Kyoto is a great city, and one that, if you have any interest in Japanese culture, you’ll love. What’s slightly less lovable about the city, though, is the initial orientation in terms of sorting yourself out when you arrive, especially as a non-Japanese tourist.
We stayed at Sakara Kyoto, but these tips apply to wherever you’re staying and whatever time of day you arrive:
1) If you’re not planning on checking into your accommodation straightaway, have a few hundred yen handy to use one of the many luggage lockers located just outside the station. These lockers will keep your luggage secure and will mean you can enjoy your first day without having to lug bags around narrow streets. Just remember to have coins handy, although there are machines near the lockers that will turn a 1,000 yen note into coins.
2) Pick up a ‘Kansai thru pass’ when you arrive. This value for money pass is
especially useful if you are planning to do some travel in the wider Kansai area. We used our passes to explore Arashiyama – with the famous bamboo grove – as well as Nara, and on the Kyoto subway throughout each day. If you’ve flown into Osaka and have landed at Kansai airport, the pass will help you get into Kyoto as well. Just be aware that whilst the pass can be used on non-consecutive days, you cannot use it on JR (Japan Rail) services, so double check what train you’re about to hop on.
3) Be aware that the subway system is limited. At first glance, it may look like it covers a wide area, but you will find that the subway itself isn’t as comprehensive as you’d like it to be. If you get a pass that lets you use the private railways, like the Kansai thru pass, you’ll find that your initial journeys in Kyoto will become a lot smoother, especially if you’re not staying in the city centre.
4) Despite being an architectural marvel and exceptionally clean, Kyoto station is a confusing, sprawling mess. It’s actually two stations, one of which is the Japan Rail station, and the other the Kinetsu line that will take you to Nara etc. If you have arrived by bullet train, you will find that it might take some time to get sorted and out of the station properly. Leave plenty of time to catch trains and however long you think it might take you to find something e.g. tourist information, in Kyoto station, add on 10 minutes! Thankfully, the friendly English-speaking staff at tourist info will point you in the right direction if you do get really lost.
5) Be warned that when you first arrive in Kyoto, you won’t immediately be confronted by a scene from the guidebooks on the city. The area around the station is actually pretty ugly and modern, and doesn’t hint at the beauty that lies within the city. The real beauty of Kyoto lies in the hidden streets and temples that are usually set back from street view, so please don’t be put off by first impressions!
Categories: Travel Tips