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Kyoto Culture

4 days in Kyoto
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Travaa Guides

18th September 2018
The cultural heart of Japan and one of its most beautiful cities, Kyoto was once the capital of Japan between 794 to 1868. From its geisha center of Gion to the temples of Zen and shrines of Shintoism, witness core Japanese tradition in this area. The art and beauty of this historic place is shrouded in tradition, secrecy and mysterious animal messenger spirits!
Sanjusangen-do Temple
This is a Buddhist temple built in 1165. It houses 1,000 statues of the thousand arm Kanon the Goddess of Merci along a giant statue of the thousand arm Kanon. The sight of these statues is really quite a sight to behold - it's no photos inside this temple. Look out for statues of the Japanese Gods Fuji and Raiji (Wind and Thunder), 28 statues of guardian deities who protect Kanon. Enjoy your short visit here.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Enter the shrine grounds via the tori gates and pathway here for some nice photos! Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of the god Inari, located in Fushimi Ward in Kyoto, Japan. Inari is the god of rice, but merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business. This popular shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha (分社)) throughout Japan.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
It is time to ascend the mountain and enter the over 10,000 torii gates. This walk will take your a good few hours, passing many smaller shrines which span 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) and take approximately 2 hours to walk up. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been donated by a Japanese business. Tip: This place can get quite crowded during peak visiting hours, but very enjoyable nonetheless. If you are a keen photographer, you might want to visit this place in the early morning instead when it is less crowded. It's quite a climb to the summit of the mountain if you are planning to do the whole climb. It can get a little creepy if you still descending the mountain after sun down - for braver folks, read about the fox messenger spirits associated with Fushimi Inari and this shrine on the web!
This is a beautiful 5-storey pagoda with pretty streets around here.
This beautiful place is tops in Kyoto's list of places to visit in Kyoto! Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), officially Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山清水寺), is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. This temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.
The large wooden stage of the main shrine is a main attraction of this place - it really juts out of the hillside. Also, visit the Jishu shrine (on the opposite side of the main shrine), which is dedicated to the God of Love and matchmaking.
Otowa Waterfall
As you loop around and down on the visitor path, you will come to this popular waterfall with the 3 streams. Drink from one of the streams to get the blessing for you!
Kiyomizu 2-chome
Follow this street which branches off from the main street towards the next place. There are plenty of interesting shops and restaurants all along here.
Ryozen Kannon
The Ryōzen Kannon is a war memorial commemorating the War dead of the Pacific War located in Eastern Kyoto. The concrete and steel statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Kannon) was built by Hirosuke Ishikawa (1955). The statue is 24 m (80 ft) high and weighs approximately 500 tons. The shrine beneath the statue contains an image of Bodhisattva Ekādaśamukha and images of the god of wind and god of thunder. Memorial tablets of 2 million Japanese who died in World War II are also stored here.
Chion-in Temple
In "The Last Samurai" staring Tom Cruise, the Imperial Palace seen in the movie was actually this Chion-In Temple. Past the complex san-mon gate, the climb up to the temple is quite steep! Chion-in is the headquarters of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land Sect) who proclaimed that sentient beings are reborn in Amida Buddha's Western Paradise (Pure Land) by reciting the nembutsu, Amida Buddha's name. The vast compounds of Chion-in include the site where Hōnen settled to disseminate his teachings and the site where he died.
Yasaka Shrine
This is shinto shrine is a symbol of the Gion district. The shrine includes several buildings, including gates, a main hall and a stage.
Gion Tatsumi Bridge
Get a photo on this bridge and enjoy a stroll in this historic area. Notice the historic wooden houses all around here.
Hanamikoji Dori
This is a nice old street with plenty of upmarket eating places .. Have a bite here (later) if your budget allows.
Gion Corner
Note: Check if there will be a performance today! Schedule various between the seasons. Be here early to queue for tickets for the 6pm show. The whole performance typically lasts for about 50 minutes, providing viewers with an appreciation of various key Japan traditional arts - and includes a geisha (maiko specifically) performance! It's very affordable (for what you will be seeing, versus other options around town) and definitely recommended!
Kinkaku-ji ("Temple of the Golden Pavilion"), is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, and it is one of 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are World Heritage Sites. Besides geisha in Gion, this gorgeous temple is an icon of Kyoto. It really glows and makes for a really beautiful picture especially when the sun is low (either early/later in the day). Do observe its shimmering image in the pond before it. This place was originally built as a villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu back in 1397. It has since been burnt down and rebuilt in the 1950's.
Ryōan-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace). The Ryōan-ji garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui ("dry landscape"). Be early at this famous Zen rock garden to contemplate peace and quiet. In this garden are are fifteen stones of different sizes, carefully composed in groups. The stones are surrounded by white gravel, which is carefully raked each day by the monks. The only vegetation in the garden is some moss around the stones. Have a seat on the veranda and view the stones. These stones are placed so that the entire composition cannot be seen at once from the veranda - i.e. only fourteen of the boulders are visible at any time. See if you can see all fifteenth boulders - if so, you would have attaining enlightenment!
Ninna-ji is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. In the temple grounds, definitely visit the goten, the former home of the head priest, which is in the style of an imperial palace. It is to your left right after passing under the massive front gate. There is a nice 5-storey pagoda here which is surrounded by cherry blossoms around mid-April.
Tenryu-ji Temple
If you having been visiting plenty of temples, I suppose you could give this one a miss for fear of been temple'd out. If you can visit this place, it has a beautiful garden which has survived in its original form. Exit the temple grounds via the North gate which links you directly to your next location .. the bamboo forest.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Welcome to one of Kyoto's most enchanting places. You have to get a photo here. The feeling here is surreal as you walk through this narrow grove. Watch the gentle swaying of the bamboo in the breeze and hear the eerie creaking sounds around.
Togetsu-kyo Bridge
Togetsukyo is a 155-meter bridge over the Katsura River. Enjoy a pleasant walk across this old bridge with sounds of water flowing past beneath you.
Katsura River
The Katsura River flows for several kilometers through the Osaka Prefecture.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
This hill is the home of some 100 Japanese snow monkeys. Pay your entry fee and enjoy the short steep walk up the hill. Have your belongings close to you and have your camera out for some nice encounters with wild monkeys! There's also plenty of monkey trivia to keep you puzzling as you ascend the hill.
Kimono Forest
When the sun goes down, enjoy the short walk along this path of lighted kimono poles!
Ginkaku-ji Temple
This temple, known as the Silver Pavilion and restored between 2008 and 2010. Much like its golden counterpart Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion is often choked with tourists, shuffling past a scrupulously-maintained dry landscape Zen garden and the surrounding moss garden, before posing for pictures in front of the Pavilion across a pond. Unlike its counterpart, however, the Silver Pavilion was never actually covered in silver; only the name had been applied before the plans fell apart. Be sure not to miss the display of Very Important Mosses!
Philosopher's Path
It is said that Nishida Kitaro, one of the most famous philosophers in Japan, practiced meditation while walking this route Kyoto University each day. Perhaps, the relaxing walk here will serve to inspire you too!
Nanzen-ji Temple
This temple with its distinctive two-story entrance gate (sanmon) and aqueduct, is another popular temple in Kyoto. The climb to the top of the sanmon is steep and carries a 500 yen admission charge - for a nice view up top. Have a short look around here. Entry in the temple is probably only worth it if you have a particular interest in Zen Buddhism.
Heian Shrine
The Heian Shrine here is ranked as a Beppyō Jinja (the top rank for shrines) by the Association of Shinto Shrines and originally designed as a scaled-down replica of the original Imperial Palace! The Shin'en Garden encircling the rear of the shrine is one of the city's most beautiful gardens and a popular place for hanami, particularly for those who prefer pink blossoms. There is an admission charge for entry into the garden area - which is probably worth it during hanami season.
Nijō Castle
This place is definitely a highlight of Kyoto, with fine gardens and splendid centuries-old structures. This castle (more a shogun's villa really!) was built (in 1603) as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Leyasu - first shogun of the Edo Period. The series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru Palace complex is particularly impressive, and known for its "nightingale floors" - wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on so as to give advance warning when someone was approaching. After visiting the palace complex, continue the walk around the castle gardens.
Nishikitenmangu Shrine
Charming little shrine in the midst of the shopping streets.
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