Kyoto Trip Report
If this trip report ends up having any value at all, it’s because it’s going to tell you the things NOT to do, rather than the things to do. Kyoto was one of the most disappointing places I’ve ever been to, either because we chose the wrong spots to visit, or the city simply doesn’t have enough of them to begin with. Besides that, Japan felt like a strait jacket to me with too many rules, procedures and protocols. The people were actually infuriating in their politeness and I have no desire to go back, other than to purchase plum wine and sake.
Japanese culture and Korean culture are well known for exclusion and you know it’s pretty bad when their tourist attractions do the same. In Macau temples, you can walk inside, take pictures, sprawl out on the ground to get the best shots and generally just get real close to everything. In Japan, you’re not even allowed inside them – mostly all you can do is just circle around the outside. The Kyoto Imperial Palace? All boarded up in a large empty park that’s just as off limits as it was when Emperors lived there. Niju Castle was probably the best thing we saw but can you take pictures inside? Fat chance of that, bub.
I spent four full days in Kyoto from November 7, 2017 to November 10, 2017, accompanied by a new travel partner, Xiao Ping, who made her debut for this trip. We were told what to see and do by the owners of Macau Soul, who consistently rave about the city, so much so that they plan to open a new wine bar there in 2019.
As Kyoto has no airport, most people fly into Osaka first, then take the train to Kyoto. The station is right beside the airport and trains leave twice an hour on the 15s and 45s. The price is 3370 yen per person ($30 US), and the trip takes an hour and 15 minutes. You’ll get off at Kyoto station, which is located in the south of town, and is not a tourist relevant location.
Kyoto is surrounded by hills that are dotted with temples, most of them found on the Eastern and Western sides. The main road which everything seems to be built around is Shi-jo, so I’d recommend staying somewhere close to it, preferably just on the Western or Eastern side of the river. We stayed just off of Shi-Jo but a little too far west to be liking, about a 15 to 20 minute walk from the river, which is where most of the nightlife, restaurants and action is centred.
There are two main areas to focus on: Shijo-Kawaramachi area and Gion. The heart of Shijo-Kawaramachi is encased by Sanjo-Dori in the north, the river in the east, Shijo-Dori in the south and Karasuma Dori in the west.
Just east of the river is where you’ll find Gion, which is said to be the spiritual home of Japan. The Northern part is home to temples, museums, and historical sites, while the Southern part is much seedier, home to girlie bars, boy bars, hostess bars and mysterious Geishas who’s sole job description seems to be to entertain men.
Regarding restaurants and bars, Pontocho Dori, located right by the river a good place to start. An old narrow street packed with pedestrian traffic, it’s filled with night time entertainment and is a must visit, even if just to look around. Asahi Beer hall is also in that neighbourhood, but be forewarned, it closes early. Hello Dolly is a jazz bar of some repute on Pontocho, with a live jazz band on Fridays and Saturdays, for 900 yen. Double check though or contact before going with their website found here: Hello Dolly.
As for food, it’s very difficult to find a la carte meals. Many meals you find are sets that aren’t cheap. That’s why David recommended a couple of food courts to us, which we didn’t manage to visit. They were located at Daimaru Dept Store (79 Shi Jo Street) and Takashimaya Dept Store (52 Nishiiru Shincho). Both of them are located on Shijo street, just west of the river.
Here are sites that we were told were good, but didn’t have the time to cover in this Trip Report. If I were you, I’d definitely look into them, since most places we visited were lemons.
—Museum of Modern Art
—Railway Museum in the South, down by Kyoto Station
—Sanjusangen-do. A long hall containing over 1000 sculptures of archer warriors. Founded in 1164.
—Botanical Gardens, further North
—Mt. Hiei in the Northeast, sounded like a day trip, and quite the hassle. Trains and cable cars look to be involved, so I just gave up.
The expenses box always shows the truth of the trip.
Plane (2 return tickets) $400
Osaka-Kyoto Return Train $96
Now that we’ve got that little introduction out of the way, lets re-visit a trip I will never take again. All aboard the pain train everyone, I’m taking you to a world of hurt!
Monday, November 6, 2017
Xiao Ping and I took the 4:15 pm HK Express flight from Hong Kong to Osaka, a journey that took 3 hours and 30 minutes. The price was totally decent, only $400 US return, although I got hit for an additional 10,000 yen on the return flight home, after stocking my suitcase up with too much sake and plum wine. I figure if you’re not paying overweight fees on airplanes on the way back, then have you really travelled?
No less than 10 minutes off the plane did we hit our first of many snags in Japan. Customs was ridiculously uptight and held us up for a good 30 minutes, simply because they did not like the address I wrote down on the Customs Declaration. I was under the impression that no one even looked at that, since people in theory can write down whatever they want. But no no no, the address I wrote down just wasn’t passing the mustard, even though it was the same one from the AirBnb website, which is all I had to go on. Quite why they were so bothered was beyond me, but they were not letting us through until they got something they wanted. A map with the street name didn’t work, the name of the building didn’t work, nothing was working. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t have any phone number either, which the host hadn’t given us. Seeing I was getting nowhere with the custom officials, Xiao Ping told them it’s already past 8 pm, we still had a train to catch, and that maybe they could just be nice and let us through. That might have worked in China but I knew she had no shot with the Japanese and her efforts were politely dismissed. Eventually I contacted the AirBnb host and she got us the info we needed and we were finally on our way.
The train station is right beside the airport and buying tickets (¥3370) was super easy, as English is understood. We hopped the 8:45 pm train and were then an hour and a half later at 10:15 pm. The cab driver we got couldn’t speak any English and I believe that’s par for the course with most of them in Kyoto. If you take one, make sure to have a Japanese address with you. Our place was only about 15 minutes away from Kyoto station, and that quick ride cost us 990 yen.
We booked a place off of AirBnb that is no longer listed, which is a bit of a shame. Should you ever want to visit Kyoto (which you might want to skip by the way), you’d do very well to get any place similar to it for the price, which was only about $75 per night (¥10,000). The only bit of advice I’d give is to try and stay closer to the river or Gion, if possible, just out of general convenience, as that’s generally considered be the heartbeat of Kyoto. As it was, we were about a 25 minute walk away by foot.
Obviously no accommodation in Japan is going to be overly large and Suiko’s house was no different. Tiny but not terrifically so, it was super clean, had an awesome bed and was just generally very tasteful all around.
$75 for where we were, with that sort of quality, was more than acceptable. It’s just a shame it’s no longer listed, but perhaps that might change in the future. Here’s a link to it on Airbnb if you’d like to check it out: Suiko’s place