A must see on every traveler’s itinerary, it is easy to see why. Kyoto is incredible. It is easy to see why it is most visitors’ favorite city in Japan. At least a week is recommended here to do justice to the sights. This is old Japan. Geisha walk the little alleys, tiny tea shops are tucked into street corners, and 1000 year old temples abound. (There are at least 2000 temples in the city).
Try to time a visit with the Gion Matsuri, one of the three biggest annual festivals in the country. It is a true experience to see the locals dressed up in all of their traditional finery, from babies to grandmas. As the imperial capital from 794 to 1868, Kyoto has the most cultural delights in the country, as well as history. (Tokyo only became the capital in 1868, with the Meiji restoration formally giving power back to the emperor from the shogunate (military).
A slice of Kyoto can be experienced by visiting the following: Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Kiyomizu Temple, Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji), Nijo Castle, Imperial Palace, Kiyomizudera, Gion, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and the nearby city of Nara. There are thousands of temples in the city, but these are the highlights. There is plenty of shopping to do here, though the most popular activity is taking pictures. The city is so picturesque it is easy to spend most of one’s time snappping photos. Especially in Gion.
This is the traditional Geisha district, where one sees fully dressed Geisha strolling down the street. The ochaya, or tea houses, are private and it is not possible to visit any of them. The world is highly secret and ritualistic. A glimpse of a Geisha walking past is the closest a visitor can get into that world.
A day trip to the city of Nara is recommended from here. The train trip is only 35 minutes to this ancient capital. Nara-Koen, or Nara-Park, is where most of the main attractions are located for visitors just coming for the day.
The most famous temple is Todai-ji. This is home to the largest Buddha statue in Japan, the Daibatsu. The Daibutsu-den, which houses it, is thought to be the largest wooden building in the world. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings are enormous and the architecture jaw-dropping. Allot some time to wander around this place.
A walk around the park will bring the visitor to multiple other temples. Horyu-ji, Kofuku-ji and Toshodai-ji are some of the most popular. But the city is most famous for its resident deer in Nara-Koen. These creatures were sacred up until world war II, but they are still National Treasures and treated well accordingly. Visitors can, and do, feed them, often at the expense of visiting other attractions.
There is so much to see and do, it will require another trip to Kyoto, and Japan, to explore the temples, intricacies and beauties of this ancient land. Japan has managed to become one of, if not the, most modern countries on earth while proudly and clearly holding on to its history and traditions. This is a delicate balancing act in a remarkable place.