The bane of many tourists visiting Kyoto in summer would probably be the incessant walking between all the scenic spots. Wouldn’t it be great to sit back in air-conditioned comfort, enjoy the scenery of Kyoto and some iconic landmarks, all while enjoying a traditional Japanese lunch? I got to do just that in this summer 2018 run of Willer Kyoto Restaurant Bus.
We arrived at the pick up point off Kyoto Station way ahead of time as we absolutely did not want to miss the bus. At 12 noon, there was still no sign of the bus, which was atypical of Japanese punctuality.
We were reassured by a Willer Bus representative that the bus was slightly delayed and still coming. Shortly after 12, the bus pulled in amidst frantic clicking of cameras and phones by the hungry guests waiting in line.
As we were attending the introductory promotion of this season’s menu, a reporter and videographer from a local TV station was also present. After a quick name check on the guest list, we finally escaped from the sweltering heat into the bus.
Upon entering, we were directed upstairs to the second deck, where the interior had been redesigned with restaurant-style furnishings to accommodate 25 diners. Our guide gave a warm welcome and introduction of the staff in impeccable English, before continuing the rest of his explanation in Japanese.
As the bus moved off, we were offered a selection of free-flow wine, beer, Japanese alcohol, or ginger ale. Surprisingly, water and tea were not available. We decided to try the ginger ale, which had a unique tangy flavour, unlike store-bought versions.
The first part of our route was still in the city centre, and our view was filled mostly with buildings, roads, traffic, and people gawking up at us from the streets.
I enjoy architecture and people-watching in a foreign country, even if it’s just regular people going about their everyday lives. However some might find such pedestrian scenery mundane. The most beautiful part of the journey was when we passed Hirosawa pond, as the city scene gave way to views of mountains, water and greenery. Other places of interest along the route include Kyoto Gyoen, Kitano Tenmangu and Higashi Honganji.
Besides these tourist sites, our guide would also point out and give interesting snippets of information of places we passed such as universities and train stations.
It was a little confusing initially when he told us to look ‘right’ or ‘left’ as I was seated in a back-facing seat. This also meant the ride got a little nauseating after awhile, but as we had a 30 minute break at Arashiyama, it wasn’t too bad. My travel buddy who sat facing me suggested changing seats halfway, but I didn’t find that necessary. As we had both been to Arashiyama before, we decided against walking about under the blazing sun in the middle of Japan’s hottest summer thus far. Instead, we took respite at the visitor’s centre, and marvelled at the crowd braving the midday heat to take pictures with the near-vanishing river.
But what about the food?!? I hear the foodies cry. It looks exactly as in the picture shown on their website, except each course is served individually.
While the English website merely writes ‘seasonal dish’, the Japanese website details the courses as: appetizer of spinach in sesame seasoning; main dish of dashi egg roll, grilled salmon, wakasagi fish (Hypomesus nipponesis), salmon marinade, maple leaf, aoba green leaf; side dish of cucumber, shrimp prawn, ginger and vinegar; rice with pickled eggplant; soup and warabi mochi dessert. Also, with the exception of the rice and miso soup, everything else was cold.
This was great for a summertime lunch, but left me wondering if they really needed the whole of the first floor for a kitchen and a tiny toilet. I was also puzzled by the choice to serve a whole unshelled prawn, which was inconvenient to eat on a moving bus. Overall, the portion size was reasonable, though taste was a little lacking. For the same price, there are certainly a number of kaiseki lunches in Kyoto that would be more satisfying to a foodie.
On the way back, we decided to refresh ourselves with a cold beer. Though it was still 35 degrees Celcius outdoors, we decided to open the clear roof of the bus to feel the wind and have a better view of Kyoto tower. Happy snaps turned to happy sighs as we turned the corner and ended our journey back at Kyoto Station.
Overall, it was a fun experience, not unlike flying on an airplane but with fancier food and more varied scenery. We were also interviewed by the local news station and some web sites in Japanese, for a foreigner’s perspective.
The Kyoto Restaurant Bus offers the same menu throughout 2018 (September to December 2018) and I am lucky I got the opportunity to try it this year.
People who like comfort and convenience
People who like novel transportation experiences
People who want to explore Kyoto in detail
People who get motion sickness easily (especially back-facing seats)
While there are blinds across the sun roof, it can still get sunny especially along the aisle seats, so bring a hat
There is a charging point under the table
Seatbelts are provided
The toilet is smaller than an average airline toilet
The author has no affiliation with Willer Bus, and this is not a sponsored post.
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