Kyoto is such an exciting destination that I decided to write about it for another day, plus I have a lot of excellent unused photos to justify this. But first a warning. Kyoto gets about 50,000,000 tourists each year, so if you plan to go for, say, cherry blossom time, plan the trip years in advance to secure accommodations and make other reservations.
Kyoto, despite the crowds, is an extremely easy city to navigate, and it seemed like there were drink vending machines close by every time we got thirsty. Be prepared to take off your shoes at every temple and shrine you visit and expect to see beautiful vegetation almost everywhere. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, however, is worth going out of your way to see. If you visit the free Tenryu-ji temple and you should, this bamboo forest is just outside its north gate. I also highly recommend a visit to the Okusha shrine seen just below.
One final tip that we were lucky enough to take advantage of. About a month before going to Kyoto, Ruth & I were in the Powells Bookstore in Beaverton and discussing our upcoming trip. A young man overheard our conversation and asked if we knew about the Japan Rail Pass. We did not. For anyone going to Japan and expecting to ride a lot of trains, this is a real money saver. What outsiders need to know is that the Japan Rail Pass must be purchased outside of Japan. It is only available to foreign tourists lucky enough to learn about it before it’s too late and they are already in Japan. Since a one-way reserved ticket on the train from Tokyo to Kyoto is expensive, you only have to use your Japan Rail Pass one time to make it almost pay off, and we traveled to Hiroshima and Osaka while in Japan. You can’t use this pass on super express service, but it’s good on most trips between cities. We were fortunate to get an exchange order at a travel agency, and as soon as we arrived in Japan we used our passports to claim our Japan Rail Passes. They were easy to get and validate. Visit the Japan Rail Pass website to learn about this money-saving plan. You can even get your Japan Rail Pass on this website. If you are traveling at a high volume time like the Olympic Games, however, this may not work to your advantage.