The big difference between the tour spots in Kyoto and that of other city is that Kyoto had been the capital of Japan for around 680 years such as from 794 to 1185 as Heian era, from 1300 to 1590 as Muromchi era comparing with Nara as 84 years (710 – 794), with Kamakura as 136 years (1185 – 1321), with Osaka as 10 years (1590 – 1600) and with Edo as 264 years (1603 – 1867).
Also, the period emperors had lived in Kyoto as around 1400 years (794 – 1867), comparing with Nara as 84 years and with modernized era as around 151 years (1868 – 2019).
Therefore, there are so many important sites of Temples and Shrines that are related with lots of great emperors, top Samurai worriers , Temples monks and so-on.
I would like to introduce the various tour spots in Kyoto for each direction area so that you can select the best for your Kyoto tour.
Kyoto tour spots area can be roughly divided by areas that are located in East, West, North, South and Center of Kyoto down-town.
In each area above, you can find lots of historical architecture , beautiful scenery of nature and time honored atmosphere of downtown with mostly consumed local foods of Kyoto, culture such as Maiko & Kimono and various type of souvenir.
Following are the representative of Kyoto tour spots for each direction in Kyoto.
East area: Kiyomizudera-temple, Ginkakuji-temple, Heianjingu-shrine, Sanjyusangendo-temple, Philosophers’ walk
West area: Arashiyama, Togetsukyo, Tenryuji, Bamboo forest (Chikurin), Mt.Iwata Monkey park,
North area: Kinkakuji-temple, Ryoanji-temple,
Center area: Gion, Nijyojo-castle. Kyoto Imperial Pakace, Nishiki market, Higashihonganji-tyemple, Koudaiji-temple
South area: Toji-temple, Fushimiinaritaisha-shrine, Byodoinhouodo-shrine,
Kiyomizudera temple is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto, which is listed as one of the 17 World heritage sites in Kyoto. This temple was originally built in 798 and rebuilt in 1633.
Kiyomizudera or Kiyomizu Temple, literally means “Clean Water Temple”. This temple was founded in 798. (End of 8th century). Kiyomizu Temple burned down many times and most of the present temple structures were reconstructed in 1633 (Middle of 17th century). From here we have to walk up a slope to the temple.This lane leading to Kiyomizu Temple is lined with shops selling porcelain, pickles, sweets, souvenirs and so-on.This area is famous for Kiyomizu-yaki which is glazed porcelain with a white translucent body.
In front of the Nio-Gate (Gate of the Deva Kings)
This is the Gate of the Deva Kings. It is built in the “hip gable roof” style with a cypress bark roof. Please look at the pair of Deva Kings. They are checking to see if you are good visitors to the temple or not.
In front of the Hondo (Main Hall)
This is the main hall. The main hall was rebuilt in 1633 by the third Tokugawa Shogun. The main image is the Eleven-headed, one thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva. Its one thousand arms and eleven heads help mankind in many different ways. It is displayed to the public every 33 years.
On the Kiyomizu Stage
The main hall is famous for its platform projecting over a cliff. You can enjoy the Kyoto city view. In front of you, you can see the Koyasu-no-to which literally means “ Easy birth Pagoda”. Otowa waterfall is at the foot of the cliff. There is a famous expression in Japan, “You must act as if you were jumping off the stage of Kiyomizu” It mean that in a sink or swim situation, you have to run a risk. In another word, “Take action when you are taking a risk.”, “Do something with strong determination” and “You have to take a risk to make your dream come true.” In 1882, a regulation was issued which banned jumping. Actually, up to then, 234 people had jumped off and the survival rate was 85%.
At Otowa Falls in front of Koyasu Pagoda
This waterfall is one of the ten most famous clean water streams in Japan. The water is channeled into three streams from this waterfall. There are said to be three interpretations for this. The first is that the streams symbolize devotion to Buddha, the law and the priests. The second is good health, academic achievement and finding a good match in marriage. The third is purification of your actions, your words and your mind. If you pray before drinking this water, it is said that your wish will come true.
This water is free of any contamination. Over there, the ladles are sterilized with ultraviolet rays.
Ginkakuji means “ Temple of Silver pavilion” even if actuially, this is not coated with silver due to financial difficulties in the Shogunate era. Howver, this wooden pavilion attractive people by the expression of “Wabi Sabi” which is based on the idea that beauty lies in simplicity. This sensitive feeling come from Zen Buddhism.
Side road of Lake Biwa canal whose length is around 1.5km where a famous Japanese philosopher used to stroll.
This Tetsugaku-no-michi ( Philosopher's Walk) is a narrow way along Lake Biwa Canal. It runs from north to south along the foot of Higashiyama mountains. The path was named " Philosophers Walk " from the fact that a famous philosopher Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945) used to enjoy strolling along the path to think his philosphy during the walking and enjoying the beautiful scenary around the area. In 1921, about 300 cherry trees were planted along the canal and the path has been one of the greatest spots for Sakura viewing in early April ever since.
This temple was originally founded in 1165 by the instruction of Goshirakawajoukou (retired emperor) by asking Kiyomori Taira ( top of worriers)to support with his funds. There were several fire and disaster occurred and a few re-constructions has been made up to now.
This temple consists of 33 numbers of column spacing in the inner temple. The figure of 33 is related with Kannon Bodhisattva. Hokekyo sect of Buddhism teach that Kannon changes his figure 33 times differently and save mankind.
The principal image of Buddha is seated figure statue of thousand armed Kannon whose height is around 7 meters that is made by joint block construction used by cypress. 1000 units statues of thousand armed Kannon stands on tiered alters 10 deep in two 50 row sections to the right and left of the principal deity with one more standing behind to make a total of 1001.
Arashiyama, also known as Sagano, is one of the time-honored travel destinations located on the western outskirs of Kyoto. Offering a breathtaking panorama of serene Mt.Arashiyama, Togetsukyo, or “Moon Crossing Bridge”, is the major landmark of this scenic spot featuring various tourist spots such as Tenryu-ji Temple and spectacular bamboo groves.
Tenryu-ji temple is a top-ranked among the Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto which is one of the 17 World Cultual Heritage-listed monuments in Kyoto and famous for strolling-style garden. This temple was originally constructed in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji who is one of the Shogunate of Muromachi era (1336~1573).
Hatto Hall below is the hall where important ceremonies are held.
You can see the big picture welcoming you. This is Bodhidharma. Zen Buddhism was founded by Bodhidharma. It is said that he did “Zazen” for 9 years to reach enlightenment with sitting and meditating facing a stone wall.
You can look at Tenryuji Sogenchi Teien (Landscape garden) while sitting on the veranda. This garden shown in below photo is a borrowed landscape garden which show you the elegant natural Japanese paintings combining with both aristocratic culture and Zen culture with incorporating Mt.Arashiyama, Mt.Kameyama and Mt.Ogurasan into the scenery.
The main important view of this pond is the third-tiered dry waterfall with no water consist of large rocks. You can see a rock between the first and the second dry waterfalls rock. According to Chines verb, a carp ascends a waterfall to become a dragon. Therefore, you can imagine the rock above might be a carp.
Houjou hall below used to be the living quarters of the chief priests. You are allowed to walk around the tatami mats rooms. The rooms are separated by Japanese walls, paper screens called “Shoji” and sliding doors called “Fusuma”. As shown in below photos, Japanese style houses luck privacy with no key locked, however, this style can enlarge the room space available by opening and removing the sliding doors.
You can also see Japanese style room element such as alcove called “Tokonoma”as shown below. This alcove place is a characteristic place where hanging scrolls and flower arrangement are placed.
You can see Suiboku-ga called Indian paintings depicted on “Fusuma”as shown below. The subjects painted on these “Fusuma” are nature, animals, birds and flowers.
Bamboo forest: This bamboo forest is one of the most impressive spots for many tourists coming to Japan.Bamboo is the symbol of vitality because it grow up very quickly. Bamboo crafts is used in the tea ceremony and flower arrangement. After leaving Tenryuji out from one of the gate, the bamboo forest called “Chikurin” come into your eyes immediately. This bamboo forest continue to the end of the road by aound 400 meters. This area used to be the villa of the aristocracy in Heian era (end of 8th centyry ~ end of 12th century) and you can feel subtle and profound world even after 1000 years passed.
Arashiyama park road down from Bamboo forest to Togetsu-kyo bridge:
Togetdsu-kyo bridge: This bridge is named “Togetsu-kyo Bridge”. It literally means “Crossing the moon”. This bridge was at first constructed by an ancient priest in around 840. By seeing this bridge, you can see various beautiful sceneries according to the change of each seasons. Mt.Arashiyama of west side of the bridge is registered as the place of scenic beauty and natural monument in Japan.You can enjoy cherry blossoms in April, fresh green in summer, graceful autumn leaves in fall and clean white snow landscape in winter. Current bridge was completed in 1934 with 155meter length and 11meter width. There are so many sceneries of this bridge found in the past many movies and TV dramas. By going through the side of Katsura-river to east, you will see the bridge from the distance to be closer as shown below.
Iwata Monkey park: Mt.Iwata Monkey park is located near in the west side of Togetsu-kyo Bridge. There are around 120 number of Japanese macaques living in the wild. After you enter the entrance of the monkey park with paying admission fee, you can enjoy light trekking onto the Mt.Arashiyama mountain road for about 20 minutes with enjoying the mountain scenery and reach the top of the mountain. The Japanese macaques are characteristic of red face and behind and the height is around 50cm ~ 60cm. They are well accustomed with us and receive special foods from us with very humorous faces. From the top of the mountain, you can see overview of Kyoto city.
This temple was constructed on the year of 1450 and re-constructed after burned out by Ounin-war during 1467 – 1477.
The traditional dry landscape garden inside Ryoanji-temple is the most famous stone garden in the world which are introduced to the world by Queen Elizabeth 2 who visited the garden in 1975. The number of 15 stones are arranged on the white sand of the garden.
Kinkakuji-temple is the Golden Pavilion built on the compound of the Rokuon-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple, which is designated as one of the 17 World Cultual Heritage-listed monuments in Kyoto. It is a three-story building in the garden complex unique to the Muromachi period (1399 – 1573), with its top two stories covered with pure gold leaf.
- First story as the palace style
- Second story as the samurai house style
- Third story as sacred relic of the Buddha.
Originally the villa of an aristocrat, it was purchased and renovated in 1397 as political center by the third Shogun of the Muromachi period.
Kinkakuji is “Golden Pavilion” in English.
The precincts of the present Kinkakuji used to be a villa belonging to Saionji Kintsune, a court noble. The Golden Pavilion was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397, at the height of the Ashikaga Shogun’s power. This was about 100 years before Columbus discovered America. You can see an upside-down Golden Pavilion in this pond of called the “Mirror pond”.
It looks as if there are several small islands of rocks in the pond. The island in the center symbolizes Japan. The Golden Pavilion consists of three different types of architecture. The first floor was modeled on the house of the Heian era nobility.
This shows that the shogun Yoshimitsu wanted to imitate the gorgeous life of the Heian nobles. The second floor was modeled on the style of samurai worriers’ houses. The ceiling is beautifully painted because beauty signifies power. The third floor, where the shogun practice Zen meditation, is in the Zen style. The roof is thatched with shingles.
You can see the bronze phoenix on the top that makes the pavilion look more gorgeous. The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth. In Japan, the phoenix is the symbol of happiness. It comes down into this world to bring its blessings. You can find phoenixes on kimonos which are worn on happy occasions. The rooms which are used on these happy occasions are named “Ho-o-no-ma”. This word mean “Phoenix room”.
Kyoto Imperial palace
Kyoto Imperial palace is located with 250 meters from east to west and 450 meters from north to south.
Current palace was re-built in 1855 around the end of Edo era.
Inside the palace, there are six gates of four directions and several court palaces where previous emperors had been ascended.
Also, there is an elegant garden with large pond.
Kyoto Imperial Palace where you can feel the architectural styles of aristocratic residence in the Heian period had been the royal residence before the Meiji Restoration. The main feature of this elegant palace is the Shishinden, where solemn enthronement ceremonies have been held for more than 1,000 years. The other important landmarks include the Seiryoden and Otsunegoten where the earlier and last emperor had lived, respectively, along with a strolling style Oikeniwa Garden.
Heian Jingu shrine
This shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate 1100th anniversary of the transfer of nation capital to Heia-Kyo (Kyoto).
The deity of this shrine is 50th emperor Kanmu.and the last emperor of Heian era Koumei.
During this Edo era (1600 – 1867), another center of culture in Edo had started in parallel with that of Kyoto as capital of culture.
Nijyujo-castle was built in Kyoto in 1603 for the use of Edo government interim staying place in Kyoto where the capital had lasted more than 1000 years history.
In the ground chamber of this historical castle, the last shogun Yoshinobu announced the return of government power to the emperor just before the Meiji restoration in 1868.
The Ninomaru palace in the castle is famous for its floor that give a squeaky sound just like a nightingale’s song while people walking through the floor. This palace is also well known for a strolling-style garden with pond containing three small island.
This temple is head temple of the Jodo shin sect of Otani sect of Shinshu. In Goei-do Hall, the portrait of the holly priest Shinran is installed and in temple Hall containing an enshrined image of Amitabha, the principal image of Amithaba is installed. Goei-do Hall was built by many people who adore the priest in the area of his tomb land after his death. This is the beginning of Higashi Honganji.
Kodai-ji Temple is located north east of Yasaka Hokanji Temple at the foot of Higashiyama Ryozen Mountains in Kyoto.
This temple was built by the wife of Hideyoshi Toyotomi who was the top worrier in Japan and unified Japan at the first time.
The temple was established in 1606 by Kita-no-Mandokoro (1548-1624) in memory of her husband Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) who established to unify Japan for the first time in Japanese history. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) (the first Tokugawa shogun in Edo period) supported Kita-no-Mandpkoro to finance the construction of the temple.
As the result, we can see magnificent appearance of temple buildings and gardens as follows.
Currently Kaisando (Founder's Hall), Otama-ya (Sanctuary), Kasatei (Teahouse), Shiguretei (Teahouse), Omotetmon (Gate to Sanctuary) and Kangetsudai (Moon Viewing Pavilion) are designated as important cultural properties of Japan.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kita-no-Mandokoro are enshrined in "Otama-ya" and their graves lie under the state of Kita-no-Mandokoro.
Shumidan (dais for a Buddhist image) and Zushi (small shrine) are decorated with splendid makie (Japanese lacquer with gilded patterns) which is known as "Kodai-ji Makie", typical of the Azuchi Momoyama period (1573 - 1600).
This garden is said to have been designed by the landscape garden designer Kobori Enshu (1579-1647).
The garden is designated by the Japanese Government as a historical site and a place of scenic beauty.
Houjyo (Main Building):
This building's interior was originally painted with lacquer and was coverd with exquisite gold decorations. The current building was rebuilt 1912 after several fires. During the spring and autumn Kodai-ji is host to modern art exhibits. These are placed in the stone garden in front of Houjyo and at night are creatively lit.
You can find Bamboo tree inside this temple.
Kyoto Gion Town
Gion is the area of entertainment, where there are many bars and taverns. Some important business and political talks have been conducted. You may run across Maiko and Geiko, Japanese entertainers in kimono.
This market arcade length is around 400 meters and 130 stores are lined on the arcade. Various stores are selling foods and serving restaurants.
This market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and Sushi.
Some of the shops freely give out samples or sell sample dishes and skewers meant to be eaten there. There are also a few small restaurants and food stands selling ready-made food. They usually specialize in one type of food, and are often attached to a store of the same specialty. It is better to refrain from eating while walking as it is considered bad manners.
Fushimi inari shrine:
This shrine was founded in early 8th century. Originally, the deity of Inari shrine was reverted as the deity of agriculture.
With industrialization, the deity of Fushimi inari gradually came to be worshipped as the deity of business.
There are up to 5,000 Torii gates in this precincts which were donated mostly by merchants and companies to pray for the prosperity of their businesses. The donors’ name are painted in black on the back of each Torii gate. They range in price from 200,000yen to 700,000yen. They are offered They are offered when we want to pray for something, or after our prayers are answered.
Empelor Kanmu established the capital in Kyoto in 794 and built Toji temple in 796 as a temple to guard ist eastern side.
After 30 years later, Emperor Saga granted this temple to Kukai who was the founder of the Shingon Sect of esoteric Buddhism.
He established Toji temple as a institute for the teaching of Shingon Sect doctrines.
Toji temple consists of the Main hall, Lecture hall, Founder’s hall and the five -story pagoda.
The five-story pagoda is 55 meters high and this historical structure is the landmark of Kyoto.
Byodoin Hooudo temple:
In Heian era (from 794 to 1192), the top of regents and advisers for emperor named Fugiwara Yorimichi established this temple asking for the help to the Amida Budda so that he can live in the land of perfect Bliss while he is alive. print
This temple figure is printed on both Japanese bill of 10k yen and coin of 10 yen.
The figure of this temple is very much elegant as the shape resemble of the wings of Chinese Phoenix be spread.
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