KYOTO 京都

Rise and shrine.

WATCH VIDEO: Sake Brewery Tour in Kyoto – Inside Tsuki no Katsura

Kyoto was the Japanese capital for about 1000 years until 1868.

Kyoto (Japan) runs in Japan Standard Time, which runs 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (NYC.)

For US passport holders, a visa is not required for short-term stays (less than 90 days) for tourism or business purposes. If you are visiting for news media purposes or are attending depositions taken by U.S. Consul, or are a U.S. Federal Government employee on official business (including transit,) this visa waiver does not apply. Check here for more information on your visa requirements.

To travel to Kyoto, Osaka, or Kobe (Hyogo,) travelers typically land in Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX.) From there, you can hop on a train or bus to get to downtown. For specific procedures, take a look at the “Densha” (or subway) tab.

The driving distance between Osaka Kansai Airport to Kyoto is 105 km which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The Japanese have a special commitment to efficiency, and you’ll find that the airports are well-maintained and easy to navigate around. All international airports in Japan have signage in English.

Transportation infrastructure is Japan’s specialty. It’s easy to get around in the city: Kyoto has an intricate and timely public transportation network that includes the subway and buses. For updated information, check out Kyoto Station’s official website.

To get around within the city and surrounding districts, getting a public transportation IC card would be your best bet. In Kyoto, there are mainly three card brands available: ICOCA, SUICA, and PASMO. All function the same way – by tapping your card before entering the platform, you can automatically pay for your trip without having to purchase single-trip tickets at the kiosks. You would also tap this card when you get on any public bus. You can get your own card at any train/subway station and some major bus terminals, at any of the automatic ticket vending machines or, if there is no English option, simply by asking an officer nearby. Note that there will be a 500 yen deposit (around $5 USD) for creating a card, which you can get back by dropping it off at any station when you won’t use it anymore.

While the trains (densha) and buses are by far the most convenient option for getting around, the prices can add up really quickly if you have a lot of places to visit on your list. A single trip can cost you anywhere from 150 yen (1 USD) to a nearby location, all the way to 1500-2000 yen (15-20 USD) to get to the outskirts. If you see yourself overspending on transportation, consider purchasing a one-day ticket which will let you travel on specific lines as many times as you want under a fixed, relatively cheap price. Check out the details here for bus passes and here for subway passes.

Finally, if you are visiting multiple cities in Japan on your trip, it might be worth checking out the JR Pass. The JR Passes are sold at 7-consecutive-day increments up until 21 days, and you will be able to go on as many JR trips (lines run by Japan Railways) as you wish during that period. Since these are pricey, you will only want these if you are taking the expensive bullet trains (shinkansen) to get from city to city. Check out the prices and get your own JR Pass here.

Taxi services are available throughout Japan but aren’t as common in rural areas. Popular taxi apps include Uber Taxi, Japan Taxi, MOV, and DiDi.

Kyoto is considered one of the safest cities in the world. That said, if you are a female traveler, it’s always a good idea to be looking out for yourself.

If there is one area you would want to avoid as a solo traveler, it would be the Kiyamachi district in downtown Kyoto. While lovely during the day (and perfectly safe,) it can take on a different face after dark.

Make sure to take basic precautions wherever you are and at whatever time. In peak seasons including the cherry blossom season, a few downtown areas can become extremely crowded with both locals and tourists. Look after your belongings.

One way that Kyoto and other Japanese cities have secured safety for women is by having female-only rail cars to reduce bodily harassment cases. You can find these during rush hours on the train lines that have the busiest commute – the platform floor that corresponds to these cars will have pink or red markings.

Female-Only Cars Indication: Look for markings that look like this on the train platforms during rush hours.

Kyoto experiences all four seasons, expect very different (but all beautiful) scenery in each season. However, note that Summer in Kyoto (July – September) can become uncomfortable, with high temperature and humidity.

Cherry Blossoms in and around Kyoto, typically bloom toward the beginning to mid-April every year, but it’s becoming more and more unpredictable due to climate change. They only bloom for a maximum of one week before they are all on the ground and are replaced with leaves. If you are serious about catching those blossoms, it would be the best idea to have your dates be as flexible as possible – book your flights and hotels at the last possible second, as soon as you receive news that the trees have started to blossom!

Here are some handy Japanese phrases to remember are:

Thank you: arigatō-gozaimasu

Sorry/excuse me: sumimasen

Please: onegaishimasu

Hello, good afternoon: konnichiwa

Welcome (by a store clerk, restaurant waiter, etc.): irasshai-mase.

Good morning: ohayo-gozaimasu

Good evening: konbanwa

Good night: oyasumi-nasai

For meals:

Prayer before eating: itadakimasu

Prayer after eating: gochiso-samadeshita

Can I have some water?: omizu kudasai

It’s really tasty: totemo oishi-desu

I’d like to pay, please: okaikei onegaishimasu

(For etiquette and common practices at restaurants, look in the etiquette section.)

Japan is known for being a country of polite, respectful, and quiet people; particularly in public settings. Some things that are considered rude are:

  • Being loud in public settings, including public transport.
  • Taking calls inside a public building or on public transport (For online meetings, find a work-friendly coffee shop instead of a restaurant. A good rule of thumb is that if a coffee shop offers free Wi-Fi, it is fine to take video calls there.)
  • Pointing fingers is usually rude. When you have to point at someone, use an open palm and point it in its direction
  • Bowing is a sign of respect. Since it’s non-verbal, it’s easy to remember and use. Just do a small bow (or nod) in the following situations:
    • When greeting someone (a stranger, a store clerk, a waiter/waitress…etc.)
    • When expressing gratitude (e.g. when someone gives you directions) along with a “thank you” or “arigato-gozaimasu”
    • When apologizing (e.g. when you bump into someone by accident) with a “excuse me” or sumimasen
    • When the other person bows at you first
    • When receiving or offering something (food, money, tickets, business cards…etc.)

Etiquette in the home:

  • Most people do not wear shoes inside the house. When entering someone’s residence, take off your shoes and align them neatly with the heels facing the inside of the house. Usually, the host will offer you slippers to wear indoors.
  • In many homes, there are slippers that you specifically wear in the bathroom. Make sure to change slippers when entering/exiting the toilet.

Eating etiquette:

  • Do not stick your chopsticks in your food when you’re not using them. Rest them horizontally on top of your bowl or on a chopstick-rest (hashioki.)
  • Do not chew with your mouth open. It’s best not to talk while you’re chewing, but if you have to, cover your mouth with your hand.
  • When passing or receiving food from someone else, do not transfer it from chopsticks to chopsticks. If someone is offering you food with their chopsticks, bring your bowl or plate toward them so they can place it there, and say thanks.
  • Slurping when eating noodles is common practice here. Don’t be surprised or make faces. Instead, slurp along with them! It’s the best way to enjoy both the texture of the noodles and the soup’s flavor all at once.
  • Paying the bill: In most restaurants, you will not pay at the table. The waiters would bring your bill to your table, and when you are ready to leave, you will take the bill to the counter by the entrance. There, you will be able to pay for your meal.

The Japanese currency is the yen (¥.) While you may be able to exchange money in the airport or hotels once you arrive in, it is a much better bet to exchange a sum before traveling and only using exchange services in Japan if you run out of cash during your trip.

There is no tipping culture in Japan.

The typical power voltage is 100V and the frequency is 50/60 Hz. Make sure to bring a voltage converter that will fit the Japanese outlet model (plug type A) and it looks like this:

Electrical plug Type A kyoto
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Generally, tap water is drinkable everywhere in Kyoto and in Japan. If the water at your residence tastes funny, however, you can purchase bottled water at the nearest convenience store or supermarket.

Wi-Fi is common in Kyoto and most hotels and chain cafes (Starbucks, Tully’s Coffee, Doutor…etc.) will have free Wi-Fi.

If you would like to have internet access everywhere you go, you can opt to purchase data-only SIM cards. A major tourist-friendly one is the Japan Travel SIM by IIJmio. There are two plans to choose from: 1GB for 1 month or 2G for 3 months. You can always add more data for an extra charge when you run out. These are sold at any of the major electronics chains, including: Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera, Yamada Denki, etc. Just do a quick Google Maps search to find your nearest electronics shop. At most places, they will even help you install the SIM if you don’t know how to do it on your own, although they may ask for a small extra charge. For more details, visit the English site here.

Another option is to carry around a pocket Wi-Fi router. The biggest perk of using a WiFi router in Japan is that it’s convenient. You don’t have to replace SIM cards and bother with the settings, and you can pick them up and drop them off at any major airport. They can be a bit pricey, though, depending on your stay. Check the prices out here.

Unless you can see yourself needing internet connection at urgent notice or with better security and speed than publicly available Wi-Fi (such as for business calls,) it might be more convenient to arrive without a SIM card or router. If it turns out to be a struggle, you can always purchase a plan at any point during your stay.

As Kyoto is a diverse and progressive city, you will find open hatred and discrimination toward queer people to be rare here. A little bit of Googling will take you to the best-known gay bars and LGBTQ-friendly spaces, but there is no distinct “gay district” in Kyoto. Osaka, however, is just a short trip away and you will find a much bigger gay scene there. It’s also a fascinating city to visit even when you’re not specifically looking for an LGBTQ+ community.

Although Japan is progressive in some areas, LGBTQ+ couples do not enjoy the same legal and social privileges as heterosexual couples. There is a “partnership” status that recognizes LGBTQ+ couples but this does not equate to marriage. Much discrimination happens against members of the LGBTQ+ community in Japan in a variety of places. The younger generation, however, tends to be more accepting, and you will be able to find an active LGBTQ+ community while you’re in the cities.

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FOR THE PLANNERS:

There are over 3,000 temples and shrines in Kyoto.

FOR THE FOODIES:

Kyoto is known for "kaiseki" which is a multi-course meal including: appetizers, sashimi, cooked dishes, rice, and dessert.

FOR THE CULTURATIS:

Kyoto was supposed to be the target of atomic bombing in 1945 by the U.S., but Secretary of War Henry Stimson stopped it since he had visited Kyoto several times before and recognized it as a city of cultural importance.

JST TRAVEL GUIDES:

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