Japan is consistently held up to be very safe for travelers (as long as there are no earthquakes), so last month to test this theory out I embarked on a two week excursion. Actual research confirms this finding. Confusing, difficult to navigate, colourful and characterful but amazingly safe.
All the guidebooks state Kyoto is way better than Tokyo or Osaka and this dame agrees. Tokyo and Osaka require transit which to the traveling westerner adds a layer of stress which can be extreme. In delightful contrast Kyoto can be explored on foot with a pair of good walking shoes and although you will get lost, it is not that difficult to get ‘un-lost’ whereas other large Japanese cities do not award this luxury.
Slightly more expensive that Tokyo with more tourists, Kyoto is a pretty city which has so many shrines and temples, most easily visit able on the eastern side of town can be easily explored in three days. Touristy lanes with small stores lead to the most popular, but it’s easy to escape the crowds and go off on your own to be the only visitor at the shrines and temples away from the tour buses and crowds. Expect to spend a day walking the lanes, getting lost, stopping for green tea and ice cream or buying the take-away street food and taking photographs. I have to admit that after a day one temple seemed to resemble the next, and my photographs got a bit confusing.
Kyoto has 20% of Japan’s national treasures. Other tourist attractions include the old lanes and neighbourhoods some really narrow which house restaurants and bars, all again so safe. Wooden building and tight entrance ways characterise this wonderful environment. There is a great market area for shopping and eating and seeing the ethnic foods. More traditional tourist attractions include the Nijo Castle with lovely gardens and Ryoanji Temple. Shopping is also easily accessible from large department stores to,the smaller vendors in the Termachi covered shopping lane.
Like all Japanese cities Kyoto is safe to wonderful to explore. The train station is difficult to navigate and understand, there is a Platform 0 just to perplex the tourists and arrivals and departures while punctual, involve considerable navigation skills to arrive at the right train.
Numerous washrooms, easy streets on a grid system, in contrast to other Japanese cities and a strong history with numerous cultural artefacts make this the most rewarding Japanese cities to visit.