Written by Hilary Keyes
10 Amazing, Little Known Spots Worth Visiting In Kyoto
Think you've seen it all in Kyoto? Think again! There are scores of little known places to see throughout the Kyoto area, and in this article, we feature 10 lesser known places that are chock full of history, nature, and of course, Japanese charm.
Kyoto is one of Japan's most popular tourist destinations, and rightly so. With a rich history dating back centuries, stunning natural landscapes, and of course plenty of modern charm as well, who could resist a sightseeing trip to Japan's old capital?
But, after stopping by the famous sites like Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji, Gion, or Fushimi Inari Shrine, or even their newest addition, the world's first tatami-mat having Starbucks, what is there to do in Kyoto?
Actually, no matter how many times you visit, there is always something "new" to discover in this ancient city. The two best seasons to visit Kyoto are the spring, for the lovely pink sakura, and the autumn, when the red maple leaves wash the region in vibrant, contrasting colors.
Travelers looking to see a new side of Kyoto should definitely visit during one of these seasons, but the locations mentioned in this article are at their best from late September to early November. Here are 10 lesser known places that visitors to Kyoto are sure to enjoy.
According to tradition, Rokkakudo Temple was built in 587 based on the instructions of Shotoku Taishi, the legendary regent of Japan who was written about in one of Japan's oldest written books, the Nihon Shoki.
Rokkakudo Temple is also well known for being the birthplace of ikebana, or the Japanese art of flower arranging. The building right behind the temple is the headquarters of the Ikenobo School of Ikebana. As such, exhibitions of ikebana works are held here frequently. When visiting the temple, do take a look at the monuments dedicated to the art of flower arranging found on its grounds, as well as at the beautiful ikebana exhibitions.
Address: Kyoto, Nakagyo, Rokkaku-dori Todoin Donomae-cho
Built in 1339, Tenryuji is a Zen temple belonging to the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. Visitors to this temple often feel as though they are being watched - and they are! If you look up, you will see this incredible painting of a dragon gazing back at you.
Within the grounds of this temple, you will also find the Sogen Chiteien garden, which was created by the Zen priest Muso Soseki, and was designated as Japan’s first historic landmark and National Scenic Site. The temple is located in the beautiful Arashiyama area, right near the scenic bamboo grove.
Address: Kyoto, Ukyo, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho 68
Nonomiya Shrine is located right in the middle of the bamboo grove of Arashiyama. Originally built as a sacred purification space and residence for the Ise Shrine Priestess, it is well known to fans of Japanese literature for its Black Torii and brushwood fences, which are written about in the tenth chapter of The Tale of Genji, the world's oldest extant novel.
Nonomiya Shrine is an excellent place to visit if you want to pray for luck regarding match-making, marriages, and childbirth. Do take a stroll through the beautiful moss garden behind the temple, a place with a sacred atmosphere.
Address: Kyoto, Ukyo, Sagano Miyamachi 1
The Nishiki Ichiba, or Nishiki Market, is known to many as Kyoto's Kitchen. Many may still think of Kyoto as being a place for temples and shrines alone, but the Nishiki Market is the place to go to find authentic Kyoto cuisine - and dates back to the early 1300s!
This spot has been growing in popularity in recent years, but still retains its everyday charm. Shops selling everything from unique matcha sweets to Kyoto-limited seasonings line this five block long shopping street.
Address: Kyoto, Nakagyo, Nishiki Kouji Dori
Website: http://www.kyoto-nishiki.or.jp/ (Japanese)
Rurikoin is a peaceful, historical temple and natural oasis hidden away in the Yase area of Kyoto. During the Jinshin Revolt in the year 672, Oama no Oji, who later became another legendary figure in Japan, Emperor Temmu, is said to have come to this area to heal his injuries in the Yase no Kamaburu (steam bath), which has served as the model for numerous steam baths and recuperation facilities both in Kyoto and across Japan ever since.
There are two incredible gardens and even a tea house on the grounds of this temple. The best season to visit here is undoubtedly autumn, when the leaves of the maple trees turn red.
Address: Kyoto, Sakyo, Higashiyama, Kamitakano 55
The Teramachi Nijodori area is especially known for its cultural history in Kyoto. There are many historical shops and buildings to see here, but the 300-year-old Ippodo Tea Shop and its related cafe and tea room Kaboku are two must see places.
Here you can shop for authentic tea products and tea ceremony implements, as well as enjoy expertly prepared matcha and traditional wagashi (tea ceremony) sweets too.
Address: Kyoto, Nakagyo, Teramachi Nijodori, Agaru
SOU SOU - Japanese Clothing Brand
SOU・SOU is a textile brand from Kyoto that has gained international recognition for its combination of Japanese traditional clothing designs with modern Western fashions and one-of-a-kind, limited edition fabrics. Within this brand there are numerous different sub-shops selling everything from everyday fashions to custom-made kimono, to colorful umbrellas, wallets, and more.
As there are many different shops under this brand, each with their own focuses, those wanting to learn more about their products should click here to see their clothing and here for more on their accessories.
The Seimei Shrine, founded in 1007, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the legendary historical onmyoji (*1) Abe no Seimei (921-1005) which was first constructed on the former site of Seimei's home, and fully reconstructed in 1925.
There is a mystical well within the precincts said to have magical waters that were used by the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu at one time, while throughout the shrine and grounds there are Seimei stars (pentacles), the symbol that Seimei is said to have invented in the 10th century in order to symbolize the five elements of Onmyodo practices.
Address: Kyoto, Kamigyo, Horikawa Dori, Ichijo Agaru 806
Website: http://www.seimeijinja.jp/ (Japanese)
*1 Onmyoji: a practitioner of Onmyodo, a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology that combined occultism and natural sciences, and took influences from Taoism, Buddhism, and Shintoism as well.
Kodaiji, which is formally named Jubuzan Koodai-ji, was established in 1606 by Nene, the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in order to pray for her late husband. This temple belongs to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, and is the largest of the sub-temples belonging to the Kennin-ji Temple branch of this sect.
There are stunning gardens and multiple Important Cultural Assets within its grounds, including the Otamaya sanctuary, and even a jinbaori, a special coat worn over armor that once belonged to the famous feudal lord. In the fall, the gardens are beautifully illuminated, and the the visitors can enjoy the surreal view of the trees with their red leaves reflecting in the mirror of the lake.
Address: Kyoto, Higashiyama, Kodaiji Shimokawaracho 526
Eikando was built in 863 by Shinsho, a student of the famed Kukai, and is the head temple for the Seizan branch of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. Mentioned in the historical poetry anthology the Kokin Wakashu, Eikando is best known for the Mikaeri Amida, a peculiar statue of the Amida Buddha who, rather than looking forward as is standard for all Buddist statues, is glancing over his shoulder back at the viewer instead.
Address: Kyoto, Sakyo, Eikando-cho 48
While it's plenty of fun seeing all the famous spots in Kyoto, going somewhere that is less well known has its merits too, as you can make your own unique memories of Kyoto.
These ten places are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden spots in Kyoto, so please make sure to pay them a visit. Who knows, you might even find somewhere else that catches your eye along the way!