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Entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha, arguably the best tourist site in Kyoto

Travel + Leisure ranked Kyoto as 2014’s best city to visit. Kyoto is less than 70 minutes and US$5 from Osaka. With a population of 1.5 million people, Kyoto is the seventh-largest city in Japan, but it was once the capital for more than a thousand years. As a result, Kyoto is rife with cultural sites and is much more “Japanese” than Osaka.

Taxis in Japan are among the most expensive in the world. The flag starts at $5-$6! However, the cars are extremely clean and classic looking, with the side mirrors perched near the front bumper. The drivers are almost always in suits or bow ties. The door opens up automatically. Not being used to this, I probably looked gauche, reflexively closing the door myself like an uncouth tourist. Trains are only US$1.25-US$3.00.

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Sanjūsangen-dō was the closest Buddhist temple to my Airbnb flat, only 500 meters away. Admission cost US$5.

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My entire first day in Kyoto, it rained steadily, but the sight of throngs of people with umbrellas climbing the hill to see Kiyomizu-dera was charming.

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Japan must have the highest concentration of canned-drink vending machines in the world. One will see as many as four vending machines adjacent to each other.

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At every temple, there will be various ways that visitors can contribute 100 to 1000 yen for written wishes and prayers. I paid 500 yen in Nara to write a wish on a wood placard but stopped after that first and only one.

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The presence of these brightly orange torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha identifies it as a Shinto shrine.

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Tōfuku-ji, another Buddhist temple

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Beautifully raked rock landscape at Tōfuku-ji

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Dinner at Chojiro, US$20

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The most beautiful ticket I have ever been given. This one gains admittance to Kinkaku-ji. Even the paper was of high quality.


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Kinkaku-ji was founded in 1397. This golden pavilion is covered with pure gold leaf.

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One of the most famous rock gardens in the world, with 15 stones at Ryōan-ji