Kyoto: Need to Know

City Basics

Getting Around in Kyoto Kaz Chiba / Getty Images
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Arriving. Traveling to Kyoto from overseas you are most likely to arrive via Kansai International Airport (KIX), some 100 kilometers to the south of the city, or travel from Tokyo.

From KIX, airport limousine buses run direct to Kyoto's centrally-located train station at least hourly, taking 90 minutes, and cost ¥2,500. A slightly quicker option (75mins) is to take the JR Haruka Limited Express train, which goes direct between the airport and Kyoto Station every 30 minutes at a cost of ¥3,690.

From Tokyo, you get the super high-speed option of the shinkansen (bullet train), guaranteed to reawaken any train spotting desires from your childhood. Shinkansen depart Tokyo Station for Kyoto, en route to Osaka, Hakata, Hiroshima or Okayama, almost every ten minutes. Depending on the service, the journey will take about 2 hours 20 minutes and cost ¥13,700 for reserved seating.

Getting Around. Buy a ¥500 one-day bus pass and grab an English-language copy of the city's bus map. With well-marked, color-coded routes spanning all the main attractions, and with buses that run frequently and punctually, Kyoto has one of the best bus networks in the country. A word of warning: the buses can get face-to-elbow busy, especially on weekends and peak holiday seasons. Be prepared to squeeze on board and get uncomfortably familiar with complete strangers.

A convenient — and more comfortable — alternative are the city's two subways, the Karasuma and Tozai lines. The Tozai stretches east to west through the city center, while the Karasuma runs south to north, passing through Kyoto and Shijo stations. Single fares start from ¥210, but the best option is to buy a ¥600 day pass (available from any station). There are also several JR train lines that operate in the city.

Or you could hop on a bike. There are several bike rental places around the city but one that's especially good is J-Cycle, a few blocks south of Shijo Station. Here you can rent a bicycle for the day (from 10am to 6.30pm) for ¥800 to ¥1,500, depending on whether you opt for a ubiquitous single-gear shopping bicycle or a far swankier (albeit lazier) electric bike. They can also provide you with a good map of cycling routes in English. Just be warned that you'll also need to buy a one-day bicycle parking pass or risk having the local bicycle patrol impound your wheels.

Tipping. In a word: don't. Regardless of the situation, tipping is not the done thing in Japan. You might even offend or embarrass the recipient if you try. The one possible exception to the no-tipping rule, though even this is increasingly uncommon, is at a high-end traditional Japanese-style hotel (ryokan), where some people give a small gratuity to the staff or manager. And you don't need to feel guilty about not leaving a tip should you get great service at a restaurant: Many automatically include a service charge of 10% or 15% in the price of the bill.

Internet / Wi-Fi.For all Japan's technological advancements, there is still a relative lack of public places to get connected. While most business hotels or high-end Western-style hotels will have either free in-room or in-lobby Wi-Fi or LAN, traditional Japanese hotels are unlikely to have anything more than a single shared PC in the lobby, if that. You can, however, get free Wi-Fi access at some cafes around town, including the branch of Seattle's Best Coffee (open 7am to 10pm) on the first floor of the Apa Villa Hotel building, a couple of blocks northeast of Kyoto Station. There is also free Internet access available at the Kyoto International Community House (9am to 9pm) on Sanjo-dori, while the smart tourist information office in the station (8.30am to 7pm) has several Internet-connected PCs available at ¥100 per ten minutes. The English-speaking staff here can give you a fuller list of places to access the Internet around the city.

Taxis. During the day you will find taxis lined up by most of the main tourist attractions, and day or night it's not hard to find one to flag down in and around the city center. If you want to call a cab, try MK Taxi (81-(0)75-778-4141), Kansai Taxi (81-(0)75-582-0950), or Yasaka Taxi (81-(0)75-842-1212). The minimum fares vary from ¥580 to ¥650 for the first two kilometers and then go up in ¥80 increments every additional 300 or 400 meters.

Mind Your Manners. As a foreign visitor you'd have to do something spectacularly heinous to truly offend the Japanese: Many cultural or social faux-pas might even raise a smile. But there are a couple of points of etiquette you need to get right. You will always need to remove your shoes and change into slippers (they will be prepared for you) whenever you enter a traditional Japanese hotel or someone's house. In places such as temples or restaurants you may need to do likewise. The basic rule is simple: if you see slippers lined up at the entrance, use them. Not that you can wear slippers everywhere inside: You need to remove them before stepping onto any tatami flooring.

Then there's bath time. If you have the opportunity to try a traditional Japanese bath (and it's highly recommended) at a ryokan, public bathhouse (sento) or hot spring (onsen), the cardinal sin is getting the water dirty. Use the separate wash area to shower and then rinse well before getting into the large communal bathtub. And don't forget to leave your modesty in the changing room — you won't be able get in the bath unless completely starkers.

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