August 6, 2022
Kyōto, city, seat of Kyōto fu (urban prefecture), west-central Honshu island, Japan. Gently sloping downward from north to south, the city averages 180 feet (55 meters) above sea level. Kyōto fu is at the center of Kinki chihō (region). The city is one of the centers of the Keihanshin Industrial Zone, the second largest urban and industrial agglomeration in Japan. The capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years (from 794 to 1868), Kyōto (literally, “Capital City”) has been called a variety of names through the centuries—Heian-kyō (“Capital of Peace and Tranquillity”), Miyako (“The Capital”), and Saikyō (“Western Capital”), its name after the Meiji Restoration (1868) when the imperial household moved to Tokyo. Kyōto is the center of traditional Japanese culture and of Buddhism, as well as of fine textiles and other Japanese products. The deep feeling of the Japanese people for their culture and heritage is represented in their special relationship with Kyōto—all Japanese try to go there at least once in their lives, with almost a third of the country’s population visiting the city annually. Several of the historic temples and gardens of Kyōto were collectively added as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. (Cary, O. (2021, February 15). Kyōto. Encyclopedia Britannica.)
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
Our next part of the tour is walking through old town Kyoto beginning at Kiyomizudera. Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of t
he most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and 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.
The Higashiyama District (東山) along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best-preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings, and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city. Recent renovations to remove telephone poles and repave the streets have further improved the traditional feel of the district.
Yasaka Pagoda, the last remnant of Hokanji Temple, is one of the most visible and recognizable landmarks in the Higashiyama District. The interior of the pagoda is occasionally open to visitors, which is a rare opportunity as most pagoda can only be viewed from the outside.
Ishibe Alley is a must-see in Kyoto. As you walk through the alleyways you feel like you’ve stepped into a movie set, only it’s real, because the establishments in Ishibe are not just for display.
A lot of the establishments still function as tea houses, salons, restaurants, and houses filled with the muffled sound of families behind closed doors. Unlike Hanami koji, Ishibe Alley is undiscovered. It is like being alone with Kyoto.
This historic alley hasn’t changed much in years and the government has made a good job of preserving this place in its traditional form. Finding Ishibe alley isn’t hard as its just a few steps away from the entrance of Kodai-ji Temple.
Kodaiji (高台寺, Kōdaiji) is an outstanding temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama District. It was established in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s greatest historical figures, by Hideyoshi’s wife Nene who is also enshrined at the temple.
Kodaiji belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Its main buildings were constructed in the lavish style of the era of Japan’s unification with the financial support of Hideyoshi’s successor Tokugawa Ieyasu. They feature richly decorated interiors and are surrounded by beautiful Zen gardens.
Maruyama Park (円山公園, Maruyama Kōen) is a public park next to Yasaka Shrine in the Higashiyama District. In the first half of April, when the cherry trees are in full bloom, the park becomes Kyoto’s most popular and most crowded spot for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami). The centerpiece of the park is a tall shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), which gets lit up in the night.
Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja), also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. Founded over 1350 years ago, the shrine is located between the popular Gion District and Higashiyama District and is often visited by tourists walking between the two districts.
Our final stop on the walking tour will be Gion. Gion (祇園) is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.
Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.
Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō) was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle’s palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.
After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.
Arashiyama (嵐山) is a pleasant, touristy district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Arashiyama is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons.
sagano scenic train
The Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道, also known as the Sagano Romantic Train or Sagano Torokko) is a sightseeing train line that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. Its charming, old fashioned trains wind their way through the mountains at a relatively slow pace, taking about 25 minutes to make the seven kilometer journey and giving passengers a pleasant view of the scenery as they travel from Arashiyama through the forested ravine and into rural Kameoka.
The walking paths that cut through the bamboo groves make for a nice walk or bicycle ride. The groves are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries.
Ranked among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryuji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites . In addition to its temple buildings, there are attractive gardens with walking paths.
iwatayama Monkey Park
Located in the Arashiyama mountains, the entrance to the monkey park can be found just south of the Togetsukyo Bridge . After hiking uphill for about ten minutes, visitors will find an open area with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. There are also nice views down onto the city.
Once you are finished, take a bus or walk back towards the Randen Arashiyama Station to finish our exploration of the Arashiyama area.
The Kimono Forest is located in Randen Arashiyama Station , which is just off the main street of Arashiyama near the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tenryu-ji Temple. Within the station, brilliant cylinder-shaped pillars in a variety of colors and patterns stand in rows like a forest winding its way through a fantasy dreamland. The pillars are made with fabric dyed using the traditional Kyo-Yuzen technique, a style of dyeing and printing used to create the brilliantly colored Yuzen Kimono in Kyoto. Around 600 pillars make up the so called “Kimono Forest”, creating a breathtaking and dramatic entrance to the station. A heated footbath is also available within the station, making this a great last stop after a full day of walking!
Alternate Activities in Kyoto
Dress in a Kimono or Yukata and take pictures while in the Kiyomizudera area. You can rent/purchase from a local shop or bring your own and let them dress you up! Hair styling is provided at an additional cost. Shops have kimono and yukata for both men and women.
Enjoy lunch at the Nishiki Market. Nishiki Market (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba) is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.
Small Katana forging Experience
Create a small knife under the watchful eye of a master using the same process & materials as a traditional sword. Visit the only remaining sword forge & swordsmith in Kyoto.
Okochi Sanso Villa, Garden & Tea House
Okochi Sanso Villa is the former home of the Japanese period film actor, Denjiro Okochi (1898-1962). The villa gardens are a particularly sublime and outstanding example of a traditional Japanese garden. The villa grounds span across a huge 20,000 square meters, filled with beautiful gardens and impressive architecture. The buildings include the villa’s Japanese house, a few tearooms, and a couple of Shinto shrines all dotted around throughout the multi-level garden.
A small shrine located near the famous temple Tenryū-ji, Nonomiya Shrine is surrounded on all sides by Arashiyama’s beautiful bamboo forest. Despite its small size, the shrine has a lengthy history. Comprised of a small main altar as well as several sub-shrines in a pleasant moss-filled garden, Nonomiya Shrine is a quaint stop along the Sagano walking path that takes visitors through the gorgeous bamboo forest. Take a moment on your way to appreciate the scenery of Nonomiya Shrine, which appears in the classic 11th century novel The Tale of Genji.
Escape the crowds and (if you’re lucky) mingle with the monkeys at Arashiyama’s lovely hilltop park, Kameyama-koen Park. Make your way uphill and to the west to get some fine views down to the Hozu-gawa River and across Kyoto. Cherry blossoms bloom here in late March and early April and troops of wild monkeys occasionally patrol the park.
River Boat Ride
The Hozugawa-kudari is touted as the best river boat ride in Japan. Once on the boat, you will enjoy a 16 kilometer, two-hour journey from Tanba-Kameoka to Arashiyama in Kyoto. Experience the exciting rapids and mysterious deep pools through the ravine in the beautiful scenery.
Cormorant Fishing Exhibition
Enjoy the sights of night-fishing using Cormorants (Ukai). Ukai is a traditional fishing method which uses trained cormorants to catch river fish such as sweetfish (ayu). This type of fishing has been around for over 1300 years, most prominently along the Nagaragawa River in Gifu City, where the master fishermen have official patronage from the emperor. Today, ukai takes place in the summer months in about a dozen rivers across Japan.
Fushimi Sakagura Kouji is a liquor retail store specializing in the brands of 18 breweries belonging to the Fushimi Sake Brewery Association in order to spread the deliciousness of sake in Fushimi, Kyoto to the world. You can purchase almost all of your favorite sake that you met at “Fushimi Sake Village” as a souvenir, for your home, or as a gift.