I took an all-day bus from Tokyo to Kyoto. Because I just could NOT bring myself to pay $350 for a JR pass.
If you’re looking to go to Japan you have probably read a lot about the JR Pass. The pass gives you essentially unlimited travel on the bullet trains. This would be a good option for someone who is going to spend a long time in Japan and travel to lots of different destinations.
But I knew I was going to be on the JR a total of twice: Once to Kyoto and once to the Osaka airport. Hence the mental block about spending that amount of money on the pass.
You can get a bus from Tokyo to Kyoto for about $40. (About $25 dollars less than the train.) They even have night buses if you don’t want to use your daytime. I went with the company Willer. It was one of the most comfortable bus rides I have ever had. But it did take all day. I didn’t mind, I’d been hustling for a solid three days in Tokyo and I was happy for the rest.
The next day in Kyoto I started my day with a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony where I got to wear a kimono. I did this with WAK Japan and the experience could not have been better. The woman took her time in dressing me with a kimono and even did my hair. She explained the process while she was doing it and I learned that if someone ever asked me to put on a kimono by myself I wouldn’t be able to do it haha.
We then spent the next hour learning about Japanese green tea and the ceremony itself. The woman who did our ceremony was incredibly kind and knowledgeable. When the ceremony was finished, the ladies took me to a different area and took lots of photos of me in the kimono.
After the ceremony I headed to the famous Golden Pavilion. It is the featured photo in this post. A temple built to look as if it was floating on a pond, most of the building is covered in gold leaf. If you are there on an overcast day like I was, the reflection of temple in the pond is really something else.
Looking back, this was probably the most crowded tourist spot I went to while in Kyoto. There were quite a few people there but it was nothing like the crowds I experienced while in Tokyo. Keep in mind though I was in Japan in January. It’s not exactly their high tourist season. I could easily see how this spot could get beyond crowded.
It’s at the very northern edge of Kyoto, so it is a bit far to get to, but it is totally worth it.
I took the bus to Nijo Castle. It’s my impression that a lot of people my age skip this place when in Kyoto and I don’t fully understand why. The architecture and adjoining gardens in this place are worth the visit alone. But the best part are all the screen paintings from the 1600s that are still in really good condition. It also gives you a glimpse into what life was like in the Edo period (back when Kyoto was the capital of Japan.)
My favorite were the tigers. Japanese painted tigers have such a distinct style, with like the crazy eyes and weird portions. This is because there are no tigers naturally in Japan. So Japanese artists in the 1600s were going off of imported sketches from other countries like Cambodia. All paintings of tigers from that period are just second-hand renditions.
Spent way longer here than anticipated so I got to my next destination, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, later than expected. This place is on the very far west side of Tokyo so like the Golden Pavilion, it also takes some time to get there. A temple backs right up into the grove and I had planned to visit but by the time I got there it was closed. The grove doesn’t close though so I was still free to explore that area. It was really what I came for anyway.
The grove is cool. You can get some good pictures. It is definitely different than any type of “forest” I have been to before and I have never seen bamboo so tall. I can’t say I was particularly wowed by it though. Overall I am happy I went there. My favorite part was the noise the bamboo makes. It creaks and rattles with the wind. It’s a little bit eerie but I enjoy that sort of thing.
The forest is not too big and you can walk through it quite quickly. Afterwards feel free to explore the Arashiyama area. It’s quite cute.
It was getting close to dinner time and I was still pretty far outside of the city so I headed back to Karamare St. This is the main downtown area of Kyoto. No quiet temples and traditional houses here. Lots of shops and restaurants for you to choose from. After a delicious dinner at Yoshikawa Tempura (make a reservation) it was time to rest up for tomorrow, which I knew would be my biggest walking day of the trip.