What should we do/eat/see in Kyoto? And should we visit Okishima?
April 26, 2014 4:56 PM   Subscribe

It's been a couple years since this last question, so I figured it was worth a renewal. My two travel partners and I will be arriving in Kyoto this afternoon and I wanted to ping the hive mind for suggestions.

Specifically we'd like to know fun things to do and great places to eat. As far as our preferences, we've seen a good number of temples/shrines already (Miyajima), but would be down for especially interesting (and less overrun by tourists*) ones. Natural beauty is a keen interest too.

For eating, we'd like to get some nice sushi. We had a great kaiten meal in Yokohama, but something a little more traditional would be nice. Also, I'm dying for some yaki-niku. On the other end of the spectrum, one of my travel companions doesn't eat beef and is lukewarm on pork so restaurants with great vegetables would also be appreciated. We're staying in the Crowne Plaza Ana Kyoto, so things easily accessed from there are ideal.

Finally, after enjoying my visit pilgrimage to Ainoshima (aka Cat Heaven Island), I was considering a trip to Okishima based on it's mention in this article. Has anyone been? Is it worth it? If so, can we get to Hokkirishin Port (where the ferry leaves from) by public transit? Google maps shows directions up to Omihachiman, but then throws up its hands and says to take a cab for the last 11 kilometers.

* Yes, I realize this is Kyoto. I can dream.
posted by Cogito to Travel & Transportation around Kyoto, Japan (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The number one place I recommend people to avoid is the Golden Temple. It takes ages to get there, you get one good look at it and then you're done. Right now it will be swarming with tourists. Look at it on Flickr instead.

The Silver Temple, on the other hand, is well worth a look. I particularly like how when the place was restored, they didn't put the silver look back to the way it was. I love the gardens over there, and it's reasonably quick to reach if you take the subway and get off at Keage. Nice walking can be had around that area too.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:14 PM on April 26, 2014

I don't know about sushi, but when I went I ate at two different old noodle shops (around 300 years old), and they were both delicious, cheap, and had a nice atmosphere. One specialized only in Udon, the other in Soba. I found them in the guidebook Old Kyoto which I recommend if you'll be there for a couple more days. There are lots of cool, delicious, traditional restaurants listed in it. I, myself, would try and eat some Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine) if I were there.
posted by Blitz at 5:24 PM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I went to the Kurama Onsen, it is very beautiful with outlooks over forested mountains, quite small and you can get there on the train. A short and pretty walk from the station to the onsen. Recommended!
posted by dave99 at 5:29 PM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fushimi Inari Taisha, hands down the most amazing temple I saw in Japan.
posted by lydhre at 5:38 PM on April 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

A cool, off the beaten track Kyoto adventure would be to take Keihan from Kyoto over to Sakamoto on Lake Biwa, and then hike up Hiezan along an old forest road, up to Enrakuji.

Otsu, just south of Sakamoto, is home to Ishiyama-dera, which may not have the huge crowds of tourists.

Either Kurama or Ohara, to the north of the city center, are interesting and less crowded.

Instead of a trip to Oki, which will eat up a lot of travel time, I might recommend travelling to Obama, in Fukui Prefecture, due north of Kyoto.

You can take the train from Kyoto to Tsuruga, and then head over on the Obama Line.

Obama has a ton of old temples, many dating back to the Nara and Heian Periods, with fantastic statues and other antiquities, and you can rent bikes to go see them all.

The town itself is rural and off the beaten track, and I can guarantee no tourists. On top of that, it's right on the ocean, so the sushi and other seafood you are going to eat there will be much better than in *any* of the cities you have been to (Kyoto is landlocked, so the seafood is not great, and most of it comes from places like Obama anyway!)

On the way back to Kyoto you can take the train to Maizuru, and then Kyoto, or continue over to Amanohashidate. The Wakasa Area is fantastic, and you can invest some of the travel time you would need to get to Oki to go to this region instead, and see more stuff.

As you might expect, I spend part of the year near Obama (Tsuruga) and spent a pleasant day walking in Obama a couple of weeks ago.

If you need more info about temples or places to eat, just MeMail me.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have any interest in manga or comics, the Manga Museum is well worth a visit.
posted by wsquared at 5:43 PM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes to Fushimi Inari Taisha mentioned above. It's a temple with hundreds (thosusands?) of red torii gates lining a path that goes up and around the mountain. The path is so long you'll eventually find a quiet spot even if there are a lot of other tourists about.

I also really liked the monkey park at Arashiyama in the west part of the city. You climb a path up a hill and at the very top are a bunch of Japanese macaques that roam about, and you can go inside a little hut and feed them from inside.
posted by pravit at 5:48 PM on April 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another idea for "off the beaten track" that would take less time than going to Oki would be to travel to Shikoku, specifically Kochi Prefecture. We just went there at the beginning of April and it was awesome.

While most of the temples in the 88 temple circuit of Shikoku are concentrated in Kagawa, on the northeast end of the island, Kochi has some cool stuff. Kochi City itself is very very nice just to hang out (a major provincial cities away from Japan's developed Pacific coastal axis often are). You can get there by express train from Okayama, and you go over the Seto Ohashi bridge.

Once again, you can invest the time it would take to reach Oki exploring around Kochi. The place I would love to go but didn't have a chance to get to was the Shimanto River, to the west of Kochi. The Shimanto is the last undammed major river in Japan, and there are some really awesome ecotourism activities there. There are a ton of hot springs and the food is amazing in Kochi.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:06 PM on April 26, 2014

Response by poster: It just occurs to me that Ōsaka is also a really short jump on the Shinkansen (we've JR passes). So, cool suggestions there are also welcome.
posted by Cogito at 10:11 PM on April 26, 2014

Arashiyama also has a "romantic train" that goes for a short trip through the mountains which you might find interesting (it's silly-touristy, but Japanese silly-touristy). At the return trip, get down one stop from Arashiyama so you can walk down the bamboo forest and visit Tenryu-ji.

For eating, we'd like to get some nice sushi. We had a great kaiten meal in Yokohama, but something a little more traditional would be nice.

Battera is a specialty in Osaka, but I can't give recs on restaurants.

As I commented in another Ask Me, when I went to Kyoto I couldn't go to eat at Kosendo, but the website sure sounds interesting.
posted by sukeban at 12:42 AM on April 27, 2014

Definitely Fushimi Inari.

Kyoto and sightseeing is pretty easy because there are a couple of distinct areas that have a solid clustering of good temples and shrines to check out. Towards the northwest, there's Kitanotenmangu Shrine, which, if you get there on the right day, has a great flea market. As mentioned above, the Kinkakuji is pretty much a tour bus horror show, though it is quite beautiful. Ryoanji, though, which is the stone garden temple on everyone's list, is even more crowded, and you'll never have a chance to really just sit and take a look at the rocks. Daitokuji, however, is a complex of temples, many with their own stone gardens, and much, much less traffic. Be warned, though, each temple in the complex charges it's own admission.

If you do go to the silver pavilion (Ginkakuji), make sure to follow the philosopher's path (Tetsugaku-no-michi) south and check out Eikan-do and Nanzeji (great temple gate that you can go up inside, and also a fantastic cemetery). Those three temples can take up a chunk of the day. Fushimi-inari can be part of a day that you split with Kiyomizudera, which is really a can't miss temple. Yes, it's crowded, but it's also astonishing. Make sure to follow the path out of the back of the temple to the waterfall. The path will take you across the valley, letting you fully see how beautiful the temple and the stilts it's on really are.

Food-wise, it's a bit tricky with people with limitations, but I'd still recommend Okariba (near the Heian Shrine, which is also worth seeing). The owner/operator is a hunter, and the food (boar, venison, and such) is stuff either he or his hunting circle have taken, and it's delicious. The guy is incredibly friendly, and when I took a group of friends there who spoke no Japanese, he was very, very helpful. One of his specialties is miso grilled on a large leaf, and you eat it like a dip with leaves of cabbage. He will, however, try to get you to try the fried bees and grasshoppers... well. Yeah.

In central Kyoto, in the Pontocho night life area, although I can't seem to find it online, it is in guidebooks, there's the OK Bar (or A-OK Bar) that's a great izakaya with English menus. Very lively, great food.

In Osaka, if you're interested in Japanese craft beer, this page has a bunch, but I would suggest Beer Belly, or their other bar Beer Belly Edobori. I haven't been, but they're run by Osaka's Minoh Brewery, which has some of the best beers in Japan, particularly their stouts. Very, very tasty beer.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:33 AM on April 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can get an incredible vegetarian set lunch at Yaoya no Nikai, a small restaurant above a greengrocer's in Nishiki Market (which is worth a visit). The website says advance reservations are recommended, but both times I've gone I've just showed up and got a seating time for a few minutes later.
posted by Gortuk at 5:35 AM on April 27, 2014

One of my few regrets from my magical trip to Japan was missing out on a visit to Saihō-ji, the 'Moss Temple' (Koke-dera) in Kyoto.

My reason for not going is that there is a rather arcane procedure for reserving a visit.

i suggest trying a Google search for images of 'kokedera' to aid in visualizing the scale of my regret.
posted by fairmettle at 7:43 AM on April 27, 2014

It's been years- but I always loved going to see the Big Buddha and deer park in Nara. It's a day trip from Kyoto.
posted by momochan at 7:50 AM on April 27, 2014

Kyoto is beautiful, enjoy your stay!
First of all, it is a city that is really bikeable, we rented bikes and had an amazing time riding around the city.
I agree with all of the above, but of course you will need to balance your time. For things I would not have missed:
- Entsu-Ji - a small temple up a hill, where we found the tranquility I suppose all temples have had back in the day
- eating in a traditional tofu-restaurant. Normally I am not fond of tofu, but this was an amazing experience. I have lost the address, but it was near the silver temple.
- going to Naoshima, not only because of the art and architecture, but also for experiencing Japanese rural culture.
posted by mumimor at 8:28 AM on April 27, 2014

otagi nenbutsu-ji is just north of Arashiyama. Maybe a 30 minute walk from the main tourist area there (and a pleasant one at that) although you can take the bus too. Never has that many visitors but a very nice temple.

North Kyoto (ohara, kurama and kibune) are nice places to visit as well. Still have temples but not as many tourists.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2014

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