Kyoto tales: City travel is simple and efficient, buy a bus pass

By Melissa Masatani, Staff Writer

Travel within Kyoto is relatively simple, with an efficient and reliable bus system that will get you to almost every major site.

Independent travelers can easily coordinate their own sightseeing schedules with a Kyoto city bus travel map, “Bus Navi,” available in English at the Kyoto Tourism Information Office in the Kyoto Station.

A one-day bus pass is 500 yen (depending on the day’s exchange rate, $4.92), which will pay for itself on your third 220-yen ($2.16) bus ride. Most bus drivers, even if they don’t speak English, know the tourist spots and will play a pre-recorded announcement in English before a popular stop.

A one- and two-day sightseeing pass offers fare for all city buses and subway trains at 1,200 yen ($11.81) for one day, 2,000 ($19.68) yen for two days, for the more ambitious adventurer.

A limited Japan Rail train system is available for Americans using the JR Pass, though it pales in comparison to Tokyo’s rail lines. Taxis also are abundant, but more costly and usually require some knowledge of Japanese.

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Kyoto tales: Torii gates take your breath away, inari are yum

By Melissa Masatani, Staff Writer

Another of Kyoto’s most photographed sites is the Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine dedicated to the god of rice and sake. While the buildings are impressive, it’s the torii gates that take your breath away.

Visitors can walk to the top of the mountain through thousands of vermilion red-orange post-and-lintel gates, each one sponsored — and replaced every decade — by companies looking for success in business.

While I didn’t make it to the top, which is supposed to have spectacular views of the city, I definitely recommend stopping at several of the food vendors and trying the inari, or “footballs” as I call them.

Inari are fried tofu pockets filled with rice and, while some sushi restaurants offer them in the U.S., I have not found any that compare to the way my grandmother made them, and how they make them in Kyoto every day. It was a real treat.

On our way back to central Kyoto, we hopped off the bus near the Kyoto National Museum and were one of the last visitors of the day at the impressive Sanjusangendo.

A Buddhist temple, it houses more than 1,000 statues of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon, each one different and all of them sculpted more than 800 years ago.

Visitors are required to remove their shoes and photographs are forbidden inside the hall. The grounds are beautifully peaceful despite the busy streets and commuting crowds outside the temple walls.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha and Sanjusangendo are along Kyoto’s eastern border, making both of those sites easily visited in one day.

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Kyoto tales: Temple of Golden Pavilion is magnificent

By Melissa Masatani, Staff Writer

Visiting Kyoto, it’s hard to tell what century you’re in. The former imperial capital of Japan has a dizzying mix of new and old, embracing the future while preserving the past. For tourists, it’s a can’t-miss city if you want to get a sense of both traditional and modern Japan.

The shinkansen, or bullet train, from Tokyo into the city was a quick and comfortable ride straight out of a science-fiction movie. The Kyoto Station was equally modern, with seemingly endless escalators and seemingly choreographed crowds of commuters rushing to the train platforms.

Since our stop in Kyoto was short, we headed straight for the city’s most famous sight: Kinkaku-ji. Commonly known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the Zen Buddhist temple is known for its pavilion covered in gold foil, but as you walk up to the gates, only the top of the gold phoenix peeks over the walls, offering a hint of what waits inside.

The initial entry is magnificent, with a pond providing a mirrored reflection of the pavilion surrounded by a well-tended garden. While most tourists only have time to take a quick photo before being shuttled off to the next stop, it is worth taking a few extra minutes while walking the path through the temple grounds.

The foliage is magnificent in the fall, with the trees adding an extra layer of beauty to an already picturesque scene. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a lull between tour groups to fully appreciate the World Cultural Heritage Site.

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