Kyoto, Japan’s capital city for over 1,000 years is truly rich in history and tradition, and, notwithstanding Tokyo’s importance today, should be the major destination for travelers to Japan. The city boasts over 1,000 temples, 3 imperial palaces, 9 major museums, several notable gardens, and more World Heritage Sites than any other city except Rome, making Kyoto somewhat daunting, but a three-day visit should be able to accommodate most of these very special sights.
In the eastern part of the city, tourists should not miss Ginkaku-ji, a villa-turned-temple, with its traditional gardens, a pond garden and a dry garden. Chion-in is one of Japan’s largest temples. Kiyomizudera is cut into a mountainside and provides a glorious view of the city. Nanzen-ji, and its neighbor Konchi-in, also merit a visit.
In the western part of the city, notable sights include Ryoanji Temple, which is world-famous for its dry garden, Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Koryugi, with its 1,500 year old wooden statue of Miroku Bosatsu, an extremely serene Buddha. Also to the west is the suburb of Arashiyama, which has two important sights, Katsura Rikyu, with its serene setting and tranquil gardens, and, the very special Koinzan Saiho-ji, known as the Moss Temple, because of its internationally renowned moss garden. Both of these latter sights require special permission to visit and reservations must be requested in advance.
Central Kyoto has two must-sees: Nijo Castle with its incredible, ornate opulence, and the Byodo-in Temple, which dates to the 11th century.
1. Stroll through the Gion district, in the eastern part of the city, in the evening, to get a glimpse of Geisha girls, with their white, porcelain faces, on their way to their appointments.
2. My walking tour, which incorporates many of the best sights described above, can be found in the archives for the date, 3-23-09.