Since my time was limited, I decided to buy a Japan Rail Pass for $275 which was good for train travel for 7 days on all but the super fast Nozomi shinkansen trains. You can ride on the other bullet trains with this pass. You can only buy this Rail Pass before you come to Japan. When you arrive at the Narita Airport you exchange your Japan Rail Pass invoice for the actual voucher which starts the 7 day time valid travel period. Just a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto would cover the cost of this 7 day pass.
Instead of heading into Tokyo, I took my first train ride down to Kyoto on one of the bullet trains. It was amazing, frequent, on-time, fast, clean, and comfortable. Everyone was so polite in helping me navigate my way around.
It took just under three hours to get to Kyoto where I would stay for several days which included several trips to the nearby Nara.
I stayed at the Yuhara Ryokan located along the Takase River canal. This as well as many places I stayed in were very compact.
I started my Kyoto tour at the Kiyomizu-dera temple along with several other temples, beautiful gardens, and statutes.
One of the most popular attractions where was the small sacred waterfall where visitors, including these students who had my picture taken with them, drank the sacred waters believed to have healing properties.
This cemetery next to the bamboo forest have these gravestones festooned with pebbles left by friends and relatives of the dead.
The moat entrance to the Nijo castle grounds.
I stood at the Kodak spot for the picture of the Golden Pavilion that shows up on most postcards of Kyoto.
The Todai-ji Temple was celebrating a festival while I was in Nara. These kimono clad women wanted me to have their picture taken with them complete with the V sign so popular through out picture taking in Asia.
The Kasuga-taisha Shrine is the most famous Shinto shrine surrounded by beautiful landscaped grounds and wandering deer.
The women are making treats to sell to visitors.
Here is the ryokan I stayed at in Nara where I slept on my first futon.
I then headed north of Tokyo to a coastal village of Matsushima where I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the buildings, landscaping and sea.
Shortly after arriving by train, the tourist center helped me find a local inn to stay at that was mostly filled by utility workers.
I had a private room complete with futon and a bathrobe which was useful for going to the rock rimmed baths where I joined the workers for a relaxing soak. I was served dinner in my room and joined the other workers for breakfast the following morning.
I toured around a bit before catching the train back to Tokyo. Again there were lots of beautiful landscaping and buildings.
After that, I then headed back south to Tokyo where I did a brief tour of the city before returning to the Narita Airport and my onward flight to Bangkok, Thailand, and Kathmandu, Nepal.
The total Japan trip cost was $632 for a daily cost of $90. My flight from Seattle to Bangkok, Thailand with a stopover in Japan cost 60,000 United Frequent Flyer miles. The 7 day Japan Rail Pass purchased in the US cost $275, and other local transportation costs were $20. In Japan, the lodging costs were $162 or $27 per night and the food costs were $175 or $29 per day.