10 Ways to Experience Kyoto

After Osaka, it was time to get on the Shinkansen again, and head out to Kyoto.

Follow our Journey here:

10 Things to do in Osaka
How To Navigate Japan’s Train & Subway System plus getting ‘Connected’
The Sunny Side of Travel Blogging, Part 2 – Tokyo Marathon 2015

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Kyoto was approximately an hour from Osaka, by Shinkansen. It is also 500km from Tokyo.

Kyoto is quaint, old Japan, with its quiet temples, beautiful gardens, colourful shrines and if you’re very lucky, a geisha scurrying by just as you look her way. Known in ancient times as Miyako (Meaco), both names meant the capital city as it was the imperial capital of Japan then. It is nicknamed the ‘City of Ten Thousand Shrines’ as there are so many distinctive places for worship here to visit and to pay respects. Kyoto is home to about “20% of Japan’s National Treasures and 14% of Important Cultural Properties within the city”. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto recognizes a total of 17 locations in Kyoto, Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, and Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture.


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For a destination well known for its traditional building and landscape architecture, preservation of old arts and culture, and religious practices, it is also home to many information technology giants. Two recognizable brands are Nintendo and Kyocera.

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Sake brewing is a traditional industry here and a major trade. For us, this meant really good drinking opportunities.

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Here are 10 Ways to Experience Kyoto, within time constraints..

1. Ride the City Bus & Visit Kyoto Tower

The City bus is the most commonly used transportation in Kyoto. It’s convenient for the locals to commute and for travelers to visit almost all major temples and shrines in the city. With the One-day Pass which is only ¥500, you can take buses as many times as you need within a day.

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Without the Pass, you pay ¥230 each time, which can work out to be pretty steep if you’re visiting several locations in one day.

P2166297And it seems like every prefecture you visit in Japan, has a tower!

Here’s Kyoto Tower, all 131-meters of it. A significant landmark in the city, folks can enjoy the panorama view of Kyoto and even as far as Osaka (on a clear day if you are lucky) from a viewing platform, 100m above ground.

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Kyoto Tower was proposed in the early 1960’s, and it was planned to be constructed and completed in time to correspond with the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Unlike many other towers, such as Tokyo Tower that are constructed using metal lattice frames, Kyoto Tower’s interior structure consists of many steel rings stacked on top of each other.

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Designed by Makoto Tanahashi, a doctor of engineering at Kyoto University, Kyoto Tower was built to withstand the forces of both earthquakes and typhoons – pretty much the minimum requirement for any tall building in Japan. The construction regulations in Kyoto that restrict a building’s maximum height – however, the tower maintains its status as the tallest man-made structure in the city since its construction and will likely help it to hold the distinction for many years to come. There is an onsen bath in the underground which is a cool thing to check out..  if you fancy being naked in front of strangers that is. Trust me, the Japanese do not really care if they see you buck naked in an onsen.. they are totally blasé and you might as well be made of glass. I’ve been to a popular one in Hakone, and I might as well be transparent with you and say that I thoroughly enjoyed it;)

2. Stay at the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto

Located just 10 minutes walk from JR Kyoto Train Station, the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto seemed like the ideal choice, and we booked it via Agoda. With a reliable free shuttle service, that picks you up on the first day of arrival, it is a godsent, as you don’t have to lug your massive bag behind you.

IMG-20150215-WA0000It’s not always luxury travel!

Many famous local celebrities including the Emperor must have stayed at the Rihga as portraits and posters of them were proudly displayed on the walls and pillars at the reception area.

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Because we ate so much and so frequently we really didn’t mind walking, but any shuttle is good if you ask me, especially in frigid weather conditions.. 

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This hotel is situated in a ideal location for the sightseeing of Kyoto. Nishi Hongan-ji Temple, Higashi Hongan-ji Temple and Toji Temple is all within a 20min walk. Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji temples can be reached within a 30min bus ride. Fushimi Inari Shrine, the famous place of worship with thousands of orange-vermillion gates is only a 5min train ride away.

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So, the rooms were modern, yet they had a bit of that Japanese-style decor and traditional touch to them which was nice. Not the biggest room we’d stayed in this entire trip, but it sufficed for the two of us, and trust me, we had huge bags with us, as we packed for winter for 2 weeks.

P2156205A grand full set of Hina Dolls and accessories on display to usher in the festival of Hinamatsuri celebrated 3rd March

The rooms at Rihga Royal Hotel Kyoto were comfy and spotless, with classy, subtle Japanese designs and featured dark wood furniture. Our room and a spacious bathtub (rare of Japanese hotels), and extras such as an air purifier/humidifier. The minibar offered drinks for a fee which means you had to slot money in it, to get whatever you wanted.

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And we never fully realized how big French cuisine was in Japan, till we got to Japan. So far, 2 out of 2 hotels we stayed at, had a signature fine dining restaurant that was French. Rihga Royal Hotel Kyoto had a French restaurant named “Top of Kyoto” on the 14th floor of the hotel. It served fine dining French cuisine. It also provided an amazing 360° panoramic view of the old ancient capital city which was fabulous to say the least.

Just look at the view.

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Top of Kyoto serves traditional French cuisines but they have other restaurants on that floor too. Aoi Teppanyaki Restaurant serves Japanese-style grilled meats and seafood and Gourmand Tachibana features full-course meals from local Kyoto ingredients, so you may take your pick dining here each night.

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The Suite room had a lovely traditional tatami lounge… just gorgeous!

Our rooms also had free WiFi, flat-screen satellite TVs, refrigerator, slippers, and bathrobes. Desks and coffee/tea makers were additional conveniences. The hotel also had an indoor heated pool.

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Family rooms were spacious and could accommodate 5 to 6 in a family 

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The buffet selection in the mornings, had both Western and Japanese options and was one of the best buffet spreads we had on this trip. It was here that we learned to eat breakfast like a Japanese.. with rice every single morning, accompanied by grilled salmon or mackerel, natto (fermented beans) and black coffee!

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Nuts about Natto! IMG_20150217_093002

Sticky enough for me!

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Enough toasty croissants, pancakes and oh-so-good Hokkaido creamy butter to keep me happy as well..

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Service personal were helpful and spoke good English at Rihga. They actually advised us on the One-Day Bus Pass which turned out to be a great tip this leg of the journey. Since we were pressed for time, this enabled us to hop on and off, and to catch as many important monuments and major shrines/sites as possible. We highly recommend the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto for any savvy traveler looking to be near the major attractions of the city.

Add:
1 Taimatsu-cho, Shiokoji-sagaru, HigashiHorikawa-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8237, Japan+81 (0)75-341-1121

3. Stroll around Gion, the ancient section of Kyoto

photo credit : japan-guide.com

photo credit : japan-guide.com

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We arrived in Kyoto late in the evening, so we only managed to catch Gion by night.

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We wandered around Gion, and found ourselves in one of the many quaint back-lanes. There were many tiny restaurants to choose from including the omakase ones where you leave your dish choices at the hands of the chef, or the kaiseki type where you are served a multi-course of fine traditional food. On a tight budget? Well, there are plenty of variety on offer too.

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Walking at a dimly lit lane, we noticed this Japanese kitchen assistant watering the ground in a zigzag fashion with a watering can. When we asked this waiter why he did it, he told us that the water on the ground was a sign that meant “open of business” or “welcome”. All the restaurants on this lane take turns to water the path.

photo credit: avaxnews.net

photo credit: avaxnews.net

tourists dressing up at geisha’s (kimono rental) a common phenomenon to see in Gion 

Loved the old wooden buildings, tea-houses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, but didn’t see any “real” Geisha or Maiko.. I guess they have perfected the art of hiding from foreigners! geisha, or “geiko” as they’re called in Kyoto dialect are actually professional entertainers hired to perform and interact with guests during dinners and other occasions. While Gion used to be famous for their old teahouses, in the 18th century it became famed as Kyoto’s largest pleasure district.

4. Shop at Shijo-Dori

The majority of Kyoto’s tiny specialty shops are situated in central Kyoto along Shijo Dori and in the area of Kawaramachi Dori.

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The square formed by Kawaramachi Dori, Shijo Dori, Sanjo Dori, and Teramachi Dori includes two covered shopping arcades and specialized shops selling lacquerware, combs and hairpins, knives and swords, tea and tea-ceremony implements, and more including, of course, clothing and accessories.

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For clothing, accessories, and modern goods, Kyoto’s many department stores are good bets. They’re conveniently located near Kyoto Station or in central Kyoto near the Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection. In addition, there’s a big underground shopping mall beneath Kyoto Station selling everything from clothing and shoes to stationery and local souvenirs. But at the end of each month, a flea market is held at Toji Temple about a 15-minute walk southwest of JR Kyoto Station. The market is a colorful affair with booths selling Japanese antiques, old kimono, ethnic goods, odds and ends, and many other items.

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Yasaka Shrine, once called Gion Shrine, is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto, Japan. Situated at the east end of Shijō-dōri, the shrine includes several buildings, including gates, a main hall and a stage. According to the legend of the shrine, its history may go back as far as 150 years before the Heian era, AC656, the second year of the reign of Emperor Seimei. 

5. Eat Ramen at Dai-Ichi Asahi

A Kyoto resident Cumi met at Kuromon market in Osaka pointed us in the direction of this place.  A mere 15 min stroll from our hotel, and a 5 minute walk from Kyoto Station, Dai-Ichi Asahi is the go to place for old school Chukasoba (Shoyu ramen).

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It’s very basic, so don’t get shocked that you’re not getting the Rolls Royce of Ramen. However, the ramen at Daiichi Asahi is yummy-umami, all right, and it comes with a generous layer of chashu and a sprinkling of green onions.

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now that’s how you eat ramen.. pull it up high and give it a massive, loud slurp with the swallow. The cook wouldn’t have it any other way:P

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Oishi! 

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An affable, slightly tipsy senior and his sober wife seated on our table struck up a conversation with us

Classic with 50 years of history you will meet the matured residents of Kyoto.. from old timers to school kids.. all ready to queue at least 30 minutes for a hot bowl of noodles!

Add:
845 Higashishiokoji Mukaihatacho,
Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto,
Kyoto Prefecture 600-8213, Japan
Phone:+81 75-351-6321
Hours: Open today · 5:00 am – 2:00 am

6. Visit Kinkakuji , the Golden Pavilion Kyoto & Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)

No visit to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. It really gleams in the light, once the sun catches it’s outer facade. I think anyone who gazes upon it during Chinese New Year is destined to be rich!

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Kinkakuji was built around the Kitayama culture that developed in the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto during Yoshimitsu’s times. Each floor represents a different style of architecture. The first floor is built in the Shinden style used for palace buildings during the Heian Period, and with its natural wood pillars and white plaster walls contrasts yet complements the gilded upper stories of the pavilion. Statues of the Shaka Buddha (historical Buddha) and Yoshimitsu are stored in the first floor.

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The second floor is built in the Bukke style used in samurai residences, and has its exterior completely covered in gold leaf. Inside is a seated Kannon Bodhisattva surrounded by statues of the Four Heavenly Kings; however, the statues are not shown to the public. Finally, the third and uppermost floor is built in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall, is gilded inside and out, and is capped with a golden phoenix.

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If you run out of money…

The Silver Pavilion doesn’t have a trace of silver on it. When the temple was built in the 1480’s as a retirement home for the then shogun, the plan was for it to be coated in silver leaf. Scholars believe he ran out of money before they got to that part of the project!

photo credit : apan-guide.com

photo credit : japan-guide.com

And when he died a few years later, the silver-less pavilion was converted into the Zen temple it is today. Ginkaku-ji can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus numbers 5, 17 and 100. Get off at the Ginkaku-ji Michi bus stop. Admission is ¥500 and it is open daily 8.30am to 5pm.

7. Visit The Kyoto Imperial Palace

With the Tokyo Marathon, still very much on my mind.. I was still looking out for great places to run at, leading up to my big week in Tokyo. The palace, as it turned out, was another great place to run at, as it sat in the middle of the sprawling Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. It’s mainly a gravel route rather than tarred road though. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a walled compound containing several buildings built in the classical Japanese style.

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There are four imperial properties in Kyoto – Kyoto Imperial Palace, Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu), Sento Gosho, and Shugaku-in Rikyu, and this would be one of them to visit for the history and grandness of it.

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The Kyoto Imperial Palace used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. If you’re a serious fan of Japanese history, then this place is for you.

8.  Visit Toei Kyoto Studio Park

If getting dressing up as a samurai and watching TV actors hamming it up on set is your thing, then you’d definitely develop sweaty palms here. Eigamura, or Kyoto Toei Studio Park, is a working TV and movie set that doubles as a theme park. Visitors can dress up in period costume and can wander around a mock-up Edo-era samurai town and take in the sets of the well-known TV series and films.

photo credit : toei.co.jp

photo credit : toei.co.jp

Catch the live studio performances- dramatic swordfights etc. Admission is ¥2,200, though you can get in for half that if you come dressed in a kimono. Take bus number 75 from Kyoto Station to the Uzumasa Eigamura-michi bus stop.

9. Visit Shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha

Before leaving for Nagoya, we visited Fushimi Inari Taisha. Anyone visiting Kyoto must come to see the place for the countless Torii gates – the famous site where folks pray to the deity of bountiful crops and good business.

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Folks also donate these gates in the hopes their prayers will come true. We thoroughly enjoyed the 4km hike up to the highest point of Mount Inari, past many smaller shrines. The entire complex, consisting of five shrines, sprawls across the wooded slopes of the mountain.

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The map of the place. Looks deceptively short, but the hike should take you a good two hours.. 1.5hours if you’re fast and fit like we were!

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Foxes are a real ‘thing’ here, as they are considered the messenger of Inari, the god of Rice, and the stone foxes, too, are often referred to as Inari.

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Hello Foxy ladies.. 

Inari is associated with agriculture, protecting rice fields and giving the farmers an abundant harvest every year. One of the main myths concerning Inari tells of this god coming down a mountain every spring when it is planting season and ascending back up the mountain after the harvest for the winter. Both events are celebrated in popular folk festivals. The Japanese traditionally see the fox as a sacred, somewhat mysterious figure capable of ‘possessing’ humans – the favoured point of entry is under the fingernails!

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many girls dress up in kimono’s and actually climb up the 4km way in their japanese slippers. Hats off to them.. also natural born posers;)

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on the train, on the way to the shrine.. never knew selfie sticks could be so useful eh? [A couple heading to the temple to capture their own wedding photos. Its cheaper this way.]

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innumerable tori gates.. makes you feel like tipping them like dominos!

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a quaint tea house at one of the midway points during the hike 

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We reach the highest point of Mt Inari.. the highest level of shrines. 

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A lovely, though hazy view of Kyoto below

10. Eat  Strawberry Mochi & Drink local sake – Tamanohikari “Brilliant Jade” Sake

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Every so often, one stumbles upon a gem or two…

In this case, ichigo daifuku/strawberry mochi (¥130) and local sake labels (¥333). Biting into the juicy, fresh, whole strawberry,and eating it with the whitebean filling (shiro-an) and soft mochi skin, was just insanely delicious. And we were told by some locals that one of the best local brand of sake to try in Kyoto, was the Tamanohikari (below).

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Later, we managed to find a bigger bottle of this amazingly smooth, highly drinkable sake, Tamanohikari

This sake is from the Omachi rice strain, the father of the majority of today’s brewing rices. The nose, like its name, is indeed brilliant, filled with all sorts of peach, apple and pear scents. The viscous mouth-feel is chewy and plump. Despite an unmistakable fruitiness, the fluid actually ends with dryness in the back of the throat.  A must try from the Prefecture of Kyoto!

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crazy huge and succulent strawberries.. plus a massive selection of booze at affordable prices.. how to resist?! 

Japan convenience stores are the bomb! Found at the corner of almost any building in any city to serve the high density population, they offer affordable food, drinks, stationary, and even office shirts! As we are big drinkers, we always found the need to wander into a store for sake, beer or cocktails to go with a mochi or snack.

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Yukata get your snacks and sake game on in Kyoto!

Wow, what’s there not to love about Japan..? We were falling for this place with each new destination and new discovery, and falling hard.

What a brilliant 2 days exploring ‘old Japan’. Thank you Kyoto for the Yukata kimonos, snacks, kawaii geishas, old Gion, bus rides, and the Tamanohikari sake..

It’s been a real joy-ride.

Now, onward to Nagoya! 

Check Out More photos of Kyoto here….


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20 Comments

  • Lim KS says:

    HI,Thank you for sharing yr experience in Japan.
    I hv been travelling to several places under tour packages. In Nov2015, I plan to take my wife to Japan for the first time without depending to tour package/guide. I plan to arrive in Osaka and cover places of interests till Tokyo then return to KL. Can you advise the best and cost effective mode of public transports to places of interests in the city and from one city to another? Do I buy the rail of bus passes from KL?
    Cheers and thank you.

  • Ai Wei says:

    Soooo pretty!!! when only i can come here wor?!?!?! huhuhu
    always love their one day pass. damn great for tourists like us!

  • CleverMunkey says:

    I would really love to visit Japan someday (gonna shop till i drop as well) but my friends told me the expenses alone can cost a few months salary! 🙁

    • ciki says:

      Yeah.. shopping wasn’t a big thing on our agenda.. but eating, sightseeing was .. and trust me.. even that is a mini fortune in itself:)

  • Sean EDKL says:

    one only needs to bookmark this page if one wants to check out kyoto! excellent work! 😀

  • cquek says:

    we just got back from Kyoto and we love it. Did you try the 130 Yen Sushi ( every sushi 130 Yen – so fresh and so good ) in Kyoto station ? Is the best. We went there twice.

    • ciki says:

      No we didn’t. But we did try it at Tsukiji Market and it was brilliant! 🙂 Will look out for the Kyoto station one, next time.. cheers !

  • So much to do in Kyoto. I spent three days here and did not see half of these things. That was because it was the cherry blossom bloom and just being outside anywhere was incredible.

    • ciki says:

      Ah.. That’s something I have yet to experience.. the full blossom of the cherry blossom! Have always arrived in Japan a couple of months too early or too late. No matter.. one day! 🙂

  • Pat foo says:

    Brilliant post! Will be there in two months.. and waiting for Visa Wed to book Righa! Thanks for the post. The family is so excited about Japan and we are planning it every evening. this helsp thanks!

    • ciki says:

      Hi Pat! No problem glad the guide helps you. OH good news btw, Agoda’s Visa Wed should be up anytime next month.. so do look out for it! 🙂

  • Just starting to look at getting to Japan and Kyoto looks like the perfect mix for us. I have to admit, I had never heard of it before the Kyoto Protocol. We know we want to spend time in Tokyo but fee like it may be a bit overwhelming with size and price. Wow those Tori gates are almost mesmerizing!

  • Jen says:

    Great article! I did number 9. So did the characters in this book: Lost in Tokyo by Jenny Lynne!

  • Frank says:

    Kyoto looks like an essential part of Japan – the food, the culture, the design! Fabulous post!

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