If you go to Kyoto, two guidebooks are indispensable.

"Kyoto, a Contemplative Guide" was written 26 years ago by Gouverneur Mosher but remains today the definitive book for the serious traveler. It is stocked not only with information about 15 of Kyoto's most famous sites but makes them come alive by recounting the history surrounding them. A paperback edition is published by Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vt.

The recently published "Gateway to Japan," by June Kinoshita and Nicholas Palevsky, is a more conventional guidebook and the best one in English, with useful primers on art, religion, history and festivals as well as extensive, and generally reliable, listings of places to eat and stay and visit, including many small towns and attractions not included in most guides. Kodansha is the publisher.

Both guides are available locally at Travel Books Unlimited in Bethesda.

GETTING THERE: The best way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is to take one of the many shinkansen, or bullet trains, that depart from Tokyo station.

The trip takes about three hours and a one-way ticket with a reserved seat costs about $85. (You can request nonsmoking.)

Osaka also has an international airport, and the train from there to Kyoto takes less than a half hour and costs between $5 and $8, depending on the type of train.

WHERE TO STAY: Kyoto is well known for its stylish and plentiful ryokan. With the help of the Tourist Information Center in Tokyo or a reliable guidebook, a ryokan can be found for any budget, but it is best to book in advance; Kyoto is crowded with Japanese tourists during peak seasons in spring and fall. (Summer is very muggy; winter is colder than in Toyko.)

Yachiyo, near Nanzenji, averages about $150 per person per night, including dinner and breakfast. The nearby Miyako Hotel has both Western-and Japanese-style rooms. It's a bit worn around the edges but service remains quite good. A twin room costs about $110.