Kyoto is Japan’s must see destination, and probably has the greatest concentration of sights, but be under no illusion; this is no oriental Stratford on Avon, Kyoto is a huge city. Most of the notable sights are to the east side, but others are scattered further out, so even with a week here you could struggle to see everything.
The new part of the city is laid out in a grid pattern and could be any north American city (in style anyway). As with everywhere else in Japan it is spotlessly clean and thoughtfully planned; there are covered pavements on the main shopping street and several huge arcades, in many parts of town piped music is played – a bit muzak, but not too intrusive.
Just behind the riverside these properties can be accessed via a very quaint street called Pontocho – most are restaurants, a few are bars. Many have traditional floor seating so pick wisely, and most in this area feature something that I only encountered in Kyoto – a cover charge. This can be between 300 and 600 yen per person ($/ Euro 5, or £4), and will include a salad or some such, not too bad on a meal, but rather expensive when applied to a small beer – basically it can mean a small beer ends up costing $10… beware.
Arashiyama is to the west of town and is the location of the Bamboo forest, its a quite touristy but a pleasant place, if you were here for some time it could be a good place to stay out of town.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
South of town – a short bus or train journey is Fushimi Inari Taisha – the temple with the arches.
Torii (arches) are normaly found at the entrance to Shinto temples, Fusshimi Inari takes the concept further, a lot further. There are hundreds, if not thousands of the red arches covering paths to the main temple at the top of the mountain. The climb is quite long (maybe 6 – 7 km) and high (the panorama shot above was taken from a viewpoint about half way), but the views of the Torii winding through the forest make the trip worthwhile, just allow enough time. It can be busy at lower levels, but (not surprisingly) the crowds thin a little as you go higher.
Gion is where most of old Kyoto is at. Just to the east of the river and away from the modern town you enter a place that feels and looks like the Japan you were expecting. Some of it is brand new of course, but that’s just fine, there is plenty of character alongside the tourist fodder.
There are hundreds of options in Kyoto, but I liked these fast food joints. Everything is prepared in front of you (to very high standards) and they have a lively bustle at most times of the day.
Some of these places have a ticket vending machine by the door – this is where you pay and order your food. As there is little concession to not Japanese speakers just ask for help, most things are selected by image – but you can never be sure what you are doing.