Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Getting around in Kyoto

Transport in Japan is expensive.The standard cost of a bus ride on the Kyoto city bus is 220 Yen (SGD 3.50). The subway costs about the same, starting from 210 Yen.  I met 2 Singaporeans visiting Kyoto through a Taiwanese school mate and they had an interesting perspective.  "In order not to feel the pinch, just pretend that you were riding in a taxi all the time".

When I arrived in Kyoto, I was determined to find an apartment near my school so that I didn't have to incur unnecessary transport costs. I could of course invest in a bicycle like everyone else living here but I had no confidence riding a bicycle then.

And so my most important criterion to my housing agent was to find a place within 20 minutes' walk from my school so that I could walk to school everyday.  It was fortunate that they found me an apartment 700m from school, about 10 minutes' walk. 

To save on transport costs, I started to walk to places I wanted to go instead of getting on public transport.  My threshold for what was considered "far" was raised.  Any place within a hour of walking was considered "near" by my new standard.
A bicycle shop near my university.

When I started to get engaged in volunteer work, I began to realise that transport costs were depleting my budget.  The venues for those activities were too far for walking.  The transport costs on an activity day would cost me more than 1000 Yen (SGD 16).  

At first, I bought 1-day bus passes for unlimited travelling on the Kyoto city bus. That costs 500 Yen each. However, the transport costs for a month of volunteering activities were still quite high. Eventually, I started to seriously consider a bicycle.


Getting a bicycle

There are many shops in Kyoto selling used bicycles.  The shops in areas where there are universities tend to sell their used bicycles at higher prices, from around 6000 Yen (SGD 100). There are some cheap  department stores like "Kohnan" which sell new bicycles from about 8000 Yen.  The internet, notably Amazon.co.jp has some pretty good offers for new foldable bicycles costing slightly more than 9000 Yen.

A friend also pointed me to the message boards at the Kyoto City International Foundation to check out the items for sale. There, I found someone who was willing to sell his bicycle for 1000 Yen but you must first justify to him why he should sell his bicycle to you.

I also heard about school mates who managed to get cheap second-hand bicycles at only around 3000 Yen.  So I started to ask around in school with the hope of buying an even cheaper used bicycle from overseas students who were returning home.  Eventually, I found someone who offered to give me her bicycle as she was returning to America.

Soon after I got a bicycle, my quality of life improved tremendously. I no longer had to walk the distance back from the supermarkets with the heavy groceries. I was also able to explore more places in Kyoto, which also meant I could seek out places where the bargains were.

Used bicycles in tip-top condition for sale at Toji flea market.
Recently, I went to a flea market at Toji Temple, cycling almost 1.5 hours to get there.  I discovered bicycles going for less than 3000 Yen at the flea market.

My neighbour quipped that I should get another bicycle since  it is so cheap. It was very tempting indeed, considering that they all came in many different bright colours and were in tip-top condition. I would have loved to get the one in fuchsia to match my wallet and laptop.

A bicycle crossing right beside a zebra crossing for pedestrians.
The bicycle is indeed the best and cheapest way to travel around Kyoto.  Kyoto streets are easy to navigate due to the grid layout of the city.  The walking paths are usually shared between the pedestrians and cyclists.  On some sidewalks, a path for bicycles is clearly marked out. 

The only grouse most people have is probably the challenge of finding parking for bicycles.  There are many people who park illegally in parks or sidewalks.  They would then risk getting their bicycles removed and being slapped with a 2300 Yen handling fee. Taking the advice from friends, I usually pretend to be a patron of a pachinko outlet or a restaurant and park my bicycle there for free, like everyone else.

With a bicycle, anywhere within 1.5 hours of cycling could be considered "near" by my new standard. As temperature soared in summer, cycling could be pretty torturous.  I also found out that discounted bus and train tickets could be purchased in downtown Kyoto. So on days when I did not feel like cycling, I would use such tickets.  

A shop along Shijo Kawaramachi selling discounted train and bus tickets. On the right is a diagram showing the price of the discounted Hankyu Railway tickets for use on normal days, non-peak hours and on weekends.
The 1-day bus pass, and the discounted
 tickets for off-peak travel on the Kyoto City Bus.
Discounted tickets for public transport

The discounted bus tickets have to be bought in bulk so it is really for people living in Kyoto. You pay 2000 Yen for 13 tickets which means that each ticket costs only about 150 Yen instead of 220 Yen.  However, the catch is you can only travel between non-peak hours from 10am to 4pm, and you cannot travel on Sundays.  If you do not want such restrictions, you can pay 5000 Yen for 26 tickets and each ticket will cost 190 Yen.

The shops selling such tickets also sells JR train passes and sightseeing passes for tourists. They even sell movie tickets at lower prices.  I went to Osaka on the private Hankyu Railway at only 300 Yen on a Sunday, using the discounted Hankyu tickets. 

If you are coming to Kyoto, you know that there are always cheaper options available for travelling around here. 


5 comments:

  1. if i know this is the comment box, i wld have left it a remark earlier...(i can't read Japanese!!).

    continue writing - we love your posts! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. enjoy reading ,
    Please write more about cycling around Kyoto, More sources to buy 2nd hand bike. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for including so much details on pricing for each type of transportations and how to get them! I am going to Kyoto for 4 months starting this September and it would be really exciting to get discounted transport tickets and buy bikes from flea market!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks a bunch for all the info on bicycles! A few years ago, I was living in Kyoto as a student - which provided me with the benefits of purchasing a new, registered bicycle as well as a discounted monthly rail pass. But now that I'm returning as a "tourist", I felt the need to do some research on second-hand bicycles. And seeing as how I'll be arriving on the 20th next month, I'm definitely going to visit the Toji flea market on the 21st (which, apparently, is the day that they arrange it every month)! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for sharing such informative blog with us, will keep this things in mind whenever I plan to visit kyoto. Keep posting such informative blogs for us.

    ReplyDelete