A truly astonishing country, Japan has much to offer visitors and tourists. While there are countless cities, towns, attractions, and places to discover when exploring Japan, a true gem is the historic city of Kyoto. Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868, Kyoto has historic value unlike many other cities around the world. Over the centuries, villas, temples, shrines, and gardens have been built, burned down, built again, destroyed, and built again. Each time these magnificent examples of Japanese architecture have been reconstructed to preserve the history, culture, and architecture of this sublime city.
There are said to be over 1,000 Buddhist temples in Kyoto, with true masterpieces of Japanese architecture among them. Let the dazzling gold leaf of Kinkaku-ji Temple inspire you, the Zen Garden at Ryoanji Temple center you, and the 1,001 statues at Sanjusangendo amaze you. If there is one thing Kyoto loves more than temples, it’s the city’s shrines, monuments to the unwavering faith of the people. Discover this faith first hand at the monumental Fushimi Inari Shrine as you wander through thousands of vermillion tori gates spread across a mountainside.
Of course temples and shrines aren’t all Kyoto has to offer and a trip to Nishiki Market unlocks the culinary delights of the city. Work your way through the entire spectrum of local cuisine from refined dishes to hearty meals. Nightlife isn’t a problem either and the district of Gion is perfectly suited for those who wish to experience the geishas, gangsters, and gawkers of the city.
Kyoto seems to be the last city in Japan clinging on to the old ways of life. It is an experience that must be reveled in before modernity comes inevitably knocking and changes the vibe of this wonderful city for good. While exploring the city, ensure you make these three attractions your top priority:
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
An important Shinto shrine located in southern Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates straddling a network of trails behind the main buildings. The trails lead through a wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari which stands at 233 meters above sea level and belongs to the grounds of the shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity with ‘Fushimi’ simply referring to the location of the shrine to help distinguish it from other Inari shrines. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is considered the most important of the thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari with origins predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple
The common nickname of the Rokuon-ji Temple (Dear Garden Temple) a stunning Zen garden, the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion Temple) is named so due to the top two floors of the temple being completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was built in 1393 as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga who initially intended to cover the whole of the exterior in gold. However, he only managed to complete the ceiling of the third floor before his death. During the shogun’s life in the temple, Kyoto suffered greatly from famine, earthquakes, and plague with as many as 1,000 people dying each day during this period.
One of the most celebrated temples in Japan, Kiyomizu-dera, meaning ‘Pure Water Temple’, was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the eastern hills of Kyoto. The name of the temple comes from the pure and clean waters of the Otowa Waterfall. Originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, the temple formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965 and still functions as a school for this sect today. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.