We knew we would not do Kyoto justice if we only did a day trip from Osaka. However, we understood that our kids had not have the appropriate appreciation of a foreign religion to be able to visit the Kyoto shrines. So, we decided to go to Kyoto as a day trip.
Kyoto has a subway network but you will likely find that bus is a better option most of the time. So, the first thing we did when we arrived at the Kyoto Railway station was to buy the Kyoto Bus Day Pass from the Kyoto Tourism Information Center located right inside the station.
The kid's pass is 300 JPY while the adult one is 600 JPY. The Kyoto bus accepts only cash and it does not provide change. The pass easily pays itself after a couple of trips. I had seen visitors without a pass and it was a big hassle to collect enough coins for the trip. There was a change machine in the bus but getting there was a challenge due to how crowded the bus was.
In Kyoto, you board the bus from the rear and exit at the front. A big problem with this arrangement is that passengers (especially tourists) cannot easily talk to the bus driver as they board the bus. By the time a passenger reached the bus driver, the bus would have left the station. To make this problem worse, buses in Kyoto are usually packed too. So, make sure you use Google Maps and confirm the bus number before you board.
Kyoto Railway Museum
Our first stop in Kyoto was the Kyoto Railway Museum. Railway was a national pride in China. I suppose the Japanese would think theirs are the best too. We saw a lot of trains and train technologies on display. The coolest display was the one where you could actually remote control a train around a model city. Since the train had a tiny camera, you could actually see it breezing through the city and approaching a station.
The restaurant inside the museum served delicious Japanese food and western food. A nice surprise was that the seaweed for our ramen had a little train impression on it.
There was also a rooftop terrace where you could see real trains in action. It was really cool to see and hear a Shinkansen pass you by.
The Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) was a famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto (probably all over Japan too). We did a short hike to the temple but was discouraged by the number of visitors. However, it was nice to see some ladies dressed in kimono to visit the temple.
As we exited the temple, we headed right into Matsubara-Dori, a narrow street lined with shops and restaurants. There were many ice cream shops in the area. I would highly recommend trying a tofu ice cream. It was delicious.
Besides traditional shops and restaurants, you can also fnd the world's first (and probably only) tatami-style Starbucks here. This Starbucks was packed and finding a seat requires a lot of patience. The food and drinks are standard Starbucks fare.
Yasui Kompira-gu Shrine
As we explored the narrow streets in the neighborhood, we encountered this shrine by chance. There was a stone right in front of the shrine. It has a hole in the middle and we saw people crawling through it. Apparently, the stone has the power to initiate a good relationship and to break off a bad one.
According to this article, you will first need to buy a paper charm (katashiro) and write down your wish. While holding the charm in your hand, crawl through the hole in the stone and then back trhough again. After you are done, pin the paper on the stone along with others.