June 2018 celebrates the one year anniversary of my last trip to Japan as well as the creation of this website. I visited Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo with my fiance (Ashley) and her mother in June 2017. My fiance's mother was living in Iwakuni, Japan at the time and meet us in Osaka to start the trip. I cannot recommend getting off a 13 hour plane and then taking a train ride from Tokyo to Osaka in the same day. We had a wonderful trip, new experiences, and learned much about each other. Traveling with others and traveling solo can create completely different experiences. As a male, it can be quite challenging sharing a bedroom and bathroom with two females for over a week. I wrote a journal chronicling our journey (as I also did on my first trip) and sent daily emails out to friends and family. The positive feedback I received from readers is what inspired me to share my knowledge and experiences with others.
Moving forward into the next year of writing, I will expand topics by touching more on what Japanese culture means to me. Starting in July, I plan to go deeper into the emotional connections with Japanese culture and how it has continuously inspired me since 2004. I hope you continue to join me on this adventure as we cross into the second half of the year.
Nara, Japan is a wonderful place to visit that is full of rich culture, history, and activities. It is a great place to visit for a day trip away from the larger cities of Kyoto and Osaka. There are a number of temples, parks, restaurants, shops, and other places to visit that will fill up an entire day. Best of all, Nara is easily accessible if you are staying in Kyoto or Osaka.
How to Reach Nara by Rail Line from Osaka
If you are staying in Osaka, you can travel by rail to Nara in less than an hour. There are two rail lines that connect to Nara from Osaka. If you have an active JR Pass, the Yamatoji Rapid Service from Osaka Station is free and under an hour to reach your destination. However, it will drop you off further away from the main tourist attractions. The other method to reach Nara is by using the Kintetsu Nara Line from Namba Station. The Rapid Express version is half the price of the Limited Express and only about five minutes slower. This is the recommended route to reach Nara as it will drop you off in an ideal location to explore the area.
How to Reach Nara by Rail Line from Kyoto
There are two rail line options departing from Kyoto Station. Using an active JR Pass, you can take the Miyakoji Rapid Service for free and arrive in about 45 minutes. The other option is the Kintetsu Nara Line. Like Osaka's Namba Station, the Rapid Express train will take about 50 minutes and is half the price of the Limited Express train. If you want to save about 15 minutes or the departure time is more convenient, the Limited Express train is a better option.
Recommended Activities for a Day Trip to Nara
One of the top attractions in Nara is Todai-ji Temple. The main hall is the world's largest wooden structure that houses a large statue of Buddha along with other statues. On your way to Todai-ji Temple, stop by Nara Park for a quick visit with the local deer. Another area to explore surrounds Kofuku-ji Temple. There are multiple shops, restaurants, and even an owl cafe. Mentouan, a restaurant famous for its udon noodles, is a popular destination. Just look for a line of people on the corner of Sanjo Dori. Some other places of interest are the Nara National Museum, and Isuien Garden.
In addition to buses and taxis, Kyoto offers two subway lines to travel around the city. The Karasuma Line (North & South) and the Tozai Line (West, East, and Southeast) stop at 31 different stations around Kyoto. A map of the subway lines along with bus routes can be found here.
A one-day pass to ride the subway is ¥600. Another option is purchasing a one-day subway and bus combination pass for ¥900. Otherwise, single use fares will run between ¥210 and ¥350 per trip.
Subway Operating Times
The Kyoto subways run about 5:30 a.m. until almost midnight daily. It is a fast and convenient way to move around the city. It will take around two minutes to travel from station to station. You can review more specific station travel information here.
Limitations of the Subway System
The two subway lines are great for moving around central Kyoto to some of the popular attractions and areas. It can be faster to take the subway to reach certain areas of Kyoto that would otherwise require a long bus ride. However, the subway system does not stop at every place in Kyoto you may want to visit. A combination of using the subway along with buses or renting a bicycle is worth considering to maximize your time.
Kyoto, Japan is a top destination for many tourists. It is a fantastic city to indulge in the rich history, arts, and culture of Japan. One of the main forms of transportation in Kyoto is the extensive bus system. Buses run to the majority of sight-seeing destinations. However, figuring out the correct bus number and route can be quite challenging.
Understanding Kyoto Bus Routes
The most important piece of advice for any tourist is to get an English language copy of the Kyoto Bus Route Map. You can get one at the main hub at Kyoto Station. You can also download the front and back side from this link. It is highly recommended to print off a color copy to take with you, download to a mobile device, or get a paper copy when you first arrive at Kyoto Station. It is normal to feel overwhelmed looking over the bus route map. The bus routes are color-coded to help understand their loops. Try to focus on a few specific bus routes rather than everything available. The main tourist buses are the Raku Bus #100, #101, and #102. They go to the major tourist sites. Be aware that they stop running between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. After that time frame, you need to board one of the other bus numbers along the route that run through the evening. Buses in Kyoto stop running around 11 p.m. Some other good bus options for sightseeing are the #205, #206, and #208. These buses also stop around 5 p.m. Once the main loop buses mentioned stop running for the evening, buses can fill up quickly and not allow you on (especially during peak tourist season). When this happens, you should consider other transportation options such as the subway, taxis, or even walking.
Payment Methods and Riding Kyoto Buses
A easy to follow guide on how to board the bus and pay a fare can be found here. Most importantly, you enter from the back of the bus and exit from the front after paying for a fare. It is highly recommended to buy a one-day bus pass for ¥500. Generally, one-way fares will cost ¥230. You can save some money simply by boarding a bus three times with a one-day pass. You may also purchase a one-day pass (¥900) or two-day pass (¥1,700) that covers rides on buses and subways. One thing worth noting is that buses and cars are driven on the left side of the road. It is very easy to board a bus going in the wrong direction if you are not familiar with left-side driving.
The public transportation systems for many cities, along with the Shinkansen, eliminates the need for most tourists to rent a car. However, some tourists may want to explore smaller towns or specific areas of Japan that are not as easily accessible by plane, bus, or train. Renting a car requires a few steps along with understanding the basic driving laws.
Acquire a International Driving Permit (IDP)
Japanese law requires tourists to have a IDP prior to visiting the country and renting a car, It is a fairly easy process in the United States through AAA. The requirements are filling out an application, obtaining two passport photos, having a valid driver's license, and a $20 processing fee. Pay attention to how far out you can get one before visiting Japan.
Secure a Car Rental
There are multiple companies to choose when renting a car. Toyota Rent a Car and Nippon Rent-A-Car are two rental companies with many options and locations available for a pick up. Prices for cars vary by size, location, days of use, and drop off. You should expect to spend $50 to $60 a day for a sub-compact or compact vehicle rental.
Rules of the Road
In Japan, you drive on the left side of the road. This may be confusing for many tourists that are used to driving on the right side. You should follow normal driving practices such as stopping for pedestrians to cross and obeying traffic lights. If an action is against traffic law in the United States, it is probably against the law in Japan. Road signs in Japan are in Japanese and English. Some of the common road signs can be found here.
Expressways and Tolls
One of the most convenient options traveling by car from city to city is using the expressways. They are similar to the multi-lane, national highways in the United States such as I-95 and I-85. The Central Nippon Expressway and West Nippon Expressway websites are great resources for planning routes and learning more about using the expressways. While expressways are a great way to travel across Japan, their tolls can get expensive. Tolls are collected between cities and can cost almost $100 each way. According to the Central Nippon Expressway website, traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto requires a ¥9,900 ($90) toll. Expressway passes are available offering a discount for multi-day travel across Japan.