Kyoto—A Magical Sojourn for the Senses
Known for its vast number of exquisite temples and shrines, the well-preserved city of Kyoto is like a page out of a history book. Brilliant bamboo groves and charming cherry blossom-lined streets await you in Kyoto. Kyoto is rich with culture, and while many people think of Tokyo when they first consider planning a trip to Japan, Kyoto is an intriguing destination that you won’t want to miss.
A trip to Kyoto will take you to the Japanese island, Honshu, where you’ll be met with a humid subtropical climate. This means that while the summers are hot and humid, winters are cold and sometimes see snowfall. On average, temperatures range from about 41 to 84 degrees fahrenheit year round. Dr. Pasha rated Kyoto a 10 out of 10 on the Pasha Allergy Scale, but stay with us! An enjoyable trip to Kyoto is still within reach as long as you plan ahead.
Pollen and Smog—Kyoto’s Allergens and What to Do About Them
According to Japan Talk, the Japanese government wanted Japan to become self-sufficient in wood products, so after WWII, they replaced the diverse forests with Japanese cedar trees (also known as Sugi). As a result of these fast-growing cedar forests (which cover 18% of Japan), many Japanese residents find themselves struggling with allergies during the cedars’ pollination season (the end of January to late March or early April). These prominent trees can be found in Kyoto, as well. (In fact, some of the famous ancient palaces in Kyoto were built from Japanese cedar!) If you visit during the cedar pollination season, do as the Japanese residents do and bring a face mask to wear on days you plan to be outside for long periods of time. If possible, we suggest planning a trip to Kyoto during a different part of the year to avoid the Japanese cedar pollination season.
Cedar pollen may be the main culprit, but watch out for the rice plant (which flowers from May to mid-July and mid-August to mid-October) and the Japanese cypress (which flowers from mid-March to early May). Kyoto’s rainy season runs from the middle of June until the end of July, so if you don’t mind bringing along some rainboots, you might want to plan a trip during this time as heavy rains can cleanse the air of pollen.
Another allergy aggravator you’ll likely encounter in Kyoto is smog. China has notoriously poor air quality, and many of their dangerous emissions are transmitted to Japan. Coupled with other factors like wood burning and exhaust from vehicle tailpipes, the air quality isn’t the best. While you’re in Kyoto, take a look at this real-time map to see what the levels are like during your trip, and plan your daily itinerary accordingly. A face mask can protect you from pollen, but it’s also a good way to limit your smog exposure. Make sure that the mask is N95 grade to offer the greatest amount of protection.
Now That Your Allergies Are Under Control, Let’s Have Some Fun
A must-see in Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking paths lined with sky-high stalks of bamboo await you in this famous spot. Inside Kyoto suggests also visiting the Tenryu-ji Temple and the Okochi-Sanso Villa while you’re there because of the convenient proximity of these two locations to the Grove.
Visit a piece of Kyoto history at the Nijo-jo Castle. This stunning castle once served as the home of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto, who, according to Kyoto.travel, ruled Japan for over 260 years. Admire the detailed architecture and take a peek at the Japanese art inside. While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the famous “nightingale floors.” These floors were designed to alert guards if any intruders entered the castle, so they squeak when stepped on.
Calling all manga fans! The Kyoto International Manga Museum houses over 300,000 Japanese comics. In addition to reading and admiring the comics, you can learn about manga’s evolution, watch performances, and view demonstrations on how to draw manga.
Spend some time at the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple. Admire 1,001 wooden statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. In 1164, retired emperor Go-shirakawa requested that the temple be built. Unfortunately, it was burned to the ground in 1249, but was later rebuilt in 1266.
There are over 1,600 temples and 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto. Because these are sacred sites, certain etiquette must be followed by visitors to these temples and shrines. To learn more about what is expected of visitors, and what the difference is between shrines and temples, click here. Remember that while some temples allow photography, others do not, so be mindful and look for signs prohibiting pictures.
No trip is complete without some delicious, authentic cuisine. Japanese food varies by region, and Follow Me Foodie has come up with a list of must-try meals when you visit Kyoto. She recommends Kyoto-style sushi, tofu and vegetables, Kaiseki-ryōri (a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner), and a maiko dinner show (which includes entertainment along with dinner and drinks).
What to Know Before You Go—A Guide to Medications in Kyoto
Before you pack your bags for Kyoto, there are a few medication regulations that you should be aware of. Medicine containing pseudoephedrine (and/or stimulants or Codeine) are illegal in Japan unless it contains less than 10% of the ingredient. Pseudoephedrine can be found in many over-the-counter inhalers, as well as in many over-the-counter allergy and sinus medications. Some specific banned medications include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Tylenol Cold
- NyQuil D
- Advil Cold & Sinus
- Dristan Cold (“No Drowsiness”)
- Dristan Sinus
- Drixoral Sinus
- Vicks Inhaler
When in doubt, check the medication labels to be sure that they do not contain pseudoephedrine. While many of your go-to medications may contain this ingredient, preventing you from bringing it along on your trip, Japanese pharmacies have numerous over-the-counter allergy medications available. A few non-drowsy options you should have no problem finding include the following:
- Alesion 10 (アレジオン10)
- Alegra FX (アレグラFX)
- Zaditen AL Bien capsule (ザジテンAL鼻炎カプセル)
- Stonarhini S (ストナリニS)
Flonase is also available, although you will need a prescription from your doctor. There are also allergy medications that are safe for children available. Look for the words “shouni yo” (小児用) on the packaging.
A trip to Kyoto, Japan is one that you’ll never forget. Pack your suitcase and enjoy your trip to a city that is dripping with culture and tradition. Fill your belly with delectable, authentic cuisine, admire the intricate architecture, and learn plenty about Japanese culture. 道中ご無事に!
Be sure to check out the Pasha Travel Guide to see this year’s top 12 travel destinations, and learn tips for traveling allergy-free. Next week, we’re featuring Aix-en-Provence, France, and covering allergens to watch out for, fun activities to do while you’re there, and important medicine restrictions for travelers. Stay tuned later this week to learn about some fun indoor activities to check out when you’re dealing with major allergies on vacation. Follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for more updates!