I travel like a hell. I am never in same place on Earth twice in a week. I have been to more than 50 places and still counting. From all the countries I’ve been in the past six years Japan is my all times favorite. I don’t think twice when I have a chance to go to Japan. There are so many new things, places, adventures to discover even if ‘ Ive been there couple of times. You probably saw my travel IG posts from Osaka and Tokyo (during Cherry Blossom). Now is time to share with you my visual diary from Kyoto and give you 5 top must-see places to visit once you are there.
Kyoto is old Japan with wonderful temples, sublime gardens, colourful shrines and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons.
Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat’s villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.
As for the history of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden, the facts are less certain. The garden’s date of construction is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.
Ryoanji’s garden is viewed from the Hojo, the head priest’s former residence. Besides the stone garden, the Hojo features some paintings on the sliding doors (fusuma) of its tatami rooms, and a couple of smaller gardens on the rear side of the building. In one of the gardens there is a round stone trough that cleverly incorporates its square water basin into a Zen inscription, which students of kanji may be able to appreciate. The Hojo is connected to the Kuri, the former temple kitchen, which now serves as the temple’s main entrance.
Ryoanji’s temple grounds also include a relatively spacious park area with pond, located below the temple’s main buildings. The pond dates back to the time when the site still served as an aristocrat’s villa and features a small shrine on one of its three little islands that can be accessed over a bridge.
Besides some nice walking trails, the park also offers a restaurant which specializes in the Kyoto specialty of Yudofu (boiled tofu). The food is served in attractive tatami rooms that look out onto a traditional Japanese garden. It is also possible for patrons to order just drinks or share one dish between multiple people, but in both cases an extra charge applies.
Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden’s meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.
Shinnyodo (真如堂, Shinnyodō) is a temple of the Tendai Sect, established in 984 by a priest from the important Enryakuji Temple. Off the beaten tracks of Kyoto, Shinnyodo is a beautiful autumn color spot which provides lovely fall colors usually around late November, but yet remains relatively less crowded.
The temple’s halls were destroyed during the Onin War (1467-1477), but fortunately its principle image of Amida Buddha was rescued. After a couple of relocations, this image was once again enshrined at the present location in 1693 when the temple was rebuilt. Today, Shinnyodo’s premises encompass quite a large area with multiple buildings, including a three-storied pagoda. Most of the temple grounds are free to enter, but a fee is required to enter the inner chamber of the main hall and to see temple’s gardens.
Kyoto’s famed ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is one of Japan’s best-known sights. The main hall, covered in brilliant gold leaf, shining above its reflecting pond is truly spectacular. Needless to say, due to its beauty, the temple can be packed any day of the year. Thus, we recommend going early in the day or just before closing, ideally on a weekday.
The original building was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. His son converted it into a temple. In 1950 a young monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground. The monk’s story was fictionalised in Mishima Yukio’s The Golden Pavilion . In 1955 a full reconstruction was completed that followed the original design, but the gold-foil covering was extended to the lower floors.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Walking into this extensive bamboo grove is like entering another world – the thick green bamboo stalks seem to continue endlessly in every direction and there’s a strange quality to the light. You’ll be unable to resist trying to take a few photos, but you might be disappointed with the results: photos just can’t capture the magic of this place. The grove runs from just outside the north gate of Tenryū-ji to just below Ōkōchi Sansō villa.
On top 1 is one of the most impressive and memorable sights in all of Kyoto – Fushimi Inari-Taisha.
With seemingly endless arcades of vermilion torii (shrine gates) spread across a thickly wooded mountain, this vast shrine complex is a world unto its own. The entire complex, consisting of five shrines, sprawls across the wooded slopes of Inari-san. A pathway wanders 4km up the mountain and is lined with dozens of atmospheric sub-shrines. The walk around the upper precincts of the shrine is a pleasant day hike. It also makes for a very eerie stroll in the late afternoon and early evening, when the various graveyards and miniature shrines along the path take on a mysterious air. It’s best to go with a friend at this time. On 8 April there’s a Sangyō-sai festival with offerings and dances to ensure prosperity for national industry. During the first few days in January, thousands of believers visit this shrine as their hatsu-mōde (first shrine visit of the New Year) to pray for good fortune.