Biking in Kyoto in January

On the 5th and last day of my trip to the Kansai area during the school winter vacations in 2012, on January 4, 2012, I decided to explore the "local areas of Kyoto" by renting a bicycle and biking around Kyoto.

I had been to Kyoto many times in the past and I always thought that it was the perfect city to explore by bicycle because it is mostly flat and the city streets are laid out in a grid-like pattern meaning that it would be hard to get lost unlike in other cities of Japan like Tokyo for example.

It started out with perfect weather, but as I would experience in later visits to Kyoto during the same month, the weather in Kyoto in January is really unpredictable...

My primary interest in biking in Kyoto was to explore the urban areas and local neighbourhoods and only by bike can you explore less touristy areas like this one. The Toji Temple (東寺) area south of Kyoto station.


At the time, I did not know that there were smartphone apps which can use GPS to track your cycling path so I had to rely on my memory to reconstruct the route that I took. I think it is roughly accurate...

View 2012-01-04 Kyoto Biking in a larger map

I rented by bike from the "Kyoto Cycling Tour Project" shop west of Kyoto station. The standard bike which I rented was a 3 speed bike and only cost 1000 yen (US$10.00) for the entire day and they did not even require a deposit!

Surprisingly, unlike most bikes sold in Japan, the bikes that they rented out were really high quality, especially the brakes, which had a firm grip even when the tires were wet. This would prove to be *extremely* useful later on in the day...


I also bought a bike map of Kyoto that they produced for 100 yen (US$1.00).


After I got my bike, because I did not eat breakfast yet, I searched out a ramen restaurant nearby called the Honke Dai-ichi-asahi (本家 第一旭) which got high reviews. This is one of the few ramen restaurants which open in the early morning, in fact, they open from 5 am to 2 am! When I got there at around 9 am, there was no lineup but when I finished eating there was a long lineup.

This shop specialized in Kyoto-style ramen which uses a thick shoyu-based soup.

Kind of run-down looking, but this is what makes it authentic, right?


What better way to start your day than with a big bowl of ramen topped with slices and slices of chashu?!


Next I biked over to the south side of Kyoto station. To get over all the railway tracks, you have to cross a bridge and in the process you can see the ugly backside of Kyoto station.


Without a specific destination in mind, I biked west and ended up at the Toji Temple (東寺).







Next I headed north and arrived near the Nishi Honganji Temple (西本願寺). I didn't enter the temple, but the surrounding area was quite interesting.






Afterwards, I biked north towards the main commercial district, parked my bike and took a walk through the Nishiki Market, the main "wet market" of Kyoto.

The purpose was to find the tea shop called Kyoto Tsuruya Kakujuan (鶴屋鶴寿庵) whose speciality is the keiran somen (鶏卵素麺), "which resembles...yellow angel hair pasta but is actually a sweet made from egg yolks and sugar and pulled into a rope of fine strands. Like so much in Japan, it's beauty and delicacy in one delicious package." (Conde Nast Traveller, 2012)



I also bought one of their chilled bottle macha green tea to try out.


Next it was time for lunch, and I had an oyako-don (親子丼) which is a "rice bowl dish, in which chicken, egg, sliced scallion, and other ingredients are all simmered together in a sauce and then served on top of a large bowl of rice." (Wikipedia, 2012)


While I was biking I saw this Corvette parked beside some traditional warehouse buildings. Not only are American cars rare in Japan, but American muscle cars are even rarer!


Next, I made by way to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which is located in the centre of Kyoto. Unfortunately there was nothing much to see as everything was behind the walls. I just rode through the palace grounds over the bumpy gravel.


After crossing the Kamo River (鴨川), I went to the main campus of Kyoto University. The No. 2 ranked university in Japan, the top university is located in...where else...Tokyo.

By this time, the weather was turning bad. The blue skies had given way to thick grey clouds.


The main square of Kyoto University. That tree is in the university's official logo.


Afterwards I continued biking north up to the Kitayama (北山) area and this is when it started to snow really hard at around 3 pm. So in the heavy snow, I biked back to the bicycle rental shop near Kyoto station and this took around 40+ minutes because of the poor visibility due to the snow and poor traction due to the wetness of the ground. Luckily the brakes on this bike were quite good as I had no problems stopping. (Biking in the rain or snow is kind of dangerous...)

After returning the bike, I wondered around Kyoto station and saw these incredible displays of ikebana or flower arrangement.