For over a thousand years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan, and is one of the top 10 largest cities in Japan. The city was damaged during several wars, but during WWII was mostly spared. This has therefore resulted in it being one of the few cities with a number of pre-war buildings and a great quantity of preserved religious sites.
It is a city with a good mix of old and new, with traditional Japanese houses found in some areas, and modern glass structures in others. One of the most modern buildings is the Kyoto Station which was opened to the public in 1997. It is massive, and includes several shopping and eating areas.
Highlights of Kyoto
Due to the size of Kyoto as well as the number of places to be visited, we stayed for five nights. By the time we arrived in Kyoto, we had already seen a number of castles and shrines and therefore decided to skip those during our time there.
We spent a morning walking through Gion, Kyoto’s famous traditional entertainment district. The area is filled with preserved traditional machiya houses which have mostly been turned into shops and restaurants. This is also the area, where a large quantity of stores offer tourists the opportunity to dress up in kimonos, and so we saw people of all ages dressed up. One of the most picturesque sections is Shirakawa, with the Tatsumi bridge over the Shirakawa canal and several willow trees.
The Minamiza-Kabuki theatre close to Gion-Shiro station is Kyoto’s premier kabuki theatre. Not far from the theatre is the Ponto-cho neighbourhood, which is a popular dining area, and where geisha’s are often spotted.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The palace was the former ruling place of the emperor of Japan, until the emperor and capital were moved to Tokyo in 1869. Situated in the middle of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, the palace can be visited without a tour. The palace complex measures 450 m from north to south and 250 m from east to west, and is surrounded by an earthen wall over an area of 11 hectares. It includes several gates, gardens and buildings. Unfortunately, none of the buildings are open to the public.
Getting to Kyoto Imperial Palace
The palace is located close to the Imadegawa subway station on the Karasuma line.
The Kinkakuji temple, is also known as the Golden Pavilion as the top two floors are covered entirely by gold leaf. It was formally the retirement home of a shogun, and has burnt down numerous times. The temple was part of a whole complex of buildings, but is one of the last structures standing, so there is not much else to see.
Admission fee: Y400
Getting to Kinkakuji
Both bus 101 or bus 205 stop about 5 minutes walk from the entrance to the temple.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is one of the most famous shrines in Japan due to the thousands of colourful torii gates. To avoid the crowds we set off early and were thrilled to find very few people. The gates lead 223 m uphill along a number of hiking trails to the peak of Mount Inari. In total, there are over 10,000 torii gates, each donated by a Japanese person or company. At the peak, there is not much to see, but walking the trails to the peak provided the opportunity to be totally alone and thus take some excellent photos.
Getting to Fushimi Inari Shrine
The shrine is right opposite the JR Inari station on the Nara line. The station is 5 minutes from JR Kyoto station.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Located to the west of central Kyoto, the forest and the surrounding area are very popular with tourists. It was one of the only places that we visited, where the crowds were so thick that any forward movement was impeded.
The bamboo from the trees is used by local artisans to produce items such as mats, baskets and cups. While the area is absolutely picturesque, the size of the crowds made us eager to leave.
Getting to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The forest is about a 10 minutes walk from the Saga-Arashiyama station on the JR Sagano line. The station is about 15 minutes from JR Kyoto station.
Day trips from Kyoto
No trip to Japan would be complete without making a visit to one of the several car museums. After all, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Kawasaki are all Japanese-made vehicles, thus we decided to switch things up and hopefully spot some unique items.
Toyota Automobile Museum
The museum is located in Nagoya, roughly about 40 minutes by train out of Kyoto. It was opened in 1989 to celebrate Toyota’s 50th anniversary. While there are some exhibits of various Toyota models (Toyoda, Toyopet), in an attempt to show the interaction between Japanese and foreign car makers from around the world in the evolution of the industry, the main exhibits are of foreign vehicles.
Admission fee: Y1,000
Getting to the Toyota Automobile Museum
From the JR Nagoya station, take the Higashiyama line to Fujigaoka, and from there the Tobu Kyuryo line (Linimo) to Geidai-dori-eki which is about a five minute walk from the museum.
Kawasaki Good Times World
Though Kawasaki is known mostly for its motorcycles, it has contributed to a number of sectors including space, air and railway transportation. They produced trains for the New York subway and are the producers of the Shinkansen.
While most of the museum appears targeted to children, we enjoyed the simulators.
Admission fee: Y600
Getting to Kawasaki Good Times World
The museum is located in Kobe, within the Kobe Maritime Museum. From the JR Kobe railway station, take the Kaigan subway line to Minatomotomachi. The museum is located about a 15 minutes walk from the subway station.
Sleeping in Kyoto
Sakura Terrace is a fairly new hotel located less than a 10 minutes walk from JR Kyoto station. Right outside the hotel is the Kujo subway station on the Karasuma line. This was the first and only hotel we visited, where check-in and check-out were via a kiosk located at the entrance. The room though small had a balcony and was adequate for our 5 nights. The hotel offered a free welcome drink nightly, free laundry facilities, and had male/female only saunas. Breakfast was an additional EUR 12 per person, so we visited the nearby 7-11s for groceries instead.
Dining in Kyoto
This ramen place is located in Gion, close to the Shirakawa area. The restaurant is small, with two communal tables. The service, food and atmosphere were all excellent.
Partik Restaurant Kujo
We visited this small Indian restaurant twice, and though the food was on the expensive side, it was tasty and of good quality. On both nights, the place filled up quickly and some diners had to settle for take-away.
Kyoto nishiki warai
Located in the Kyoto Station dining area, the Cube, this okonomiyaki restaurant was packed solid the first night we stopped by. The next day we arrived much earlier for dinner and were able to get a spot. The food was affordable and decent.
One of our favourite chain-restaurants since we arrived in Japan, we settled on dinner here one evening after a long day out. We were once again not disappointed.
Getting to Kyoto
From Hiroshima, on the Nozomi JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen the journey takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
Getting around Kyoto
Kyoto is served by an extensive bus network, a subway and JR trains. For several of the areas we visited we were able to utilize the JR trains, which therefore meant that we did not have to pay the fare as it is included in the JR rail pass. On the buses, we used our PASMO cards.