Although Kyoto is Japan’s 7th largest city, it’s the 2nd most popular with tourists after Tokyo because of it’s many temples as well as it’s history as Japan’s capital and Emperor’s resident city for over 1000 years from 794 until 1868. Thanks to it’s strong Buddhist tradition Kyoto is also the easiest place in Japan for Vegetarians and Vegans to eat. Ask for “Shojin Ryori”.
According to Japan Guide: over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.
Getting to Kyoto
Travelling to Kyoto from Hiroshima by JR trains was quite easy. We covered the 380.6km in 134 minutes. First on the Shinkansen Sakura 548 to Shin-Osaka and then after a short break the Shinkansen Hikari 524 to Kyoto station. A Shinkansen Hikari class from Tokyo would reach Kyoto in about 160 minutes.
Where to Stay & What To Do in Kyoto
While visiting Kyoto we stayed in a Japanese style Ryoken room at Maifuken hotel in the Gion area. It was good but expensive.
The staff were very friendly, the room was spacious and the Internet was fast. This was handy because one day it rained heavily so we stayed in our room for a few hours watching Netflix on the room’s Apple TV (you need your own Netflix login).
According to Japan Guide: Gion (祇園) is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.
Our must see for Kyoto was the Tori gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha. We got there via a trip to South Kyoto on Keihan Railways to Keihan Fushimi Inari train station.
According to Japan Guide: Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
We walked up to the shrine summit, the red Tori gates looked much nicer near the top as hordes of tourists had given up & walked back beforehand. Part way up you can see a view of the city skyline.
Kyoto has so many temples you couldn’t possibly visit them all. We chose to explore Sanjūsangen-dō the Buddhist temple for Kannon, the goddess of mercy. One of the best parts of the temple was a large gold statue surrounded by over a 1000 others. The different exhibits had good English explanations.
What to Eat in Kyoto
As I mentioned previously Vegetarians should find plenty of places to eat in Kyoto.
My wife and I both enjoyed a delightful set lunch at Organic House Salute, a hidden away proper Japanese restaurant near Kyoto station. I wasn’t sure which cake to choose, so I chose both.
Since Maifuken hotel’s partner restaurant was quite expensive for breakfast, we sought it elsewhere. Japan isn’t a early breakfast eat out culture, we were still the first people at CHOICE cafe and restaurant 45min after it opened for breakfast.
After visiting the Tori gates we walked to Vegans cafe and restaurant for a late lunch.
I tried soy cheese pizza for the first time, not something I’d eat if I wasn’t keen for Western(ish) vegetarian food, which Japan lacks. My wife’s soy meat with brown rice was much nicer.
A visit to Nishiki Market in central Kyoto is well worth it. According to Japan Guide (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba) is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.
Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores found throughout the market range in size from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialize in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.
Example Japan By Train Itinerary
We decided upon this itinerary (fly in to Narita (NRT) Airport > Tokyo > Nikko > Matsumoto > Koyasan > Hiroshima > Miyajima Island > Kyoto > fly out from Kansai Airport (KIX)) because we thought we could return to Japan again in the future and use Tokyo as a base to do day trips to places like Kamakura and visit attractions like the Ghibli Museum and the Meiji shrine.
Key Japan Tips
We knew that vegetarians are rare in Japan and we can’t read Japanese so we bought the mobile app for Happy Cow Vegan/Vegetarian places to eat so it wouldn’t be as hard to find food for our meals.
If you are going to catch a lot of JR trains during your holiday in Japan we recommend considering purchasing a JR pass, which has to be bought before you leave your home country.
We strongly suggest using the super useful Japan Hyperdia website to look at train schedules and the cost of different tickets. It will save you a lot of time and tell you exactly which trains you can catch between 2 stations, with different options balancing speed/number of train changes/journey time.
We highly recommend having mobile data on your phone so you can use it for map directions and finding places to eat.
View my Japan Photo Gallery
Japan Travel FAQ
There is a great Japan travel tips FAQ page on Whirlpool forums, well worth visiting for advice.