Getting Lost in Kyoto, Japan


When my friends and I planned for this trip to Japan in March 2014, one of the activities listed in our itinerary would be skiing near Mt. Fuji. I got excited at the thought of this. I’ve never seen snow before. And for the first time in forever I’ll be seeing snow all day long. But I had to wait for five days for this. We had to finish touring Kyoto first before we catch up with our friends in Hon-Atsugi, a city which is an hour away from Tokyo. My friend, Wena, and I got left behind in Kyoto. The rest of my friends left for our hosts’ place the day prior after we visited the Todai-ji Temple and Osaka Castle.

It was our 3rd day in Japan.

The sound of my alarm clock woke me up from dreamland. I had to convince myself that it was time to wake up. It took me a lot of courage to get down from the upper bunk of our 18-bed mixed dorm room. When I steadily planted my feet on the ground, I had a glimpse of the window. Tiny white specks where falling from the sky. There’s only a few of them. White specks falling slowly, one by one. I had to walk closer to the window to take a good look. Could it be what I think it was? I had to move my neck sideways to observe the surroundings outside. The moment I finally realized what it was, I was sporting a huge grin on my face. SNOW!!! The Elsa in me wanted to burst out singing Let it snow, let is snow can’t hold it back anymore…but I had to restrain myself to avoid getting mobbed by sleepyheads in our dorm room. Instead, I silently stared outside, grinning. Wow, so that’s how snowing looks like? Cool!

I had to call my friend’s attention, who was seated on her bunk in the middle of the room.  It’s snowing! I said. She just looked at me blankly and said yes it has been snowing outside for sometime now. Toinks. Turns out, she’d been awake for an hour or so and I’m guessing her excitement to witness snow first-hand has waned.

snow in kyoto snow flurry greeting us early morning in Kyoto

After the necessary preparations for the long day ahead, and after Weng talked to the front desk staff of Piece Hostel Kyoto, we left our hotel and started heading for the bus station. If my memory serves me right, it’s just within the Kyoto Train Station but located somewhere on the opposite side. We got help finding it when Wena, speaking in basic Japanese, asked a security officer where it was located. The helpful Japanese went out of his way to accompany us to where the Kyoto bus station is.

kyoto bus station lining up waiting for the bus

Wena was in charge of leading the way since the itinerary on our list were destinations she wanted to see. Me? I just followed her lead. She’s more addicted with Japan’s rich culture than I am and it’s also a nice breather to let someone be in charge for a change. On my previous trips, I normally take care of the where to’s and this time I just want to free my mind of destination routes, not minding where our feet will bring us. Besides, someone else is doing the navigation for me.

But little did I know that this adventure would be nothing short of ordinary.

inside the Kyoto bus inside the bus going to our first pit stop

After finding the bus station and hopping in, we found ourselves cruising Kyoto’s inner towns. I thought we would reach our destination faster by taking the bus. Fifteen minutes passed and we’re still not there. Twenty minutes, nope. Thirty, not yet. So I curiously asked my ‘navigator’ to remind me again why we rode the bus instead of a train.

We were actually saving our nationwide JR Pass. We could not activate it yet. We secured a 2-day Kansai Pass and had used it up during our first two days. Since we were told that navigating Kyoto has to be done by bus, we didn’t bother securing a train pass on this day. Concentrating only on the bus routes, my friend forgot to assess how fast we’d reach our destination if we opt to go there by train. Our hostel’s receptionist also told her that we need to take the bus if we wish to visit the tourist destinations in Kyoto.

After asking my friend where we should drop off, I borrowed her map and started checking where we were headed. just to make sure we haven’t missed our stop. Hmmm. I saw that we’re bound to arrive a few bus stops away. So I started tracing our hotel on the map. Our hotel is just a 3-minute walk away from the Kyoto Station. Guess what? There’s a JR train from Kyoto Station leading to our destination and it only takes 15 minutes to reach the place whereas it took us 45 minutes to reach what looked like our destination, but not quite. Okaaaay. I guess there’s nothing else we could do about that. When we finally saw our stop, we alighted the bus and checked our surroundings. I swear I could almost hear the sound of crickets chirping on the semi-deserted streets.

The roads were empty most of the time. Although the streets were filled with short buildings and houses, there’s not a single soul to ask nearby. We didn’t have any clue where we were. The map says we need to walk a few meters to reach our destination. So we did.

woman biker in japan looking at this photo, I remembered now that our walk took 15 minutes or so

We passed by a temple and decided to check it out.

temple in Kyoto

After seeing that there was an ongoing activity at the temple grounds, we decided to leave. Now here’s the hardest part.

road sign in kyoto couldn’t figure out if we need to go straight or make a right turn to reach Arashiyama

We reached an intersection where the next town was separated by a wide river. We had absolutely no idea where to go and we couldn’t ask anyone. We got confused with the road signs and the map was even more confusing. We have no idea how far we were from our destination. We also do not want to simply walk in that cold weather without knowing where we were headed. There were vehicles passing by but we simply couldn’t just hail those to ask for directions. We’re not that thick-faced.

(Looking at that photo now, I can clearly conclude where we should have went. But at that time, the signage was confusing.)

getting lost in kyoto lost in translation

We saw someone riding a bike. I told Wena to ask for directions. Cycling, cycling. The man passed in front of us but for some reason, my friend turned into a stone. I asked her why she didn’t call the man’s attention and she said she couldn’t bring herself to. She was shy as a bee. Okay. Here comes another man, ask him Weng. Walking, walking. The man walked past us and again. My friend didn’t utter a single word. I’m at my wits end already. I didn’t have any clue what I’d have to do to encourage my friend to ask for directions. I refused to ask too because 1) I want my friend to overcome her fear of talking to ‘strangers’, 2) those Japanese might not understand me and 3) a bug bit my tongue. LOL. Majority of the Japanese doesn’t know how to speak English and since we’re far from the city center, the chances of bumping into someone who knows how to speak English was super slim.

bridge in kyoto cross the bridge?

We’ve been standing on that corner for quite a while trying to figure out what to do. We aimlessly searched for signs if we were to cross the bridge or if we should continue walking the road to our right. Decisions had to be made since time was getting wasted.

kyoto road or make a right turn for this road?

Finally, we decided we should cross the bridge. Anyway, the bridge is not that long and far. We could simply turn back if we took the wrong path.

crossing bridges in kyoto

The view from the mountains across the bridge was very scenic. Some parts of the mountains were engulfed with fog.

kyoto town

There were houses along the river bank, an indication of a bustling town ahead. A thick foliage of trees covered the mountains. The morning sun lighted some parts of it and it was such a beautiful sight to behold. It was almost noon time.

town in kyoto

Then the unexpected happened. While still in the middle of the bridge, the snow flurry started again. Soon, more snowflakes fell from the sky. We were already walking as fast as we could by this time.

kamikatsura road kyoto

We could almost see the end of the bridge. A tori gate was visible from the distance. The yellow and black poles indicated that a train crossing is nearby. Then we passed by the train tracks.

train tracks kyoto

A train station was sitting at the foot of the bridge and to our relief, we found the words we’ve been searching for all those time. Arashiyama. We were on our way to Japan’s famous Bamboo Forest grove, our first pit stop for the day.

We just barely made it to the train station in Matsuo-taisha when the snow flurry got worse. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like it was raining sans the raindrops. Instead, tiny white snowflakes fell from the sky.

snow flurry in Kyoto Japan

We had to make sure we were on the right place before securing our train tickets. It costs ¥150 yen to ride the train to Arashiyama. Travel time was only two minutes from the Matsuo-taisha station.

ticket counter at Matsuo-taisha station Kyoto

While waiting for our train, the snow flurry didn’t give any indication that it was going to stop. We didn’t bring any umbrellas with us. Although I’m glad I got to see snow a few days earlier than scheduled, I was silently hoping that the flurry would stop as I do not want to end up getting drenched and freezing to death.

snow at the train station in kyoto

Getting lost was something I never expected on our third day in Japan. The absence of a guide made it difficult for us to easily navigate our way in Kyoto. The maps were actually useful but I forgot that my companion had poor navigation skills. But I guess this was part of the adventure we signed up for. We may have lost a huge amount of time in the process but we would have lost the opportunity to explore this part of Kyoto. Once in a while, it’s also best to follow the less travelled routes for a change. What’s important is you arrive at your destination no matter how long it takes you.

You know what’s funny? This is just the first among the many misadventures we experienced on this day ‘lucky’ day. Looking back, I’d say getting lost in Kyoto was probably one of the best things that happened on this trip.

To be continued…

P.S. Looking closely at one of the road sign photos somewhere on top, I realize now that we should have made a right turn and simply walked to reach our destination. But I’m not complaining about that 2-minute train ride. The ride was quite pleasant actually and I would probably miss the opportunity to see the train station covered in that snow flurry. So nope, I’m not complaining about that misadventure at all. 🙂


kyoto city bus one day pass

Since we were told it’s best to navigate the tourist destinations in Kyoto by bus, we bought this Kyoto City Bus One-Day Pass for ¥500 yen from our Kyoto hostel. This covers unlimited bus rides within the inner boundary of that photo on top. Anything outside that oval ring is not covered by this one day bus pass.

0306-01 Matsuo-taisha to Arashiyama

The 2-min train ride from Matsuo-taisha station to Arashiyama Station is not covered by our JR train Pass so we paid for this train ride.

Searching for Hotel Deals in Kyoto?


  1. […] Getting lost in Kyoto was something I never expected to happen. Despite how technologically advanced a country is, some may still have trouble finding their way because of language barriers. But when in Japan, there’s nothing to worry since the locals seem to be welcoming and are ready always to lend a hand. Quoting from Professor Dumbledore, “help will always be given in Japan to those who ask for it.” […]


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