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December 7, 2019 / Jim Fenton

Japan/Singapore Day 2: Kyoto

November 9, 2019

Nijo Castle entrance

We awoke in Kyoto to a beautiful sunny day. Despite jet lag, we both got a reasonable night’s sleep and got up at a normal time this morning. We had breakfast at a Starbucks next to the hotel, since we prefer Western-style breakfasts and weren’t sure what else to do. We found that the meal options at Japanese Starbucks are somewhat more limited, but still quite acceptable.

We decided to do a hop-on/hop-off bus tour to get an overview of the city and it would take us to a few places we wanted to see. We took a short walk through a pleasant neighborhood to the bus stop and noticed that we were in a banking district, and since we were using credit cards and a little leftover yen from a previous trip, we decided to get some cash from the ATM. That’s where we ran into the major challenge of the day.

There were several banks near the bus stop, so we picked one, found an ATM with an English button (reassuring), and tried to get some cash. Just when it would have dispensed the cash it returned my card with a “receipt” saying it couldn’t read the card. Same thing happened with Kenna’s ATM card, and we couldn’t use our credit cards because they don’t have PINs. The next ATM we tried had a sign on the door saying (in English) “Japan domestic ATM cards only”. That saved some time. We tried one or two more to no avail, so returned to the bus stop and bought bus tickets with a credit card.

Our first stop was at Nijo Castle, one of the premier tourist attractions in Kyoto. On the recommendation of our guidebook, we opted to get the audio guides. We learned a great deal about the structure: a classic castle in the sense of being surrounded by a water-filled moat, but in Japanese style. The shogun’s home was impressive, with many rooms for receiving visitors of various ranks. But I needed to remind myself that these buildings are really old — although they have been rebuilt at various times in history. I noticed that the rooms were connected by hallways, a fairly recent architrave development, at least in Western buildings.

Via the bus, we stopped next in the grounds of the old Imperial Palace prior to the moving of the Japanese capital to Tokyo in the 1868. By this time, we were rather hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant in the park surrounding the Palace. When we went to order, we noticed a “Cash Only” sign, and immediately our ATM problems became more serious. We found another ATM outside the park, and again no luck. Although hungry, we toured the Imperial Palace grounds, which were worth seeing, but Nijo Castle was a hard act to follow. The hunger didn’t help either. We returned to the bus stop and found a burger joint near there that accepts credit cards, so at least we got fed.

Somewhere along the way to the next stop, I did an internet search for “Japan ATM problems” or something like that. An article on told me that others have had the same problem, but that the ATMs at the 7-Eleven stores generally work for foreign ATM cards. I don’t generally use ATMs in convenience stores, but in Japan apparently 7-Eleven stores are associated with “7-Bank” and very reliable with reasonable fees. 7-Eleven as a bank makes me feel like I’m in an alternate universe.

We stopped in the vicinity of a craft museum we were interested in visiting and walked to a nearby 7-Eleven, and voila, we were able to get cash from their ATM. We celebrated (and broke the large bills from the ATM) with a couple of ice cream cones.

The craft museum is unfortunately closed for renovations for several months, but a Shinto shrine, the Heian Shrine, was right nearby and worth a visit even if we don’t understand much about the religious significance. There was also a nearby outdoor market that had a variety of interesting and unfamiliar goods.

We got back on the bus and rode to Kyoto Station. Just outside, we ran across a series of elaborate (and very impressive) dance performances by groups of young people, which we watched for a while.

We went up Kyoto Tower and got a view of the city from there, although by this time it was getting dark. We then went looking for dinner, which was an unexpected challenge; it was Saturday night and many restaurants were full. We ended up going to the Food Court below Kyoto Tower and got a quite reasonable dinner there — we need to remember these food courts as good options in the future. Although we couldn’t communicate well, we connected with a friendly couple at the next table, who shared a bit of candy with us as they departed.

Total walking today: 9.7 miles, 12 floors climbed

This article is part of a series about our recent travels to Japan and Singapore. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

One Comment

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  1. Barry Leiba / Dec 7 2019 10:16 am

    > We had breakfast at a Starbucks next to the hotel, since we prefer Western-style breakfasts

    Ha, interesting: One of the delights to me of going to Asia is eating Asian breakfasts for a while: Oishi (美味し in Japanese)! À chacun, son goût. (Although, of course, there are things such as umeboshi (which I like a lot) and natto (which I don’t), which are a bit of a challenge to palates that aren’t used to them.)

    The major hotels generally have some western options, and I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a Japanese hotel where I couldn’t have had some sort of eggs and breakfast meat, should that have been what I wanted.

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