Kyoto, Japan’s Cultural Jewel
Welcome to the City of Ten Thousand Shrines — Kyoto, Japan’s erstwhile imperial capital and cultural epicentre. One of the best-preserved historical cities in the country, Kyoto is a window into ancient Japan, affording a glimpse into a bygone era through its old palaces, majestic shrines, traditional townhouses and spiritual temples. It’s also a curious melting pot for the old and the new, where the traditional shares space with the modern. Prepare to be enchanted, awed and captivated all at once, in this land of shrines and Geishas, castles, rock gardens and unmatched culinary extravaganzas.
Kyoto wears Japan’s heritage proudly, and there are plenty who flock to its attractions. But for every iconic landmark in the city, like the stunning temples of Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji, or the rock garden of Ryōan-ji, there are other lesser-known treasures like Kyoto’s hidden gardens, tiny hamlets and temples that are just as amazing. Take the love stones, for instance. Look beyond the main hall of the Kiyomizu-dera temple and you’ll find the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, the god of love, where a pair of “love stones” placed 20 ft. apart entices visitors to walk from one stone to the other with eyes closed, in the hope of being blessed with true love.
When to visit
The spring and autumn months of March to May and September to November are the most favourable, although the months of September and October are prone to typhoons.
You cannot come to Kyoto and return without having seen the Heian-jingū Shrine, an imperial Shinto shrine whose gigantic torii gate welcomes you into its spacious cherry blossom-strewn grounds, which during the blooming season transforms into a vision of delicate beauty. Or the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, a sprawling shrine that’s perched on the wooded slopes of Inari-san whose main attraction is its seemingly endless, blazing orange torii. From here, you can visit nearby attractions that include the Kyoto Museum of Modern Arts, Kyoto Zoo and a sake brewery where you can explore the brewing process before stopping for a taste at the local liquor shop.
Wander around Gion district and take in the surroundings, dotted with machiya or traditional townhouses, or try your luck spotting Geishas. You can also dine with a Geisha and Maiko and enjoy the traditional, multi-course Kaiseki meal or experience an elaborate tea ceremony.
If you have some time, you could discover the Kyoto that extends beyond tradition and heritage and lends itself to glorious nature in its surrounding countryside. You’ll discover bamboo groves, lush forests and ancient temples where festivals are still celebrated as in yonder days. Kyoto’s Arashiyama district on the outskirts is a tourist’s paradise and a photographer’s dream come true. Best viewed by foot, it’s also a very special experience to ride through the surreal bamboo forest and take in the sights from the comfortable seat of a rickshaw.
Kyoto is the soul of old Japan. It paints an incredible cultural masterpiece with influences from Zen Buddhists, Samurai warriors and imperial nobility. This is, perhaps, the foremost reason why you should visit this enchanting, venerable city.
What to do
– Visit the Zen gardens at Daitokuji Temple
– Browse through comics at the Kyoto International Manga Museum
– Shop at Nishiki Market
– Enjoy martial arts at the Kyoto Budo Centre
– Go Geisha-spotting