I’ve been asked on several occasions from my friends that have traveled or that will be traveling to Kyoto if it worth the effort. I mean it’s all the way north in the Kansai region and there’s no convenient airport. You can fly into Tokyo and take the bullet train, but who really wants to be bothered with Japan’s infamous bullet train, the Shinkansen? Or you could fly into Kansai airport located just south of Osaka, but who really wants to visit Japan’s second largest and party-hardy city anyway? Spurred by wanderlust, I chose the later option and while it took me one flight, four trains, and tons of patience, I arrived at the most incredible place I have yet to experience in the far East. So is it really all that? I don’t want to tell you because I’d rather show you.
Take A Step Into Ancient Japan
Unlike the futuristic skyscrapers and robots of Tokyo, Kyoto will mesmerize you with it’s charming shops, rolling hills, beautiful temples, and locals wearing kimonos. In some areas of the city it seemed as though time had stopped and was forever frozen in feudal Japan. I went to three major temple sites and each one impressed me more than the last. I only took two whole days to explore the city and realized that I needed much more time to really see everything I wanted to see. I would recommend staying four to five days in Kyoto because it will demand your attention and you will want to give in to it.
Traveling Around Kyoto
Many of the top attractions are quite far from the center of Kyoto so plan your day carefully so you aren’t running from one end to the other end like I did. If you like biking this will be the perfect trip for you. While it may not save you time, it will definitely save you money. Unlike many western cities, Kyoto does not have a day or week pass for the trains (there is a pass for buses but they are much slower) because there are several different companies that run their trains through the city. The two major lines were the Keihan line and the JR line. Google Maps will be your savior since it can map out the shortest trip, the price, and the exact route for you to take. I can’t tell you how many times I was lost and had no idea where I was going because this was my first real experience with the train system in Japan. Once you understand that you need to buy a ticket that corresponds to the price of your stop (the longer the distance the more expensive) then you’re golden. If you mess up and buy a cheaper ticket then you can always adjust it when you get to your destination station. On several occasions I either didn’t have time to figure out the price or wasn’t quite sure, so I bought the cheapest ticket and was happy for adjust my ticket when I got off.
Choose Your Season Wisely
It’s no secret that Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit Kyoto. Summer is a little too hot and winter and be quite chilly. Besides the temperate factors, there are other reasons to visit during the Spring and Autumn. In Spring, you will have the privilege of gazing at Japan’s beautiful cherry blossoms. There are many debates on where the best place to go for cherry blossom viewing is, but Kyoto offers you the distinct backdrop of feudal Japan along with all those pink flurries. I decided to go in Autumn and was not disappointed. All around the city and into the suburbs the rolling hills around dotted with red, golden, and green trees. It makes for some breathtaking pictures as many of the main attractions are surrounded by the striking foliage. I never got tired of taking shots of different red colored trees around the castles, temples, and other areas of the region.
My Top 3
The view is breathtaking and you are able to see several beautifully ornate temples. Also Kiyomizu isn’t far from the center of Kyoto as compared with many of the other attractions. You could easily couple this with a trip to Nijo castle as well. Be sure do drink from the waterfall at the bottom of the summit. There are three cups representing health, longevity, and wisdom. Don’t be greedy! You should only choose two of the three or else misfortune could befall you.
Kinkakuji The Golden Pavillion
Easily one of the most impressive temples you will ever visit. The temple itself is mesmerizing and the landscape around it is equally captivating. It is a bit difficult to get to and req
uires getting on a bus to reach the entrance but well worth the effort.
Before I came to Japan my vision of the country was something like Fushimi Inari. Temples everywhere with those red Torii gates lined up one after another. I only visited at night but I will be coming back to see its magnificence in the sunlight this Spring.
Have you been or been wanting to go to Kyoto? Tell me about your favorite places or what you hope to see while visiting Japan’s cultural capital.