Japanese etiquette can be a minefield. Although they are tolerant and forgiving of tourists, it is always important to understand a bit about the culture before you arrive so save any awkward moments. From the two-handed head bowing manoeuvre while exchanging business and credit cards (you need to hold the card between thumb and forefinger at the corners to give and receive), to passengers not being allowed to open or close taxi doors. Always allow the driver to open and close the nearside rear door when entering and exiting and enjoy it as a wonderful tradition and remember, there is no tipping in Japan, even in taxis.
Renowned for futuristic toilets, with an array of remote controls, in Japan public conveniences are always spotlessly clean. However, towels or hand-driers are rarely provided, so carry some tissues and hand sanitiser with you.
If you are planning to visit temples, bear in mind that many places in Japan will refuse entry if you have tattoos on show. In Japan tattoos are associated with the mafia, so we recommend to keep them covered during special visits.
Compared to Tokyo which is full of high-speed trains, neon lights and skyscrapers, Kyoto moves to an altogether different rhythm. It’s a place synonymous with ancient temples, traditional ryokan inns and centuries-old craftsmanship. Famed as the birthplace of cultural traditions such as the tea ceremony and flower arranging.
If you want to visit the most famous sites, we would suggest going either early in the morning or just before closing to avoid the mass of tourists. It’s worth wearing shoes that are easy to slip on and off (as they will frequently have to be removed in temples, tea-houses and ryokan) and, needless to say with Japan’s impeccable style, socks with holes in will be frowned upon.
For a different experience and one that may not be so crowded at peak times, you can follow in the footsteps of the city’s most famous old thinkers with a meditative stroll along the Philosopher’s Path. The pedestrianised path runs for 1.2 miles alongside a canal, with shrines and temples just off the main path that are well worth exploring.
For a more iconic Kyoto sight, the tiered golden temple of Kinkakuji, otherwise known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is worth the trek in north Kyoto. Be encapsulated by the perfectly manicured gardens and watch the temple reflect in its surrounding pond. Any visit here wont be forgotten.
The Gion district is geisha central, although they are not easy to spot. Keeping an eye out for a glimpse of a white-faced geisha, whilst wandering the narrow-cobbled lanes, lined with atmospheric wooden buildings. Many of which are quiant teahouses or high-end ryotei restaurants.
Despite its well-preserved heritage, Kyoto effortlessly embraces the future, with modern buildings, and a thriving technology industry. The city centre is easy to navigate, thanks to a simple public transport network of just two subway lines and its grid system. Of course, inspired by ancient feng shui.
Another must-see in Kyoto is the Nishiki Market, with over a hundred shops, Japanese street food and small restaurants offering a wide range of local dishes. We highly recommend for a true locals cuisine experience.
Last on our edited list is a visit to the Arashiyama District’s bamboo groves. A magical place, dotted with picturesque temples, gardens, quaint shops, and restaurants, but it is famous for its towering stalks of bamboo - one of the most photographed areas in Kyoto.
Spring and autumn are the most beautiful times of year to visit Kyoto, with the glorious cherry blossom season (around early April) and then fiery red show of changing of the leaves (early November).