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Recommendations for Kyoto and Tokyo

Hi!

My husband and I are visiting Japan in November this year, Tokyo and Kyoto. What spots and places are worth visiting and staying? It’s our first time visiting Asia and are very excited to see two very different cities. Thanks in Advance!

Posted by
1859 posts

Hello, last year I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka (also my first time to east Asia). It was a great trip, everything went smoothly and the Japanese people were warm and friendly, even if I did not speak much of the language. Definitely brush up on some basic Japanese words and cultural norms/customs, you'll be bowing a lot 😉.

In Tokyo I liked:
Sensō-ji Buddhist temple
Kabuki performance at Kabuki-za theater in Tokyo's Ginza district
Samurai sword exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum
Egg salad sandwiches at Lawson Markets
Ekiben bento lunch on the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto

In Kyoto (my favorite of the three citites) I liked:
Tōfuku-ji Temple, great for Autumn leaves/colours
Rengeoin Sanjusangendo, home to 1001 Buddha statues
Nishiki Market
Kyoto Marui Market, incredible luxury food market at the bottom floor
Nara, the old capital of Japan before Kyoto
Kyoto International Manga Museum

Hope this helps! :)

Posted by
4678 posts

It's important to understand that Kyoto covers a huge area of historic temples. Many of the most famous are not near subway stations, although some can be reached from local bus lines (which are naturally a little harder to understand.) You may find a taxi is worth the cost to get to some more distant (not, remote) temples. Walking shoes are very important. Many smaller restaurants in Kyoto book up well before dinner time.

Mid-November is the beginning of Chrysanthemum Festival displays, mostly in covered outdoor pavillions.

There are three cities that pair with Kyoto, if you have the time: Nara, Inari, and Osaka. Those are listed from most historic to most modern. They are easy by local train. Inari has the inspiration for Christo's "Gates of Central Park."

Naturally, everything is a little more complicated in Japan. But, for example, city subways give every station a stop number, for example "S12", on the Shinjuku line. You only have to watch the numbers move towards 12 - you don't care about hearing the announced names. I was unable to synchronize our trip with getting tickets to the unusual, all-female Takarazuka musical theater troupe, which has theaters in Osaka and in Tokyo, but not both at once, I think.

The new flower market in Tokyo is over-hyped. It opens before the subway does, which makes it hard to see the real action there. And it's so modern, with insulated, sterile, glass-enclosed viewing hallways (NOT catwalks, like in Aalsmeer, Netherlands) that I suggest omitting it.

Your itinerary is right on the breakpoint for making money on the Railpass, which can only be bought before arrival. Note that you can go to more than one station in Tokyo to get to/from Kyoto, which may save you subway time. Bullet Trains really should have reservations, even if they have unreserved cars on your particular train. Some are all-reserved. Kyoto is a substantial ride. (There is a modern, international airport in Osaka, but I was unable to find flights for us there.)

Posted by
24 posts

Hello - here is my two cents on these great cities. They are VERY different. Either way, I recommend getting a guide to explain some things unless you're already familiar with some basic points about Japanese culture. The guide makes a bit more sense in Kyoto.

Tokyo:
1) Meiji Shrine - my favorite 'sight' in Tokyo. To get the most out of your potential visit, it'll be helpful to know who Meiji was and what a shrine is (vs. a temple)

2) Shinjuku neighborhood for nightlife. It also makes a great home base.

3) Sensoji Temple is a fun sight though it can be overwhelmingly touristy. It's also in the Asakusa neighborhood which is nice to explore

4) Ginza neighborhood for the best sushi and other restaurants (reservations required) in the world. This area also has great craft cocktail bars, shopping, and a Kabuki theater. Nearby is Yurachuko Station, which, underneath the tracks, hosts an alley of small restaurants and bars popular with office workers.

Kyoto:

1) Fushimi Inari - pick a nice day to come here. Given how touristy it is it's sorta hard to view this as a cultural sight though it technically is. It's more of a fun hiking adventure up a mountain.

2) Kiyomizu dera Temple - this was my favorite. It has a huge viewing deck but it may be under restoration so check before coming here. Either way, the Higashiyama district where it is located has wonderfully preserved old streets.

3) Gion district at night has a lot of charm.

4) Golden Temple and Silver Temple - the latter is not actually silver. Rather it a representation of Wabi Sabi, which is rustic elegance. I actually liked it more than the famous Golden temple.

5) Bamboo forest - this is near to the Golden temple, and near the Arashiyama district, which is very popular in the fall

6) Eikando Temple is famous for fall colors. It knocked our socks off when we went in November and I highly recommend it.

Posted by
50 posts

All the above suggestions are great! I hope you visit Osaka too as it is very different from Kyoto and Tokyo. Kyoto is like an old, laid-back town while Tokyo is a very modern and fast-paced city. Osaka is right in the middle, modern yet laid-back. Plus you do not want to miss the amazing food in Osaka! Enjoy!

Posted by
1618 posts

Check out the Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto. We stayed there twice. A minute walk from a subway station and a large complex of temples and shrines directly across the street. Daytrips to Fushimi Inari and to Nara were easy and fun. In Tokyo we liked the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. Convenient to the station. Breakfast was a fortune, but McDonald’s and their coffee was a block away. I’d recommend both hotels for comfort, convenience and location. If you leave for home from Tokyo, this hotel has a bus shuttle that connects to the airport and which can be arranged at the helpful front desk. . We loved both our trips to Japan.

Posted by
192 posts

To the other fine recommendations, I would add the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Hokusai Museum in Ryogoku, Tokyo, as well as the Ota Memorial Ukiyo-e Museum in Harujuku. If you like gardens, there are several, but my top two are probably the Kyu Shiba Rikyu and the Koshikawa Korakuen.

For side trips from Tokyo, I'd recommend researching Nikko, Kawagoe and Kamakura. They are all interesting for very different reasons and worthwhile if you have time.

For a side trip from Kyoto I would also suggest Uji (between Kyoto and Nara) to see the Phoenix Hall.

Within Kyoto, the Arashiyama neighborhood has several interesting sites and makes a nice way to spend a day. Daitokuji in the north of the city is a wonderful temple complex.

Posted by
233 posts

In Tokyo, if you have time, I would add Ueno Park when you visit the Tokyo National Museum and a walking trip through Yanaka to see an older Japanese neighborhood--I used Frommer's Tokyo guidebook. I also loved the Shinjuku Gyoen Japanese Garden.

Edited to add: It's really fun to visit the food area in any of the major department stores--whichever store is most convenient.

Posted by
111 posts

All the suggestions are great, it depends on the time you'll have there and your interests, of course. I went in November of 2017, and the weather was still very nice.

If you have time while in Kyoto, I would suggest you to take a train (40-45 ride) to Osaka. The Dotombori area is great to see and have so many restaurants.

Anyway, in Tokyo we rented a small apartment in the Naka-Meguro area, next to the river. This area is becoming oh so popular, which a lot of cafes and stores to visit. We walked for like 15 minutes all the way from our apartment to the famous Shibuya crossing on a Sunday afternoon and man! It was amazing.

In Kyoto we rented a Machiya house, close to bus stops and trains. If I remember the location I'll come back and tell you, I can't remember it now.

Posted by
11677 posts

We will be there in November as well. I have been to Kyoto before, but not Tokyo. These are great suggestions and I am taking notes.

I am looking forward to the autumn colors around Kyoto.

Posted by
46 posts

Hello!

My family and I just returned from a two week trip to Kyoto and Tokyo on the 10th of this month. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. Here are a few things we loved - there are waaay too many to name, but you can look me up on Facebook (Jacey Howren) or Instagram (@howrenfamilytravels) and see my public album to see all we did.

Kyoto:
-We stayed at Kyoto Century Hotel. Breakfast was excellent and the location cannot be beat. It is adjacent to an exit of the Kyoto Station. We did not purchase a rail pass, but we did take the Narita Express from Narita Airport to Shinagawa Station and then the Shinkansen bullet train from Shinagawa to Kyoto. We had no trouble booking this ticket at Narita after collecting our bags. Ask for Mt. Fuji side on the train and you will be able to see the mountain for a portion of the journey if they skies are clear.
- When you get to Kyoto station go to the JR office and get an "IC" Card. You will load this card with funds to cover your train and bus fares. Total lifesaver. We went two days before getting one and paying fares was complicated.
- While in Kyoto, we visited Inari for some time at the shrine, and found that it is a popular place for local schools to take field trips so that students can practice English! My blond hair made me a "target" and I ended up participating in several interviews :)
- We visited Nara and it was a wonderful experience! Feed the deer, but make sure to move toward the middle of the deer park once you buy your crackers. There are some pretty hangry deer who hang around the cracker stands ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists! There are a lot of beautiful things to see in Nara in addition to spending time with deer.
- We did a tea farm tour with Obubu Tea Farms in Wazuka. Cannot recommend this enough!!
- We did a one night stay in Arashiyama at a traditional ryokan (Arashiyama Benkei) This was one of those lifetime memories. Such a great experience. We also did a rickshaw ride with Ebisuya rickshaw. Sounds cheesy, I know, and we thought it was, but they took us through the famous bamboo forest and our photos look like literally no one was there but my family. Well worth it. They also took us to visit some temples as well. The morning we were set to depart for Arashiyama we took a ride on the Sagano romantic train. We loved this as well.

Tokyo:
- We had our kiddos so of course a visit to Tokyo Disneyland was a must. It well exceeded our expectations!! We stayed at Hotel Miracosta, which is actually inside Tokyo DisneySea :)
- After our Disney excursion, we moved on to the Tokyo Station Hotel. This hotel goes in the record books as one of my favorite hotel stays ever. Not only was the location perfect (right at Marunouchi exit), but our view was spectacular (Imperial Palace and courtyard!!), the room was outstanding, and the breakfast was out of this world! Our favorite thing about the hotel, however, was the Concierge, Marie. She made our stay in Tokyo the best it could be! She took care of all of our dining reservations, recommended itineraries, places to shop, things to do - she offered next level service with a kindness rarely seen even in the hospitality industry! And my kids absolutely adored her!
- Our favorite things to do: karaoke, shopping, eating sukiyaki (expensive but a must!!), Asakusa, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree...there's really too much to name!!

If I can help at all, please let me know!

Posted by
10237 posts

Kyoto is the spiritual capital of Japan. It's one of the few Japanese cities that was spared from the 1944-1945 fire bombing, which burned 80% of Tokyo and the pre-war structures in most other cities (wood structures don't survive napalm)

I would add Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto to the list.

Wood structures in Tokyo and many other cities are from the 1950's or later.

BTW, if you use the Search ribbon at the top of this window, you should find several discussion threads on your topic that have occurred in the last few months.

Posted by
10237 posts

BTW, if you like Zen gardens but aren't going to Japan, two of the best Zen gardens in the US (IMO) are Portland's Japanese Garden and the Huntington Garden/Museum/Library's Japanese garden in Pasadena.

Posted by
336 posts

Bullet Trains really should have reservations, even if they have unreserved cars on your particular train.

Why is that? Is it to avoid having seats run out or are the reserved and unreserved seats different?

Posted by
4678 posts

Well, Japan is a very orderly country, one that does not prize "disruptive" decisions and independence, as much as does the U.S.! I believe that poster was giving general advice to travelers to Japan, not making a comment about morality. It is a warning about local practices, sure. We chose a train that was non-premium to save a little, but we did reserve seats.

I found that going to the rail company service center in Tokyo (from the airport) turned out to be helpful and informative (to convert our vouchers into Japan Railpasses, and to reserve our seats), rather than a tedious chore. Yes, there was a short line. But it ended up saving us time.