Kyoto is a super popular tourist destination, packed full of beautiful buildings; it’s best known around the world for being the home of Kaiseki dining and the culture of the Geisha. The city is playing host to the 2020 Summer Olympics, so Kyoto Traveler’s Inn has shared some handy Kyoto travel tips.
This used to be the capital of Japan and is now a combination of temples, perfectly maintained wooden houses and scenic gardens, which all sit beside the best parts of modern Japan. Here’s how to navigate your way around Kyoto like a local!
1. Learn the Lingo!
It’s always helpful to learn a few basic words. Many will be familiar with the Japanese phrase of ‘arigatō’ for ‘thank you’, just a few may know that in the cities of Kyoto and Osaka only, the phrase ‘ōkini’ can be used.
As part of the Kansai region’s local dialect, ōkini is an abbreviation of ‘ōki ni arigatō’ (meaning ‘thank you very much’). It’s an easy way to quickly impress local residents with insider travel knowledge.
2. Watch Where You Step…
There’s over 1,500 shrines and temples in Kyoto. This includes the epic 1,300-year-old Fushimi Inari Shrine consisting of 10,000 torii gates, and the five-story pagoda of Toji. Several of the temples and shrines have welcomed famous faces over the years. For example, the tranquil garden of the Zen Buddhist temple of Shodenji was a secret retreat for David Bowie.
Before heading off for a day of shrine and temple sightseeing, travellers wearing open-toed shoes may choose to pack a pair of socks, since many buildings will ask that visitors remove their shoes before entering.
3. Getting to Grips with Chopsticks
Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world and so no trip to Japan would be complete without dining out – and using chopsticks. Japan takes chopsticks seriously so knowing a little about local manners can go a long way when dining.
When sharing dishes in a group, diners should make a note not to eat directly from common dishes and understand that it is considered rude to hover their chopsticks over dishes when choosing what to eat.
4. Remove Shoes and Slippers Before Entering a Traditional Tatami Room
For those looking for an authentic Japanese experience, stay in traditional accommodation with futon bedding and tatami flooring. Tatami is a type of mat traditionally made from rice straw that is used as flooring in Japanese rooms. It was originally a luxury that only the wealthy could afford.
Before entering a tatami room, shoes and slippers must be removed. A futon bed is provided for guests and these are kept folded during the day and set out in the evening after dinner. Large cushions are used for sitting at low tables in tatami rooms and travellers should note that it is considered impolite to step on cushions other than your own.
5. Navigate Kyoto’s Public Transport Like a Local
Public transport in Kyoto is easy to use; we suggest you purchase a travel card after first arriving to save money when moving around the city. Kyoto is served by multiple bus routes with most of the major sites easy to navigate and access via green and red buses.
Want Kyoto travel tips to use the subway system like a Japanese resident? Use the left side of the subway’s escalators as an express lane in a similar way to London’s underground.
The great cycle paths of Kyoto means the city is particularly cycle-friendly. Just know that cycling while drunk is a big no-no!
6. Respect the Geiko and Maiko in Kyoto
Spotting a geisha sits high at the bucket list of many visitors who visit Japan. For the best chances of spotting one in Kyoto, travellers should head to the city’s historic Gion district. While they’re known as geishas in Tokyo, in Kyoto the correct term is ‘geiko’, which means ‘women of art’.
Geiko have to spend at least five years in training as an apprentice – also known as a ‘maiko’. They perfect their abilities to play musical instruments, dance and host games for guests.
While photographs of geiko and maiko are fine, one of the main Kyoto travel tips is you should respect the personal space of the women and make sure they do not interrupt their journey.
7. Don’t be Scared to Slurp Your Noodles
There’s over 200 ramen shops in Kyoto and like many regional delicacies, every resident of Kyoto will have their own favourite noodle location so it’s worth asking around before settling on a restaurant. Once a bowl of ramen noodles has been ordered and toppings have been decided on, you shouldn’t be scared to slurp your noodles! You can ask for a fork if you need it, too.