Life in Japan: Touring in Kyoto

In honour of my tenth anniversary of living in Japan, I am starting a series where I answer questions about Japan.  I previously asked for questions and got several, and I’ll do them every week, once a week.  I’ll be answering them in the order that I received them.  So, here is our first question.

K E Garland had this question:

We’ll be visiting Japan in June. One of our trips is to Kyoto. Do you think a guided tour is best or looking around on our own?

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Thanks for the question. Despite living in Japan for ten years, I haven’t actually had the opportunity to visit Kyoto.  I will visit eventually on subsequent trips back to Japan, but probably not during my last year in Japan.  However, the question is a good one, and is applicable to almost anywhere in Japan.

Kyoto is a large city, but from what I’ve heard, Kyoto is a very walkable city with a subway system that isn’t very complex.  You could easily get around with a good map (or GPS) and the use of the subway.  Kyoto is unusual in Japan because the road network is built in a grid pattern.  Most cities aren’t built this way, but when it was planned and built over 1200 years ago, it was modeled after the Chinese city of Changan. The central part of the city is grid-like, but outer parts of the city aren’t.  However, it’s easy to get around on your own.

Guided tours can be very useful, as well.  They’ll get you to the major tourist spots, you’ll have English information about the sites, and you’re unlikely to miss the famous spots.  However, you’d be getting the touristy side of Kyoto, rather than the real Kyoto.  Sometimes it’s worth walking through the side streets and discovering little shops and restaurants, old buildings that aren’t on the tour, and a chance to get away from the crowds.  Guided tours are likely to be done on a bus, so you won’t get as much of a chance to see things from the street level.  However, I’m sure there are walking tours, as well.

Either way, you’ll get to see the major sites.  If you’re good with maps, going on your own is fine, and likely cheaper. You can also do a bit more shopping, quite possibly.  Taking a tour is easier, and you won’t get lost.  You’ll also have the benefit of expert information from the tour guide.

I would like to add that licensed tour guides are walking encyclopedias of Japan.  They go through rigorous testing to become qualified, and must pass very difficult tests related to history and tourism, as well as English.  Japan takes its tour guides seriously.

I hope this helps you in your decision. I don’t want to make the choice for you, but this should help you choose what’s best for you.

If you have any questions you’d like to see me answer, please go to this post and leave your questions in the comments.


The Kitchen Supervisor

The A to Z Challenge starts its third week with the letter K.  In this story, we get some food.  I hope you enjoy the dish.

The Kitchen Supervisor


New Athens

Second day, eighth month, first year after colonisation, Ariadne Era (8/02/01 AE)

The door opened and Craig Fisher walked into the kitchen carrying a box of carrots. He walked straight to the counter and put the box down.

“Everyone,” he said. All seven pairs of eyes focused on him. “We have carrots.”

The group of cooks cheered. “Finally,” said one woman.

“These aren’t just any carrots. These are the first ones that actually look normal, and they were sent to us to cook for the government. Let’s give them a meal they’ll never forget.”

The woman picked up a carrot and washed it off. She cut a piece off and tossed in her mouth. She chewed, then said, “It tastes wonderful. I can’t believe it’s been this long since we’ve had carrots.”

“It took them eight months to get them to grow properly in this soil around here, Dana,” said Craig.

Craig watched as each member of the kitchen did their assigned tasks. Dana was in charge of the vegetables, and was one of his best cooks. Only the best for the colony’s council.

Dana put the cooked carrots in a serving dish. Craig looked at the dish, a simple one with julienned carrots, butter, and oregano. He took a sample with a fork and smelled it. Wonderful. He put it in his mouth and chewed it. He coughed and spat it out in a garbage can.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dana.

“Awful! How can it smell so good, but taste so bad?” said Craig.

Dana tasted it, then spat it out as well. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“Neither do I. That should taste delicious.”

“But it tasted normal when it was raw.”

“How could that be?” asked Craig as he looked at the box of carrots.