Looking for a cultural getaway? A great place for anyone to visit, especially if you have never visited Asia, is Kyoto. The name “Kyoto” in Japanese literally translates to “capital city.” Although Kyoto is not the modern day capital of Japan, it was once the imperial capital of this ancient country. Due to its long and intricate history, Kyoto is a beautiful (and culturally rich) city that will delight adventurers, honeymooners, historians, and more!
Kyoto is located in the Kyoto Prefecture on Japan’s largest island, Honshu. With around 1.5 million people as permanent residents and many year-round tourists, this city is a busy place. The atmosphere is different from a typical big city; Kyoto gives you plenty of space so you hardly realize just how many people traverse the ancient capital daily. The climate of Kyoto varies depending on which time of year you chose to travel—the summers can get really humid and the winters can be freezing! However, Kyoto has very nice weather in the spring months.
Kyoto has seen so much throughout its long and vibrant life. Natural disasters, wars, rebellions, samurai fights, and other negative events have taken place on the same soil that you can tread on today. Although the city suffered a great deal of damage several times throughout its history, Kyoto’s magnificent temples and buildings still stand—some restored, some ancient. The traditional economy of Kyoto was sake brewing. In the modern world, this gave way to information technology. Despite Kyoto’s modernization, there are still plenty of remnants of the old world for you to explore.
Kyoto has an abundance of religious sites including temples, palaces, and shrines. Some of the very famous sites include Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera.
Kinkaku-ji literally translates to “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.” The name is very literal—the top portion of this Zen Buddhist temple is shielded in pure gold. The temple complex was originally established in 1397 and suffered damage during the Onin War. The original building was later burned down by accident. The current structure was raised in 1955. Tourists can visit the grounds of this magnificent temple and explore the beautiful surrounding gardens.
Ginkaku-ji is another scenic temple in Kyoto. The same of this temple, although very similar to Kinkaku-ji, means “The Temple of the Silver Pavilion.” This temple is also known as “The Temple of Shining Mercy.” Like Kinkaku-ji, it is a Zen Buddhist temple. The original idea for the temple grounds and gardens was initiated around 1460, and the actual construction of the temple began around 1482. Since this temple was meant to imitate Kinkaku-ji, the exterior was supposed to be covered in silver; however, these plans fell through. The temple and its gardens are still a beautiful and serene sight to visit while in Kyoto.
For a different temple experience, consider visiting Kiyomizu-dera (“The Temple of Clear Water”). This temple was originally founded in 798, but the current buildings date back to only 1633. Kiyomizu-dere is also a Buddhist temple, but there are several unique characteristics of this holy place. First, there are absolutely no nails in the temple structure. Second, there is a natural waterfall that runs through the temple complex. The water from this waterfall is clean and safe to drink, thus giving the temple its name of “clear water.” Visitors to Kiyomizu-dera can climb up to this waterfall and, with the help of a metal pole with a cup on the end, drink some of the refreshing water. It is said that the water of the Kiyomizu-dera waterfall grants the drinker his or her wishes.
A great way to explore Kyoto’s culture and history is to take a trip to one of the many museums. You can find art museums, history museums, and even some museums with a very specific focus.
The Kyoto National Museum specializes in pre-modern Japanese art. This museum has been open since 1897, but recently went through renovations. Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Handicrafts are the main divisions of this museum. Visitors can see displays of calligraphy, sculptures, pottery, fabrics, and other items from years past at this museum.
Kyoto is also home to some history museums including the Ryozen Museum of History. This particular museum has exhibits from the Meiji Restoration and Bakumatsu period.
Two very unique museums are the Kyoto International Manga Museum and the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The aim of the Kyoto International Manga Museum is to collect every manga title ever printed (and if you know anything about Japan, you know that manga is very popular)! The museum current has around 200,000 manga books. After paying the entrance fee, visitors can relax around the museum and read as much manga as they want.
The Iwatayama Monkey Park, while not a traditional museum, allows visitors a unique experience. Here, Japanese macaque monkeys walk about as they please. There is a special area for visitors to feed the monkeys. Although they are wild animals, these monkeys are used to human interaction, so they will not hesitate to take food from you!
Nightlife and Eateries
There are plenty of clubs in Kyoto, including international pubs. For a quiet atmosphere during the week, try out the bar Rub-A-Dub. This same club offers a livelier atmosphere on weekends. Want a cheap bar with an extensive menu? Give A-Bar a chance. If you are looking for something international, you can pay a visit to Gael Irish Pub. This is a great place to meet other English speakers! One of Kyoto’s most popular clubs is Metro. This club offers themed events and sometimes has live music.
As far as restaurants go, you have ample choices in Kyoto. There are plenty of international places to eat (including many Italian restaurants with superb food), but there are also lots of great Japanese restaurants to check out. Ramen shops and other noodle shops (such as soba and udon shops) are easy to find and always worth checking out. Visits to sushi places are a must! One traditional Kyoto-style restaurant to check out is Uosue. Uosue offers great lunches for around 1000 yen (that’s roughly $10 USD). Fujino-ya is also a good place to stop by for dishes such as tempura and yakisoba. One unique restaurant is Cocohana. This café serves Korean cuisine and is known for its friendly staff.
Kyoto is an enchanting, historical, and cultural getaway for any type of visitor. Whether you travel to Kyoto for business, pleasure, or school, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Make the most of your stay in Kyoto by getting out of your hotel and exploring the city!