nearby. Famous for its garden, especially in the fall when the leaves turn into all shades from green to red. Not on the top-list of most of western tourists, so especially worth visiting during fall.

Video game giant Nintendo has its world headquarters in southern Kyoto. Sad to say, tours are not offered, and visitors are unlikely even to make it into the lobby; the best you'll be able to do is pose for a photo with the company logo on the plaza in front of the otherwise anonymous building.
[edit] Do

A highly-recommended walking tour is the "Walk in Kyoto, Talk in English" tour (16/over ¥2000; 13-15 ¥1000; under 13 free; no reservations, cash only). The tour is given by Hajime Hirooka, better known to the tourists as Johnny Hillwalker. During the five-hour English-speaking tour, Hillwalker shows tourists a large Buddhist temple, a few Shinto shrines, and workshops in the back alleys of the city. The tour operates rain or shine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between March and November, excluding public holidays. Departure time is 10:15 AM sharp outside the main (north) entrance of Kyoto station. See Johnnie's Kyoto Walking for more information.
[edit] Buy

Currently, Kyoto is enjoying even more popularity than usual with Japanese tourists due to the success of Japanese TV broadcaster NHK's series 'Shinsengumi!' (新選組!), a historic drama following a group of samurai who kept peace in the city in the 1860s. Consequently, among the most popular souvenirs from the city at the moment are the distinctive blue and white happi (shirts) worn by this group.

There is a nice selection of reassuringly non-tacky traditional souvenir shops around Arashiyama station in Western Kyoto, selling fans and traditional sweets. More tacky stores can be found in Gion and the approach to Kiyomizu Temple, selling keyrings, cuddly toys, and garish ornaments. Other traditional souvenirs from Kyoto include parasols and carved wooden dolls.

A more unconventional but colorful (and relatively cheap) souvenir are the wooden votive tablets produced by temples, which bear an image relevant to the temple on the reverse. Visitors to the temples write their prayers on the tablets, and hang them up within the temple.

Manga and anime enthusiasts should visit Teramachi Street, a covered shopping street off the main Shijo-dori, which boasts a large manga store on two floors, as well as a two-story branch of Gamers (a chain of anime stores), and a small two-story anime and collectables store.

Many ATMs in Kyoto do not allow non-domestic credit cards to be used, but ATMs in post offices usually do, so if you find your card rejected or invalid in an ATM then try and get to a post office to use their ATMs instead. A rough guide is the mastercard symbol - if you see it then that machine will probably allow foreign cards to be used. Another option is Citibank, which should work, too. There is an old standby international ATM at the top floor of Takashimaya Department Store at Shijo/Kawaramachi in the "Cash Corner." The bank of ATMs in the basement of the Kyoto Tower shopping center (across the street from JR Kyoto Station) also includes one machine where international cards may be used.

* Gallery Gado 27 Miyashiki-cho Hirano, Kitaku (on Kinukake no Michi, near Kinkakuji). 075-464-1655. Open everyday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Gallery Gado sells modern woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) with traditional themes. The gallery also has catalogs of the work of artists who are maintaining this art form. All prints are authentic woodblock prints; postcard-sized prints are available for ¥800, medium-sized prints for ¥2000-3000, and large prints for a few ten thousand yen. [8]

[edit] Splurge

In the shopping areas adjacent to Kiyomizudera (on the other side of the Kamo River), it is possible to purchase samurai swords and top of the line kimono. Do not be surprised if the prices for either item exceed ¥3,000,000.

Kyoto incense is also famous. It usually has a very delicate yet fragrant bouquet. Fortunately, incense is much more agreeable in price (¥400-2000).
[edit] Eat
Seafood on offer in central Kyoto
Seafood on offer in central Kyoto

If you've just stepped off the train and the first thing on your mind is a bite to eat, there are several restaurants on the tenth and eleventh floors of the Isetan department store attached to Kyoto station. Most of the offerings are Japanese, including a veritable Ramen village, with a few casual Italian cafes as well.

* Local specialties include: hamo (a white fish served with ume as sushi), tofu (try places around Nanzenji temple), suppon (an expensive turtle dish), vegetarian dishes (thanks to the abundance of temples), and kaiseki-ryori (multi-course chef's choice that can be extremely expensive).

[edit] Budget

* Musashi Sushi one of the oldest kaitenzushiya (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants in Kyoto, it is located directly across chain Kappa Sushi at the corner of Sanjo/Kawaramachi. All of the sushi is handmade, though it may take a while to see something new float by. Fortunately, the seats surround the chefs, so you can request whatever you want if you don't see something you like. Price: ¥120 per plate (usually 2 pieces per plate).

* Kappa Sushi is a chain kaitenzushiya (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant on the corner of Sanjo and Kawaramachi at the entrance to the Shinkyogoku/Teramachi covered mall. Lots of variety, but quality matching the price, this restaurant being the type to use machines to cut rice and fish. Price: ¥100 per plate (usually 2 pieces per plate).

* Kick-up Bar is a tiki-themed bar & grill outside the Keage Tozai line subway station and across from the Westin Miyako Hotel. They have the best meatball sandwich in Japan for ¥800 and loaded pizza made from homemade dough (medium for ¥1500)

* Santouka Ramen is a Hokkaido style ramen shop in the Sanjo-Keihan above-ground plaza & bus station. For about ¥900 they have excellent pork broth ramen. Don't forget the broth-boiled egg for ¥200. Look for the line outside.

* Mr. Young Men is a pleasantly grubby okonomiyaki restaurant downtown, at the corner of Shijo and the covered shopping street of Teramachi. Basic English menus are available. A basic dish of Osaka-style okonomiyaki will run about ¥800, although a few variations (including a bizarre cheese and potato version) are available for about the same price.

* Hati Hati is an Indonesian restaurant on Kiyamachi, near Takoyakushi. It has great food and atmosphere, but it's occasionally converted into a bar and a performance space for local bands and DJs at night on weekends. For really late night food on Kiyamachi, there is a cheap, open-air falafel cafe a couple doors down from Hati Hati that never seems to close.

[edit] Mid-range

* Kappa Sushi (on Pontocho) is a reasonably-priced (for fresh sushi) restaurant. They have an English menu which is, unfortunately, inferior to the Japanese menu. Specials change daily, but are generally on the pricey side. Sit at the sushi bar, and eat well-apportioned nigiri off of banana leaves with your fingers. Not a bad place to try real o-toro for ¥800 a plate.

* Cafe Rue Ribera is a new, very beautifully arranged and welcoming petit restaurant and bar that has just been open for a year. Opened by a very nice, welcoming woman who speaks very good English (having spent some time in England). Located just near Enmachi Station on the Sagano Line. Tel/Fax: 075-812-2351. Open 11:30am til 1:30am. Lunchtime 11:30am til 2:30pm. Closed Tuesdays.

* efish 798-1 Nishihashizume-cho 075-361-3069 (near the Idemetsu gas station, across the river from Keihan Gogo 京阪五条 station). 075-361-3069. Open every day, 11 AM to 11 PM (until 10 PM in the winter). This cafe, tucked away down a hidden side street, has a trendy ambiance and river views. For lunch, try the okra curry (¥850) or soup and bread set (¥650). [9]

* Siam (シャム)A tiny but wonderful Thai curry restaurant off Marutamachi-dori and near Nishioji-dori. The food is delicious; not too oily nor too thick, and spice levels are indicated on the menu. For 1000 Yen (about 10 USD) you can get salad, curry, and dessert such as fresh-made coconut pudding. Best of all is enjoying wonderful ambiance of a soft-lit room, decorated with lovely exotic paintings from Bali, listening to soothing music, while your wonderful meal is made right in front of you. Menu available in Japanese and English. (11:30-20:30)

* Fuka(麩嘉)Located west of the Imperial Palace and just a bit south of the Kyoto Prefectural Office, this old shop makes the best nama-fu (wheat gluten filled with sweet bean paste) in Kyoto and supplies many sweet shops and restaurants throughout the city. There might not be enough supplies to sell over the counter, so it is best to arrive early. Open: 9AM-5PM. Closed: Mondays

* Tengu A chain izakaya offering their own beer and good shared food with occasional seasonal specials. One is located underground with an entrance near the corner of Sanjo/Kawaramachi.

[edit] Splurge

* Pontochō (先斗町) is a narrow lane running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River. One of Kyoto's most traditional nightlife districts, the restaurants here run the gamut for super-exclusive geisha houses to common yakitori bars. Many have pleasant open-air riverside terraces. Rule of thumb is, any establishment with a menu and prices outside is OK, but others are best skipped.

* Mishima-tei: If you have a yearning for sukiyaki, and your pockets are deep, you must visit Mishima-tei at the junction of Teramachi-dori and Sanjo-dori. Here you will be bowed in and shown to your own private tatami room by your personal kimono-clad hostess. There, having helped you to order, she will prepare your sukiyaki feast on the hotplate set between you. Order the "premium beef", and the richly marbled meat will just melt in your mouth, and require almost no chewing whatsoever: it is delectable – and it should be since two of you will spend around ¥25,000 in less than an hour on 360 grams of beef and a few vegetables! In the butchers shop attached to the restaurant this beef retails at ¥50,000 per kilogram, and you can have fun devising a fantasy barbecue for you and a half dozen close friends where you would grill thick-cut steaks of this meat, washed down with a couple of bottles of 1982 Lynch Bages, for the modest outlay of ¥175,000 – a pleasant way to pass a Sunday lunchtime.

[edit] Drink

Kiyamachi, between Shijo and Sanjo, is packed with drinking establishments. There are the inevitable hostess bars with tuxedo-ed touts pacing out front, but there are also plenty of pubs and block-buildings full of idiosyncratic one room bars as well. Near the Sanjo end, keep an eye out for Pretty Space, also known as "Mushroom Bar", and be sure to compliment the owner on committing to the theme with his haircut. Also on that end of Kiyamachi is Rub-a-Dub, a one-room reggae bar that can either be an over-crowded mess or a box of delirious fun, depending on which record is on (and how much you like Red Stripe).

A good start to the evening would be A-bar, a hard-to-find izakaya close to the Shijo/Kiyamachi corners. Food is good and reasonable - daily sashimi specials and fried goods, especially. You share long tables with foreigners and locals alike; a friendly thing to do would be to pour beers (¥550 Yebisu) for your neighbors and Suei-san, the proprietor.

Bar Africa - bland, but if there's a football match from home that you need to catch, they have cheap Asahi jugs. Also, their foosball table is very well kept. Across from the Hub, infra.

No night in Kyoto is complete without the requisite after hours visit to all-night Ing (a.k.a., "Box Bar," or "the office"). Proprietor Hako-san will keep bringing you big bottles of Sapporo (¥600 each shareable bottle), happy to join for a drink when offered. Food there is always an option - tofu salad & potato pizza are good for the price (¥600). Get ready for Rolling Stones, competitive Jenga, sharing tables with odd drunk people, and clothes permanently soaked in smoke. Good luck finding it. If you see Hamid's Falafel you're on the right track. Ing is on the second floor of a building slightly south of Hamid's.

The Fushimi district is known for its sake breweries; tours are available at Gekkeikan.

British style pubs:

* The Hub: on the small streets connecting Kiyamachi to Kawaramachi, lots of TVs for sports, cheap beer (¥700/pint) (especially with a ¥500 membership) and more expensive imports; food, however, is mediocre. This is basically the headquarters for English-speaking tourists and gaijin residents for happy hour. If you want some inside information about where to go, where to eat, what to see, etc., ask a group here. One of the larger bars in Kyoto, it is a popular spot for happy hours and goodbye parties. The real draw is the foosball, darts tournaments, and, upstairs in the back, the pool table.

* Pig & Whistle: underwent a renovation last year, adding a more stylish whiskey bar to its original drinks bar. This is a popular spot, located right above the Sanjo Keihan subway station. If you hear live music, go on up; though it probably won't be great music, it will draw a crowd. Food here is also mediocre.

* Tadg's Pub: a bit less convenient (second floor on the corner of Shijo and Kawabata-dori), but great portions of food. Steer clear from their stuffy events like poetry readings and open mics, but definitely go for rugby games.

* Hill of Tara: a quiet Irish-style pub with good food. A bit more expensive than the frozen stuff from the Pig or the Hub, but a much mellower scene. In the Spring and Summer, they have a nice, though small, second floor balcony.

* McLaughlin's: a new food-focused Irish restaurant located on Kiyamachi between Sanjo and Nijo. Food is pricier than the others, but more creative. Good quality beers unfortunately served in thimble-like goblets.

* Kick-Up Pub: across from the Westin Miyako Hotel, a gaijin-friendly tiki-themed bar with fresh Bass Ale pints (¥800) and ice cold Asahi mugs (¥600). Not a problem if alone because the proprietors, Masuyo and Rick, speak both Japanese and English and are up for a good chat. See the Budget Food section for food information.

[edit] Sleep

Kyoto has a wide range of accommodation, much of it geared towards foreign visitors. During peak seasons, when accommodation is difficult to get, consider staying in Osaka. A thirty minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Osaka will cost you ¥540 one way.
[edit] Budget
[edit] Temple lodgings

Many temples in Kyoto own and run their own lodging complex known as shukubō (宿坊), usually located on or near temple grounds. The least known option of accommodation even among Japanese, shukubos are becoming popular with both Japanese and foreigners alike. Guests are often invited to participate in morning prayer service (otsutome) held at the temple. Unfortunately, most temple lodgings do not have English-speaking receptions, and curfews and check-in/out times tend to be strict.

* Myōren-ji Temple (妙蓮寺) - Three minutes by foot from Horikawa Teranouchi Stop on Bus # 9 and 12 (the former leaves from Kyoto Station, the latter, Shijo Karasuma Subway Station). Tel: 075-451-3527. Rate: ¥3,800 per person (including entrance fee to public bath). Facilities: in-room air-conditioner; no bath but a public bath is nearby; guests should bring their own bath towel and shampoo as the public bath only lends out mini-towels and soap. Check-in: 6pm; Check-out: 7 am.

* Hiden-in (悲田院)- in southern Kyoto near Fushimi Inari Shrine and Tofuku-ji Temple, 15 minutes by foot from Sennyuji-michi Stop on Bus # 202, 207, 208. Tel: 075-561-8781. Rate: ¥4,500 per person with breakfast. Facilities: rooms are separated by sliding doors only; maximum capacity: 20; one shared bath. Check-in: 4pm; Check-out: 10am.

* Rokuō-in(鹿王院) - near Arashiyama, six minutes by foot from Saga-Arashiyama Station on the JR Sagano Line. Only for female visitors. Tel: 075-861-1645. Rate: ¥4,500 per person with breakfast. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 30; during peak season, guests travelling alone may be asked to share a room with another single guest; towels not provided; one bath. Crowded during autumn foliage season. Curfew at 7:30pm.

* Myōshin-ji Daishin-in(妙心寺大心院)- 10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on Bus # 8, 10, 26. Tel: 075-461-5714. Rate: ¥4,700 with breakfast. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 50; in-room air-conditioner, kotatsu heating table in winter, shared bath and toilet. Lights out at 10pm.

* Myōshin-ji Tōrin-in(妙心寺東林院) - 10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on Bus # 8, 10, 26. Tel: 075-463-1334. Only accept reservations from foreigners if they are with a Japanese person. Rate: ¥4,700 with breakfast; ¥6,000 with breakfast and dinner; Shojin meal (Buddhist vegetarian)¥3,000 - ¥8,000; Shojin cooking class ¥3,000. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 40; shared bath. Curfew at 9pm. Lights out at 10pm.

[edit] Other

* Bakpak Kyoto Hostel. Located in central downtown Kyoto between Kawaramachi and Gion, next to the Minamiza theatre. Rates from $20/night.Tel : + 81- 75 – 525 - 3144 [10]

* Budget Inn (near Nishi-Honganji, 7 min walk from Kyoto Station) [11]. A new, clean hostel owned by the same people as Tour Club. Both dorm and private rooms available. No curfew.

* Gojo Guest House (5 min walk from Keihan Gojo Station) [12]. A Japanese style hostel with a cozy cafe located in Higashiyama area.

* Hirano's B&B Kyoto (3 minute walk from the Karasuma-Oike subway station) [13]. A quiet and intimate B&B, near Nijo Castle. Guests experience being at home with a Japanese family.

* Ikoi-no-Ie [14] A Japanese-style guesthouse with all rooms private, no smoking (some are en-suite). Located right in the middle between Kyoto Station and the downtown (12 and 15 minute walk respectively). Bus stops and an underground/subway station for most Kyoto sightseeing spots nearby. Newly opened in February 2007.

* J-Hoppers Kyoto Guesthouse (8 min walk from Kyoto Station) [15]. A new and clean backpackers hostel guesthouse. 7 minutes walk from Kyoto central station. Dormitory bed 2,500 yen including tax. Rental bike 500 yen/day, Internet 300 yen/hour, No curfew, Up-to-date local information by native staff, managed by a trans-continental motorcyclist. TEL +81-75-681-2282, SKYPE:jhoppers

* K's House Kyoto, 418 Nayacho, Shichijo-agaru, Dotemachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku, (9 min walk from JR Kyoto Station, 4 min. walk from Keihan Line Shichijo Station) 075-342-2444 (fax 075-342-2440, email info@kshouse.jp), [16]. Opened in November 2003, this foreigner-friendly hostel has received favorable reviews for reasonable prices, cleanliness and amenities like Internet access and kitchens. English-speaking staff. Dormitory room ¥2500, twin/double/triple room from ¥2900, single room from ¥3500 (prices per person). The hostel itself can be difficult to find, as it is located down a narrow street off the main road.

* Kyoto Cheapest Inn [17] (Near Nijo castle, 1-3 min walk from bus stop Horikawa Marutamachi & Marutamachi Chiekoin) Claims to offer the cheapest accommodation in Kyoto. ¥900-2,000 (dormitory), ¥6,800 (private ensuite). Credit cards accepted, English available.

* Palace Side Hotel [18] is exactly where the name suggests: across the street from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and park, on Karasuma (near the intersection with Marutamachi). It's a Western-style hotel reminiscent of a much more expensive hotel that could use a good scrubbing. The staff speak fluent English, and the front desk is always open, as are computers with internet access in the lobby. It's often used by academic groups from nearby universities, though, so advance reservations should be made. There are discounts for stays of three or more days. S/D/Tw/Tr from ¥5040 - ¥10,500.

* Ryokan Hiraiwa (旅館平岩). Tel. 075-351-6748. [19]. A self-proclaimed ryokan (really a minshuku) catering almost entirely to the foreign market, in an old Japanese house plastered with English signs, warnings and tips. All rooms Japanese style. Traditional breakfast extra. Internet. Shared bathrooms, public bath half a block away. But it's cheap (¥4200 for a single, ¥8400 for a double, breakfast not included) and reasonably friendly. Slightly inconveniently located halfway between the station and the center of town (it's bit of a hike to either), take bus #17 or #205* from Kyoto Station pier A2 to Kawaramachi-Shomen (the third stop).

* Station Ryokan Seiki (5 min walk from Kyoto Station) [20]. Small but convenient. Doubles ¥9000.

* Tour Club (10 min walk from Kyoto Station) [21]. A friendly, clean hostel with both dorm and private rooms. The dorms have a 11pm curfew.

* Tani House (near Daitokuji). A 70-year-old traditional wooden house, a little shabby but cheap, mixed guests, from ¥1700 a night and you can rent cheap bicycles.

[edit] Midrange

* Gimmond Hotel Takakura-Oike-dori, Nakagyo-ku (2 min. walk from Karasuma-Oike subway station), 075-221-4111 (fax 075-221-8250, email kyoto@gimmond.co.jp). [22] A foreigner-friendly hotel, neat and tidy and good location. Discount for internet booking.

* Ryokan Shimizu 644 Wakamiya Agaru Shichijo, Shimogyo-ku (7 minute walk from JR Kyoto Station), Tel 075-371-5538, Fax 075-371-5539. [23] A modern style ryokan which is welcoming to foreign visitors. The owners are able to speak some English. En-suite facilities are provided and a Japanese style breakfast is available. There is a communal Japanese bath facility.

* Kyoto Tower Hotel Karasuma-dori Shichijo- sagaru. Shimogyo-ku (1 Minute walk from JR Kyoto Station, across the street), Tel 075-361-3212, Fax 075-343-5645. [24] Foreigner-friendly hotel, single rooms start at ¥8700, but the location across the street from JR Kyoto Station is unbeatable.

* The Kyoto Tower Hotel chain also operates the Kyoto Tower Hotel Annex, northwest of the station, and the Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower Hotel, east of the station. Singles at both of these hotels, which are a few minutes further away by foot from the Kyoto Tower Hotel, start at just ¥6500.

* Hearton Hotel Kyoto [25] Higashi no Toin Dori Oike Agaru, Nakagyo Ku, Tel 81-75-222-1300 Fax 81-75-222-1313. Mid range hotel close to Oike Karasuma Subway Station.

[edit] Splurge

* New Miyako Hotel (新都ホテル). 0120-333-001[26] The largest hotel in Kyoto with over 700 rooms, and the prices to match: starting at ¥10,000 for singles and ¥21,000 for doubles. But the location is unbeatable, it's just across the street and a few minutes' walk south of Kyoto station. If you get a room facing north, you'll be able to see the bullet trains coming into and out of the station, as well as the glass windows from the exterior of the Isetan department store that seem to reflect the sky if the weather conditions are just right. The new south wing opened in late September of 2005, with prices starting from ¥29,000 for doubles.

* Kyoto Hotel Okura, Kawaramachi-Oike, Nakagyo-ku. Tel:+81 75 211-5111. Fax:+81 75 254-2529. A large, modern and conveniently located hotel.

* The Westin Miyako Kyoto. 075-771-7111 Keage, Sanjo, Higashiyama-ku. [27] Established in 1890, this is the oldest Western-style hotel in Kyoto. It has over 400 rooms, starting at ¥33,000 for twins. (If you make a reservation through a travel agency, you may get a lower price.) It has about 30,000 square meters, and a few Japanese gardens, one of which,Aoiden (葵殿庭園) was built by Jihei Ogawa (小川治兵衛). The gardens can be visited by non-guests. It's near Keage Station (subway - Tozai Line), or you can take a shuttle bus from JR Kyoto Station.

* Hyatt Regency Kyoto. 075-5411-3180 644-2 Sanjusangendo-mawari, Higashiyama-ku. [28] yen;34,650 for twin room. Near Hichi-jo station (七条駅)on the Keihan line, or you can take shuttle bus from JR Kyoto station.

[edit] Get out

* Amanohashidate - literally "the bridge to heaven", it is considered one of Japan's top three scenic view (along with Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture). It forms a thin strip of land straddling the Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, hence the name. Visitors are asked to turn their backs toward the view, bend over, and look at it between their legs.

* Himeji - about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.

* Miho Museum [29] - an hour southeast of Kyoto deep in the hills of Shiga prefecture. Building designed by I.M. Pei. Closed in winter.

* Mount Hiei - an ancient hilltop temple complex that traditionally guarded (and occasionally raided) Kyoto.

* Nara - less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, this former capital has several temples and tame deer.

* Osaka - about half an hour from Kyoto by JR rapid train, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.

* Uji - the best tea in Japan and the Byodo-in temple.

* Kurama - less than an hour's journey by a local train from Kyoto Demachi-Yanagi station, small village of Kurama has real onsen (Japanese natural hot spring).

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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