What to do in Kyoto ?
What to do in Kyoto the old capital is the one of the most significant, if not the most important destination in Japan? Every year millions of tourists come to see the city both from within Japan and overseas.
Kyoto served as Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868, making it the country’s most significant cultural centre, where architecture, sculpture, painting and many other arts flourished. Buddhism had an impact on the city’s arts, so that a large number of the surviving works can be found in the old temples. There are around 200 Shinto shrines in the city.
Kyoto is now the country’s seventh largest city.
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires. You can see lots of temples and shrines and other historical structures survive in the city today.
There are lots of things to see in Kyoto. The most famous and must see places are:
Kyoto Imperial Palace/Garden:
The Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) was the imperial family residence until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace has been destroyed and rebuilt eight times since it was first built in 794. The version currently standing was completed in 1855.
The Shishinden (hall of ceremonies) is the symbol of the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
Other buildings on the grounds include the Seiryo-den, which was the Emperor’s residence for a long time before the separate Otsune-goten was built. Another building, the Ko-gosho, was used in ceremonies such as the Coming-of-Age Ceremony and on occasions when the Emperor received the shogun or daimyos.
Times and Prices:
The grounds are open to the public with free public tours in English (10am & 2pm Mon – Fri). However, reservations (permission) are needed from the Imperial Household Agency, which is located in the parkland that surrounds the Imperial Palace (You need to show your passport). Most times you can get reservations up to 30mins before the tour, but in peak season you may need to book a day or so ahead.
The Imperial Palace is located in the Kyoto Imperial Park – north of the centre of Kyoto.
The Castle was originally built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu to be the official Kyoto residence, and it was completed in 1626 by the third Shogun Iemitsu. When Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Tokugawa Shogun, returned sovereignty to the Emperor in 1867, the castle was given to the Imperial family. In 1884 it was renamed Nijo Detached Palace and in 1939 donated to the City of Kyoto renamed Nijo Castle and opened to the public.
The castle consists of the Ninomaru Palace & the Honmaru Palace, and various support buildings and several gardens. The most important, Ninomaru Palace, comprising 3300 square meters consists of five buildings, with 33 rooms and 800 Tatami (straw mats) in total. It is almost entirely contructed of Hinoki wood (Japanese cycress).
Nijo Castle is located to the west of the centre of Kyoto.
Times & Prices:
Admission: 600 Yen
Hours: 08:45 to 17:00 (admission until 16:00). Closed on Tuesdays during January, July, August and December.
The Gion District is an entertainment area and one of the remaining geisha areas. Hanamikoji, is a street where most of the 17th century wooden teahouses are to be found and a place to catch a glimpse of a geisha.
Gion Corner is a theatre (Yasaka Hall, Hanamikoji Shijo-sagaru), where one can experience an overview of 7 kinds of Japanese traditional arts and entertainment in single setting (about 1 hour): Kyoto style Dance, Flower Arrangement, Tea Ceremony, Japanese Harp, Comic Play, Court Music and Puppet Play.
You can also find shops on Shijo Dori selling traditional sweets, combs, lanterns etc.
The Gion District also has a modern area with discos & bars, but these are mostly exclusive for Japanese, not foreign tourist.
The best time to experience the Gion District is at night when it is buzzing with. The best time to spot a geisha is somewhere between 5pm and 7pm as most go to work at this time.
The Gion District is near Shijo Dori/Hanamikoji, east of Kamo river in central Kyoto.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion):
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is the main building of Rikuon-ji Temple. This building is probably the most-photographed attraction in Kyoto. However, this small three-storey temple is not all that magnificent, apart from the leaf gold. It’s beauty rather has something to do with it’s simple elegance. The pavilion served as the model for the construction of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) which had been built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa in the northeast of Kyoto at the end of the 15th century.
In 1397 construction started on the Golden Pavilion as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It was after the death of Yoshimitsu, in 1408, that Kinkakuji was converted into a Zen temple .
The present building dates from 1955 as the pavilion was burnt by a fanatic monk in 1950.
The pond near the Golden Pavilion is called Kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond).
The garden remains as it was in former days and can be enjoyed as it was hundreds of years ago.
In 1994 Kinkakuji was registered on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
Times and Prices:
Admission: 400 Yen
Hours: 09:30 – 17:00
North west area.
Construction Notice: Nine of the buildings at Kiyomizudera are being renovated step by step over the coming years. Currently, the Okunoin Hall, which is well known for the temple’s secondary balcony, and the Amida Hall are being renovated. The construction has a certain but not overwhelming impact on a visit. Later in the decade, the main hall will also undergo renovation which can be expected to have a bigger impact on a visit.
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto. It derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a beautiful view. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
Times and Prices:
Admission: 300 Yen
Hours: 06:00 – 18:00
Higashiyama area, south east of Kyoto
The “Philosopher’s Walk” (30 min) runs along the hillside next to the Biwakosui stream up to a causeway full of cherry trees, and further northwards to the Ginkakuji temple, also called the Silver Pavilion or Jishoji. The complex was built as a retirement villa in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th Muromachi Shogunate. The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490.
The Kannon hall is the main building at the temple. It is said that the intention was to cover it in silver, but this never happened, therefore it is actually a simple wooden structure. The building frame a Zen garden of white sand.
In addition to that building, the temple features wooded grounds covered with a variety of mosses, and a Japanese garden. There is also a pathway that leads up a small hill where you can gain different views of Ginkakuji and part of the city below.
In 1994 Ginkakuji was registered on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
Times and Prices:
Admission: 500 Yen
Hours: 08:30 – 17:00 (Mid March to Nov) / 09:00 – 16:30 ( Dec to Mid March)
North east of Kyoto