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Touring Kyoto by bus

Most of you, if not all, may agree that one of the biggest benefits of working for a multinational company is the opportunity of travelling to do business abroad. Though it’s official in nature, there will always be a point that during your business trip, you’d get the chance for leisure. And as an occasional traveler, taking these types opportunities are so hard to resist.

During the time when I was assigned to work in Osaka for my previous employment, in one of our weekends there, we decided to spend one Saturday in Kyoto.

One of the most notable things that differs us from countries like Japan is their efficient public transportation system. Getting to Kyoto from Osaka is just a walk in the park. From the Osaka Station (大阪駅), Kyōto is just a quarter of an hour ride by train. Kyoto Station might have been the biggest and the most beautiful train station that I have seen in my entire life. The entire structure itself is very modern and attractive. I heard, Kyoto Station is at it’s most beautiful during spring wherein all the sakura trees outside the station turn pink with its cherry blossoms. Also, they said, that the station during this time of the year is heavily decorated to celebrate spring. Unfortunately, it was late autumn when we went there.

Getting within Kyoto wasn’t difficult for me or for my companions at that time. You can say that bringing along a few amount of knowledge of the Japanese language gave us an edge over the other tourists. I have seen tourists who got lost because they have difficulty getting directions or understanding them. Quite a few Caucasians have also asked us for directions that day.

One of the easiest way to go around Kyoto is through bus. Unlike Osaka, Kyoto doesn’t have the same complex system for trains or subways laid within the city. Instead, the most common mean of transportation used by tourists are tourist buses. Most of the routes for tourist buses (or even the normal buses) are laid in most of the commonly visited attractions within the city. If you’re going there just for leisure or just to explore, you can actually hope on to any bus since these buses just go around the city and you can always ride on the same route to go back to where you started. There’s a fairly small chance of getting lost and of course a bigger chance of discovering more of Kyoto.

To begin exploring Kyoto through bus, it would be most convenient if you buy the one day pass for the Kyoto bus. The advantage of getting a one day pass is that you don’t have to pay every time you ride on to a bus. Aside from the convenience, you can actually save quite a few amount of money from using the day pass. A single bus ride costs JPY 220 while a one-day pass only costs JPY 500. It’s quite useful for tourists. The Kyoto City Bus One-day Pass is available in the tourist center at the Kyoto Station (京都駅).

When we were there, the weather wasn’t quite cooperative. It was sunny when we left Osaka but the rain started to pour when we arrived in Kyoto. Sine the transportation system in Kyoto is not as modern as Osaka’s, we experienced a little bit of traffic which got worst after it started raining.

Gion District

For our first destination, we decided to visit the district of Gion. It’s quite popular since it’s one of those few places where you can see a real geisha. We had our hopes that we could see a real life geisha or a maiko the least. Aside from the geisha sightings, Gion has also become a quite popular destination among tourists due to the different shrines and temples within the district. Several tourists visit these shrines to pray for luck or ask for whatever they wish.

Though we haven’t met a real life geisha, we were able to witness two processions of newly wed couples. Maybe it was already as good as seeing a geisha since the brides were wearing their traditional Japanese wedding dress. It was a beautiful sight.

Just a few bits of information about Gion, this district was used to film the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. The place is brought to life during spring when the hundreds of sakura trees in Gion are in blossom.

Kiyomizudera (清水寺)

The Kiyomizu-dera or the “Pure Water Temple” is one of the sacred attractions that can be found in Kyoto. The temple’s name was derived from the water that comes from the waterfalls in the inner sections of the temple.  It’s also one of the few UNESCO’s world heritage sites in Japan.

Getting to Kiyomizudera might need a little effort as compared to the other destinations in Kyoto. The temple located on top of a hill, around 15 to 30~ minute walk from the bus stop. Despite the distance and the inconvenience of  the temple’s location, tourists can enjoy the souvenir shops and restaurants lined up on the quaint street leading to the temple. Several of the shops sell mochi (餅) or Japanese rice cake which is one of the famous delicacies of Kyoto.

For a minimum fee, we were able to go further within the temple. We were supposed to go a few levels down to join the other tourists who were getting fresh spring water but since the rain hasn’t stopped yet, we decided to stay at the temple’s viewing area instead.

It was almost dark when we left Kiyomizudera. We were supposed to visit the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and the Ginkakuji  (Silver Pavilion) that day but due to heavy rains, heavy traffic and time constraints, we didn’t have enough time to go further within the city to visit the other attractions. Instead, we head back to the Kyoto Station and went up the Kyoto Tower (Kyoto Observatory) which is just across the train station. We stayed there for a while and enjoyed the view while waiting for the rain to stop.

Soon after the pouring of rain mellowed down, we went back to station to catch the train going back to Osaka.

If I had another opportunity, I would have stayed longer in Kyoto and explore few of the hundreds of attractions that can be found inside this historic city. It’s amazing that the remnants of the Japanese cultures across different eras were preserved in a modern city like Kyoto. If ever I’m going back to Japan, whether for business or for leisure, I’m definitely going back to Kyoto.