To celebrate the renovation of the Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus, or the Hop On/Hop Off Bus, here’s a detailed report of this service. Note that I used this service in August 2014, before the renovation. After an experimental phase, when it was called Kyoto Hiru Bus, they have added Toji Temple to its list of the places to visit. Also, this bus now starts at the Hachijo Gate (near Shikansen) of Kyoto Station (opposite of Kyoto Tower side). Also read “Hop On-Off Bus in Kyoto”
Travelers in Kyoto can choose from local bus, taxi, subway and train. The Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus combines the benefits of local buses and taxis. As a frequent sightseer who has used them all, I would say this hop on/hop off bus might be the best choice. It is productive, informative, and relaxing. For those from overseas, or on a short trip, it could save a lot of hassle. This is especially true during busy seasons when there is more traffic, which means more time is spent traveling than sightseeing. But for those spending more time in Kyoto using the hop on/hop off bus for more than one or two days could get expensive (2500 yen per adult per day). I recently spent a day sightseeing via the hop on-off bus, so read on for some practical information to decide if the Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus is the right choice for you.
Now that the benefits of taking the hop on-off bus are clear, let’s take a look at how this service works through actual experience.
First things first; it is wise to reserve a seat, as you might not be able to secure one if you wait until the same day to get a ticket. Note that you can only reserve the seat within two weeks of the day you wish to travel. When you do, be sure to get a seat on the earliest bus you can take. I took the bus leaving Kyoto Station at 8:40, which gave me enough time to visit 7 different spots in one day.
I arrived at Kyoto Station at 8:25. The ticket office is located on the west side of the Karasuma exit (Kyoto Tower side). Leave the station, walk west and you can see the ticket office where you can purchase a ticket for tour buses including the hop on-off bus. A ticket costs 2100 yen, an audio guide is an addition 500 yen + 2000 yen (deposit) (4600 yen total). NOTE: The starting spot has changed to the Hachijo Side (west) of Kyoto Station. And now it costs 2500 yen/adult, 1500 yen/child. When you return the audio guide, the deposit will be refunded. After getting a ticket, get on the bus. From now on, every time you get on this bus, show the staff the side of your ticket with the date on it. when you get the ticket, unfold it ticket and find the schedule. Now, quickly make a brief plan regarding the sites you want to visit. On the ticket, there is information on the closing time for each sightseeing spot. As you can see, most of the spots close at around 16:30 – 18:00. So, be sure to prioritize the spots you want to see, which means that you might want to do some brief research on these spots beforehand. For your information, these are the sightseeing spots you can reach using Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus: Nishi Honganji Temple (World Heritage Site), Nijo Castle (World Heritage Site), Seimei Shrine/Nishijin Textile Center, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kinkakuji Temple (World Heritage Site), Daitokuji Temple, Shimogamo Shrine (World Heritage Site), Ginkakuji Temple (World Heritage Site), Heian Jingu Shrine, Chion-in Temple/Maruyama Park/Yasaka Shrine, Kodaiji Temple, Kiyomizudera Temple (World Heritage Site) and Sanjyu Sangendo Temple. NOTE: Toji Temple has also added.
I tried to prioritize the spots that are hard to reach other than by city bus, which tends to be stressful. After looking at the list of spots Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus visits, I decided that Ginkakuji Temple and Kiyomizudera Temple should be my top priorities. I chose Seimei Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Ginkakuji Temple, Chion-in Temple (with Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine), Kiyomizudera Temple and Sanjyu Sangendo Temple. Although I was satisfied with my choices, you may wish to add Kinkakuji Temple.
As soon as the bus leaves Kyoto Station, the announcement from the staff is provided followed by Japanese audio guide. When this happens, turn on the audio system. I listened to both Japanese and English, and they are basically the same and of course, very helpful and informative.
Seimei Shrine/Nishijin Textile Center was my first stop. Seimei Shrine is relatively small, nonetheless, it is fairly interesting. This shrine is dedicated to the most well-known “Onmyoji” (ying-yang master) of all time, Seimei Abe. There are many legends about him. He is said to be capable of commanding little sprites called Shikigami in addition to his excellent fortune-telling skill. Find the big peach statue and touch it. This peach should absorb your bad luck.
I didn’t have time to visit Nishijin Textile Center, but if you are interested in Japanese traditional cloths, this place might be worth visiting. This organization holds mini Kimono Shows seven times a day on the first floor for free.
20 minutes after I got off the bus, the next bus came. This time, I got off at the next stop, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It was a five-minute ride. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is not a World Heritage Site. However it is more popular and famous than some of the spots designated as World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. It is especially popular among students, mainly because of one of the Gods this shrine is dedicated to, Michizane Sugawara (845 – 903). He was a talented and wise scholar and politician. If you are a student or have a child who is planning to take an important exam, pay a visit and pray. This is how you make a wish at most shrines in Japan: Throw money (usually coins) into a box in front of the shrine. Bow twice, clap your hands twice, then make a wish. Bow one more time. In addition, If you are fortunate enough to be in Kyoto during the plum blossoms season, this shrine should be one of your top priorities. The plum blossoms here are breathtakingly marvelous.
Probably you will have plenty of time before the next bus arrives, just like I did. In this case, walk outside from the exit on north east. You can see a beautiful stone street. This street is called Kamishichiken, which is one of the four “Hanamachis”, the regions with “geishas”. In Kyoto, full geishas are called Geikos, and apprentice geishas are called Maikos. It is a nice place to try and get a photo. But be sure to return to the bus stop in front of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in time for the bus.
From here, I took Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus to Ginkakuji Temple, which is a World Heritage Site. This temple, along with Kinkakuji Temple and the Gion Area, is difficult to get to and takes a long time. Therefore, visiting Ginkakuji Temple via this hop on-off bus is very convenient. You might notice that Ginkakuji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple sound alike. In Japanese, Kin means gold and Gin means silver. So Kinkaku means Golden Pavilion. It is easy to “see” why it is called that. In that case, Ginkaku should be made of silver, but it’s not. It’s rather simple and plain, especially if you expect to see something gorgeous and shiny. But do not write off this temple. Ginkakuji (official name is Jishoji Temple) was built to function as a villa for a Shogun (General), Yoshimasa Ashikaga in 1482, and was turned into a Zen temple after he died. The garden here is well-taken care of. It seemed that Yoshimasa wanted to make a great villa just like his grand father, Yoshimitsu Ashiakaga (the 3rd General) built Kinkakuji. Yoshimitsu himself is said to have participated in designing this garden. The cone-shaped object made of white sand and the raked sand space are organized perfectly, which make this garden aesthetically pleasing. In addition because of its location abutting a mountain, there is an observatory from which you can see Kyoto City.
If you still have some time before the next bus comes, walk down Philosopher’s Path. During cherry blossom season, this path becomes one of the busiest spots in Kyoto. There are many spots worth visiting along this path, so it is a good idea to come back again on a different day if you have time.
Now, go back to the bus stop and wait for the bus. I chose Chion-in Temple/Maruyama Park/Yasaka Shrine as my next stop. This area is nice to walk around. Chion-in Temple and Yasaka Shrine are connected through Maruyama Park. Sanmon Gate in Chion-in Temple was built in 1621 by Hidetaga Tokugawa, the Shogun of that time. It is the largest two story gate in Japan. It is big enough to make it difficult to put a gate in the frame. This time, I didn’t go inside the temple, because I wanted to have lunch around this area instead. After taking a couple of pictures in front of Sanmon Gate at Chion-in Temple, I walked to Maruyama Park. From the park, you can go to Kodaiji Temple or Yasaka Shrine. Yasaka Shrine, with its vivid vermillion colored gate, is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto, and the Gion Festival, which is held during July, is based at this shrine. Since long ago, people have visited this shrine, wishing to avoid epidemics.
I took one hour to visit three spots plus eat lunch. If you fancy a gorgeous lunch in the Gion district or want to walk around this region more, it might take two hours. Gion district is not far from Yasaka Shrine. Gion is another Hanamachi, like Kamishichiken near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine mentioned above. The Gion region is typically regarded as a high class area, where one drink might cost more than one thousand yen. But don’t worry. There are many restaurants serving reasonably priced food, especially for lunch. The atmosphere here is very different from other areas.
After I finished my lunch, I walked to the bus stop for Kodaiji Temple. It is actually not far from Yasaka Shrine’s famous Torii Gate facing Shijo Street. From Kodaiji’s bus stop, I got off at Kiyomizudera Temple’s bus stop. It is just one stop, but this section of Higashioji Street, with several popular sightseeing spots in the area, is famous for having heavy traffic jams. However, the passengers on Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus will not feel stressed even in this area. From the bus stop for Kiyomizudera Temple, which is also a World Heritage Site, you need to go up Gojozaka slope. The closer you get to Kiyomizudera Temple, the busier and more interesting the street becomes. There are plenty of chances for shopping, snacking and wandering, but let’s visit the temple first.
Kiyomizudera Temple is possibly the most popular spot in Kyoto. I would go so far as to say that it is a shame to go home without visiting this temple. Kiyomizudera Temple is said to have started when a general, Tamuramaro Sakanoue, created a statue of Kannon (God of Mercy) with his wife because a preacher, Enchin, told him not to take the lives of animals when he was hunting deer. The main hall, known as the Stage of Kiyomizu, was built in 1633. There is a famous saying, “jumping off the Stage of Kiyomizu”. Especially during Edo Era (1603 – 1867), many people decided to jump off the stage, believing that their wish would come true. This resulted in the saying being a reference to serious and challenging resolution. A picture with the Stage of Kiyomizu and view of Kyoto City can be found in every postcard set. Be sure to take the same shot with your own camera. If you have time, visit the waterfall of Otowa and drink its natural water using a ladle from one of three falls. Each one has a different benefit: health (left), beauty (center) and business promotion (right) (when facing to the waterfall). But you can only try one.
After visiting Kiyomizudera Temple and doing some shopping around the temple, go back to the bus stop. Again, without dealing with any stress, you can take a bus with seats always available.
The next stop, Sanjyu Sangendo Temple, was my final sightseeing destination. Sanjyu Sangendo Temple is famous for its long hall (120 meters) with one thousand Buddha statues. It is said that there is one statue that looks like you. Note that taking picture here is prohibited. And this temple has long been a venue for traditional archery, continuing till the present. In case there is lots of time left before the next bus comes, cross the street and visit Kyoto National Museum. They have a beautiful garden, which deserves to be explored.
My plan is just one example of how to use the Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus. I hope this report is helpful in deciding whether this service is good for you, and how to choose a route.
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