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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Soaking in the rain in Kyoto

Kawaramachi Street, Kyoto
The Shinkansen from Nagoya landed in Kyoto after a high speed flurry at 7:30pm, just three-quarters of an hour after I had caught it. The super-fast bullet trains depart every fifteen minutes or so from Tokyo and most other major cities it covers, so there's no need to worry about when to catch one.

Kyoto, Japan's ancient spiritual and cultural capital, boasts a new station built on a massive scale, even by Japanese standards. Some say it is ugly but I thought the lines were very clean, austere even. Either way, it makes a strong impression on your arrival.

If you need advice or help, go to the Kyoto Tourist Infortmation Center. Ignore your guidebook if it says the office is in the Kyoto Tower just opposite the station. The TIC is now located on the ninth floor of the station itself – entrance to the elevator is via the Seti department store on the second floor. A friend had booked me into the Hotel Nishiyama in Goko-machi dori.

With the rain bucketing down I gave up on any thoughts of attempting to reach it via subway and took a cab. Next day when I found my bearings I realised it would have been all but impossible to find it in the downpour based on limited directions from its website. The Nishiyama is a ryokan – a traditional Japanese-style inn. Smart and with a professional, friendly front desk who were always very helpful, after a few minutes to check-in, a member of staff showed me up to my room. Japanese-style, there was no bed – just a small room covered with tatami mats, a futon with a quilt on it, and a low-lying table, with an accompanying low chair, which had the seat, so to speak, on the floor. For a price of a little over £25 a night, I thought this was incredibly good value – especially in a city like Kyoto, which is not noted for being cheap.

The room also came with its own shower and bath – in a very small unit as usual. However, the hotel also provides traditional communal bathing facilities. It also had a quite large scale waterfall built into the centre of the hotel, which you could watch through a glass gallery.

That evening I just pottered about, had a long bath, and went out for a stroll. The rain was still on the offensive, but I managed to find the Teramachi and meander around inside this vast, enclosed arcade-style market. The Teramachi should be a must see for any visitor to Kyoto. On Sunday night, most of the shops and stores were closed, but there were still crowds of people wandering around. I made an early night, looking forward to doing some sightseeing the next day.

Kyoto City Guide

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

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