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Things to Do in Kyoto - page 2

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Nishi Hongan-ji Temple
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While many of Kyoto’s temples provide insight into ancient Japanese Buddhist history, few showcase contemporary movements. That’s what makes Nishi Hongan-ji Templeunique. Built in the late 16th-century, the temple remains today an important landmark for modern Japanese Buddhism. Located in the center of Kyoto, the large temple and its sibling-temple, Higashi Hongan-ji, represent two factions of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.

The three main attractions on the temple grounds include Goeido Hall, Amidado Hall, and the temple gardens. Goeido Hall is dedicated to the sect’s founder, and Amidado Hall to the Amida Buddha – the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. Cultural treasures, including surviving masterpieces of architecture, are displayed in these main halls. The Temple garden is known as a “dry” garden, utilizing stones, white sand, trees, and plants to symbolize elements of nature such as mountains, rivers, and the ocean.

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Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)
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The Silver Pavilion temple in Kyoto’s eastern mountains has no silver on it at all. Legend has it that when Shogun – or military ruler – Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa in 1482 on the grounds where Ginkaku-ji stands today, he grandly stated he wanted the entire pavilion covered with silver to imitate the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), built by his grandfather. The villa was converted to a Buddhist temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, and the shining nickname persists today.

The circular route around the Silver Pavilion begins in a dry sand garden, named the “Sea of Silver Sand,” where a cone-like representation of Mt. Fuji has been dubbed the “Moon Viewing Platform.” The grounds open up to a moss garden featuring ponds with islands and short bridges, streams, and a variety of foliage. The path snakes up a hill leading to a viewing point of the entire temple grounds and the city beyond. The path comes full circle with up-close views of the Silver Pavilion itself. Unlike some of Kyoto’s famous temples, none of the buildings at the Silver Pavilion can be viewed from the inside.

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Ryoan-ji Temple & Garden
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No matter from where visitors view Japan's most famous rock garden, at least one rock is always hidden from sight. That's one of the reasons that Ryoan-jiTemple, a temple with an accompanying zen rock garden, attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally a residence for aristocrats, the site was converted to a Buddhist temple in 1450. The temple features traditional Japanese paintings on sliding doors, a refurbished zen kitchen, and tatami, or straw mat, floors.

The temple's main attraction has always been the rock garden, as much for its meditative qualities as a desire to find meaning in its minimalistic attributes. The garden is a rectangular plot of pebbles with 15 larger stones on moss swaths interspersed seemingly arbitrarily. Some have said the garden represents infinity; others see it in an endless sea. Ryoan-ji is nestled down a wooded path that crosses over a beautiful pond with several walking trails. The luscious setting is as attractive as the temple itself.

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Tofuku-ji Temple
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Few places on earth are more breathtakingly beautiful than Fall in Tofucku-ji Temple. During cool autumn months travelers and locals make the journey to this Zen temple in southeastern Kyoto that’s known for its incredible colors and brilliant Japanese maples. Visitors climb to the top of Tsutenkyo Bridge, which stretches across a colorful valley full of lush fall foliage in fiery reds and shocking oranges.

Visitors who make their way to Tofuku-ji other times of year can still wander beautiful temple grounds and explore places like the Hojo, where the head priest used to reside. Well-kept rock gardens provide the perfect spot for quiet contemplation and a stone path near the Kaisando is lined with brightly colored flowers and fresh greenery that’s almost as beautiful as the Japanese maples this temple is famous for.

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Kyoto Station
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Kyoto Station is far more than a busy transport hub – it’s an attraction in its own right featuring shopping malls, multiple restaurants, and many other things to see and do. This modern, almost futuristic building stands in direct contrast to the traditional buildings found in the city; the station's vast main hall features an exposed-steel beamed roof, and historical aspects of Kyoto are filtered through a modern lens.

Those looking for some retail therapy will enjoy Kyoto Station’s Isetan department store, Porta underground shopping mall, and Cube shopping mall. There are some great food courts to be found within each of these, with popular eateries such as Kyoto Ramen Koji and Eat Paradise for those who need refueling.

Aside from shopping and eating, there is an open-air observation deck on the station’s top floor, which can be reached via a series of escalators and an additional flight of stairs. From here, views of the city unfold before you (albeit through heavily tinted windows). Elsewhere, the Skyway Tunnel will allow you to walk the length of Kyoto Station some 45 meters above the main hall, revealing views of both the city and station below.

Various day and night tours of the city depart from Kyoto Station. You can also enjoy a day trip by arriving into the station on a Kyoto rail tour by bullet train from Tokyo.

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Nanzen-ji Temple
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It is not every day that a retirement home is converted into a temple. After Emperor Kamayema’s death in 1305, however, this is exactly what happened. Named the Nanzenji Temple, it is now one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. The Nanzenji Temple complex includes multiple buildings and several subtemples. Walking paths wind through the complex.

An impressive, large gate—the Sanmon entrance—welcomes visitors to the temple. The gate memorializes the soldiers who died in the battle for Osaka Castle in 1615. Visitors can make their way up to a balcony on the gate, which affords an incredible view of Kyoto and beyond. Trees line both sides of the pathway through the complex, and mountains dot the distant horizon. One of the popular spots on the premises is a zen rock garden, with formations many believe look like tigers swimming through the water.

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Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
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Just because it is a museum does not mean that the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is not functional. This operational sake brewery introduces visitors to the history and technical components of sake brewing. Located in the heart of an old sake brewing district, many of the buildings and breweries have been standing since the Edo era. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum itself was founded in 1637, making it one of the region’s oldest breweries.

The charm of this Museum is its attention to detail. The brewery is in an old-fashioned, traditional sake house. Japanese songs about sake and sake brewing play throughout the museum. One of the main displays features over 6,000 brewing tools, considered by many to be cultural relics. Of course, the highlight of the tour is the sake tasting itself, where some of the area’s best is on display.

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Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple
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The tip of Tahoto Pagoda, part of the Zenrin-ji Temple, peeks out between layers of sprawling mountain foliage. The Eikan-do, formerly known as Zenrinji, dates back to the 9th century. The temple was founded as a training school for the Esoteric Buddhism of Shingon sect. Over time, the temple converted to the Jodo sect of Buddhism.

The stunning Tahoto Pagoda is only one of many attractions in the complex, although it is the most famous. Other attractions include a pond garden, Hodo Pond, and the main building temple itself. Within the main temple is housed a unique Buddha statue; the Buddha is looking over his shoulder. Eikan-do is most famous for its stunning display of autumn colors, which are enhanced by an illumination display from mid-November to early December.

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The Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi)
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One of Japan’s heralded philosophers is said to have meditated daily as he walked on a stone route alongside a canal on his commute to Kyoto University. The scenic path, shaded by hundreds of cherry trees, quickly became known as The Philosopher’s Path (or The Path of Philosophy), and today hundreds of people traverse the two-kilometer trail every day searching for peace, insight, and a clear mind. Small temples and shrines peek out from the cherry trees, beckoning to thinkers and walkers in search of religious observance.

Originating near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion temple, the trail extends to the Kyoto neighborhood of Nanzenji. Near the end of the trail, a large aqueduct greets visitors, a popular spot to stop and take photos. Restaurants and cafes dot the trail. In the Spring, The Philosopher’s Path is one of the best places in all of Kyoto to enjoy the vibrant cherry blossoms in bloom.

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Kodai-ji Temple
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In the forested mountain foothills east of Kyoto, the small Kodai-ji Temple is a historic place of worship for members of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Surrounded by raked-sand Zen gardens and accessed by a bridge over a peaceful boulder-lined pool, the temple was constructed in 1606 by the wife of general Toyotomi Hideyoshi to honor her late husband.

The complex retains several of its earliest features including historic gardens, several traditional tea houses (reportedly designed by famous 16th century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu or his students) a memorial hall shrine where the temple’s founder and her husband are buried, as well as the general’s intricate jinbaori over-armor coat stitched with gold and silver thread. In some areas of the temple makie lacquering—a common decorative technique common in the Momoyama period that incorporates powdered gold and silver into the lacquer paint while still wet, creating artistic patterns and designs—embellishes stairs and smaller shrines. The temple museum has scrolls and relics from the Kodai-ji and other nearby temples.

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More Things to Do in Kyoto

Nakasendo Way

Nakasendo Way

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Have tea with locals. Spend time in nature. Walk between villages. These are the highlights of the Nakasendo trail, a historic walking path through the Kiso Valley that links the villages of Tsumago and Magome. In feudal times, the Nakasendo Trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo. Samurais and feudal lords frequented the trail. Along the path were 69 villages, where the travelers could stop and rest. Today, walking the Nakasendo Trail between Tsumago and Magome provides visitors an opportunity to experience a small part of that history.

The five-mile (8-km) NakasendoWay meanders through a wooded forest. The trail crosses over two main waterfalls, the Odaki en Medaki waterfalls – male and female. Along the path there are several old-fashioned wooden buildings, many converted into shops where local handicrafts are sold. Many people stop in at a teahouse along the way, where a guestbook tracks those who have come through.

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To-ji Temple

To-ji Temple

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The spindly needle atop the 55 meter (180 foot), five-storied pagoda of To-ji temple keeps protective watch over the city of Kyoto, as it has done since its construction in the early 9th century. The tallest pagoda in Japan, it has become a symbol and iconic image of Kyoto. Several Buddha statues reside inside the famous wooden structure, enhancing its religious and historical allure.

The temple itself dates from 796, two years after the capitol moved to Kyoto. At the time, To-ji, along with a no longer existing sister temple, guarded the capitol. The temple’s feature image is that of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine, further promoting To-ji’s status as a protector. To-ji was one of only three temples allowed in Kyoto in the early years of its reign as capitol, and it’s the only one that still stands today.

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Byodo-in Temple

Byodo-in Temple

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If you think this classic furled-roof temple looks familiar, take a look at a 10-yen coin, and you’ll see why. One of Japan's most famous temples, and a World Heritage Site, the image of its 11th century Phoenix Hall graces the coin and the 10,000-yen note.

The reason why this Buddhist temple is so famous is because it is one of the few remaining examples of Heian-era architecture, a textbook example of Japanese perfection.

Take a tour to see the famous statue of Amida and 42 Bodhisattvas from the 11th century. The surrounding gardens are also justly famous, with tranquil water gardens reflecting the temple's surrounding pines.

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Shimogamo-jinja Shrine

Shimogamo-jinja Shrine

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More than 200 years before Kyoto would be named the capital of Japan in 794, construction on the Shimogamo-jinja Shrine began. One of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan and one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shimogamo Jinja rests at the intersection of the Takano and Kamo rivers in the midst of 600 year old trees in the ancient Tadasu no Mori forest.

Throughout the more than 1,000 years that Kyoto reigned as Japan's capital city, the Imperial Court patronized the Shimogamo Shrine and its neighbor, Kamigamo Shrine, to bring food fortune, protection, and prosperity to the city. Today, the 53 buildings in the shrine complex provide a respite from city life, welcoming visitors into a natural setting where peace and tranquility abound.

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Ninna-ji Temple

Ninna-ji Temple

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Built at the end of the 9th century in the year 888 and founded by the reigning Emperor of the time, Ninna-ji Temple maintained a centuries long reign as a royal place of worship. Members of the Imperial Family served as the temple’s head priest, bringing prestige that lasts to this day. To further elevate its status, the temple was originally named Monseki-jiin and served as a residence for a member of the Imperial Family who had entered priesthood.

Today, Ninna-ji is the center of the Omuro sect of Shingon Buddhism and houses buildings from the former Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Among the relocated historical treasures is a five-storied pagoda and Reiho-kan, a structure that houses cultural treasures such as sculptures, paintings, and the seated figure of Amida-Nyorai Buddha, the deity of Paradise. Encompassing the temple buildings is an orchard of dwarf cherry trees, making Ninna-ji one of the most popular spots to see the cherry blossoms in Spring.

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Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

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Few landmarks in Japan have figured so prominently in Japanese literature and art as Uji-bashi Bridge. Spanning the Uji River in the town of Uji just outside of Kyoto, it is one of the oldest bridges in Japan. It was originally built in 646 and has witnessed plenty of history, including battles in 1180, 1184 and 1221. During the Edo period, the bridge was an early point along the tea caravan carrying Uji tea to the capital.

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Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama

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Folklore says that Sojobo, an ancient mythological king who rules over minor deities, inhabits Kurama, a rural temple town in nestled in the northern Kyoto mountains. In the 11th century, Sojobo taught swordsmanship and magic to a famous Japanese general. Although the famous stories are still told, today Mt. Kurama is most famous for its natural hot springs, temples, and nature trails.

Visitors to the area flock to Kurama-dera, a Buddhist temple resting on a steep mountainside above the town. To reach it involves a 30-45 minute hike that can be cut in half by taking a cable car halfway up the mountain. A Shinto Shrine provides respite along the way; it has become famous for an annual Fire Festival that takes place in October. Nature enthusiasts can continue hiking past the temple to several others along a route to the small town of Kibune.

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Kyoto International Manga Museum

Kyoto International Manga Museum

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The Kyoto International Manga Museum, housed within the former Tatsuike Elementary School, protects and exhibits a collection of some 300,000 manga-related items, including Edo-era caricature woodblock prints, magazines from the Meiji to the early Showa periods and manga books from around the world. The crowning jewel of the museum is the Wall of Manga, an open-access library of 50,000 publications lining 650 feet (200 meters) of the museum’s walls.

Special exhibitions and workshops give manga fans to dig deeper into the art, whether through pen and ink drawing classes, lectures by popular manga artists or a live manga studio, where visitors can watch professional artists draw manga from pencil sketch to full-color image.

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Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

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The tallest structure in a city known for its traditional architecture and ancient temples, Kyoto Tower rises 430 feet (131 meters). Take in the panoramic city views from the observation deck, located 328 feet (100 meters) off the ground and then browse the shopping and dining options at Kyoto Tower Building.

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Hosen-in Temple

Hosen-in Temple

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A 700-year-old pine tree welcomes visitors to Hosen-in Temple, a lodging site for Buddhist pilgrims since the 11th century. Inside the quiet temple, visitors sip on traditional Japanese green tea while meditating on the ancient tree and gardens seen through the windows. Outside, visitors place their ears to a pair of bamboo tubes that stretch down into the ground from a small wooden terrace. It's said that the sounds heard from water dripping into a water basin symbolize harmony in the universe.

The serenity can only be disrupted by blood-spattered ceilings, a result of a gruesome Samurai battle that took place in the area in the 1600s. Temple keepers salvaged the wood in Fushimi Castle, where the battle was fought and lost, and affixed it to the temple's ceiling as a way of remembering the history and the lives of those in the battle.

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Amanohashidate

Amanohashidate

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One of Japan's Three Scenic Views, Amanohashidate is a sandbar that connects the two sides of Miyazu Bay. Amanohashidate, translated as "bridge in heaven," got its name for its beauty, poetically described as a pathway between heaven and earth. The sandbar spans 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles), and nearly 7,000 pine trees decorate the strip The panoramic view includes the bay on either side of the famous sandbar, as well as snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Nestled between the pine trees on the sandbar, Isoshimizu fresh water well is an attraction on its own, having been held in high regard since the Heian Period. Japan's Environmental Agency designated the well as one of the country's 100 best springs and rivers in 1985. Weather walking across the Amanohashidate sandbar or viewing it from above, this view is one of the most celebrated in Japan.

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Mimuroto-ji Temple

Mimuroto-ji Temple

Known as the "flower temple," Mimuroto Temple in Uji City near Kyoto showcases a vast array of seasonal flowers. Starting in early April, Japan's famous cherry trees show off their pink blossoms for a short time around the grounds. From late April to early May, 20,000 azaleas bloom, and more than 10,000 hydrangeas open up in June. Lotus plants complement the bright summer months of July and August, and autumn foliage colors blossom in late November.

The foliage-laden grounds surround the deeply religious temple, originally constructed in the early 1800s and an honor head temple of the Honzan-Shugen-shu sect of Buddhism. The temple houses an image of a thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, a deity and Buddhist symbol of wisdom and compassion. A three-tiered pagoda rests on temple grounds, as well. Touching the statues outside of the temple's main hall is believed to grant wishes and give good luck.

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Kamigamo Shrine

Kamigamo Shrine

It’s impossible to miss the larger-than-life red shrine gate at the entrance to Kamigamo, one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Built in the year 678, it pre-dates Kyoto’s reign as capitol of Japan by over a century. Its longevity lends a hand to Kamigamo’s regard as one of the country’s most sacred and divine shrines: it housed and played host to four Emperors between the 8th and 18th centuries. Kamigamo’s esteemed history is celebrated every year during Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals, when a large procession dressed in Imperial garb from the days of the Heian period marches to the shrine.

Kamigamo and its sister-shrine, Shimogamo, are situated in the ancient Tadasu no Mori, a preserved forest with trees over 600 years old. Visitors flock to two sand cones that rest in front of the shrine’s main building. These structures are said to protect and purify the grounds. Of the shrine buildings, the worship hall is the most famous.

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Myoshin-ji Temple

Myoshin-ji Temple

It’s not every day that an Emperor abdicates his throne and abandons secular pleasures to become a monk. But that’s just what Japanese Emperor Hanazono did in the early 14th century. In 1342 he donated his palace to found a temple. Myoshinji Temple resulted from his religious pursuits, a large complex that houses the main temple, as well as 50 sub-temples. Nearly all of the temple buildings were destroyed in a war in the 15th century; they were rebuilt over the next 150 years, and the reconstructions still stand today.

Entering Myoshinji through one of two gates – north and south – visitors walk along winding paths flanked by high stone walls. Many of the temple buildings are closed to the public, and others offer entrance through guided tours. Inside Hatto Hall, cultural treasures such as a bell dating back to the 7th century, can be seen. Outside, Myoshinji’s temple gardens have been designated as a national place of scenic beauty. Myoshinji is the head temple of the Myoshinji school of Buddhim, which boasts 3,500 affiliated temples across Japan, and has declared itself the largest of all Zen Buddhist branches.

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