10 Remarkable Places to Visit in Kyoto
Have you ever thought about visiting or are you planning a trip to Kyoto? This is a popular destination located in the Kansai region of Japan with lots of amazing places and attractions to visit. Our featured travel writer Aimée Auguin has put together her list of the top 10 places you must check out in Kyoto...
1. Lantern Viewing at Torin-in Temple in Myōshin-ji Temple Complex
Even though the Myōshin-ji Temple Complex is very impressive and one cannot visit it thoroughly enough in one afternoon, a truly unique experience is witnessing the lantern festival. Only a select few days a year, this lantern viewing takes place in the Torin-in Temple. Despite the fact that the temple is a little bit hard to find, you are sure to witness something that few tourists or travelers experience. The Torin-in Temple lantern viewing is just one small example of the plethora of festivals available in Kyoto.
2. Gion Corner
The Gion district, Kyoto’s largest traditional entertainment area, is both picturesque and mysterious. The area comes alive at night and with a bit of luck you might spot a Geisha or Maiko (apprentice Geisha/Geiko). The Gion Corner (the Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation “Ookini Zaidan”) houses daily traditional Japanese performances. It provides the opportunity to observe and experience seven different forms of Japanese performance art: the Chado (Tea Ceremony), Koto (Japanese Harp), Kado (Flower Arrangement), Gagaku (Court Music), Kyogen (Ancient Comic Play), Kyomai (Kyoto Style Dance with Maiko and Geiko), and Bunraku (Puppet Play). If you want to witness multiple Japanese cultural traditions in one night, this is the place. The Kyomai is especially beautiful.
3. Maica – Dress up as a Maiko
Have the chance to stroll through the streets of Kyoto dressed as a Maiko (Geisha/Geiko in training). For a range of price points you can get the full makeover: a wig, a kimono of your choice and traditional makeup. It is truly a unique experience to add to your bucket list. The traditional culture of the Maiko still thrives in the Gion area, and Maica makes sure that everything is tastefully done and that the pristine image of the Maiko is maintained. Reservations should be made at least one day in advance. Men can also participate by dressing up as samurais. (Web: www.maica.tv/e)
4. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
The Golden Pavilion is possibly Kyoto’s most breathtaking landmark. Covered with lacquer and gold foil, it gives the impression of floating with its reflection in the nearby pond. It makes for gorgeous pictures no matter what season. Although it is immensely popular and most guides advise to go in the morning to avoid crowds, the pavilion is at its most beautiful in the late afternoon when the golden sunlight bounces right off the Kinkaku-ji. After having seen the pavilion, make sure to continue along the path to see the rest of the surroundings: a tea arbor, lush gardens, another pond, and other great halls.
5. Morita Wagami Homemade Paper Shop
This shop has an extraordinary variety of traditional Japanese paper. From “Washi,” (made using mountain shrubs) to “Kyochiyogami,” (special wrapping paper), this shop has a wide array of high-quality and decorative cards, stationary, wrapping paper, and other intricate crafts. Although it is very easy to overlook, this shop is a gem for anyone who is interested in the delicate art of Japanese papermaking.
6. Ryoan-ji Temple – Rock Garden
The Ryoan-ji Temple with its iconic rectangular Zen rock garden is the perfect place to visit for some tranquility. A simple set-up of fifteen rocks, moss, and white gravel, the garden’s full meaning is mysteriously unknown. This destination really demonstrates the essence of beautiful Zen harmony and simplicity. To the side of the rock garden, around the tatami rooms are trees with delicate moss and Tsukubai, a Unique Stone Wash-basin. This place is on top of most people’s itineraries when visiting Kyoto, so either visit in the early morning or in the early evening until right before closing time. You won’t be asked to leave immediately. Like most popular spots in Kyoto, the Ryoan-ji Temple is at its most enjoyable when empty and free of crowds.
7. Miyawaki Baisen-an Fan Shop
One of Kyoto’s most respected artisan crafts, the fan, still remains a mainstay in Japanese culture. The Miyawaki Baisen-An Fan Shop has been producing fans since 1823 and has every kind one could possibly want: simple, ornate, flat, small, large, for tea ceremonies, and specially-made fans for Maika and Geiko. Depending on the fan, prices range from surprisingly affordable to understandably expensive.
8. Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)
Although the Silver Pavilion is in reality not painted silver, it is certainly a great spot to visit. The thick moss, small rock garden, ponds, bamboo groves, Togu-do Buddhist hall and traditional Japanese architecture frame the pavilion perfectly. You may spot gardeners meticulously manicuring the luxurious and tranquil garden. Great to experience during all seasons, but the autumn foliage is especially picturesque. You can also choose to venture along the footpath to see great views of Kyoto.
9. Jūsan-ya Comb Shop
This comb shop sells handmade boxwood combs that each take 40 years to make. Crafted by hand and polished with special materials such as sharkskin, each comb is truly unique. Multiple carved designs are available, ranging from simple to intricate. Although quite pricey, the combs last a lifetime and truly show a level of craftsmanship that is hard to find elsewhere in the world.
10. Teramachi Market & Nishiki-koji Market
The loud and youthful Teramachi market filled with clothing stores, photo booths, a bubble tea stand, and arcade game machines contrasts with its neighbor, the traditional but equally as lively Nishiki-koji food market. Teramachi used to be a temple town, but it is now home to a shopping arcade packed with trendy shops and antique stores. Right next-door is the Nishiki-koji, also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” where many excellent restaurants get their products. Lined with authentic specialized Japanese food stands, there is an array of goods displayed varying from pickled eels to green tea baumkuchen, Japanese pickles and even whale meat.
You can try out tea ceremony sweets, rare mushrooms, sea urchin jelly, or blowfish. The market has a very lively atmosphere with the combination of salesmen shouting out the special of the day, the wafts of fragrant teas, and the bright colors of artisan products. A highlight of the market is definitely the Aritsugu knife shop that sells some of the best knives in the world. Already incredibly sharp, the knives are then put under a sharpening stone again before purchase. Chefs from all over the world make a pilgrimage to this little store to buy their utensils for their restaurants.
Other things to experience/see if time-permitting
- Walk up the Torii gate tunnels at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Wander through the Arashiyama bamboo forest
- Ride a rickshaw
- Find a community temple and watch a local festival/ceremony/parade
- Try out delicious green tea ice cream
By Aimée Auguin