Japan is a country that is rich in history and tradition. A great place to go to get the full effect of it is none other than the ancient capital, Kyoto. Originally called Heian-kyo, meaning tranquility and peace capital, Kyoto was a hub for cultural development, especially within the then pop culture of Japan. The great capital later came to be called by its nickname Kyoto which means capital metropolis. The capital moved, but the brilliant traditional culture remained, allowing both natives and foreigners to get a blast from the past. Here are the top nine things to do in Kyoto.
9. Enjoy the Gion Matsuri
Matsuri (祭) or festivals are a huge part of the Japanese cultural experience, especially in Kyoto. One festival that is enjoyed by many is the Gion Matsuri. The Gion Matsuri, known as the festival of Yasaka Shrine, takes place during the month of July for the entire month. There are multiple events at this festival including the iconic parades with floats and Byoubu matsuri (Folding screen festival) where local residents open their traditional houses to the public so people can see their treasured family heirlooms. Vendors also take to the streets selling their goods and delicious food. Gion Matsuri is the most famous festival in Japan.
8. Visit the Shungakuin Imperial Villa
Shungakuin Imperial Villa is the place to go if you want to see traditional imperial buildings and gardens of Japan. Visitors can take a guided tour through the area and learn about the key features of the gardens and marvel at the aesthetics of traditional imperial beauty. The gardens at the imperial villa are one of the largest scales of Japanese gardening masterpieces that you will find. They feature artificial ponds and perfectly pruned plants that are complementary to the traditional aesthetics of Kyoto. The tour lasts for about an hour and a half but it is well worth it as the only way to see the sight is through the tour.
7. Visit the Sanjusangendo Temple
Sanjusangendo Temple is famous for its 100o life-sized statues and one main statue of the goddess of mercy, Kannon. The temple hall is the longest wooden structure in Japan standing at 120 meters. The name of the temple means “33 intervals” in reference the fact that there are 33 spaces between the temple’s support columns. The event known as Rite of the Willow is held in January. At this event, people can go to the temple and have their heads touched by a sacred willow. It is believed that by doing so, those whose heads are touched by the willow will be cured and free of headaches.
6. Visit the Eikando Zenrinji Temple
The Zenrinji Temple is a temple that is widely famous for its fall landscape. This temple is one of the Joudoshu or Pure Land Buddhist sect temples and it is the head temple of the Seizan branch. Visitors of the Zenrinji Temple enjoy taking in the sights at the pond garden and exploring the various buildings on the temple grounds. Visitors can see the beautiful rock garden and the beautifully painted slide doors of the buildings. A favorite spot among visitors is the pagoda where they can view the vibrant colors of 紅葉 (momiji) or autumn Japanese maple leaves. It’s definitely worth a visit in the fall.
5. Visit the Ran Theatre Kyoto
Many visitors of Kyoto enjoy going to the Ran Theatre to enjoy a traditional live performance of music. The performances feature a variety of musicians who play traditional instruments that come from various parts of Japan. These instruments may include shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), shamisen (a string banjo-like instrument), koto (a Japanese harp) and more. The Ran Theatre also may hold workshops that visitors can enroll in to try learning how to play a traditional Japanese instrument. It is challenging and a lot of fun like other workshops and lessons Kyoto has to offer.
4. Take Lessons and Workshops
There are a plethora of super sugoi (amazing) workshops in Kyoto that visitors love to participate in. Some of the workshops include lessons in the way of the shinobi (ninja) at the Ninja Dojo and Store. You can learn how to walk, breathe, and hold weapons like a ninja. Another workshop that visitors can try is the Kyoto Samurai Experience. Visitors can learn the art of the samurai in a 250-yeara-old samurai residence while getting a glimpse into the life of the samurai. There is also various cooking and tea ceremony classes that visitors can take as well.
3. Go on Private and Cultural City Tours
Private and cultural city tours are also very much loved activities for visitors of Kyoto. People enjoy partaking in walking tours and full day tours around the Kyoto area to see key sights. Tours may take visitors to sights like the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Nijo Castle, Kamigamo Jinjya Shrine, Takaragaike Park, Kyoto botanical gardens and more. Some tours also provide photography services to take picture for you during the experience and will later send photos to you via email. Private and cultural city tours are a great way to get around to the various different sites of Kyoto especially for those who can’t choose where to start.
2. Visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple
There are no nails holding this building together, yet the Kiyomizu-Dera still stands undefeated by gravity as an UNESCO world heritage sight. Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period and is one of the most widely worshipped holy places. Visitors can enjoy the colors and feelings of each season on the Hinoki or wooden stage at Kyomizu-Dera, from pure white snow in the winter, to a warm and gentle display of cherry blossoms in the spring, to the lush green of the summer, to the vibrant colors of the autum leaves. If you want to know how the building is put together with no nails, visit Kiyomizu-Dera to find out.
1. Visit Kinkakuji
Number 1 on the list of top things to do in Kyoto is visiting Kinkakuji, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavillion. It is a Zen Buddhist temple and it is labeled as one of the most popular buildings in Japan. Visitors can walk around the golden pavilion and enjoy the beauty of it at a close range. The gold and the lush “Kyoto-green foliage compliments it in the spring and summer. The firey colored autumn leaves compliments the gold in the fall and a Kyoto fully blanketed in white during the winter makes the gold stand out in a breath-taking fantastical way.
There are plenty of other things to enjoy in Kyoto, including getting fully dressed from head to toe in a beautiful kimono then walking around Kyoto while trying traditional street foods. Trying seasonal favorites like sakura mocchi and enjoying the various festivals that are hosted in Kyoto. Whatever you may choose and whenever you go, there is always something amazing to do in Kyoto.
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