Place to stay in Kyoto and must see sights?
April 22, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Planning a trip to Tokyo/Kyoto towards the end of May and I'm looking for suggestions for great places to stay for two nights in Kyoto (inexpensive to moderately priced) as well as don't miss sights/restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto. We will be there for about two weeks.
posted by mhaw to Travel & Transportation around Kyoto, Japan (21 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Japanese Guest Houses provides introductions to ryokans in Japan, and I'm sure they could help you find a place that suits your needs:

Here's the Kyoto link:

Quite honestly, Kyoto is not exactly the nicest city to hang around in as a tourist. There's a lot of concrete (but great shopping), and, would actually recommend staying in and visiting Nara instead. There is a *lot* of cool, ancient stuff in Nara, and the city is built for walking. Kyoto is not.

Anyway, Kyoto has quite a few cool places of its own (I really like Sanjusangendo) and Higashyama - they're both in the same area. Maybe you can find a place to stay on the east side of the city. You could catch the tram to Sakamoto and then climb Hiei-Zan (from the Biwa Lake side) to Enrakuji.

I would recommend staying in Kitayama, near the botanical gardens and the subway station (but a long way from Kyoto Station if you have suitcases). You could also try staying in Otsu, which is a nice town on the lake, about 15 minutes by train from Higashiyama (and Kiyomizu-dera and Sanjuzangendo and the Higashiyama tea district).

But you should really check out Nara. There is so much to see and do, and it's such a nice location.

Tokyo, on the other hand, leaves me cold. It's really only worth a day or two (I realize I may catch flack from Tokyo Mefites, but the city is incredibly cold and impersonal).

My favourite spots in Tokyo are Jimbocho (used books) and Akasaka (mostly because it's old and reminds me of where I used to live in rural Japan).

Ueno is home to the National Museum of History, the National Science Museum and an Art museum. Ameyoko, on the south (?) side of the station is kind of fun. A Korean masseuse tried to pick me up there at Christmas.

Shinjuku is kind of fun. But there's only so much shopping one can do.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:09 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing and also nthing the recommendation to spend more time in the Kansai area than in Tokyo. I have friends in Kobe and it's a really neat, friendly city. Also, if you are considering where to stay in Tokyo, the Ryokan Shigetsu is great. It's right in Asakusa and very comfortable.

If your budget can handle it, I also recommend trying a western-style hotel for at least one night. The mid-range ones are twice as nice as their American counterparts, and the level of service is incredible. Hotel Okura Kobe is gorgeous, as is Hotel Okura Kyoto.
posted by chihiro at 4:30 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tokyo is pretty overwhelming. I think the best stuff was just to wander around some of the crazier neighborhoods. Shinjuku is cool, zip over there for some bar time one night. Akihabara is great if you're geeky like that, just embrace it. I'd recommend a day trip to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha at KĊtoku-in.

Kyoto is pretty cool, but you need a plan because there are too many important temples and you'll need transportation to them. I went to Kiyomizu-dera which does have a nice walkable area (and many pickle shops!) around it.

I haven't been to Nara, but I've heard good things about it and will probably stop there next time I'm over that way.

Have a blast! (also, buy a handkerchief)
posted by Craig at 4:44 PM on April 22, 2008

I stayed at Ryokan Shigetsu too and it was quite nice. They have baths on the roof of the building so you can look out over the city.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:45 PM on April 22, 2008

I'm going to vote for at least one night in a capsule hotel. We spent a week in them because we were cheap, but it was a lot of fun. An advisory though, if you have any tattoos you will have some problems getting into a capsule hotel. Also not too great if you are a couple. Otherwise, give it a go!
posted by chromatist at 5:00 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Otsu. I stayed at the b Ostu last year when speaking at a conference in Kyoto and it was perfect. Very easy into and out of the central city on the train.
posted by szechuan at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2008

Are you getting a Japan Rail Pass? There may be a lot of places listed in your guidebook or on the JNTO website that you haven't considered visiting but are actually within a 2-3 hr (free) shinkansen ride from Tokyo and Kyoto. You can plug the start and end stations into Hyperdia to see the time and connections involved.

Nagano/Matsumoto could be a daytrip from Tokyo or overnight stay. Also try to get out into the mountains for a bit; It will be a good break from Tokyo and especially if you get 'templed out' in Kyoto...
posted by cwhitfcd at 5:38 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tokyo has too much to do, if anything. Shibuya (109/haciko, tobacco and salt museum (yes really, it's fun)), yoyogi park, harajuku (cosplay, takieshite dori, yankies), meijijingu, shinjuku

suidobashi, toshimaen, yomiuriland, disney land (amusement parks)

jimbocho (books, sports)
kappabashi (kitchen shops)
akihabara (electronics)
odaiba (daiba and palette town, shopping mall, beach, arcades)
shinjukumetropolitan, ikebukuro sunshine city, roppongi hills, tokyo tower (city view)
asakusa temple, boat ride (to odaiba to combine)
ueno (museums, zoo, street shopping)
tokyo (trains, shinkansen, palace)

soo much,if you have kids, we have a small list here, that needs updating:

Then you can leave Tokyo, day trips maybe:

Hakone (switchback train, gondolar, ropeway, onsen, hotels etc)
Kamakura (big buddah, beach)
Eno-shima (beach, temple)
Takao-san (mountain, zoo)
Ikea (well you know, it becomes a day outing! What? I'm swedish!)

I have stayed in Ryokan in Asakusa, and Gotanda, the first one was really nice.
posted by lundman at 5:56 PM on April 22, 2008 [6 favorites]

Kanazawa (where I used to live) on the Japan Sea Coast is worth the trip. It's about three hours from Tokyo or two hours from Kyoto or Nagoya. Another pleasant (ie, not bombed, and they have actual ZONING regulations and bylaws that prohibited billboards) walkable city close to fantastic hot springs (Yamanaka) and beaches (Uchinada). Kanazawa also has the best best best food in Japan. It's a seaport, so there is great local fish. Great walking (it has its own tea districts - two of them!) two river, great shopping downtown, great walking (did I mention that?). It's a great place to decompress.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:57 PM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't know how you feel about theater, but Kabuki is really cool. Kabuki-za is in Tokyo, and there's also Shochiku-za in Osaka. Osaka-style Kabuki is really colorful and features lots of action -- I couldn't find an English page for that theater, but if you contacted the JNTO they might be able to hook you up with tickets. The Japan Rail Pass is terrific, definitely the least expensive way to get from Tokyo to the Kansai area or lots of other places.

If you would like to have a lovely bath (and you really should! Even if you're very modest, it's not weird because everyone is naked), I have friends who visited Oedo Onsen Monogatari outside Tokyo and really enjoyed it. Their English page seems to be down, but here's some recent information on it in English. They seem to be cracking down on tattooed individuals, though.
posted by chihiro at 6:07 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

When my parents came to visit me, we stayed at Yachiyo up by Ginkakuji. It was lovely, and I knew it was a little on the spendy side, but I was a little alarmed by the current rates.
posted by ikahime at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2008

Some of the information may be outdated in this article about Tokyo baths, but it still has some helpful information if you decide to fulfill that curiosity.

In terms of food, I hope you like meat because I was a vegetarian for the last year so so that I lived in Tokyo, and it was a pain in the ass trying to get food without meat (incl. fish). Two places I feel nostalgic for: Tatsukichi, a kushiage restaurant in Shinjuku (and other places), and Sekishin-tei in the garden of the Tokyo New Otani. The latter is pricey, but a great place to try Kobe beef, particularly if your Japanese language skills are less than impressive.

I only know Kyoto by faint memory, but I know their tofu is supposed to be particularly good. Try the tofu donuts if you come across them, and don't forget to buy a box of yatsuhashi for the friends back home.
posted by zerbinetta at 8:49 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Whatever you do get a Japan Rail Pass, it will pay itself in one Tokyo/Kyoto trip. Transportation is extremely expensive in Japan and with a rail pass you can use trains and buses inside Tokyo and Kyoto.
As for places to stay, if you don't mind last minute planning there's a great way to pay much less at nice hotels. Basically you have to go to the tourist information center of the city you're in that day and ask them about cheap rooms. In japan there's a system where hotels cut prices on short notice in order to fill up their empty rooms. You can check which hotels are doing it at some convenient stores but it's all in japanese, the tourist information centers have people that can look that up for you. The tourist information center of Kyoto is conveniently located in Kyoto Station.
You can end up staying at really nice places for half the price. Of course it depends on the season, end of may should be good since it's after golden week so people usually don't travel much at that time.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:20 PM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Rakuten Travel is another good source of discounted hotel rooms.
posted by cwhitfcd at 10:28 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

I ended up spending a night in Chapel Cinderella in Okazaki (near Heian shrine in Kyoto) when my hot water heater was busted. Nice love hotel - huge room, there's a tv in the hot tub and the tv in the bedroom has video games and karaoke - all this for under a hundred bucks!

I guess what I'm saying is that you should spend at least a night in a ryokan, but for the most bang for your buck it's hard to beat a love hotel. There is a love hotel somewhere in Umeda (Osaka) that has a Santa Clause theme. I remember stumbling upon it once. Maybe you can find it.

Nara is nice, but it doesn't need more than a day trip. I'm going to respectfully disagree with KokoRyu and say that Kyoto is awesome for walking - but it is definitely awsomer on weekdays when there are less tourists clogging the sidewalks. Yes, there is concrete, but the streets are also for the most part aligned in a grid so it's very easy to find your way around. If you can rent a bike (which you can) then you can get to most any sight you'd like to see with little trouble (as long as you don't mind hills).

Don't miss sights in Kyoto:
Imperial Palace. As a foreigner you can actually go on tours of the Imperial palace in Kyoto (You can go on tours of the palace in Tokyo too, but I don't know how much you can actually see). I don't think Japanese people can only go if they are taking a foreigner so not only is it a must-see, but it is one that most Japanese won't have the chance to experience.

Kiyomizu temple. The traditional approach involves walking up a street which is filled with tourist shops. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is a significantly better one. Go south on Higashi-oji street from the normal street until you get to the Gojo overpass. There will be an entrance to a temple on your left. Go through the temple grounds and there will be a cemetery to your left. The cemetery is on the edge of a hill giving you pretty nice views of the city and as well as being quite peaceful. At the very top the cemetery ends and joins the normal approach at the entrance to the temple. This link shows where the cemetery joins the road. From Kiyomizu temple you can make your way north through Higashiyama until you reach Chion-in to get your fill of temply goodness. There are dozens of other "must see" temples and shrines and you will not have time to see them all even if you wanted to. So pick a few, savour them and don't let yourself get templed out. Other recommendations are walking from Ginkaku Temple to Nanzen Temple on the tetsugaku-no-michi (philosopher's path), Kinkaku Temple (The golden pavilion) and Ryoan Temple (world famous zen-garden) are close together in the city's north-west. Slightly further afield but very nice are Sanzen temple in Ohara, the towns of Kurama and Kibune (there's a nice walk you can do between them), Byodoin temple in Uji and Ishiyama temple outside Otsu.

I always enjoyed walking through Gion at night, making sure to stop off at Yasaka shrine. Going to the shrine at 2am is great because all these lanterns are lit, so it looks really nice, but there is almost no one around so you can just enjoy the whole thing in peace. I used to live nearby and on nights when I couldn't sleep I'd get a canned coffee from the nearby Lawson and then just chill in the shrine for a while.

Kyoto station. You're probably going to be going there a few times anyway, but it is a good place to spend a few hours. It has a really long set of escalators (that look like they go out to infinity), a neat overhead walkway as well as these amazing openings on either side that look like entrances for giants. Hard to describe but I always find it awe inspiring.

There are large flea markets at Toji temple and Kitano shrine. I think the Toji market is on the 21st of each month and the Kitano one is on the 25th. Good for seeing local colour as well as picking up more interesting (and affordable!) souvenirs. Also, you can get daigaku-imo (sweet potato french fries) which are great.

In the Nijo shopping arcade there is a vendor that sells Melon Bread from the back of a van. This is the best Melon Bread in the world, and I have made many trips to the arcade for no reason other than getting some Melon Bread.

Not in Kyoto, but in Kansai:
While I haven't done it yet, I've had lots of recommendations for spending a night in the Koya-san temple complex. Again more temples, but nice.

Nara is more Kyoto then Kyoto. Some nice temples and shrines that you can comfortably see in a day. Be warned that you will be attacked by deer and Japanese schoolgirls (they have to interview you for a homework assignment. the girls).

Himeji castle is good fun. Definitely worth the train ride.

Shigaraki is a small town in Shiga that makes all the Tanuki statues you'll be seeing in Japan. If you wish to purchase a Tanuki statue this would be the place to do it. You can also see the world's biggest Tanuki statue and make one of your own if you want to.

I'm actually going to be in Kyoto at the time so if your planned itinerary doesn't end up thrilling you let me know over mefimail and I'll be able to give you some alternate ideas.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:36 PM on April 22, 2008 [11 favorites]

Oh yeah, in Tokyo you can go to the Ghibli museum. If you are a fan of the films this is definitely a must-see.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:40 PM on April 22, 2008

What's the issue with tattoos in capsule hotels?
posted by girlgeeknz at 12:19 AM on April 23, 2008

If you don't mind hostels, K's House in both Tokyo and Kyoto are pretty nice. And as mentioned above, love hotels are a surprisingly cheap option too.

As for the Ghibli museum, you'll need to reserve tickets in advance, because they don't sell at the door.
posted by ikaruga at 1:21 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to run down and second some of my favoritest things and make a couple other random comments.

  • Kobe: friendly, delicious, kinda quirky place. This is actually my favorite city in Japan, so far.
  • Ueno (Tokyo): museums, plus the long loud market that runs along the train tracks
  • Kamakura: beautiful temples, nice beach, good shopping street. About 60 minutes south of Tokyo. Since you're going to Kyoto though, you may be templed out.
  • Onsen: yeah, get over your modesty and just go once. Are you travelling as a couple? Be ware that many are sex-segregated, so if it's just you two, well, it may not be as much fun unless you go to the weird ones (tea, chocolate, sand) which are sometimes bathing-suit-mixed-sex or the ones where you can rent out a small hole of your own.
  • JR pass: buy OUTSIDE the country, like Eurail. Also, you can get day passes for all the Tokyo Metro lines. You may even want to invest in the Oyster-card-equivalent stored value card (PASMO), because a lot of the subway signs are NOT IN ENGLISH and can be a REAL PAIN IN THE ASS. Since price varies by distance, it'll save you having to look up the prices everywhere, and worrying what train line you're taking (there's several companies and you have to buy a new ticket for each company, unless you have a stored value card, which you just swipe at the gate).
  • Asakusa (Tokyo)
  • Kappabashi (Tokyo)

    Other comments:
  • Kyoto: I'll probably get beat for saying this, but I didn't enjoy it that much. Listen to the people saying to spend time in nearby places (e.g. Kobe or Nara). One day was enough.
  • Shinjuku: pththt. Shibuya is more fun.
  • lodging: Stay in ryokan most of the time, don't bother with Western style hotels. Ryokan are more fun and less expensive.

  • posted by whatzit at 5:13 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

    What's the issue with tattoos in capsule hotels?

    In Japan, having tattoos generally signifies you are a member of the yakuza. Letting an obvious member of the yakuza into your shop is generally asking to be shook down. As well, most local police departments are trying to encourage neighbourhoods to band together and take a common stand against the yakuza to limit their influence, and this is one tactic to do so.
    posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I have to disagree with the above statements that Kyoto is not a tourist or walking friendly town - I stayed in a ryokan (Hirota Guest House) just south of the Imperial palace which was easy walking distance to Nijo castle, several temples, and the covered shopping arcade, and had a great week. I've been to Kobe (based on whatzit's hearty recommendation in other threads) and Nara and they were great day trips but I would definitely stay based in Kyoto.

    For a thorough list of restaurants in the Kansai and Tokyo areas, with reviews and maps, go to

    Some restaurant suggestions:

    Yaoya no Nikai in the Nishiki Market has a delicious daily vegetarian lunch for Y2100. Reservations are 'recommended' but if you go early enough you can get your name put on the list for a slightly later time (I think we had to wait 30 minutes the first time we went).
    Tofu Kaiseki restaurant
    Owariya - delicious and inexpensive soba restaurant that's been around since the 1400's. Nishin-soba (soba topped with boiled herring) is a Kyoto specialty.
    Yoramu Sake Bar - tiny sake bar on Nijo-dori run by an (Israeli?) man who speaks fluent English and Japanese

    In Tokyo, I would recommend a trip to Shimokitazawa which is just a short (2-3 stops) train ride from Shibuya or Shinjuku. It's an incredibly happening and hip (even compared to the rest of Tokyo) neighborhood. It's also sadly threatened by a planned highway development project, so this may be your last chance to see it.
    posted by Gortuk at 7:33 AM on April 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

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