Travel Guide: Kyoto

Travel Guide: Kyoto

April 7, 2020 0 By TravellingWelshman

Before Tokyo had reach the monumental heights to which it has reached today, the centre of Japan laid somewhere else. Serving as the Imperial family’s residence under Shogunate rule from 794 to 1868, the ancient capital of Japan was right here in the city of Kyoto. The city can be considered the spiritual centre of the country with over 2000 separate temples and shrines found throughout its expanses. Achieving a perfect balance with tasteful modern development keeping Kyoto at the forefront while maintaining its ancient pasts and undeniable strong cultural influence.

The Geography

Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

 

 

Kyoto consists of both a sprawling city as well as representing an entire prefecture. The prefecture is roughly central on the main island of Honshu in a region known as the Kansai region.

 

 

 

 

Map of the Kansai region, courtesy of International Tourism Center of Japan

 

 

The Kansai region is divided into 7 separate prefectures, of which Kyoto’s is right in the centre. It’s surrounding prefectures are also popular amongst tourists, such as those of Nara and Osaka. With its location, Kyoto becomes the perfect launching off point to explore the surrounding region.

 

 

 

 

Getting There

Being a major city and relatively central to the country, it is incredibly well connected to the rest of the country by several forms of transportation. However, with Japan being an island nation, access to Kyoto internationally is unfortunately limited to flights.

Flights

As Japan is an island nation, as far as international travel is concerned, flights are your only option.

[To be updated following COVID-19]

Trains

Kyoto is connected to the rest of the country by its extensive railway network. You are able to travel there purely by use of local trains. However, getting there from the far away cities it would take a number of transfers and a hell of a long time. As the only direct long-distance trains available are the Shinkashens (bullet trains), the prices are pretty high.

Tokyo: 13,080 yen

Hiroshima: 10,570 yen

Nagoya: 5,170 yen

Shinkasen network map, courtesy of Japan-Guide.com

 

 

 

However, as Kyoto’s surrounded on all sides by very popular tourist destination such as Nagoya, Osaka and Nara, getting there from these destination can be done by use of the local train lines that run between the neighbouring prefectures (see below for more details).

 

 

 

 

 

Buses

Easily the cheaper option and a high level of comfort compared to buses in other countries, it provides a perfect alternative to the budget traveller. Services range from daytime only to those that run through the night. There are a few companies that run routes to Kyoto, including JR Buses, Keihan Buses and Willer Express. The latter of which is the all round cheapest and best option.

Tokyo: 4,000 yen

Hiroshima: 3,000 yen

Nagoya: 2,000 yen

Alternatively you could walk into any city’s majour bus station and buy a ticket headed to any large city in the country, no booking needed. However some long-distance routes will require a booking, and especially recommended during peak travel seasons. You can also arrive in Kyoto by using one of the many different bus passes on offer.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re sacrificing comfort or quality when spending less on a bus. Each one has its own personal socket as well as each bus having free wi-fi. Often the seats recline to near horizontal and some even come with a pram like hood cover to give an added level of privacy.

 

Getting Around

Just like any other major Japanese city, the city of Kyoto has a very well established public transport system. As the variety and network of transportation is so extensive, there are numerous ways of getting from A to B.

It is worth considering that Kyoto itself is not that big of a city. Other than one or two attractions placed a little out of the city’s centre, everything else is within very manageable walking distances from each other. In reality you don’t really need to utilise public transport to visit most of the attractions the city has to offer. However if time is running short or for the lazy amongst you, then the public transport system is very easy to figure out.

Trains

The city of Kyoto has a total of six separate train lines divided between JR (Japan Railways) and private lines. All can be used to get around the city and some lines connect with other nearby cities such as Osaka, Kobe and Nara.

The JR lines include the Tokaido Line, which also includes the express train (Shinkansen) connected to Osaka, Kobe and Otsu. The others are the Nara Line, Sagano (Sanin) Line (connects to Arashiyama) and the Hokuriku Line connected to north-eastern cities such as Kanazawa and Toyama.

All the local train lines (plus subway) connecting in Kyoto, courtesy of Discover Kyoto

 

 

The private lines include the Keihan Line and the Hankyu Line which runs between Kyoto and Osaka via some major attractions. There’s also the Kintetsu Line which connects Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. For those who don’t have JR Rail Pass, this is the best line to use. Additionally there’s the Keifuku Line, which is the city’s last remaining tram line which connects to Arashiyama. Last of which is the Eizan Line which heads northwards to the mountains outside of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

Subway

The Kyoto Municipal Subway system consists of two lines; Karasuma Subway Line (north to south) and Tozai Subway Line (east to west). Though the system is quite limited, it passes by a considerable number of attractions within the city.

Kyoto’s two subway lines, courtesy of Urban Rail

 

 

These lines stay within the central limits of the city, and are more convenient than trying to figure out the local trains. Fares range from 210-340 yen depending on distance. For those intending to make multiple runs a day should invest in a one-day subway pass for 600 yen.

 

 

 

 

 

Buses

Buses are a good choice for getting to those areas of Kyoto that are not easily accessible by train or subway. The responsibility is shared between two main companies which can be recognised by their different coloured buses; Kyoto City Bus (green) and Kyoto Bus (cream and red). They also divide the areas which they generally operate, the former operating within the centre of the city and the latter further outside.

There is also a sightseeing bus ran by Raku Bus that charge a flat 230 yen. They are brightly coloured and specifically for use by tourists, each coming with English announcements and only pass by attractions. There are three Raku Bus services; 100, 101 and 102:

Raku Bus 100 – From Kyoto Station, 7:40am-5pm every 10 minutes

Kyoto Station – National Museum & Sanjusangendo Temple – Kiyomizudera Temple – Gion – Heian-jingu Shrine – Ginkakuji Temple

Raku Bus 101 – From Kyoto Station, 8am-4:30pm every 15 minutes.

Kyoto Station – Nijo-jo Castle – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – Kinkakuji Temple – Daitokuji Temple – Kitaoji Bus Terminal

Raku Bus 102 – From Ginkakuji-michi Bus Stop, 8:04am-4:34pm every 30 minutes.

Ginkakuji Temple – Kyoto Imperial Palace – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – Kinkakuji Temple – Daitokuji Temple – Kitaoji Bus Terminal

 

Attractions

With the exception of Tokyo, Kyoto has the biggest number and undoubtedly some of the most famous attractions found throughout the country. For many travellers, Kyoto actually provides a better all round sight-seeing experience, keeping true to its ancient roots.

Fushimi Inari

Without doubt, this is the number one attraction when it comes to Kyoto, and possibly one of the most famous attractions in the entire country. Fushimi-Inari is a Shinto shrine which in-fact paved the way for every other shrine throughout the country. It has become the head shrine for some 40,000 other Inari shrines found in Japan. The image of a thousand crimson red torii gates winding up through the forest covered trails that lead up the sacred Mount Inari are famous throughout the world.

kyoto fushimi-inari

The vermillion torii gates of Fushimi-Inari

The main shrine stands at the peak of the mountain at 233 meters up, along with numerous smaller sub-shrines scattered throughout the varying trails that lead up the mountain. The entire complex of torii gates and shrines were originally built in 794 as a dedication to the Shinto god Inari; the god of rice and sake. Throughout the route you’ll likely come across stone foxes; the animal considered to be the messenger of Inari.

kyoto fushimi-inari

At the beginning of the trails before walking through the vermilion tunnel stands the Romon Gate, behind which is the shrine’s main hall; Honden. This is where visitors pay respect to the resident deity before making a small offering. If you are fortunate enough you might be able to catch a glimpse of a ceremony taking place within the shrines.

kyoto fushimi-inari

Romon Gate

Each torii gate were a donation and are even inscribed with the individual’s/company’s name and date of donation. Not that it’s cheap to do so, with prices starting from 400,000 yen for a smaller one. However visitors often donate much smaller hand-held gates sold at various points along the trails.

The hike to the summit takes between 2-3 hours. Be wary that the beginning of the trail without doubt will be the busiest section as the tunnels often becoming congested with slow-paced tourists. However at half-way up the trail there’s an intersection where there’s a clearing in the forest that allows for a look back at the south side of Kyoto. This is also where the trail splits into a circular route around the peak of the mountain and where the crowds begin to spread thin.

south side of kyoto

A look back over Kyoto

Details:

Getting There: Head to JR Inari Station along the JR Nara Line (150 yen from Kyoto Station). Otherwise it’s a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.

 

Arashiyama

The region of Arashiyama is worthy of an entire guide itself. The name refers to an entire region on the western outskirts of Kyoto. Though still within the city limits, its a perfect escape from the sprawl of the streets and the perfect opportunity to get back to nature. Its much the same reason the area was so popular with the nobilities of the Heian Period (794-1185) where they could escape for some relaxation.

The district collectively known as Arashiyama

Crossing the central landmark of the region; the Togetsukyo Bridge, and you’ll arrive at the region known as Sagano which hold most of the area’s biggest treats. The vast variety on offer include a Monkey Park and Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street as well as several temples, such as Daikakuji Temple, Jojakkoji Temple and Nisonin Temple. Another temple of note would be the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tenryuji Temple and the gardens that surround it, thought to be one of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto.

Tenryuji Temple kyoto arashiyama

Tenryuji Temple

However one particular image above all else makes the area such a popular hot-spot for tourists. Along with Fushimi-Inari, the top contender for the number 1 photo op in all of Kyoto is here in Arashiyama. It is of course the world famous photogenic views of the Bamboo Groves. Another iconic site which since its conception has been the focus of countless artists, photographers and poets alike.

kyoto bamboo groves arashiyama

The emerald forests of the Bamboo Groves

The bamboo forest begins just behind Tenryuji Temple, where a pathway carves through the thick emerald groves of upward stretching bamboo. It’s easy to feel insignificant walking amongst them, much like a little bug walking amongst blades of grass. The forest is at its finest on a breezy day when the bamboo waves to the will of the wind as if they were beneath the ocean, releasing a gentle chorus of creaks.

Bamboo groves arashiyama kyoto

Looking upwards in the Bamboo Groves

Arashiyama is home to year round attractions. Blooms of colours during autumn and of cherry blossoms during the spring, traditional cormorant fishing during the summer along the Hozu River and lantern-lined streets during Hanatoro celebrations in the winter.

Details:

Getting There: There are multiple different trains that can take you to Arashiyama. The fastest of which is along the JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station which costs 240 yen. You can also travel along the Keifuku Line from Omiya Station in the centre of the city for 220 yen. Your last option is going along the Hankyu Line for 230 yen. You could alternatively take a bus however it would be much easier/faster to take one of the train lines mentioned above.

Open: Temples are typically open from 9am-4:30/5pm

 

Gion

Beginning as nothing more than a handful of teahouses for visitors to a nearby shrine, for many centuries the streets of Gion has become the home of pleasure and entertainment. Home to one of the most recognisable pieces of Japanese culture; the very mysterious geishas. Walk along the authentic 17th century-style streets packed from one side to the other with lantern-lit restaurants and ochayas (teahouses) where the geishas and apprentice maikos gather to entertain paying guests.

Gion kyoto

The authentic streets of Gion

The authentically unique look of the streets are down to a city tax which goes to preserving the cultural centre as well as the regions property taxes which is based on store frontage. This results in narrow structures stacked upon each other and extend further into the alleys behind.

Gion kyoto

The narrow alleyways of Gion

However the beautifully authentic streets of Gion aren’t the main attraction. Kyoto is both the birthplace and the to this day where you’ll find the greatest number of Geishas. Many tourists gather along the streets in the hopes of catching a glimpse of an authentic geisha scuttering their way to their next appointments. For those hoping to see one your best hope is to head there between 5:30-6pm. This is generally when they all make their way to their appointments for the evening. If you’re hoping to see one of these performances for yourself, be ready to pay a fortune. As the adornment of the streets might suggest, dining and particularly being in the company of a Geisha is not a cheap experience.

Kyoto geisha

Authentic geishas on their way to their evening appointment

However visitors must be wary of taking photographs, as technically you are unable to do so along the streets, which could result in heavy fines. Though of course this doesn’t stop people from doing so regularly. The reasons for which are quite valid, as the pushier tourists get in the way and generally ensure that the geishas end up being late to their appointments, a big no no in Japanese culture.

geisha kyoto

Details:

Getting There: Head to Gion Station on bus numbers 100 and 206. Alternatively head to Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

 

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is possibly the most significant temple in the city of Kyoto as well as one of the most significant throughout Japan. The UNESCO World Heritage site on the eastern side of the city was founded in 780 beside Otowa Waterfall, for which it derived its name from the fall’s pure waters. It was originally founded under the Hosso sect, known to be one of the oldest schools of Buddhism in the country.

Kiyomizu-dera kyoto

The entrance to Kiyomizu-dera

The best known detail of the temple is a wooden stage that extends outwards from the main hall above the hillside. From here the visitors can observe the colours of spring and fall, particularly Japan’s centrepiece flora; the famous cherry blossoms of spring. Within the main hall itself is where visitors will find the temple’s main object of worship in the form of an eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.

There a number of separate little attractions found within the temple grounds. A popular one for couples is a dedication to the deity of love; the Jinshu Shrine. Here prospective lovers can bring luck to their relationship by attempting to walk from one stone to the other 18 meters apart with their eyes closed.

Higashiyama District kyoto

View back over the Higashiyama District

The waterfall beside the temple’s main hall is an attraction in of itself. The waters flows into 3 separate streams, where visitors can collect the waters by using extended cups. Each stream apparently comes its own benefit, including longevity, a successful love life and success at school. However drinking from all three is thought to be greedy.

Kiyomizu-dera kyoto

The fairytale of Kyoto

Details:

Getting There: Head on bus numbers 100 or 206 up to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Alternatively it’s a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Line.

Price: 400 yen

Open: 6am-6pm

 

Higashiyama District

The streets that wind through the Higashiyama District are some examples of the best preserved historic streets of the entire city. Situated between Kiyomizu-dera and Maruyama Park on the eastern edge of the city, it’s a collection of narrow lanes and traditional wooden buildings of traditional machiyas, restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Along with the many individuals walking through wearing their rented kimonos, it certainly gives an authentically ancient feel to the area.

Higashiyama District kyoto

The pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera poking through the Higashiyama District

The streets are one of the few throughout the whole country that has the greatest effort to retain a more authentic appearance, being completely free of power lines and telephone polls. Naturally such an area can quite often come with hordes of tourists. The establishments are there both for visiting tourists and retaining the culture and authenticity for locals.

Details:

Getting There: To get there you can either head on bus number 100 or 206 towards Kiyomizudera. You can step off at any stop between Gojozaka and Gion. Alternatively you can walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station or Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line, from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line or from Higashiyama Station along the Tozai Line.

 

Nijō Castle

Built in 1603, this castle was the former residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period and played official residence of the shoganate rulers until 1867. Following which the now UNESCO World Heritage Site then became the imperial palace before being donated to the city as a historic site. The grounds of which are split into 3 sections; Honmaru (main defence circle), the ninomaru (secondary defence circle) and the gardens which surround them.

The secondary Honmaru defensive walls

Visitors enter via the east gate before venturing further into the grounds to a Chinese style Karamon Gate, marking  the entrance into Ninomaru. Through these gates stands the Ninomaru Palace; considered the main attraction. The palace which has remained in its original form served as the residence and workplace of the shogun whenever he would visit Kyoto.

Karamon Gate

Within the palace are successions of separate rooms segmented by elaborately designed sliding doors. Each room comes with its own significance to their purpose and who would be using them. Visitors will also experience the “nightingale floors” which squeak while walking across them. This would function as a security measure to alert the inhabitants of approaching intruders.

Ninomaru Palace

Within the palace you’re able to observe areas that at one point in time only a select few would have the privilege. This includes the shogun’s main audience room where he would command his subordinates. The innermost rooms consist of offices and the living chambers of the shogun himself, along with his female “companions”.

The secondary palace complex is found through the Honmaru walls, as well as where a five-storied castle once stood. However, these structures were destroyed in the 18th century and were never rebuilt. The gardens however remain open as well as the stone foundations of where the palace once stood.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Line. Alternatively you can take bus numbers 9, 12, 50 or 101 to the castle.

Price: 620 yen (plus 410 yen to enter Ninomaru Palace)

Open: 8:45 to 17:00 (Oct to Jun)

8:00 to 18:00 (Jul and Aug)

8:00 to 17:00 (Sep)

 

Kennin-Ji

Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple constructed in 1202 is found just south of the famous district of Gion. The temple itself was founded by the Buddhist monk that introduced both Zen Buddhism and tea cultivation to Japan after returning from China. It still serves as one of the main temples of the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Buddhism, and considered one of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto.

The Zen gardens of Kennin-Ji

The grounds of Kennin-ji is quite vast and has a lot to offer, the majority of which is open to the public. After paying an entrance fee, visitors are able to explore the interior main buildings as well as the immaculate Zen gardens that surround them.

The interior of Dharma Hall

Visitors are able to view some terrific examples of artwork, such as the beautifully designed interior sliding doors, decorated with images of multiple dragons as well as the gods of wind and thunder. Equally as striking is the artwork which adorns the roof of Dharma Hall, a spectacular mural of twin dragons commemorating the temple’s 800th anniversary.

The mural on the roof of Dharma Hall

Details:

Getting There: Head to Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line or Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

Price: 500 yen

Open: 10am-5pm (Mar-Oct)

10am-4:30pm (Nov-Feb)

 

Ryozen Kannon

The God of Mercy over-watching Ryozen Kannon

Though you might not find it on many must-do lists, I find it as a particular unique and noteworthy experience. The temple complex in its entirety is a dedication to the fallen of both sides of the Pacific War. The notable centrepiece of the temple is the 24 meter high figure of the Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) which commands the area and overlooks the temple’s complex.

After entering, visitors will be handed a thick stick of incense which they will be able to place in the large cauldron which sits before the temple’s main hall. Visitors can venture inside the structure of the statue, where there is a collection of eleven different images of Kannon and the chanting of the faithful in the temple beneath resonates throughout.

The different images of Kannon

Throughout the grounds of the temple are other smaller Buddhist statues as well as a memorial footprint of Buddha. However, one of the most unique features of the temple stands beside its main hall; a small chapel-type structure with a central alter to the fallen of the war. Within are also filing cabinets full of documents detailing each victim (both Japanese and otherwise) that died on Japanese territory. Beside it is a display that contain samples of soil from each allied cemetery that partook in the Pacific War.

The soil donated from each allied country

The positioning of the temple is quite pertinent. Ryozen Kannon stands as a representation of peace and sorrow for the devastation that the war caused. However, the nearby Gokoku Shrine is more of a nationalistic monument, glorifying the sacrifice of the nations citizens while fighting for the Emperor.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Shijo Keihan Station on the Tozai Line before walking about 10 minutes to the temple. Alternatively you can take bus numbers 206 or 207 to Gion Bus Stop before taking a short walk.

Price: 200 yen

Open: 8:40am-4:20 pm

 

Kodai-ji

Situated directly next to Ryozen Kannon, Kodai-ji was constructed in 1606 in the memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi by his faithful wife Nene. The temple that would become their final resting place now belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The temple grounds include beautifully interconnected structures, zen gardens raked to represent oceans and even a miniature bamboo grove.

The halls of Kodai-Ji

Visitors are able to visit the once gold covered main hall which these days has been replaced with a more modest construction following its burning in 1912. The entire complex of the temple prides itself in its gardens. The best of which would be the Tsukiyama style garden which features a tranquil pond, man-made hills and scattering of pines and maple trees that come autumn bring a whole new light to the garden. Within this garden is the memorial hall Kaizando, where Nene would pray for her late husband.

Kaizando and its surroundings

Further up the temple grounds stands the mausoleum for both Hideyoshi and Nene, the inside of which has a rich powdered gold and silver design, a unique feature to Kodai-ji. Nearby is also where you’ll find a miniature bamboo grove, for those unable to visit Arashiyama.

Details:

Getting There: As it is directly next to Ryozen Kannon, follow the same instructions. Head to Shijo Keihan Station on the Tozai Line before walking about 10 minutes to the temple. Alternatively you can take bus numbers 206 or 207 to Gion Bus Stop before taking a short walk.

Price: 600 yen (Kodaiji and Sho Museum), 900 yen (Kodaiji, Sho Museum and Entokuin)

Open: 9am-5:30pm

 

Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace became the official residence of Japan’s Imperial Family up until the capital was moved to Tokyo. It played host to the enthronement of a number of the country’s Emperors held in the palace’s main hall. Located centrally in the Kyoto Imperial Park, it’s amongst a scattering of smaller temples and even a teahouse on the edge of a koi filled pond.

The teahouse in Kyoto Imperial Park

At the centre of this particular pond stands a miniature shrine in dedication to Miyajima’s Itsukushima Shrine. The surrounding park include a collection of cherry trees which naturally blossom during spring. For many years the Imperial Palace was only accessible through joining a tour group, however these days the palace’s doors are open for anyone to enter. However you will be unable to enter any of the buildings on site.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Marutamachi or Imadegawa Station (closer to the entrance) on the Karasuma Line.

Price: Free

Open: 9am-5pm (Apr-Aug)

9am-4:30pm (Sep-Mar)

9am-4pm (Oct-Feb)

 

Hokan-ji

Hokan-Ji poking through the Higashiyama District

The 46-meter high pagoda built in 589 by an Imperial Prince is a destination known under a few names; Yasaka-no-to, Yasaka Pagoda, but mostly commonly Hokan-ji. Though pagodas aren’t in short supply in the country, and not there’s too much to see within it, it’s the location which makes it quite special. Slotted directly in the middle of the busy authentic Higashiyama District, it provides some beautiful scenery in an already beautiful neighbourhood. Perhaps not a surprise to find out that its construction came by a dream’s inspiration.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Higashiyama-Yasui or Kiyomizu-michi Bus Stops.

Price: 400 yen

Open: 10am-4pm

 

Philosopher’s Path

The stone path leading away from the authentic streets of the Higashiyama district follows a canal lined from one end to the other with cherry trees. The area get’s it’s name from one of the country’s most famous philosophers; Nishida Kitaro. Along this route is where he would practice his daily meditation on the way to Kyoto University.

The 2km long path begins at Ginkakuji and leads to the district on Nanzen-ji. Throughout are successions of restaurants, cafes and a number of temples and shrines, the most important temple of which is Honen-in. The canal itself was purpose-built to revitalise the local economy, and used to power the country’s first hydroelectric power plant. Naturally the best time of year to visit the attraction is during the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Details:

Getting There: Take the Karasuma Line to Marutamachi Station. From there walk to the nearby bus stop before taking one of bus numbers 93 to 204 to Kinrinshakomae Bus Stop.

 

Nishiki Market

Known locally as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, the marketplace is known for its specialised foods and cookware. Nishiki Market is a narrow shopping street containing hundreds of tiny stores and restaurants. This is where hordes of shoppers and observers alike come to explore the culinary side of Kyoto. It’s undoubtedly the best place to find a number of Kyoto delicacies such as dried seafood, pickles and sweet treats.

The history of the market spans generations of store owners as far back as 1310 where it originally began as a humble fish market. Over time the variety of produce expanded as did the market itself. Today it remains an important attraction to both tourists and a source for locals.

Some stores might be kind enough to provide samples to entice passing potential customers. The restaurants found throughout will have limited space to work in, so don’t expect too many free seats, or perhaps none at all. Each restaurant will specialise in one particular sort of food. Helpful note; as hard as it may be, try refraining from eating while walking. In Japan it’s actually thought to be bad manners.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Shijo Station on the Karasuma Line or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line.

Open: 9am-6pm

 

Kinkaku-ji

Known as the “Golden Pavilion”, Kinkaku-ji is yet another nationally famous Zen temple and one of Kyoto’s biggest highlights. A central gold leaf covered main hall surrounded by a tranquil pond bringing with it a stunning serene view. Dating back to 1397, it functioned as the retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, where it was converted into a temple by his son following his death.

Built to represent the extravagant aristocratic cultures that surrounded Kyoto at the time, each floor represents a different architectural style. Though visitors unfortunately are unable to walk within the pavilion itself, they’re able to view from a distance. It’s possible to catch glimpses of the statues which are kept within including a seating Kannon and a golden phoenix. The original temple structure was destroyed by a fire started by a fanatic monk with a strong obsession, before being reconstructed to its original standards.

Details:

Getting There: Take theKarasuma Line to Kitaoji Station before taking bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205 to Kinkakuji Bus Stop. Alternatively just take bus numbers 101 or 205 from the centre of Kyoto.

Price: 400 yen

Open: 9am-5pm

 

Ginkaku-ji

Hints of deja vu comes with Ginkaku-ji, as its inspiration came following Kinkaku-ji’s construction. Yet another villa built for the express purpose of a retirement villa for the very same shogun. Rather than being covered in gold, this one was originally planned to be covered in silver. Despite the imagined decor never came to fruition, it gave the villa it’s name; the“Silver Pavilion”. Just like Kinkaku-ji, the villa then became a Zen temple following his death.

These days the temple remains in the centre of an elegant garden, a pond, a covering of pines and cones of raked white sands (symbolising mountains and a lake). This temple became the centre of the Higashiyama Culture, including the likes of art, flower arrangement, garden designing and development of the tea ceremony. All of which had a wider influence on the entire country.

Details:

Getting There: To get there you can take bus numbers 5, 17 or 100. Otherwise you can head to Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan and Eizan local train lines and take a 30 minute walk.

Price: 500 yen

Open: 8.30am-5pm (Mar-Nov)

9am-4.30pm (Dec-Feb)

 

Sanjūsangen

Situated directly next to the National Museum, the temple built in 1164, the temple’s main hall houses 1001 statues of Kannon; the goddess of mercy. At the centre of the hall stands a 1000-arm Kannon with another 500 smaller life-like structures of the very same god on either side. The statue comes with 11 faces to better observe the suffering of man, and such numbers of arms to help fight against it. Unfortunately (like many Japanese temples) photography is forbidden within the temple itself.

A sneaky picture within the main hall

Details:

Getting There: The temple can be reached by bus numbers 100, 206 or 208 towards Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae bus stop. Otherwise you can head to Shichijo Station on the Keihan Line.

Open: 8am-5pm 

9-4pm (Nov-Mar)

Price: 600 yen

 

Kyoto National Museum

The original building of the Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum is not only one of the oldest throughout the country, it’s one of the top 4 museums throughout the country. Opened in 1897, the museum is home a number of permanent and rotating special exhibitions such as archaeological relics, statues and paintings.

Details:

Getting There: Head to Shichijo Station along the Keihan Line. Alternatively take bus numbers 100, 206 or 208 to Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae Bus Stop.

Price: permanent exhibitions700 yen

Special exhibitions – 1500 yen

Open: 9:30am-5pm

 

Accommodations

The city comes with plenty of varying types of accommodating and equally varying prices. An important consideration for Japan in general is that prices for accommodations aren’t cheap when comparing to other countries. Even prices for bargain-rate hostels aren’t that much cheaper than the equivalent hotel.

Another very important consideration is that Kyoto has a city-wide accommodation tax. This means that each individual needs to pay 200 yen per-night for any form of accommodation. This will often be on top of whatever you’ve already paid. Keep that in mind.

Hostels

For a relatively small city it has an extraordinary number of hostel options. Being as it is Japan, they might not be cheap compared to other countries, but they are relatively speaking for Japan. Prices for hostels start for as little as £6 with a number of options up to the £17 mark and some more expensive options from there. Mostly they’re concentrated to the southern end of the city.

For my personal recommendation I would suggest Downtown Inn Kyoto, it’s where I spent a long happy month. It also happens to be the cheapest hostel in Kyoto!

Hotels

If you’re after a bit of added luxury then you can easily find a decent single-room in a hotel for between £13-18, about the same as you would pay for a hostel. The cheapest I could find in the city is a bed and breakfast at £6 a day. There are also a greater number of options available.

Cuisine

Being the ancient capital and home to some of Japan’s most influential leaders, the city of Kyoto holds a rich culinary tradition with its diverse range of dining options from the more sophisticated multiple course cuisines to the simplest and most humble dishes.

Starting with the more sophisticated beginnings we have kaiseki ryori, a dish which originated from traditional tea ceremonies amongst aristocrats. A dish which focuses on the subtle flavors of local and seasonal ingredients. It usually comes in the form of a regular stream of dishes, each more unique than the last. The easiest way for travellers to experience it is by staying in a local ryokan. Though enjoying the experience isn’t necessarily a cheap one, rarely starting below 6,000 yen and reaching the limits of 30,000.

On the other end of the scale, shojin ryori stems from the culture of Buddhist monks. Following the Buddhist traditions, the meals refrain from taking the life of a living creature and therefore strictly vegetarian. This will often be offered as meals for anyone lucky enough to stay in a temple. The dishes will commonly include tofu (a Kyoto speciality). This can be seen in another unique dish called Yudofu; soft tofu served with vegetables. Despite its humble beginnings, you’ll be spending between 1500-2000 yen for the privilege.

For a more traditional home-cooked meal look for Obanzai Ryori, a meal of several small simple prepared dishes. A form of cuisine that focuses on getting the most out of the seasonal harvests and flavours. Yet again however, not exactly cheap at between 2000-3000 yen per meal, depending on what you order.