Dangers & Annoyances
- Kyoto is generally a very safe city and crime is rare. Use common sense and follow the same precautions you normally would.
- Take care when crossing the street or exiting restaurants, hotels and shops onto the pavement; there's almost always someone on a bicycle coming your way.
Kōban (police boxes) are small police stations typically found at city intersections. Most can be recognised by the small, round red lamp outside. They are a logical place to head in an emergency, but remember that the police may not always speak English.
The Kansai One pass (¥3000, including ¥500 refundable deposit) is a prepaid rechargeable ICOCA transport card for foreigners offering extras such as discounts at selected tourist attractions and some temples.
The Japanese electric current is 100V AC and the adaptor plug used in type A with two flat blades. Tokyo and eastern Japan are on 50Hz, and western Japan – including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka – is on 60Hz.
Most electrical items from elsewhere in the world will function on Japanese current.
Both transformers and plug adaptors are readily available at Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera near Kyoto Station, and there's a small range at Tokyu Hands downtown.
Embassies & Consulates
Many countries maintain consulates in Osaka in addition to their embassies in Tokyo. Since Osaka is close to Kyoto by train, it's usually easy to visit these consulates. A few countries don't have proper consulates in Osaka or Kyoto. For these, you need to travel to the embassy in Tokyo to receive consular and citizen services.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Ambulance & Fire||119|
Entry & Exit Formalities
|Alcohol||up to three 760cc bottles|
|Gifts/souvenirs||up to ¥200,000 in total value|
|Tobacco products||100 cigars/400 cigarettes/500g loose|
Visas are issued on arrival for most nationalities for stays of up to 90 days.
Generally, visitors who are not planning to engage in income-producing activities while in Japan are exempt from obtaining visas and will be issued a tanki-taizai (temporary visitor) visa on arrival. Nationals of Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and the USA are eligible for this visa.
Stays of up to six months are permitted for citizens of Austria, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK. Citizens of these countries will almost always be given a 90-day temporary visitor visa upon arrival, which can usually be extended for another 90 days at an immigration bureau inside Japan.
Japanese law requires that visitors to the country entering on a temporary visitor visa possess an ongoing air or sea ticket or evidence thereof. In practice, few travellers are asked to produce such documents, but to avoid surprises it pays to be on the safe side.
Note that upon entering Japan, all short-term foreign visitors are required to be photographed and fingerprinted. This happens when you show your passport on arrival.
Japan is well known for its etiquette, though as a visitor to Kyoto you are not expected to know everything. However, it does pay to familiarise yourself with a few of the main dos and don'ts.
- Shoes Off You're required to remove your shoes at many of the city's temples, some museums and most ryokan, hotels and restaurants that have tatami-mat areas. Sometimes slippers are provided. Never wear shoes or slippers on tatami mats.
- Temples & Shrines There is no dress code for religious sites in Kyoto but do remain respectful and speak quietly.
- Queueing You'll see neat orderly queues formed when waiting for the bus, on the subway platform, at busy restaurants etc. Queue-jumping is a big no-no, so get in line.
- Chopsticks Never leave them sticking upright in your bowl and never pass food from yours to another person's chopsticks; this is only done during funeral rituals.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
With the possible exception of Thailand, Japan is Asia’s most enlightened nation with regard to the sexual preferences of foreigners. Some travellers have reported problems when checking into love hotels with a partner of the same sex, and it does pay to be discreet in rural areas. Apart from this, same-sex couples are unlikely to encounter too many problems.
While there is a sizeable gay community in Kyoto, the gay and lesbian scene is very low-key. There is a monthly 'Diamonds are Forever' drag queen event at Metro, but there is a more active scene in Osaka and many of Kyoto’s gay residents make the trip there. Lesbians are poorly served in Kyoto and Osaka and it’s difficult to find specifically lesbian-friendly venues.
Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com) is the site most commonly frequented by English-speaking gay and lesbian people.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
It's getting much easier for travellers to get online in Kyoto, with almost all hotels and hostels offering free wi-fi for their guests and some now offering smartphones with wi-fi in hotel rooms. If you want constant access to wi-fi when you're out and about, your best bet is either renting a portable device or buying a data-only SIM for an unlocked smartphone.
Almost all Starbucks in Japan offer free wi-fi for their customers, as do most modern cafes and some restaurants.
Wi-fi Hotspots Kyoto City Free Wi-fi Service has hot spots across the city, mainly at bus and train stations. Unfortunately, this is not at all as convenient as it sounds. First, you have to email to get the access code, so you need to be somewhere with internet access. Go to http://kanko.city.kyoto.lg.jp/wifi/en/to find a map of hotspots and sign up. Note that access is limited to 30 minutes, so once 30 minutes is up, you'll need to email again for another access code. Freespot Map (www.freespot.com/users/map_e.html) has a list of internet hot spots, too. It's not exhaustive.
Pocket Wi-fi You can rent portable pocket wi-fi devices from various phone-rental companies in Japan, including Sakura Mobile (www.sakuramobile.jp), Pupuru (www.pupuru.com/en) and Rentaphone (www.rentafonejapan.com). They start at around ¥5000 for one week and most companies can arrange for airport pick-up or delivery to your hotel.
Data SIM cards If you're travelling with an unlocked smartphone, you can buy data-only SIM cards from major electronics shops, including Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera near Kyoto Station, or order online for delivery to your hotel. Options include the B-Mobile Visitor SIM (www.bmobile.ne.jp/english) and the Iijmio Japan Travel SIM (https://t.iijmio.jp/en/index.html). Cards start at around ¥1990 for 1.5GB for 30 days.
Available free at the Kyoto Tourist Information Center, the Kyoto City Map is a decent map of the city with several detailed insets of the major sightseeing districts. Also available is the Bus Navi: Kyoto City Bus Sightseeing Map, which has detailed information on bus routes in the city and some of the major stops written in both English and Japanese.
- Newspapers English-language print newspapers in Japan are the Japan Times and the Japan News (http://the-japan-news.com), which is an English version of Yomiuri Shimbun. Asahi Shimbun has an online English version (www.asahi.com/ajw).
- Magazines Kansai Scene is a free monthly publication listing art, cultural and live-music events. The free Kyoto Visitor’s Guide (www.kyotoguide.com) is also a good source of information on cultural and tourist events. Kyoto Journal (www.kyotojournal.org) is a quarterly nonprofit magazine with in-depth articles on traditional arts and culture from Japan and Asia.
ATMs available in major banks, post offices and 7-Eleven stores. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and department stores, but only some restaurants and ryokan.
ATMs are almost as common as vending machines in Japan. Unfortunately, many do not accept foreign-issued cards. Even if they display Visa and MasterCard logos, most accept only Japan-issued versions of these cards.
Fortunately, 7-Eleven stores and Japan Post Bank ATMs accept cards that belong to the following international networks: Visa, Plus, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, Union Pay, Discover and Diners Club.
7-Eleven stores The most convenient option; these are found everywhere in Kyoto and the ATMs are open 24 hours and have English instructions.
Japan Post Bank ATMs You’ll find postal ATMs in almost all post offices. These ATMs have instructions in English. Most open 9am to 5pm on weekdays, 9am to noon on Saturday, and are closed on Sunday and holidays. Some postal ATMs in very large central post offices are open longer hours. If you need cash outside these hours, try the Kyoto central post office, next to Kyoto Station.
SMBC has a 24-hour ATM in its lobby that accepts most foreign-issued cards.
You can change cash or travellers cheques at most banks, major post offices, some large hotels and most big department stores. World Currency Shop, operated by Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) bank, is located on the 8th floor of the Kyoto Station building and usually has a broader range of currencies. It's only open on weekdays.
Most major banks are located near the Shijō-Karasuma intersection, two stops north of Kyoto Station on the Karasuma subway line. Of these, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ is the most convenient for changing money and buying travellers cheques.
Exchange rates for the US dollar and the euro are reasonable in Japan. All other currencies, including the Australian dollar and the currencies of countries near to Japan, fetch very poor exchange rates. If you want to bring cash to Japan, we suggest US dollars or euros.
Credit cards are not as widely accepted in Japan as they are in other places but more businesses are accepting them these days. It's always a good idea to ask in advance, though. Visa is the most widely accepted, followed by MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club.
The currency in Japan is the yen (¥). The Japanese pronounce yen as ‘en’, with no ‘y’ sound. The kanji for yen is: 円.
Yen coins come in the following denominations:
- ¥1 lightweight, silver colour
- ¥5 bronze colour, hole in the middle, value in Chinese character
- ¥10 copper colour
- ¥50 silver colour, hole in the middle
- ¥100 silver colour
- ¥500 large, gold colour
Yen banknotes come in the following denominations:
- ¥2000 (rare)
- Tipping is not done in Japan and is never expected.
- At high-end restaurants and hotels a 10% service charge is usually added to the bill.
Feature: Carry Cash
Be sure to always carry cash on you in Kyoto. While credit cards are becoming more commonly accepted, Japan is still very much a cash society. The only places where you can really count on paying with plastic are department stores and large hotels.
Following are typical business hours in Kyoto. Restaurants and shops sometimes close irregularly. Note that many temples have shorter opening hours during winter, typically closing 30 minutes to one hour earlier.
Banks 9am–3pm Monday to Friday
Department stores 10am–8pm or 9pm
Post offices local 9am–5pm Monday to Friday; central post offices 9am–7pm Monday to Friday and 9am–3pm Saturday
Restaurants 11.30am–2pm and 6pm–10pm. Last orders are usually taken 30 minutes to one hour before closing.
Japan's postal service is reliable efficient. The symbol for post offices is a red T with a bar across the top on a white background (〒). Mail can be sent to, from or within Japan when addressed in English (Roman script). One peculiarity of the Japanese postal system is that you will be charged extra if your writing runs over onto the address side (the right side) of a postcard.
The Kyoto central post office is on the north side of Kyoto Station. There’s a service counter on the south side of the building open after hours for airmail, small packages and special express mail services.
Nakagyō post office, at the Nishinotōin-Sanjō crossing in Downtown Kyoto, has a 24-hour service window on the west side of the building.
When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is taken as a holiday. If that Monday is already a holiday, the following day becomes a holiday as well. If a public holiday falls on a Monday, most museums and restaurants that normally close on Mondays will remain open and close the next day instead.
Ganjitsu (New Year’s Day) 1 January
Seijin-no-hi (Coming-of-Age Day) Second Monday in January
Kenkoku Kinem-bi (National Foundation Day) 11 February
Shumbun-no-hi (Spring Equinox) 20 or 21 March
Shōwa-no-hi (Shōwa Emperor’s Day) 29 April
Kempō Kinem-bi (Constitution Day) 3 May
Midori-no-hi (Green Day) 4 May
Kodomo-no-hi (Children’s Day) 5 May
Umi-no-hi (Marine Day) Third Monday in July
Yama-no-hi (Mountain Day) 11 August
Keirō-no-hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day) Third Monday in September
Shūbun-no-hi (Autumn Equinox) 22 or 23 September
Taiiku-no-hi (Health-Sports Day) Second Monday in October
Bunka-no-hi (Culture Day) 3 November
Kinrō Kansha-no-hi (Labour Thanksgiving Day) 23 November
Tennō Tanjōbi (Emperor’s Birthday) 23 December
Feature: Busy Holiday Periods
During the following holiday periods accommodation and transport bookings are hard to come by and hotels hike up the prices considerably. Also note that many shops and restaurants close during O-Bon and New Year.
Shōgatsu (New Year) 1 to 3 January
Golden Week 29 April to 5 May
- Smoking Kyoto has banned outdoor smoking in the downtown area (the grid between Oike-dōri to the north and Shijō-dōri to the south, Karasuma-dōri to the west and Kawaramachi-dōri to the east), around Kyoto Station and in the Kiyomizu/Gion/Sannen-zaka/Ninen-zaka sightseeing areas. If caught smoking, the fine is ¥1000.
Taxes & Refunds
There is an 8% consumption tax on retail purchases in Japan (scheduled to increase to 10% in October 2019). Many shops in Kyoto offer tax-free shopping for purchases over ¥5000 (look for a sticker in the window). You must show your passport to prove that you have a short-stay visa.
There is no need to collect a refund when leaving the country; however, you should hand in a form affixed to your passport to customs officials when you depart. For details see http://enjoy.taxfree.jp
Local directory assistance 104 (¥60 to ¥150 per call)
Local directory assistance in English 0120-36-4463 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday)
International directory assistance in English 0057
Mobile phones can be rented online or at the airport for making voice calls. Prepaid data-only SIM cards can be purchased and used with unlocked smartphones.
Japan’s mobile-phone networks use 3G technology. Prepaid SIM cards that allow you to make voice calls are not available in Japan, though Iijmio Japan Travel SIM (https://t.iijmio.jp/en) cards offer a dedicated app that allows calls to be made and received through your own 050 telephone number. They partner with telecommunications company Brastel and the Travel SIM card comes with a Brastel card you can top up.
For most people who want to use a mobile phone for voice calls while in Japan, the only other solution is to rent one. Several telecommunications companies in Japan specialise in short-term mobile-phone rentals. Rentafone Japan (www.rentafonejapan.com) rents mobile phones for ¥3900 per week and offers free delivery of the phone to your accommodation. Domestic rates are from ¥35 per minute and overseas calls are ¥45 per minute.
Otherwise, you can buy a prepaid data-only SIM card from electronics stores, such as Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera, and use communication apps, such as Skype and What's App. Some companies offer SIM cards where these apps don't count against your data. Note the Line app is the most commonly used messaging app in Japan.
The country code for Japan is 81 and the area code for greater Kyoto is 075. Japanese telephone codes consist of an area code plus a local code and number. You do not dial the area code when making a call in that area. When dialling Japan from abroad, the country code is 81, followed by the area code (drop the 0) and the number.
Useful International Numbers
Direct-dial international numbers include the following. There’s very little difference in their rates. Dial one of the numbers, then the international country code, the local code and the number.
- 001-010 (KDDI)
- 0033-010 (NTT)
- 0041-010 (SoftBank Telecom)
For international operator-assisted calls dial 0051 (KDDI; operators speak English).
Prepaid International Phonecards
Public phones do still exist and they work almost 100% of the time; look for them around train stations. Ordinary public phones are green; those that allow you to call abroad are grey and are usually marked ‘International & Domestic Card/Coin Phone’. Because of the lack of pay phones from which you can make international phone calls in Japan, the easiest way to make an international call is to buy a prepaid international phonecard. Most convenience stores carry a couple of different types of phonecards. These cards can be used with any regular pay phone in Japan.
Local calls from pay phones cost ¥10 per minute; unused ¥10 coins are returned after the call is completed but no change is given on ¥100 coins.
In general it’s much easier to buy a telephone card (terehon kādo) when you arrive rather than worry about always having coins on hand. Phonecards are sold in ¥500 and ¥1000 denominations (the latter earns you an extra ¥50 in calls) and can be used in most green or grey pay phones.
Kyoto local time is nine hours ahead of GMT/UTC. There is no daylight saving time.
- You'll come across a range of toilets when visiting Kyoto, from futuristic gadget-laden loos to old-school squat style. When using squat toilets, the correct position is facing the hood, away from the door.
- Public toilets are free and generally clean and well-maintained. Most convenience stores have them, along with train stations and department stores. They will usually be stocked with toilet paper but it doesn't hurt to carry small tissue packets on you just in case.
- The most common words for toilet in Japanese are トイレ (pronounced ‘toire’) and お手洗い (‘o-te-arai’); 女 (female) and 男 (male) will also come in handy.
- Toilet slippers are provided in many bathrooms. They are only to be used in the toilet so don't forget to take them off before you leave.
Kyoto Tourist Information Center Stocks bus and city maps, has plenty of transport info and English speakers are available to answer your questions.
JTB Kansai Tourist Information Office On the 3rd floor of the Kyoto Tower building, this tourist office can help with booking day trips and tours, as well as general information on Kyoto and the Kansai region.
Kansai International Airport Tourist Information Counter On the 1st floor of the international arrivals hall. Staff can provide information on Kyoto, Kansai and Japan.
Kyoto International Community House An essential stop for those planning a long-term stay in Kyoto, KICH can also be quite useful for short-term visitors. It has a library with maps, books, newspapers and magazines from around the world, and a board displaying messages regarding work, accommodation, rummage sales etc. You can use the wi-fi and also pick up a copy of its excellent Guide to Kyoto map and its Easy Living in Kyoto book (note that both of these are intended for residents). You can also chill out in the lobby and watch CNN news.
You'll find other small tourist offices dotted around the downtown area along Kawaramachi-dōri, such as the following office:
Travel With Children
Kyoto is great for kids. The usual worries aren’t an issue in ultra-safe and spotless Japan. Your biggest challenge will be keeping your children entertained. The very things that many adults come to Kyoto to see (temples, gardens and shrines) can be a bit boring for kids.
On a sunny day in Kyoto, local parents of young children tend to congregate in the Okazaki-kōen area. This region of Northern Higashiyama features a park, playing fields, a zoo, a playground and two museums. Best of all, the area is completely flat and has wide pavements, perfect for those with strollers. It can also be accessed by subway (take the Tōzai subway line to Higashiyama Station and walk north along Shira-kawa Canal). The Kamo-gawa riverbank is also great for kids and on hot days they can wade in the river. The area around Demachiyanagi is one of the most popular spots for parents and children to play.
Parks & Gardens
The Imperial Palace Park is the Central Park of Kyoto, and the sprawling expanse of fields, trails, ponds and woods is perfect for a walk or bicycle ride with the kids. For a picnic, a stroll or a Frisbee toss, the Kyoto Botanical Gardens are just the ticket. And the cherry blossoms last longer here than almost anywhere in town.
With vintage steam locomotives, one of which you can ride, the Kyoto Railway Museum is a must for train-crazy kids, young and old. It's a wonderful interactive museum and there's a giant diorama with miniature trains wooshing around that will keep them entertained. The Manga Museum is perfect for kids interested in Japanese comics.
Other Kid-Friendly Attractions
- Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Kids will be entranced by the hypnotic arcades of torii (entrance gates) at this sprawling Shintō shrine. There's plenty of room to run and play and burn off some energy here.
- Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Both kids and adults will find the antics of the monkeys at this park fascinating, and it’s easy to combine this with a trip to the sights of Arashiyama.
With fortunes to take, holy water to drink and an incredible underground sanctuary, this hands-on temple will keep even the most hyper kids happy for an hour or two.
Eating with Kids
Food can be an issue in Japan if your child is a picky eater. Let’s face it: even adults can be put off by some of the things found in Japanese cuisine – asking a kid to eat sea urchin might simply be too much.
If you’re going to a kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurant, have your lodgings call ahead to see if they can rustle up some kid-friendly dishes. Ditto if you’ll be dining at your ryokan.
You’ll find quite a few so-called ‘family restaurants’ in Kyoto, such as Royal Host and Saizeriya, and these usually serve something that even finicky kids can stomach (pizza, fried chicken, French fries etc). These places often have kids' menus, too.
In addition to family restaurants, you’ll find many of the usual Western fast-food chains represented in Kyoto. And there are supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere where you can self-cater for kids who simply won’t eat what’s on offer in restaurants.
Need to Know
- Changing facilities Located in department stores and some train stations.
- Cots Available in hotels (book in advance) but not ryokan.
- Kids’ menus Usually only in ‘family restaurants’.
- Transport Comfortable and safe; child seats available in rental cars but not taxis.
Travellers With Disabilities
Although Kyoto has made some attempts at making public facilities more accessible, its narrow streets and the terrain of sights, such as temples and shrines, make it a challenging city for people with disabilities, especially for those in wheelchairs. Let staff at temples and shrines know someone in your party is travelling in a wheelchair as some may have a separate accessible route.
If you are going to travel by train and need assistance, ask one of the station workers as you enter the station. There are carriages on most lines that have areas set aside for those in wheelchairs. Those with other physical disabilities can use one of the seats set aside near the train exits; these are called yūsen-zaseki and are usually a different colour from the other seats in the carriage, making them easy to spot. Major train stations have elevators to the platform but many stations don't.
MK Taxi can accommodate wheelchairs in many of its cars.
Facilities for the visually impaired include musical pedestrian lights at many city intersections and raised bumps on railway platforms for guidance.
AD-Brain (the same outfit that publishes the monthly Kyoto Visitor’s Guide) has produced a basic city map for people with disabilities and senior citizens. It shows wheelchair-access points in town and gives information on public transport access etc. The map is available at the Kyoto Tourist Information Center.
Another useful resource is the Japan Accessible Tourism Center (www.japan-accessible.com/city/kyoto.htm), with a rundown of accessible sights and hotels in Kyoto.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Volunteering opportunities are very limited for non-residents. Those travelling beyond Kyoto may find something with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF; www.wwoofjapan.com).
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Japan uses the international metric system.
Kyoto is generally a very safe city for women travellers, though it's best not to be lulled into a false sense of security by Japan's image as one of the world's safest countries. Women travellers are occasionally subjected to some form of verbal harassment or prying questions in Japan, so take the normal precautions you would in your home country.
The Hankyū and Keihan line commuter trains in Kyoto have women-only cars to protect female passengers from chikan (men who grope women and girls on packed trains). These cars are usually available during rush-hour periods on weekdays on busy urban lines. There are signs (usually pink in colour) on the platform indicating where to board, and the cars themselves are usually labelled in pink in both Japanese and English.