If you stand very still and close your eyes, you can almost feel a wayward kimono sleeve gently brush your arm as a maiko (apprentice geisha) flits past you. You can hear the groans of wooden carts straining under their load as they wheel past you, and in the distance, a river rushes determinedly ahead, unaware of the umbrella-totting pedestrians in traditional garb, crossing the wooden bridge above.
In a way, Kyoto of the past is not too different from Kyoto today. If you visit the city, you’ll find plenty of architecture and thriving customs and traditions that date back to the 18th century, all waiting to be discovered. Japan’s 7th largest city is home to approximately 1.5million inhabitants and remains as the cultural and historical hub of the country.
Kyoto served as the capital and emperor’s residence from 794 – 1868 and though much of the city was destroyed by fires and wars over the centuries, it remained relatively intact during the second world war as it was removed from the atomic bomb target list. Lucky for us, as the area also happens to be home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with 14 in Kyoto alone.
As with most places in the world, you could live in Kyoto and not be able to discover everything in a lifetime, as the city is full of surprises at every turn. We have however, compiled a short list of must-do and must-sees if you happen to pass by or are planning to visit.
Public baths, or popularly known as onsens are everywhere in Kyoto. There are over 140 in the city alone.
Go shopping for second hand kimonos, ceramics, laquerware and woven bamboo products leaves you wanting for nothing more, as Kyoto is famous for these handcrafted goods. The shopping districts of Ninen Zaka and Sannen Zaka are housed amongst traditional wooden shops and tea houses, so even if you don’t find something, you can still experience an older Kyoto.
Find inner peace at any of the numerous Zen gardens. Kyoto is the spiritual center of Zen Buddhism, with the practice introduced to the city toward the end of the late 12th century. The most famous is the Ryoan-Ji, which can get crowded, so we suggest going early in the morning.
Marvel at the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-Ji. The temple is aptly named as it is literally, covered in stunning gold leaf, lending the structure a gilded appearance that is as regal as it is beautiful. Did you know that a schizophrenic monk burnt it down once, as he felt the temple was “too beautiful”?
Walk under the 10 000 ubiquitous orange torri gates of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine – you know, the one you always see on social media.
Visit the Arashiyama bamboo groves and while you’re at it, the area is home to plenty of temples, gardens and restaurants, making it a great place to spend the day.
Make a wish at the Kiyomizu-Dera, or wishing temple. The UNESCO site is home the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. It is said if you wish hard enough, you will find true love.
Grub out at the Nisiki Market, aka Kyoto kitchen. Think street food of everything and anything!
Nerd out at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, home to over 300,000 mangas. You can also participate in workshops or have your likeness drawn by any one of the caricaturists on hand.
This list is by no means extensive, but you can expect to visit some of these highlights if you come along with us this June