The 12 Best Sightseeing Destinations In Kyoto
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The 12 Best Sightseeing Destinations In Kyoto

Kyoto 2016.10.16

Kyoto, Japan's famous and charming old capital, is a city with a unique atmosphere. This article introduces twelve must-see attractions of Kyoto, as well as useful tips regarding the weather during the four seasons and means of transportation in the city.

Translated byTakuya Erik Watanabe

Japanese-English Translator from OC California.

Written by ニコ


Kyoto was the capital of Japan for a long period of time from the year 794. The city has preserved the traditional culture and has a unique atmosphere.

In this fascinating city there are many places registered as World Heritage Sites, such as Toji Temple with its five-storied pagoda, Kiyomizudera Temple, Kamigamo Shrine, and Shimogamo Shrine. The city also offers wonderful Japanese gardens, such as the one found at Ryoanji Temple.

The Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba) is called "Kyoto's Kitchen". Here visitors can find and enjoy seasonal Kyoto-style cuisine. Other than that, just walking around the city, you may encounter beautiful geisha hurrying up the narrow alleys. Today we'll be introducing the marvelous city of Kyoto.

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Access and Addresses in Kyoto

The shinkansen stops at Kyoto station, so you can reach Kyoto in two and a half hours from Tokyo. The ride is about 50 minutes if you start from Nagoya. From Hakata station in Kyushu, it will take approximately 3 hours. From Osaka, you can reach Kyoto in about 30 minutes on the JR Special Rapid train.

The city of Kyoto is laid out in a grid-pattern, so it's easy to find your way around. The addressing system in Kyoto is a little different from the traditional one of Japan, as they sometimes include extra words such as "agaru", "sagaru", "nishiiru", and "higashiiru”, which mean respectively "go north", "go south", "go west", and "go east". If you know what these extra words mean, it shouldn't be too hard to find your destination.

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Weather, Climate, and What to Wear in Kyoto

Kyoto is a basin surrounded in three directions by mountains, resulting in the area being hot and humid in the summer, and very cold in the winter.

The average temperature in the summer is around 27 degrees Celsius, but it can reach up to 38 degrees Celsius at times. You can count on the air conditioner inside most buildings, but if you're planning on sightseeing outside, it would be a good idea to bring a hat, towel, and if you can, a sensu (fan). The average temperature in the season of the autumn leaves is around 18.5 degrees Celsius, so you might be wearing a short-sleeve shirt and a light cardigan, or maybe a sweater or jacket in the later days of the fall.

The average temperature in winter is about 5 degrees Celsius. The coldest season is in January, when the lowest temperature can reach 2 degrees below zero. You'll want a down jacket or coat, and don't forget your mittens, scarf, and other cold-preventing wear. In the spring, when the sakura cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the average temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius. You'll be comfortable in a long-sleeve shirt and a vest or cardigan.

Transportation in Kyoto

To get around Kyoto, you can use the city bus, the Kyoto Bus, the subway, or a taxi. Most of the tourist attractions have bus stops nearby, so using the city bus is convenient. The subway also leads to most places, so you can use either one depending on where you're headed. On the large avenues you can find taxis waiting for customers as well.

The Best 12 Sightseeing Places in Kyoto

Heian Jingu, established in 1895

Kyoto is a city whose name you will find in all travel guides to Japan. Today we'll be introducing some of the best sightseeing spots in Kyoto.

1. Toji Temple and the Five-Storied Pagoda

Toji is the head temple of the Buddhist sect called Shingon Mikkyo, which was established by monk Kobo-Daishi Kukai in the days of Emperor Saga in 796. It is also called Kyoo Gokokuji Temple. The hall, with its Dainichi Nyorai Buddha statue and three-dimensional mandala, is a very impressive sight.

2. Representative of Kyoto - Kinkakuji Temple

The official name of Kinkakuji Temple is Rokuonji. It is located in the Kita ward, in the Kinugasa area of Kyoto. It was built as a resort house for the third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, in 1397. The Sansorokaku pavilion, which is the reliquary hall worshiping Buddha, is covered in gold leaf. Visitors will be fascinated by the sight of the golden structure shining across the lake.

3. The Elegant Ginkakuji Temple

The official name is of this building is Jishoji Temple. It was originally a mountain retreat built by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. It has a simple and elegant appearance, quite the opposite of the luxurious Kinkakuji. It represents the spirit of the Higashiyama culture, a culture that flourished in the eastern side of Kyoto around the beginning of the fifteenth century, and which stands at the basis of later developments such as the aesthetic of tea ceremony..

4. Overlook Kyoto from Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera is a historic temple established in 778. It is known for its wooden "stage" called Jigokudome, where visitors can overlook the city of Kyoto. The Otowa no Taki waterfall can be found on the grounds, and is water is said to bring blessings in education, relationships, and long life.

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5. Kitano Tenmangu - The God of Education

Kitano Tenmangu is the head temple of the approximately 12,000 tenmangu shrines in Japan, enshrining the god of education, Sugawara no Michizane. It was established in 947, and is located in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto. Many students on school trips visit the site.

The temple is known for its ume (plum trees) garden. Visitors can enjoy a bowl of matcha tea during the season when the garden is open to the public. There are numerous cow statues around the grounds, as they are associated with Michizane. It is said that if you stroke their heads you can receive blessings. Festivals are held at this temple on the 25th of every month.

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6. Beautiful Autumn Leaves at Eikando

Eikando, also called Zenrinji Temple, is located in the Eikandocho,, the Sagyou ward of Kyoto. It was established in 863, and is a historic temple being mentioned even in the Kokin Wakashu - an imperial collection of poetry compiled in the Heian period. The autumn leaves are especially impressive, and the site is lit up at night. The deity being worshiped here is the "Mikaeri Amida Nyorai", a rare Buddha which seems to be turning around and gently speaking to visitors.

7. Magnificent Autumn Leaves at Tofukuji Temple

After 19 years of construction, the temple was completed in 1255. It is the largest garan (a clean and quiet place where monks gather and live to train) in Kyoto. The view of the autumn leaves from the Tsutenbashi is a sight you will never forget. The temple is also known for its garden.

Tofukuji can be reached in about 10 minutes from Kyoto station by taxi.

8. A National Historic And Scenic Spot: Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a sightseeing spot representative of Kyoto. Its most popular attractions include the sakura cherry blossoms and the autumn leaves. There are many historic buildings in the Togetsukyo Bridge area, including Tenryuji Temple and Nonomiya Shrine, known for its blessings in human relationship, as well as the temples Seiryoji and Horinji, and the shrine Matsuo Taisha. The bamboo grove in this area also has its own unique atmosphere. Arashiyama is an area so full of Japanese culture that you may not be able to see all of it in a day.

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9. Tenryuji Temple - Its Famous Garden and Paintings

Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama was established by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji in 1339. It is a Rinzai Zen temple. Sogen Chiteien, the garden created by the Zen monk Muso Soseki, was designated one of Japan's “most important historic spots” and “special place of scenic beauty”. The dragon painted on the ceiling of the main hall has impressive, sharp eyes, and it seems as if the dragon were looking back at you wherever you look at it from.

10. The Fascinating Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya): Koryuji Temple

Koryuji is said to be the oldest temple in Kyoto, established in 603. Worshiped here is Shotoku Taishi (574 - 622), one of the most important rulers in the history of Japan, who created the country’s first Constitution. The wooden statue of Miroku Boddhisatva is a National Treasure. This statue seems to be slightly smiling, creating a mysterious appeal.

There is a theme park called "Toei Kyoto Studio Park" nearby, so visiting there also might be fun as well.

11. A Castle Watching over Japan's History: Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is a hirajiro (castle on the plains) and was built in 1603. It was the setting of the restoration of political authority to the Emperor, which became an event that marked Japanese history. The outer moats surrounding the castle draw the visitors' attention. By visiting this place you can experience how it is to walk inside a Japanese castle.

12. The One Thousand Red Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the 30,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan. The god Inari has been worshiped since around the 711 as the protector of business prosperity and abundant crops.

The One Thousand Torii Gates is a sight especially popular among travelers from abroad.

A Piece of Kyoto in Your Pocket

Did you know that you can actually find Kyoto in daily life?

On the back of the 10 yen coin is the Byodoin Temple in Uji. On the left half of the back side of the 10,000 yen bill you will also find the image of this temple. Kyoto can always be found in your very own pocket, but why not come and see the city and its incredible sights for yourself too?

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