Nestled among mountains in Western Honshu, Kyoto has a reputation worldwide as Japan's most beautiful city, boasting more World Heritage Sites per square inch than any other city. However, visitors will be surprised how much work they will have to do to see its beautiful side. Most visitors' first impressions will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station.
Nonetheless, the persistent tourist will soon discover Kyoto's hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city centre, and find that the city has even more than meets the eye.
Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.
- Ninnaji Temple
- Ryoanji Temple
- Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion)
- Daitojuji Temple
- Hirano Shrine
The Arashiyama area to the west of the city is dismissed in most Western guidebooks in a brief paragraph suggesting "other attractions". However, the area is rightfully very popular with Japanese tourists, and is well worth a visit. To get here, take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama.
- The walk through a forest of bamboo to Nonomiya Shrine and Okochi Sanso (a traditional house, previously occupied by a Japanese silent screen legend), is a real highlight of a visit to Kyoto. No admission fee for the shrine, Y1000 for Okochi Sanso (price includes a cup of matcha (traditional Japanese tea, in the tea garden).
- Feeding the macaque monkeys atop the mountain in Iwatayama Monkey Park, to the south of the river, is worth the entrance fee (and the demanding climb!). Y500 admission fee to enter the park.
- Just outside Saga Arashiyama station is the 19th Century Hall - a museum covering the unlikely combination of steam locomotives and pianos. Probably best to look at it from the outside, and listen to the amusing tinny music it blasts out.
- Nijo Castle
- Imperial Palace and Imperial Park
- The Museum of Kyoto - particularly worthwhile if you have a burning interest in ancient pottery, otherwise not really worth a visit.
- Nishi Hoganji Temple
- Toji Temple
- Kiyomizu Temple
- Gion district
- Yasaka Shrine
- Maruyama Park - the main centre for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto.
- Nanzenji Temple with its distinctive two-storey entrance gate and aqueduct.
- The Philosopher's Walk
- Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion)
About twenty-minutes to the south of Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Shrine, another of Kyoto's often-overlooked jewels. Dedicated to the fox spirit, Inari, this Shinto temple has miles of red torii (gates) stretching up onto the hill behind it. A visitor could easily spend several hours walking up the hillside, taking in the beautiful views of the city of Kyoto and walking through the thousands of gates. Admission is free. Be warned, the shrine is located close to Fushimi Inari and Inari stations, but is nowhere near Fushimi station! The easiest way to get here is to take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station to Inari station, which exits immediately opposite the entrance to the shrine.
Currently, Kyoto is enjoying even more popularity than usual with Japanese tourists due to the success of Japanese TV broadcaster NHK's series 'Shinsengumi' (新選組), a historic drama following a group of samurai who kept peace in the city in the 1860s. Consequently, among the most popular souvenirs from the city at the moment are the distinctive blue and white happi (shirts) worn by this group.
There is a nice selection of reassuringly non-tacky traditional souvenir shops around Arashiyama station in Western Kyoto, selling fans and traditional sweets. More tacky stores can be found in Gion and the approach to Kiyomizu Temple, selling keyrings, cuddly toys, and garish ornaments. Other traditional souvenirs from Kyoto include parasols and carved wooden dolls.
A more unconventional but colourful (and relatively cheap) souvenir are the wooden votive tablets produced by temples, which bear an image relevant to the temple on the reverse. Visitors to the temples write their prayers on the tablets, and hang them up within the temple.
Manga and anime enthusiasts should visit Teramachi Street, a covered shopping street off the main Shijo-dori, which boasts a large manga store on two floors, as well as a two-storey branch of Gamers (a chain of anime stores), and a small two-storey anime and collectables store.
- Himeji - about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.
- Nara - less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, this former capital has several temples and tame deer.
- Osaka - about half an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.
|This article is still a stub and needs your attention. It does not have a template. Please plunge forward and help it grow!|