Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is a city on the island of Honshu. This city is well-known for its many classical Buddhist temples, impressive architecture and lovely gardens.
One of the city’s most famous landmarks is Kyoto Tower, established in 1964. The tower is made of special steel plate cylinders and welded to give it a round shape. Inside the tower are souvenir shops and several different restaurants on various floors. In the basement is a public bathhouse. From the top of the tower you can get fantastic views.
Enter the world of Zen temples at Daitoku-ji. This temple is the headquarters of the Rinzai Daitoku-ji School of Zen Buddhism. Among the highlights here are 24 sub-temples. Daitoku-ji was founded in 1319, burnt to the ground in the next century and rebuilt in the 16th century.
The San-mon Gate dating from 1589 has a self-carved statue of its erector, the famous tea master Sen on Rikyu on its second story.
On the far western edge of the Daitoku-ji complex is a lovely garden. The garden Koto-in is one of the best in Kyoto. It is located in a beautiful bamboo grove and there is a small garden for strolling which leads to a rectangle of moss and maple trees, backed by bamboo. You can relax on the veranda and take it all in.
.Tofuku-ji is one of the finest temples in Kyoto. It was founded in 1236 by the Priest Enni. This temple belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The present temple complex has 24 sub-temples.
The huge San-mon is the oldest Zen main gate in Japan.
The Hojo (Abbot’s Hall) was reconstructed in 1890. There are lovely gardens that were laid out in 1938. The northern garden has stones and moss neatly laid out in a checkerboard pattern. From a viewing platform at the back of the gardens visitors can see the Tsuten-kyo (Bridge to Heaven) which spans a valley filled with maples.
Chion-in has a collection of soaring buildings and spacious courtyards. It serves as the headquarters of the Jodo sect, the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan. This is the most popular pilgrimage temple in Kyoto. The temple was established in 1234 and the oldest of the buildings here dates back to the 17th century.
The two-story San-mon, a Buddhist temple gate at the main entrance is the largest temple gate in Japan. The huge main hall has an image of Honen. It is connected to another hall, the Dai Hojo, by a “nightingale” floor that sings and squeaks with every move.
Up a flight of stairs southeast of the main hall you’ll find the temple’s giant bell. It was cast in 1633 and weighs 70 tons. It is the largest bell in Japan and is rung by the temple’s monks 108 times each year on New Year’s Eve.
On top of a hill you’ll find Kiyomizu-deru, one of Kyoto’s most popular temples. This ancient temple was first built in 798 but the present buildings are reconstructions dating from 1633. This temple is an affiliate of the Hossu School of Buddhism.
The Hondo (Main Hall) has a huge veranda, supported by pillars and juts out over the hillside.
Below the hall is the Otowa-no-taki waterfall, where visitors drink sacred waters that are believed to bestow health and longevity.
When entering the Tainai-meguri, the entrance in the darkness if you spin the rock in either direction you can make a wish.
The steep approach to the temple is known as Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane) and is lined with shops that sell Kyoto handicrafts, local snacks and souvenirs.
Shoren-in also commonly called Awata Palace is a small, intimate temple with giant camphor trees growing outside the walls. It was originally the residence of the chief abbot of the Tendai School. Founded in 1150, the present building dates from 1895 and the main hall has sliding screens with painting from the 16th and 17th centuries. Here you can also find beautiful landscape garden where you can relax and have a cup of tea.
Visitors enjoy visiting Gion, the famous entertainment and geisha quarter on the eastern bank of the Kamo-gawa. By the 18th century this was Kyoto’s largest pleasure district. Hanami-koji runs north-south and bisects Shijo-dori. The southern section is lined with 17th century traditional restaurants and tea houses, many of which are exclusive establishments for geisha entertainment.
Shimbashi (sometimes called Shirakawa Minami-dori is one of Kyoto’s most beautiful streets especially in the evenings and during cherry-blossom season.
Farther on you’ll come to Shinmonzen-dori and Furumonzen-dori where you will find wonderful old houses, art galleries and shops specializing in antiques.
Kurama-dera is located high on a thickly wooded mountain dating back to 1680 and is one of the few temples that still retains an air of spirituality. It is a secluded temple with raked gardens set back in the woods. Among the temple buildings is a small gallery with frequent exhibitions featuring local and international artists.
The Kyoto National Museum is the city’s premier art museum and is host to the highest level exhibitions. The museum was founded in 1895 as an imperial repository for art and treasures from local temples and shrines. In the original main hall you’ll find 17 rooms with displays of more than 1000 artworks, historical artifacts and handicrafts. The new Heisel Chishinkan, designed by Taniguchi Yoshio, opened in 2014, is a brilliant modern counterpoint to the original building.
Entering Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is like stepping into another world. The thick green bamboo stalks seem to stretch endlessly and offer a strange quality of light. It is really a magical place.
The Imperial Palace or Gosho is the former residence of the Emperor of Japan. No emperor has resided there since 1869. The palace sits in the large Kyoto Imperial Park.
The park has many imperial buildings including the Sento Imperial Palace which was a palace for retired emperors, dating from the early 17th century. There are also tennis courts, baseball fields and an Imperial Household Office.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace Park has been planted with a large variety of flowering trees and open fields. It is a great place for picnics, taking strolls and relaxing. The pond at the park’s southern end is a lovely place filled with carp. The parks is particularly beautiful in the plum and cherry blossom seasons. The plum arbor is on the west side and there are several large weeping cherry trees at the north end of the park.
Of interest is Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama where you can enjoy the antics of the monkeys and see them up close. Not only can you enjoy the monkeys but you can get fantastic views over Kyoto.
Visit Owl Family Cafe or Fukuro-no Mise in Japanese where you can enjoy seeing various kinds of owls. Every hour from 12 PM there are petting sessions where you can hold and touch the owls. Photos can be taken but without flash as the owls are weak against light.
Kyoto City Zoo is Japan’s second oldest zoo and was opened during the Meiji period in 1903. The zoo is being reconstructed and it is a great place to meet lots of baby animals, including elephants, giraffes, gorillas, mandrills and more.
At the Elephant Forest you can see four baby elephants walking about and bathing. At Africa’s Savannah you can view giraffes and zebras from a wooden stage set above their heads. You might find a red panda and a sloth walking above you.
At Savage Animal World, lions, tigers and jaguars can climb a corridor set up in the air. You can find entertaining monkeys at the Japanese Monkey Island.
In the Children’s Zoo visitors can pet a goat, sheep and a pig. You can sit and relax on benches set in the south side of the zoo and feel the cooling breezes coming from the Biwako Canal. The zoo also features a library cafe and buffet style eatery.