Kyoto is a city of many layers of Japanese culture accumulated through time. The cultural experience of the people in each historical layer can be found chronicled in every corner of the city. However, we cannot help but see that modern society’s infatuation with technology and economic growth is causing the abrupt loss of these myriad memories ingrained within the city and its architecture. They are contained in fragile elements like paper, wood, and clay walls and their succession to future generations is by no means assured. We need to redevelop the mind-set and spirit with which to appreciate these qualities that make up the true nature of our culture.
— Kinoshita Ryoichi, KJ 27
Kyoto has a wealth of beauty which is not surpassed anywhere in the world. Once more we touch on one of the fundamental differences between Europe and the Far East. Florence is Western beauty displayed for all to see; Kyoto is Eastern; its beauty is concealed, a secret to be wrested from it little by little. …the things that matter at Kyoto are tucked away in little valleys, in green alcoves between the folds of the hills. Its beauties do not present themselves, but have to be sought out.
— Fosco Maraini from Meeting with Japan, I960
Getting around in Japan might seem a bit daunting but here’s some information to help you plan your journeys.
Kyoto Transportation Basics
How to use the bus
From Kyoto City Web, includes info about subway and prepaid cards.
There are two types of bus: Kyoto City Bus (usually green), and Kyoto Bus (usually red). Remember to pay when you get off the bus, and if you need to get change at the machine (at the front by the driver next to the fare slot) do so before your stop to avoid angry glances from other passengers! The City Bus fare is 220 yen for adults, but if you want the day pass (at 500 yen) ask the driver and pay him (or her) directly as you get off at your stop. Look out for the Raku buses (no. 100, 101 and 102) which are tourist-oriented (they are Kyoto City buses).
More about Kyoto Transportation
Japan Guide, including transportation between Tokyo-Kyoto.
Recommended Mini-Guidebook & Map Set
From the Department of Transport.
Kyoto Tourism Council on Transportation
A bit more general, includes info on accommodation and events.
Route Planning Beyond Kyoto
Travel schedule lookup in English – this is an amazingly useful site for simultaneously searching up to five alternative routes, and costs, between a starting point and a destination. For train travel, it tells you connections, waiting times, even which platform the next train leaves from…
(By plane, Shinkansen, or ordinary train services, JR and private lines – 10,000 stations, 50,00 trains – and you can exclude Nozomi or limited express trains if using a JR RailPass or Seishun 18 tickets).
Travel schedule lookup in Japanese and English, also useful.
JR Rail Pass
Read before you buy. You must be on a tourist visa. Map of JR services here (PDF).
Info on tickets (in English).
Japan-Guide on Japanese Train Tickets
“Seishun 18″ Discount Train Tickets
“The Seishun Juhachi Kippu, meaning something like “Youthful 18 Ticket”, is a seasonally available railway ticket (school vacations), which gives five days of unlimited, nationwide travel on local and rapid JR (Japan Railways) trains for only 11,500 Yen, or 2,300 Yen per day.” Ticket book can also be shared. Great value. See example schedules here.
Information courtesy of Japan-guide – a cheaper alternative to train (especially overnight services). Click on map for cheapest options, often from Osaka.
Information in Japanese. Cheap standard service Kansai <–> Tokyo: one way 3,900 yen (Seesly Travel, Tel. Osaka 06-6990-6000 Tokyo 03-3987-4577).
Cheap, 4,200 yen up (7,600 at peak times like Obon), book online in English, pay cash at Lawsons or Family Mart, or pay by credit card. New service, Japan Bus Pass (buy before coming to Japan).
bAKpAK Night Bus
5,000 yen, online application in English.