Before going to Japan I purchased a JR rail pass which basically allows you unlimited rides on JR trains all over the country, including many of the “bullet trains” (shinkansen/新幹線). I think two or three rides on a high-speed rail already equals the cost of the rail pass (of course, I did this six years ago, so things may be different now). The pass is available only to foreigners and can only be purchased while outside of Japan, so plan ahead.
Anyway, toward the end of my time in Japan I activated my rail pass and finally ventured away from Tokyo—
Before the Meiji Restoration which put the Emperor of Japan back in power, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. The city’s home of one of the Imperial Palaces (yeah, there’s more than one—the other one’s in Tokyo) as well as a whole bunch of iconic Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. With my limited time in Kyoto, I did see the Imperial Palace in the rain and also visited a few shrines and temples.
Keeping in mind that this was in the summer and I didn’t bother going to a hot spring (definitely on my to-do list for my winter trip), my favorite place in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari-taisha—an Inari shrine located up on a mountain (Inari Okami is the Shinto spirit of foxes and, generally, prosperity). This particular shrine requires you to hike up a mountain for about two hours to get to it and, really, it was the hike that made the experience awesome. On the way, you pass through countless orange and black gates, and other notable monuments.
Being awesome, I got lost on the way down and ended up passing by a cemetery where a handful of cats started following me around.