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We were seeking a Bullet train experience and the flavor of Kyoto’s history. We got that but wrapped in a schedule that was too ambitious for time allotted mixed with periods of downtime. Perhaps it’s personal taste, but felt like we either glossed over the details at the temples or were so rushed that we didn’t have time to properly explore the unique characteristics, so why bother? The guide was capable but knowledge was superficial and unable to answer questions about some of the unusual elements. Logistics were overly ambitious and caused rushing to fit 10 pounds of activity in a 5 pound bag. All the staff were very polite and accommodating but were put in tough situations by the aggressive timeline. Tick the box on bullet train and seeing a few of Kyoto’s offerings but swing and miss on much of the detail and flavor that makes Kyoto so unique.
I do not recommend taking this tour from Tokyo. The tour may have been nice if we started it in Kyoto, but it is an exceptionally long day from Tokyo. We met at the Keio Plaza Hotel at 8:30 in the morning and were taken to Tokyo station for a 9:50 bullet train ride. The bullet train was cool, but it was about a 2 hour ride. Once we arrived in Kyoto, we were taken to a hotel for lunch and given an hour and a half to eat. The lunch was very nice, but it was WAY too much time to kill. The bus picked us up around 1:30, then we had to go and pick up another group. The tour itself did not even start until around 2:00/2:30. That's 6 hours of travel and killing time. It is not worth it at all. I also recommend not going in August. We went on Friday, August 10th and everyone we encountered from the tour company told us how hot and humid it would be, which it was. I don't recall seeing the golden shrine that was in the video for this tour I am not sure if I misunderstood or misread that part. The 3 sites we did see though, 2 Shinto shrines and 1 Buddhist temple, were very cool. The last stop was Kiyomizu-dera Temple and this was AMAZING! I absolutely highly recommend going there on your own. It was about a 10 minute walk up a hill with hundreds of shops for souvenirs, ice cream, drinks, etc. Once you get up to the top, the views are incredible, the structures are incredible, you can take your shoes off and walk inside the temple I wish we could have spent a couple hours here walking around and exploring, but we had to be back on the bus within 30-40 minutes. We felt very rushed, we did not have time to shop at all. We then needed to take the bullet train 2 hours back. All in all, the transit time is just not worth the 3 places you see. The tour company itself is very organized, helpful and friendly. Our guide was smiling the whole time and taught us some cool facts about Kyoto and Japan in general. Again, if you are already in Kyoto, it may be worth the tour, but coming from Tokyo it is a lot of wasted time.
It was a great experience travelling in a Shinkansen. And especially if you are a first time or lone traveller. However, as the Travel is quite long, the tour in Kyoto was really compressed and you only have ample time to go around. Rain during my trip made it even more difficult but the experience is memorable and enjoyable.
The Bullet Train is an experience worth trying. You won't believe how fast the country side blurs past your window! If it's an option for you, I highly recommend selecting the 1st class ticket. 2nd class seemed fine - but was sold out - which means you were shoulder-to-shoulder with other passengers, similar to coach seats on a plane. But 1st class was practically empty. I was seated at a 4-seat banket with a little table in the middle. And I was the only one - so I got all four seats and the table to myself! Arriving in Kyoto, we were quickly ushered onto a tour bus and taken to three temples - each more beautiful and inspirational than the last. If I had more time, I would have loved to spend several days in Kyoto. There are dozens of temples, and we only had time to see three. This tour is fast-paced and you walk A LOT. Not including time spend on trains, my Fit Bit recorded about 7 miles of walking and 12 stories of stairs.