Walking Tours of Kyoto, Japan
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.
Walk 1 – City Center and East
My walk begins at Imperial Park, in the center of the city. It contains the Imperial Palace and the Retired Emperor’s Palace. Exit the park at the northern end, and turn right on Imadegawa-Dori, and then turn right on Shirakawa-Dori, to access the Philosopher’s Walk and a string of north-to-south temples, beginning with Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, a villa-turned-temple, with its traditional gardens, a pond garden and a dry garden. The intended silver-coating was never applied but the sight is still a must-see.
Next on the walk, as you continue further south, you will see Honen-in, an interesting temple. Further south is Otoyo-jinja, a Shinto shrine, then Eikan-do, with its Amida Buddha, and, finally, Nanzen-ji, a Zen-Buddhist temple.
Continue south from here and then cross Shirakawa-Dori to Sanji-Dori, heading west. Shoren-in is on your left, with its stately camphor trees and well-landscaped grounds. Next, turn left on Higashioji-Dori, past Chion-in, one of Japan’s largest temples to the most important temple in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Climb the hill to visit the Main Hall, with a veranda that provides a glorious view of the city, and then to the temple itself, with its Statue of Kannon at t-dera.
Exit onto Kiyomizudaka and then turn right on Sannezaka, then straight ahead on Ninenzaka. Turn left, then right on Ne-ne No Michi, then left onto Ishibe-Kopi Lane, then right to the Yasaka Shrine, and then left to Shijo-Dori.
Now turn right on Karasuma-Dori which leads back to Imperial Park, where the walking tour began.
Walk 2 – City Center and West
This walk also begins at Imperial Park (see above). Exit the park to the west and turn right on Karasuma-Dori, then turn left on Kitaoji-Dori. Daitoku-ji Temple, which boasts a number of interesting sub-temples, is the first attraction on your route. It can be found on the right side of the road. Further along is one of Japan’s most famous temples, Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion). It is coated with gold-leaf, hence the name, and glitters in the sun. Across from it is Ryoan-ji Temple, famous for its classical Japanese dry garden. The next temple, Ninna-ji, which dates to 888 AD, has a huge entrance gate and a five-storey pagoda.
Turn left on Shiza-in-Kaido (it becomes Kadodonaka-Dori), and then turn left on Gojo-Dori, and right on Omaya-Dori, to reach Nishi Hongen-ji Temple, associated with the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.
Beyond it, on the right, is the Toji Temple, founded in 796. Its five-storey pagoda is the tallest in all Japan, at 180 feet, and is a prominent city landmark. Now, turn left on Kujo-Dori and left again on Horikawa-Dori, which leads to the Nijo Castle, ahead on the left. Enter through the impressive Karamon Gate and explore the entire complex of incredible, ornate opulence. After your visit, exit onto Horikawa-Dori, turn left, and then right on Maruta Machi-Dori, which leads to Imperial Park, where the walking tour began.