Stayed in a temple in Northwest Kyoto, went to a wedding at Heian Jingu (Shinto shrine), temple-hopped all over Kyoto, rode the Shinkansen (and every other form of public transportation), bathed in an onsen (hot springs) in Kurama just outside Kyoto, saw Geishas and Maiko in Gion, and ate A LOT of daifuku.
It is no more expensive than NYC (or any urban American center) and ten times cleaner and safer. I never felt threatened or unsafe. The one major hurdle is that most things are written in Kanji (street signs, menus) and that really limited us when we weren’t with a Kanji-reading friend. It is however, totally possible to communicate by pointing and sign language and the friend I was with spoke no Japanese at all, but my basic grasp of Japanese helped a lot.
Resources I used: Rough Guide to Japan, Lonely Planet’s Kyoto book, local maps (from tourist info center on 9th floor of Kyoto Station) and a Japanese phrase book. All were crucial except the phrase book. Maps especially. Kyoto and most of Japan runs exceptionally smoothly, but a lot of signs are in Kanji and orienting myself, even just getting used to the street names without them all sounding alike, took a little while.
To anyone considering travel to Kyoto, and who doesn’t need high tech accommodations, I strongly recommend researching temple lodgings (shokubo). we stayed for approx USD $45/ night. I woke 5:30am a few mornings to the sound of bells ringing and bicycled down a path in our temple complex to witness monk’s chanting and locals praying. It was truly the best Japan experience.
The most expensive part is the flight but even with that you can get a $600 USD RT (according to one American we met who’d been living in Tokyo for 18 years).