Kyoto via iPod/smartphone/tablet
October 7, 2012 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Kyoto for a two-day visit in November, but with only an iPod Touch 4 in my jacket pocket as I'd like to avoid bringing a heavy guidebook/backpack as I walk around exploring all day. What PDFs/docs/apps/downloads can help make my visit amazing, or at least easier?

I've never been to Japan before, I don't speak Japanese, and I'll be on my own. I'm thinking about getting...

- the Lonely Planet "Kyoto" guidebook as a pdf download (are there better ones out there?)
- a Japanese-language app - there seem to be a lot out there; any recommendations for such a short visit?
- descriptions of historical/cultural sites in more detail from...Wikipedia? other sites?
- a list of cafes/places with wifi?
- ???

Ideally, I'd like to show up at Ryōan-ji, for example, and be able to read extensively about it while I'm there, see what's nearby, and possibly ask someone for tips/directions/help if need be. Can my little iPod do all this?

Thank you!
posted by mdonley to Travel & Transportation around Kyoto, Japan (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you staying near Kyoto station? If so, you won't need the language book. Kyoto is a city of tourists; there are English signs EVERYWHERE. Directions/help/menus are ALL in English. Unless you go to some very off-the-beaten-track temple, they will have English brochures. If you want to read up on the place you go to in more detail, it's probably best to do this at your hotel.

November is a good month to be in Kyoto, and one of the most popular, thanks to the leaves changing color.

Memail me if you need more help - I live near Kobe, about 1.5 hrs from there.

Enjoy your trip, and welcome to Japan!
posted by xmts at 10:19 PM on October 7, 2012

When I was in Kyoto in April the main shopping street (Shijo-dori I think) had free wifi, with the details in banners over the street. However, free wifi seemed rarer than in Europe - most places had wifi that required subscriptions. Most hotels charged for wifi, or only have it in the lobby area.

This is what I did in Kyoto: browse the web in the evening and early morning, and paste pages into Evernote. Then do an offline sync to my phone so pages were available without needing to be online. Japan Guide was a very good source of info, and its maps worked well with Evernote.

This was useful for maps, restaurants, locations of places, a few phrases, etc, but I'd agree with the other comments and say that if you only have two days in Kyoto you have very little time to be looking down at a gadget. When you've got to where you need to be, spend all your time looking around. There are tours of major sites in English, and lots of English information signs.

If you want to try temple food or visit some of the more popular temples you'll need to book in advance.

Our hotel gave us a decent map, but there is a tourist advice booth in the main train station run by the Kyoto Rotary Club, and they gave us an excellent, detailed paper map.

The best phrasebook in my experience is the Hello Kitty phrasebook (not an app, an actual book). It's light, very easy to use and helpful for most tourist situations.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:58 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buses are really useful for touristing in Kyoto! Ryouanji is a bit away from the train station, but there's a bus stop right outside, for example. You can get the bus routes on PDF here.

If I were touristing Kyoto with a device I'd also want to put e-versions of The Pillow Book and Tales of Genji on it, since they were both written in and around the city.

But, yeah, tourist attractions will be signed in English, and you'll get an English brochure with your ticket.

Have fun! Kyoto's gorgeous in November. Don't miss out on the Kiyomizudera "light up" at night if your visit falls at the right time of the month for it.
posted by harujion at 12:03 AM on October 8, 2012

Buses are really useful for touristing in Kyoto!

Seconded. There's a subway too, but a lot of the stuff you'll want to see is closer to the bus lines than the subways.

For only 2 days, all you really need is to plan out all the famous/sightseeing stuff you want to see beforehand, then bring bus/subway maps/schedules, and get advice from the local tourist info desk on how to best plan your time.

With only 2 days, I'd limit how much you travel on foot. A lot of the temples and shrines are around the outskirts of the city in various corners, so the buses will help. I'd hit those in the mornings/afternoons, then head to the city center in the later afternoon/evenings where you can do more walking, shopping, and finding cafes/restaurants/bars.
posted by p3t3 at 12:28 AM on October 8, 2012

Thirding using the bus. There is a one day pass for 500 yen.
posted by xmts at 12:59 AM on October 8, 2012

Japan's National Tourism Organization has good maps and walking tours in PDF's. Here's the one for Kyoto. These are the same printouts they'll give you at a tourist information office in Japan. For a two-day visit, you could get by with just this.

One temple that is not covered is Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is located away from most of the other sights but definitely worth visiting.

Could be useful to bring a map app that can be used offline. Of the ones I've tried, I found City Maps 2Go to have the best interface.

Another useful app is Worldly, which lets you cache Wikitravel articles.

In general, free Wi-Fi is difficult to find in Japan, even at hotels and cafes. I'd plan to be offline most of the trip, unless you plan on using a PC at an internet/manga cafe.
posted by mshrike at 1:20 AM on October 8, 2012

Oops, I meant to say Fushimi Inari shrine, not temple.
posted by mshrike at 1:29 AM on October 8, 2012

Kyoto is reasonably simple to navigate. Your first step should be to go to the excellent tourist information place in Kyoto train station. They have English speaking staff and will give you the excellent bus map. They can also sell you as many day bus passes as you want @ 500 Yen a go. A bus ride is 200 Yen.

We used the Lonely Planet ebook for Kyoto (£10.50/$16 or so) and found it to be excellent. It's held offline and easy to read.

You probably won't need it, but we also used the kanji recognition app Japan Goggles. You can get round Japan and Kyoto without knowing kanji, but it makes it easier. We found it worked OK. Other reviews are less polite.

We didn't need to book to see any of the temples (we went late September this year). You do apparently need half a day's notice to get into the imperial palace. If you go to lesser known temples you may get them to yourself, depending on when you go. We went to the Shogun's private family temple (sorry: the name escapes me) which was a little way out on the tram and it was quiet, serene and beautiful. The showstopping temples are also beautiful, but you can find yourself being shepherded round them somewhat.

Wifi provision was pretty patchy. Starbucks does provide wifi in some of its cafes in Japan, for example, but not all. Don't bank on wifi access.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:09 AM on October 8, 2012

Most every temple in Kyoto has some English information, which is nice. Some have substantial amounts.

You mention Ryoanji, and it is beautiful, but close-ish to Kinkakuji is a complex of temples called Daitokuji. There are about twenty or so temples in the complex, and there are several stone gardens there. The gardens and temples are gorgeous, and there is almost never a crowd, unlike Ryoanji, you can actually take some time to look at/contemplate the gardens without being jostled.

And definitely Fushimi Inari, it's beautiful.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:50 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rather than shell out for the Lonely Planet guide, take a look over here as the pdfs are pretty comprehensive, with all the info you need for choosing your next destination in Kyoto. I tried to find pdfs for the Kyoto Visitor's Guide but they don't seem to exist. It's an easy-to-find dead-tree publication that tells you all the essential information you will ever need for seeing Kyoto. It has a fantastic map and is especially useful for tracking down dates for the light-up events in places like Arashiyama or Higashiyama which you will not want to miss under any circumstances.

For wifi, NTT's Hotspot service will set you back 500 yen a day and get you access to wifi in selected locations in Kyoto. The site has a big PDF of these locations so you need to do a bit of planning ahead if you want to use the service. The computer "famiport" at any Family Mart convenience store will let you buy one day's access.

Japan is a terrible place for free wifi, but last time I was there a few months ago Holly's Cafe near to Shijo/Terramachi had some on offer. There is supposed to be a free wifi hotspot along Shijo-dori, but on the multiple occasions in the last 9 months that I've been there, I've been unable to connect with my iPod touch. While I can't speak for the hotels in Kyoto, all the hostels I've stayed in have had excellent wifi. It's really a question of planning a bit ahead for when you are out of wifi range.

For travel, you definitely will need a bus-navi map if you are going to use the buses (which I recommend). Kyoto city buses are not known for their speed, and especially during rush hour you will want to avoid being stuck in one. It is often quicker to use the subway (Nanzen-ji is a case in point) or the bus plus the subway, so it really pays to do a little homework beforehand, especially if you are short on time. You have to make 3 bus journeys in one day to make the 500 yen pass work out cheaper (each ride is 220 yen separately). The subway + bus pass is considerably more expensive (1200 yen).

As far as reading about the historical sites goes, almost all the places I've visited in Kyoto have gone out of their way to load me up with pamplets explaining about the place in English. If there is one thing that you don't need an app for, it's this.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:07 AM on October 8, 2012

Kyoto has been done so many times that a Lonely Planet guide devoted to Kyoto should be enough. My only suggestion would be to plot out courses on Google Maps and see if you can save them offline on your iPod.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 PM on October 9, 2012

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