Kyoto Travel Guide: Eastern Kyoto, one of the most beautiful cities in Japan with its luscious gardens, serene rock display, and fabulous food.
This past summer, we took a 3 day trip to Kyoto. Mr. JOC was particularly looking forward to the trip because it’s his favorite city in Japan. Armed with a couple iphones and comfortable shoes, our adventure begins.
From Tokyo to Kyoto, the fastest way is to take the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) and it takes roughly 2 hrs and 20 min. A train leaves from Tokyo every 10 min from 6 AM to 9 PM everyday of the week so you’re fairly flexible on when you want to leave and get there. At the Shin-Yokohama Shinkansen station, one of our favorite things to do is for each person to pick their favorite bento and food to eat on the train. Right above the station, Takashimaya mall has over 20 food stalls that offers everything from pork cutlet sandwich to sushi.
If you don’t have time to shop before your train departs, don’t worry, they sell bentos and drinks on the trains as well. If you are coming from Osaka instead of Tokyo, you can save quite a bit by taking the local Keihan Line instead of Shinkansen to Kyoto, depending where you are it’s about ¥1,200 – 1,500 vs. ¥3,200.
When you arrive in Kyoto, you can get a 2 day unlimited pass in the Municipal Subway stations for ¥2,000 (¥1,000 for children). They also have the 1 day unlimited pass available. Keep in mind the pass only covers city bus and the Kyoto Municipal Subway, and does not include JR line or the Keihan line. However, between the metro and the bus routes, you should be able to get to almost every place you would want to visit.
The subway line is composed of 2 lines, one that runs east west (Tozai Line) and one that runs north south (Kasaruma Line).
The most important thing about transportation in Kyoto is to wear super comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Kyoto so make sure to bring great walking shoes when visiting. I also recommend carrying water bottles around to stay hydrated especially in the summer months.
Before talking about where to visit in Kyoto, I want to mention about a travel website I found on this trip JapaniCan.com. It’s actually operated by JTB which is one of the largest travel agency in Japan. The reason why I want to mention this is when we visited Kyoto 10 years ago, Mr. JOC and I got a tiny room but super great location in the middle of the city. Now with our children, we need to find a room that fits all of us.
We ended up staying at the Westin Miyako Hotel because it can sleep 4 in the room (4 beds!) and the JapaniCan site was $200 cheaper per night compared to the Westin site. That’s right, $200 savings! The room was very spacious and had a view of the Westin’s ryokan (Japanese style rooms) in the back. There are both indoor and outdoor pools as well as a fitness center, but there is a cost to using the facilities.
Now on to Kyoto. Kyoto is quite special for a few reasons:
- It used to be the former capital of Japan until the capital moved to Tokyo in 1869
- There are over 2,000 religious buildings (1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto Shrines), if you visit 5 a day it’ll take you more than a year to see all of them.
- 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 38 Buildings designated as National Treasures, 160 properties designated as Important Cultural Properties
- 8 gardens designated as Special Places of Scenic Beauty, Movie studio theme park
- Amazing Japanese food (Kyo ryori), Tea, Gion Matsuri Festival, and on and on
This means unless you are going to spend over a month in Kyoto, it’s won’t be possible just to see the featured sites. What I recommend is plan ahead what you really want to see and do. Over 30 million visitors comes to Kyoto each year so destinations do get crowded.
You also don’t want to spent too much time traveling across the city, so try to stay within a section of the city to maximize your time. Going from Ginkakuji on the east all the way west to Arashiyama area takes about 1 hr 15 min. To save traveling time and help you plan, I’ve listed the points of interests by where they are located in the city. They are by no means a comprehensive list but I do want to share with you my experiences.
As I mentioned in my previous post about visiting Asakusa, get a data plan for your smart phone in Japan. It’s very easy to get around Kyoto with guidance from Google Maps (even though it did send us down the wrong way once, more on that later). Since there are so much to do and see in Kyoto, I’m going to share 3 separate posts, covering the eastern parts, then the central & west side, and of course, the food.
Click the image below to enlarge
East Side of Kyoto
I am not from Kyoto so I’m not sure if my reference is correct, but when I said east side of Kyoto, I meant if you use Kyoto station as the center, here are the locations I’ve visited to the east of it going from North to South.
click the image to enlarge
Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 (read more)
Did you know Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavillion) is actually the nickname for Jisho-ji (慈照寺) even though it’s the more commonly used name? Ginkaku-ji was completed around 1489 by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a villa for him to relax and reflect. When he passed away the villa was converted to a Buddhist temple. The temple’s main feature is the Kannon Hall, which was originally supposed to be covered in silver foil. He had built style of the pavillion is similar to Kinkaku-ji, built by his grandfather Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
The garden are beautiful and peaceful and the Kannon Hall blends in perfectly, as though it belongs exactly where it sits. Besides enjoying the garden grounds, the sand garden and sculptures are also must see.
Philosopher’s Path 哲学の道 (read more)
As you exit Ginkaku-ji and reflects on its beauty, just a few blocks away is the beginning of the scenic Philosopher’s Path. The path is roughly 1 ¼ miles long (2km) and lined with cherry trees. This path is especially popular during the cherry blossom viewing season when it’s in full bloom. Along the path, there are a number of temples to see a as well as shops and restaurants. This path was named because Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro used to meditate on the path as part of his daily walk to Kyoto University. At the end of the path you will end up near Nanzenji.
Nanzen-ji 南禅寺 (read more)
Nanzen-ji is an impressive temple ground built in 1264 (over 700 years ago). Emperor Kameyama loved the location so much that he built his detached palace here, and later on converted the palace to a zen temple in 1291.
The original buildings were destroyed in fire in 16th century and some of the current buildings were rebuilt then. Among the main features of the temple ground include Sanmon (main gate), the zen rock garden (created in 1600’s), the paintings of tigers which decorate the sliding doors of the room, and the view of the aqueduct that connects Lakes Biwa to Kyoto.