One of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Japan, Kyoto is a culturally rich city filled with countless Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and myriad of traditional Japanese style homes, shops and parks. Many of these place below have become national and international world heritage sites, and are often seen frequently in media.

Much of Kyoto’s history is a result of city being the first imperial capital of Japan stretching over a 1000 years before the capital city was eventually moved to Edo, what is now modern day Tokyo.

Kyoto is home to some of the most beautiful temples, rightly earning its place as one of the most noteworthy and must-see cities in Japan. Contrary to its size, like much of Japan, Kyoto is actually relatively easy to navigate around and is even accessible by bike from Hirakata!

Temples & Shrines

Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan - Photo courtesy besudesuabroad.wordpress.com

Kinkaku-ji – 金閣寺

Formerly known as Rokuon-ji, or by its English name, The Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji is one of the most visited and easily recognizable Zen Buddhist temples in all of Japan. It was originally founded in 1397, rebuilt 1955 following an arson attack in 1950, and has been officially designated a National Special Historic Site, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1994.

Kiyomizu-Dera - 清水寺

Kiyomizu Dera at night during the Fall - © Travis Phillips

One of my favourite temples in all of Japan, this temple is definitely one you don’t want to miss. With the changing seasons of Japan, there is always something new to discover here. A huge temple built onto a mountainside, interlaced with trees, ponds and a pagoda, it can become quite busy. However, I find the crowds significantly die down in the evening hours. If you only plan on visiting once, the I would highly suggest visiting Kiyomizu-dera during the Fall. This is definitely a Fall temple, that’s when the colours really pop!

Fushimi Inari – 伏見稲荷

Fushimi Inari - Used under creative commons permission - Courtesy Vegabondguide.comProbably one of the most iconic images of Japan, widely used in many movies including Memoirs of a Geisha. Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of Inari, the God of foxes, rice, tea, and sake. The actual shrine sits at the base of Inari mountain with trails spanning 4 km’s to the top providing access to several other smaller shrines. The trail takes approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours walking depending on your pace. Each torii gate was donated either privately or by a business. Access to Fushimi Inari from Hirakata is very simple. It has its own station merely a few stops away from the Makino station and has signs guiding you the rest of the way once you arrive. Be sure to wear some comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. One recommendation I have, plan your trip so you’re there during sunset. Watch the sun as it sets over Kyoto, then as you make your way down the mountain in the dusk, stop by the little mountain cabin to enjoy a tea as the remaining light sifts through the trees and fades into darkness.

 

Places To Go

Gion

Geisha walking Gion at night in Kyoto - Photo courtesy tokyobling.wordpress.com/
When arriving at Gion-Shijo station, your essentially in what I would call the heart of Kyoto. This area is where you will find many unique Japanese stores both, souvenirs/gift shops and small one-of-a-kind mom and pop stores. From this area you can access many different shrines and temples as well either by bus or short walking distance. If you hang out long enough here, you may catch a glimpse of a Geisha or Maiko Geisha (apprentice Geisha)! Few will actually allow pictures, but it never hurts to ask!

Maruyama Park (Koen)

Cherry Blossoms in Marayama Koen (Park), Kyoto during Hanami - © Travis PhillipsSituated at the end of Gion-dori, to access this park you will pass through Yasaka Jinja. This area becomes a major hot spot during New Years while locals and visitors celebrate with a traditional Japanese New Years celebration. Though it is particularly popular in April during Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing festivals. This is one experience you do not want to miss out on if you’re studying during the second semester. Whether you go with your Japanese friends or other students, stop by a Konbini, grab a few beers and snacks and head over to the park to find a spot to sit. Though you will see many cherry blossoms (and plum blossoms) in Hirakata, Maruyama Park provides a spectacular view and even features a famous weeping Cherry Tree as the main attraction. Spring in Japan is really just as beautiful as it appears in pictures.
Check out the video below from a good friend of mine and former KGU student, shot primarily in Maruyama Koen and around Kansai Gaidai.

 

 

Where To Stay

Gojo Guesthouse

If you happen to be travelling through Kyoto and are looking for a place to stay or, maybe have friends or family visiting looking for an economical option, then I highly recommend Gojo Guesthouse. It’s located less than 15 minutes from Kyoto station and is near many temples and shrines. Bicycles are provided to guests as well! This is your standard hostel with a dormitory style room and also a private room as well for couples/families who want to opt for more privacy. Downstairs contains a full service bar serving drinks and food for guests and visitors. You can find out more about Gojo Guesthouse here.

For a full list of places to stay in Kyoto, I recommend checking out a full list of places here.

 

Watch for our next post highlighting Nara, the Capital city of the Nara prefecture and once, the national capital of Japan for brief moment in time. Also home to Arashiyama Koen, a park you’re definitely going to want to visit!

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