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Things to Do in Kyoto - page 2

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Daitoku-ji Temple
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A large walled temple complex, a visit to Daitoku-ji in northern Kyoto reveals ancient sub-temples and many traditional Zen gardens. The main Daitoku-ji temple sits on the eastern side of the grounds. This structure was built in 1319, although it was destroyed in a fire in the next century and rebuilt again in the 16th century. Also on the east side of the complex are the Butsuden Hall, Hatto Hall, Hojo Residence, and the famous Sanmon Gate featuring a statue of the tea-master, Sen no Rikyu.

There are many sub-temples within the complex, but only a few of these are open to the public on a regular basis, including Ryogen-in, Zuiho-in, Daisen-in, and Koto-in. Those particularly interested in Japanese gardens should not miss the beautiful Daisen-in rock gardens, which wrap around the temple building and date back to the beginning of the 16th century. Elsewhere, Koto-in was established in 1601 and features a garden considered to be a masterpiece in simplicity that is famous for its canopy of maple trees, which are particularly stunning in the fall.

There are a number ways to experience Kyoto’s ancient temples and traditional gardens, with various day trips from Osaka and Tokyo. One of the best ways to explore this side of Japan’s history and culture is on a Kyoto bike tour, where you can discover other religious shrines and temples in the area, such as Kinkakuji and the Kitano Tenmangu Temple.

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Kennin-ji Temple
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The oldest and one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto, Kennin-ji was founded in the year 1202 by a monk. Situated near the famous Geisha district of Gion, Kennin-ji attracts Buddhist monks on pilgrimage, as well as religious locals and tourists, and curious explorers.

The main hall is a bastion of solemnity. The architecture features rooftops that curve upwards toward the sky, as if in prayer. The original temple complex contained seven buildings, but fires throughout the centuries destroyed many. The temple was rebuilt in the mid-thirteenth century and again in the sixteenth century. Today three outstanding buildings remain: the Dharma Hall, the principal building; a tea house; and the Imperial Messenger Gate. Interestingly, the gate dates back to the 12th or 13th centuries, and today marks from stray arrows during battles can still be seen.

Kennin-ji boasts a stunning Zen garden. Like most Zen gardens, Kennin-ji's is defined by its simplicity and beauty. An aesthetically pleasing placement of rocks, trees, and grassy areas create a calming, peaceful atmosphere for strolling or simply sitting and thinking.

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The Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi)
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One of Japan’s heralded philosophers is said to have meditated daily as he walked on a stone route alongside a canal on his commute to Kyoto University. The scenic path, shaded by hundreds of cherry trees, quickly became known as The Philosopher’s Path (or The Path of Philosophy), and today hundreds of people traverse the two-kilometer trail every day searching for peace, insight, and a clear mind. Small temples and shrines peek out from the cherry trees, beckoning to thinkers and walkers in search of religious observance.

Originating near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion temple, the trail extends to the Kyoto neighborhood of Nanzenji. Near the end of the trail, a large aqueduct greets visitors, a popular spot to stop and take photos. Restaurants and cafes dot the trail. In the Spring, The Philosopher’s Path is one of the best places in all of Kyoto to enjoy the vibrant cherry blossoms in bloom.

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Nishi Hongan-ji Temple
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While many of Kyoto’s temples provide insight into ancient Japanese Buddhist history, few showcase contemporary movements. That’s what makes Nishi Hongan-ji Templeunique. Built in the late 16th-century, the temple remains today an important landmark for modern Japanese Buddhism. Located in the center of Kyoto, the large temple and its sibling-temple, Higashi Hongan-ji, represent two factions of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.

The three main attractions on the temple grounds include Goeido Hall, Amidado Hall, and the temple gardens. Goeido Hall is dedicated to the sect’s founder, and Amidado Hall to the Amida Buddha – the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. Cultural treasures, including surviving masterpieces of architecture, are displayed in these main halls. The Temple garden is known as a “dry” garden, utilizing stones, white sand, trees, and plants to symbolize elements of nature such as mountains, rivers, and the ocean.

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Kamogawa River (Kamo River)
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Strolling along the Kamogawa River (Kamo River) at night is a quintessential Kyoto experience. The fourth longest river in Kyoto spans from the northeastern most parts of the city southwest to the Katsuragawa River. The most popular section of the river runs through the famous geisha district of Gion. In warmer months, the river becomes a popular spot for picnics, walks, and people watching.

A walking path along the river’s edge gives way to stretches of parkland, perfect for enjoying an afternoon or evening. Restaurants situated above the river light up at night, illuminating the river below. There are five bridges that span the Kamo River. More adventurous travelers may enjoy finding each of them. Along with the Seine in Paris or the Tiber River in Italy, the Kamo River is a favorite spot among locals.

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Nanzen-ji Temple
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It is not every day that a retirement home is converted into a temple. After Emperor Kamayema’s death in 1305, however, this is exactly what happened. Named the Nanzenji Temple, it is now one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. The Nanzenji Temple complex includes multiple buildings and several subtemples. Walking paths wind through the complex.

An impressive, large gate—the Sanmon entrance—welcomes visitors to the temple. The gate memorializes the soldiers who died in the battle for Osaka Castle in 1615. Visitors can make their way up to a balcony on the gate, which affords an incredible view of Kyoto and beyond. Trees line both sides of the pathway through the complex, and mountains dot the distant horizon. One of the popular spots on the premises is a zen rock garden, with formations many believe look like tigers swimming through the water.

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Nakasendo Way
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Have tea with locals. Spend time in nature. Walk between villages. These are the highlights of the Nakasendo trail, a historic walking path through the Kiso Valley that links the villages of Tsumago and Magome. In feudal times, the Nakasendo Trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo. Samurais and feudal lords frequented the trail. Along the path were 69 villages, where the travelers could stop and rest. Today, walking the Nakasendo Trail between Tsumago and Magome provides visitors an opportunity to experience a small part of that history.

The five-mile (8-km) NakasendoWay meanders through a wooded forest. The trail crosses over two main waterfalls, the Odaki en Medaki waterfalls – male and female. Along the path there are several old-fashioned wooden buildings, many converted into shops where local handicrafts are sold. Many people stop in at a teahouse along the way, where a guestbook tracks those who have come through.

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Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
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Just because it is a museum does not mean that the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is not functional. This operational sake brewery introduces visitors to the history and technical components of sake brewing. Located in the heart of an old sake brewing district, many of the buildings and breweries have been standing since the Edo era. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum itself was founded in 1637, making it one of the region’s oldest breweries.

The charm of this Museum is its attention to detail. The brewery is in an old-fashioned, traditional sake house. Japanese songs about sake and sake brewing play throughout the museum. One of the main displays features over 6,000 brewing tools, considered by many to be cultural relics. Of course, the highlight of the tour is the sake tasting itself, where some of the area’s best is on display.

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Heian Shrine (Heian Jingu)
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No wonder this serene destination was once featured in "Lost in Translation". The Heian Shrine (Heian Jingu) is easily one of Kyoto's most beautiful. Built in 1884 to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the city, and was dedicated to its first and last emporer's, it is an astounding two-thirds scale replica of the Imperial Palace of the Heian period, and is just as beautiful.

On a nice day, a tour through the stunning bridge and onto any one of its four majestic gardens will relax any weary traveler. Whether it is through the iris, filled pond of the Nishi Shin'en, writing a haiku next to one of the radiating weeping cherry trees of the Heian-style Minami Shin'en, or just taking a leisurely stroll through the magnificence of the stone pillars in the Naka Shin'en, your visit to the Shrine's gardens is a sight that will not be soon forgotten.

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Kyoto Station
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Kyoto Station is far more than a busy transport hub – it’s an attraction in its own right featuring shopping malls, multiple restaurants, and many other things to see and do. This modern, almost futuristic building stands in direct contrast to the traditional buildings found in the city; the station's vast main hall features an exposed-steel beamed roof, and historical aspects of Kyoto are filtered through a modern lens.

Those looking for some retail therapy will enjoy Kyoto Station’s Isetan department store, Porta underground shopping mall, and Cube shopping mall. There are some great food courts to be found within each of these, with popular eateries such as Kyoto Ramen Koji and Eat Paradise for those who need refueling.

Aside from shopping and eating, there is an open-air observation deck on the station’s top floor, which can be reached via a series of escalators and an additional flight of stairs. From here, views of the city unfold before you (albeit through heavily tinted windows). Elsewhere, the Skyway Tunnel will allow you to walk the length of Kyoto Station some 45 meters above the main hall, revealing views of both the city and station below.

Various day and night tours of the city depart from Kyoto Station. You can also enjoy a day trip by arriving into the station on a Kyoto rail tour by bullet train from Tokyo.

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More Things to Do in Kyoto

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

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The tip of Tahoto Pagoda, part of the Zenrin-ji Temple, peeks out between layers of sprawling mountain foliage. The Eikan-do, formerly known as Zenrinji, dates back to the 9th century. The temple was founded as a training school for the Esoteric Buddhism of Shingon sect. Over time, the temple converted to the Jodo sect of Buddhism.

The stunning Tahoto Pagoda is only one of many attractions in the complex, although it is the most famous. Other attractions include a pond garden, Hodo Pond, and the main building temple itself. Within the main temple is housed a unique Buddha statue; the Buddha is looking over his shoulder. Eikan-do is most famous for its stunning display of autumn colors, which are enhanced by an illumination display from mid-November to early December.

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Kodai-ji Temple

Kodai-ji Temple

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In the forested mountain foothills east of Kyoto, the small Kodai-ji Temple is a historic place of worship for members of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Surrounded by raked-sand Zen gardens and accessed by a bridge over a peaceful boulder-lined pool, the temple was constructed in 1606 by the wife of general Toyotomi Hideyoshi to honor her late husband.

The complex retains several of its earliest features including historic gardens, several traditional tea houses (reportedly designed by famous 16th century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu or his students) a memorial hall shrine where the temple’s founder and her husband are buried, as well as the general’s intricate jinbaori over-armor coat stitched with gold and silver thread. In some areas of the temple makie lacquering—a common decorative technique common in the Momoyama period that incorporates powdered gold and silver into the lacquer paint while still wet, creating artistic patterns and designs—embellishes stairs and smaller shrines. The temple museum has scrolls and relics from the Kodai-ji and other nearby temples.

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Byodo-in Temple

Byodo-in Temple

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If you think this classic furled-roof temple looks familiar, take a look at a 10-yen coin, and you’ll see why. One of Japan's most famous temples, and a World Heritage Site, the image of its 11th century Phoenix Hall graces the coin and the 10,000-yen note.

The reason why this Buddhist temple is so famous is because it is one of the few remaining examples of Heian-era architecture, a textbook example of Japanese perfection.

Take a tour to see the famous statue of Amida and 42 Bodhisattvas from the 11th century. The surrounding gardens are also justly famous, with tranquil water gardens reflecting the temple's surrounding pines.

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Shimogamo-jinja Shrine

Shimogamo-jinja Shrine

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More than 200 years before Kyoto would be named the capital of Japan in 794, construction on the Shimogamo-jinja Shrine began. One of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan and one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shimogamo Jinja rests at the intersection of the Takano and Kamo rivers in the midst of 600 year old trees in the ancient Tadasu no Mori forest.

Throughout the more than 1,000 years that Kyoto reigned as Japan's capital city, the Imperial Court patronized the Shimogamo Shrine and its neighbor, Kamigamo Shrine, to bring food fortune, protection, and prosperity to the city. Today, the 53 buildings in the shrine complex provide a respite from city life, welcoming visitors into a natural setting where peace and tranquility abound.

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Chion-in

Chion-in

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The classically curved eaves, ceremonial steps and oversized two-story gateway mark Chion-in Temple as something special, even in temple-filled Kyoto.

The main temple of the Jodo school of Buddhism, Chion-in is a very grand affair, focusing on the huge main hall and its image of the sect’s founder, Hōnen. Another building houses a renowned statue of the Buddha.

The beautiful temple gardens are a sight in their own right, threaded with stone paths, steps and Zen water gardens. The view from the Hojo Garden is particularly worth catching.

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Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

Uji Bridge (Uji-bashi)

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Few landmarks in Japan have figured so prominently in Japanese literature and art as Uji-bashi Bridge. Spanning the Uji River in the town of Uji just outside of Kyoto, it is one of the oldest bridges in Japan. It was originally built in 646 and has witnessed plenty of history, including battles in 1180, 1184 and 1221. During the Edo period, the bridge was an early point along the tea caravan carrying Uji tea to the capital.

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Shoren-in Temple

Shoren-in Temple

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Historically, the head priests of Shoren-in Temple were members of Japan’s imperial family. In fact, a 12th-century emperor built the temple originally as a residence for his son to study alongside a prominent priest of the time. The temple’s stately pedigree matches the allure of its tranquil natural surroundings. Shoren-in Temple rests at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountains. Standing outside of the main temple building, trees tower above, and the wooded forest encircles the entire complex.

Shoren-in Temple is known for being quiet and peaceful, a respite from hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors are invited to walk through the rooms of the temple. These include a drawing room, where the main attraction is intricately painted fusuma, or traditional sliding doors. The drawing room opens to a pond, where visitors often go to meditate. The main hall is the primary place of worship. Outside of the temple are several walking paths. Some circle a garden, while another leads up to a teahouse.

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Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama

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Folklore says that Sojobo, an ancient mythological king who rules over minor deities, inhabits Kurama, a rural temple town in nestled in the northern Kyoto mountains. In the 11th century, Sojobo taught swordsmanship and magic to a famous Japanese general. Although the famous stories are still told, today Mt. Kurama is most famous for its natural hot springs, temples, and nature trails.

Visitors to the area flock to Kurama-dera, a Buddhist temple resting on a steep mountainside above the town. To reach it involves a 30-45 minute hike that can be cut in half by taking a cable car halfway up the mountain. A Shinto Shrine provides respite along the way; it has become famous for an annual Fire Festival that takes place in October. Nature enthusiasts can continue hiking past the temple to several others along a route to the small town of Kibune.

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Kyoto International Manga Museum

Kyoto International Manga Museum

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The Kyoto International Manga Museum, housed within the former Tatsuike Elementary School, protects and exhibits a collection of some 300,000 manga-related items, including Edo-era caricature woodblock prints, magazines from the Meiji to the early Showa periods and manga books from around the world. The crowning jewel of the museum is the Wall of Manga, an open-access library of 50,000 publications lining 650 feet (200 meters) of the museum’s walls.

Special exhibitions and workshops give manga fans to dig deeper into the art, whether through pen and ink drawing classes, lectures by popular manga artists or a live manga studio, where visitors can watch professional artists draw manga from pencil sketch to full-color image.

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Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

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The tallest structure in a city known for its traditional architecture and ancient temples, Kyoto Tower rises 430 feet (131 meters). Take in the panoramic city views from the observation deck, located 328 feet (100 meters) off the ground and then browse the shopping and dining options at Kyoto Tower Building.

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Hosen-in Temple

Hosen-in Temple

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A 700-year-old pine tree welcomes visitors to Hosen-in Temple, a lodging site for Buddhist pilgrims since the 11th century. Inside the quiet temple, visitors sip on traditional Japanese green tea while meditating on the ancient tree and gardens seen through the windows. Outside, visitors place their ears to a pair of bamboo tubes that stretch down into the ground from a small wooden terrace. It's said that the sounds heard from water dripping into a water basin symbolize harmony in the universe.

The serenity can only be disrupted by blood-spattered ceilings, a result of a gruesome Samurai battle that took place in the area in the 1600s. Temple keepers salvaged the wood in Fushimi Castle, where the battle was fought and lost, and affixed it to the temple's ceiling as a way of remembering the history and the lives of those in the battle.

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Mimuroto-ji Temple

Mimuroto-ji Temple

Known as the "flower temple," Mimuroto Temple in Uji City near Kyoto showcases a vast array of seasonal flowers. Starting in early April, Japan's famous cherry trees show off their pink blossoms for a short time around the grounds. From late April to early May, 20,000 azaleas bloom, and more than 10,000 hydrangeas open up in June. Lotus plants complement the bright summer months of July and August, and autumn foliage colors blossom in late November.

The foliage-laden grounds surround the deeply religious temple, originally constructed in the early 1800s and an honor head temple of the Honzan-Shugen-shu sect of Buddhism. The temple houses an image of a thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, a deity and Buddhist symbol of wisdom and compassion. A three-tiered pagoda rests on temple grounds, as well. Touching the statues outside of the temple's main hall is believed to grant wishes and give good luck.

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Kamigamo Shrine

Kamigamo Shrine

It’s impossible to miss the larger-than-life red shrine gate at the entrance to Kamigamo, one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Built in the year 678, it pre-dates Kyoto’s reign as capitol of Japan by over a century. Its longevity lends a hand to Kamigamo’s regard as one of the country’s most sacred and divine shrines: it housed and played host to four Emperors between the 8th and 18th centuries. Kamigamo’s esteemed history is celebrated every year during Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals, when a large procession dressed in Imperial garb from the days of the Heian period marches to the shrine.

Kamigamo and its sister-shrine, Shimogamo, are situated in the ancient Tadasu no Mori, a preserved forest with trees over 600 years old. Visitors flock to two sand cones that rest in front of the shrine’s main building. These structures are said to protect and purify the grounds. Of the shrine buildings, the worship hall is the most famous.

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Myoshin-ji Temple

Myoshin-ji Temple

It’s not every day that an Emperor abdicates his throne and abandons secular pleasures to become a monk. But that’s just what Japanese Emperor Hanazono did in the early 14th century. In 1342 he donated his palace to found a temple. Myoshinji Temple resulted from his religious pursuits, a large complex that houses the main temple, as well as 50 sub-temples. Nearly all of the temple buildings were destroyed in a war in the 15th century; they were rebuilt over the next 150 years, and the reconstructions still stand today.

Entering Myoshinji through one of two gates – north and south – visitors walk along winding paths flanked by high stone walls. Many of the temple buildings are closed to the public, and others offer entrance through guided tours. Inside Hatto Hall, cultural treasures such as a bell dating back to the 7th century, can be seen. Outside, Myoshinji’s temple gardens have been designated as a national place of scenic beauty. Myoshinji is the head temple of the Myoshinji school of Buddhim, which boasts 3,500 affiliated temples across Japan, and has declared itself the largest of all Zen Buddhist branches.

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