Tokyo, Japan is the largest city and known for its incredible high-tech innovations. Yet, there lies another city that is in complete contrast to Tokyo. Before Tokyo became the present capital city, Kyoto was the historic capital of Japan from 794 to 1868. During World War II it was saved from bombings and air raids because of Kyoto’s vast historical significance.
It is this city when most people conjure up images of Japan such as people wearing kimonos, geishas walking around and beautiful temples and shrines everywhere. Out of all the cities in the world this is by far my favorite. You may actually see these iconic representations during your visit to Kyoto. This international travel guide to Japan’s most historic and traditional city will help you to see that and more.
Kimonos, Maiko-sans and Geishas, Oh My —
You are likely to see the older generation wearing kimonos, mostly women, during your time in Kyoto. Rarely do you see the men dressed traditionally, except for ceremonial or festival purposes. Another thing Kyoto is famous for is their festivals. Every season there is some type of festival going on. Throughout the month of July is Japan’s most famous one, the Gion Matsuri.
If you want to see the apprentice geishas, known as maiko-sans, and authentic geishas you must visit the district of Gion. This is filled with not only international tourists, but with Japanese travelers too. Here you will find the ancient teahouses where maiko-sans, who are dressed in brightly colored kimonos, and geishas come and go while performing for the patrons inside.
A word of warning, when you see them on the streets en route please be respectful. Tourists have become like the paparazzi when they see a geisha on the street.
Temples and Shrines Throughout Kyoto
No matter where you go in Kyoto you are bound to see one of their beautiful temples and shrines. Temples are religious sites for Buddhism and shrines for Shinto. A visit to Kyoto is not complete if one does not visit the Golden Temple or Kinkakuji covered entirely in gold. It is located in northern Kyoto. While you are in that area the famous Zen temple with the popular rock garden is also nearby. When I went to visit this garden I was surprised to see how small it is.
To the east is another prominent temple known as Kiyomizudera or the Pure Water Temple. Yes, you can drink their pure water. What makes this temple such a favorite is the wooden platform area that is extended out from the main building. During the spring and fall, when the cherry blossoms and colorful maple leaves are in season, this viewing platform is ideal to see the extraordinary sakura and foliage above and below.
In the Western part of the city there is the moss temple, Kokedera. If you want to see more of Kyoto’s magnificent nature then a side trip to Arashiyama is a must. Southern Kyoto’s marvel is the Fushimi Inari Shrine that is noted for its countless rows of red tori gates covering an entire hiking trail.
The Rest of Kyoto
You will certainly not see all of Kyoto in a day. Everything isn’t centrally located, so planning is absolutely necessary. If you come to Kyoto by train you will be greeted with a state-of-the-art train station. On the surface it seems like another urbanized Japanese city, but there is a great deal on history in its alley ways, side streets and remote locations.
Travelling throughout Kyoto on the subway is very contemporary, but once you step onto the grounds of a temple or shrine you are into another world. Even though I have been to Kyoto several times I have not seen and experienced everything. I wish I knew of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its hiking trail, since I love hiking. During the summer there are firework festivals going on. One thing is certain you can keep coming back to Kyoto and see something new.
Kyoto, Lonely Planet.com
Official Kyoto Travel Guide, Kyoto.Travel