As one of the biggest tourist destinations in Japan, there’s an endless number of things to do, so I’ve put together some of my favourites from this summer to help fellow travellers out. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so don’t hesitate to add any more suggestions in the comments setion below!
1. Rokuon-ji (also known as Kinkaku-ji) / The Golden Temple:
This was honestly one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen! The Zen Buddhist temple was entirely coated in gold, and surrounded by beautiful forest and gardens. The first floor was used by the emperors to host foreign visitors and other influential leaders, the second was entirely black and for use by samurais, and the top floor was fully gold. The walls, the ceiling, the furniture, even the floor is coated in gold leaf. Understandably visitors cannot step inside, but there are some beautiful photos! After taking plenty of photos of the temple itself, take a stroll around the grounds, tossing a coin into the well-known wishing well.
This was a large monastery for Zen Buddhists. It was required, as with most sacred buildings, to take shoes off before walking around the inside of the building. The atmosphere was incredible. It’s hard to explain quite how peaceful it was to sit along the edge of the beautifully raked stone garden, but the only way I can describe it is as an overwhelming calm. We had a tourguide, but if not I could have easily sat there for much longer! For this visit I would really recommend a tourguide to understand the meanings behind the rock garden, each room and the surrounding greenery and fountains.
A street famous for its Geiko (Geishas) and Maiko (apprentice Geishas), it’s right in the heart of Kyoto. The street is lined with geiko noarding houses and, as recently as 10 years ago, you were able to see geiko and maiko walking the streets. Unfortunately they are now quite difficult to come across as they avoid walking amongst tourists because they intimidated by the constant photos and unwanted touching from tourists. There are even sign illustrating not to touch the Geiko! What you do see is plenty of Chinese tourists walking down the street in rented kimonos. Despite all this, it’s a must-see! At the end you will join onto the Higashiyama district which is a mecca of souvenir shops and hand-made gifts. Before you do reach here though, make sure to stop for a delicious cream puffs in the small café near the end of Hanamikoji Dori street.
4. Gion Corner
Still in the same area and keeping with the inculturation of tourists is Gion Corner. This theatre offers show for tourists, with small performances of different aspects of Japanese cultures. It’s not to say that these will be the best Geiko dances, best puppet performances or best tea rituals in Kyoto, but for a reasonable price, it allows you to get a taste for a little bit of everything. I particularly enjoyed th puppet performance at the end, dramatic but humorous. Prior booking isn’t required but it’s worth arriving considerably early, maybe about half an hour in peak tourism season, to get in.
5. Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades
Staying in the Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo, we stepped out into this shopping area everyday and it became our go-to for anything we needed. From a delicious Donburi for lunch, some beautifully handpainted fans as gifts for friends, more suncream, or even just a few snacks for the hotel room, this arcade has anything you coud possibly need. Stepping just outside the arcade you have even more shops, department stores and restaurants, so a great place to spend the day. The great thing is that it’s covered, so during a storm we were hit by halfway through our stay, we could still go out, and during the midday heat, we were out of the sun.
I have to say that Kyoto was an amazing place and I really don’t think I saw enough of it! Although this was probably mostly down to the heatwave as much as time restraints. It’s a great city which is very different to Tokyo and Hiroshima. It has a very traditional but buzzing atmosphere, so I’m not surprised by the number of tourists. I would say to anyone visiting though, please be culturally respectful.