Everything to do in Kyoto, Japan
Traveling Back to the Future in Japan
Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is now a beautiful city filled with classical Buddhist temples, numerous Shinto shrines (including an infinite amount of torii gates), traditional wooden Japanese houses, imperial palaces, geishas and a great nightlife.
After taking the Sanyo Shinkansen train, we finally arrived in my dream Japanese city, Kyoto. Learn why Kyoto was one of my favorite cities in Japan and discover everything there is to do and see.
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Sacred and Imperial Sites:
Walk Around Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion):
After arriving in northern Kyoto, our first stop was to Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, which was the temple and retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. This Zen temple in Kyoto was one of the most beautiful temples I saw during my time in Japan. It is set alongside a beautiful pond and the top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
If I were to recommend a time to visit Kinkakuji, I would suggest going there early in the morning, as it tends to get very crowded. This beautiful temple is peaceful and there are wonderful Japanese gardens for you to stroll around in. As you continue making your way through the gardens, you will notice waterfalls, wildlife, a tea garden where you can enjoy a comforting matcha and snacks as well as Fudo Hall, which is a small temple that houses one of the Five Wisdom Kings and is a protector of Buddhism.
Go Back in Time and Pretend You’re Part of the Imperial Family:
Another historical landmark that I was impressed with in Kyoto was Nijō Castle, which was built in 1603 as the Kyoto resident of Tokugawa leyasu – the first shogun of the Edo Period.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you could walk through Nijō Castle, but please keep in mind that shoes and photo taking are strictly prohibited (hence why I have no photos from the inside of this castle). As you make you way through the beautiful castle, you will notice that every room is covered with tatami mats and are elegantly decorated with detailed ceilings and beautifully painted sliding doors. There is even one room where you could see models of the shoguns. It is really cool!
After exiting the castle, you could also walk around the gardens and even grab green tea ice cream covered in gold!
Become Amazed at Fushimi Inari Shrine:
Located in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates that will leave you awestruck.
Before entering the shrine, you will walk through a street market with countless amount of food and souvenir stands. Since it was extremely hot during my time in Kyoto, I got a refreshing strawberry shaved ice topped with condensed milk. It was so good and the perfect treat before entering the shrine.
At the shrine’s entrance, you will first see the Romon Gate, which was donated in 1589 by the famous leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Once you enter the shrine, you will spot the main entrance to the torii-gate trail that leads into the forested area of the sacred Mount Inari, the primary reason why most travelers come to Fushimi Inari Shrine.
As you enter into the torii gates, it will take you around 2 to 3 hours to hike up the mountain. Since I was limited on time, I only walked a portion of the trail. While you hike, you will notice multiple smaller shrines consisting of infinite torii gates. It is so wondrous!
Enjoy Endless Amounts of Sushi at Kaiten-zushi:
One thing that surprised me during my time in Japan was that sushi isn’t as popular as it is in the United States. Prior to this trip, I honestly thought I would be consuming a lot of sushi, but I only had it once; you heard that right… ONCE!
During my time in Tokyo and even in Hiroshima, I tried to find a sushi restaurant, but had no luck. It was in Kyoto where I was able to find a kaiten-zushi restaurant. Kaiten-zushi is where different sushi are placed on a conveyor belt that winds through the entire restaurant and passes by every table, counter and seat. Customers can grab whatever piece of sushi they wish to enjoy or there are touch screens where you could place a special order.
It is so simple and cheap! The cost of the bill is determined based on the number of plates you took off the conveyor belt or ordered. I was shocked to find out my bill was around 700 yen (equivalent to $6.50 USD). What I ate would’ve been way over $20 USD in New Jersey.
The place where I enjoyed kaiten-zushi was at Kura Sushi.
Try the Famous Fluffy Pancakes:
During your time in Kyoto, it is recommended that you try the famous Japanese fluffy pancakes (also known as soufflé pancakes). Even though there are a few fluffy pancake restaurants in Kyoto, Fleur Café has the best! They are light, big, super fluffy and jiggly!
When you go to Fleur Café in Kyoto, please note that it will take around an hour before you get your fluffy pancakes. As you wait, you could sip a cup of coffee, tea or even have an appetizer. Once you get your pancakes, you could enjoy them with syrup, jam or ice cream. They were delicious, but I will admit that I like regular pancakes a little bit better.
Savor the Best Soba:
Another popular staple in Kyoto are the infamous soba noodles. In case you do not know, soba is Japanese buckwheat noodles that are rather healthy. You could either enjoy them cold, in a broth or pan-fried. I personally like my soba served all of these ways.
During my time in Kyoto, my friend Leonela and I went to Matsuba Head Shop for some homemade soba! When Leonela and I entered the soba house, a friendly elder woman who served us some delicious green tea greeted us. We felt right at home at this restaurant. In addition, I loved the traditional Japanese charm that filled the atmosphere. It was lovely.
For dinner, we both got delicious soba served in a soy broth with egg and shrimp. It was absolutely amazing! (If you read my blog post on Seattle, you will see that I tried cold soba and that was just as good.)
Taste Your Way through Nishiki Market:
Another place that you cannot miss during your time in Kyoto is Nishiki Market. This lively shopping avenue, known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, is filled with many wonderful shops, food markets and restaurants. The main specialty of Nashiki Market is its fresh seafood.
Not only could you buy fresh seafood to cook, many shops offer free samples for you to try! There are even restaurants for you to sit at and enjoy a meal made for you. In addition, you could also find several sake stands in this market. Some of them will even offer you a tasting! It is awesome.
Seafood and sake aren’t the only two items you will find at Nashiki Market. There are also several ice cream stands, candy shops, convenient stores and so much more.
You could find more wonderful restaurants and food spots using TripAdvisor.
Traditional Japanese Customs and Culture:
Attend a Kimono Fashion Show or Do Your Own Kimono Fashion Photoshoot:
Located in the textile district of Kyoto is the Nishijin Textile Center. It is here where you could purchase or rent a beautifully made Japanese kimono. Before you purchase a kimono, it is important to know that there are two different styles for women: for young women who are not married yet (usually 20s and under) and for older women who are both married and not married (usually 30s and older). For women who are unmarried, it is typical to wear a furisode, which has swinging sleeves. Women and girls, who are single, traditionally wear this style kimono at weddings or coming-of-age ceremonies. On the other hand, a general kimono, which has shorter sleeves, can be worn by anyone.
A great way to view the different types, styles and patterns of kimonos is by attending one of Nishijin Textile’s daily fashion shows.
If you purchase or rent your own kimono, there are companies in Kyoto that will take you to scenic areas of the city for your own personal photoshoot. If you are looking to save some money, there are plenty of beautiful areas for you to do your own photo shoot! Click here to find the perfect photoshoot experience.
Spot a Geisha in Kyoto’s Gion District:
Kyoto’s Gion district features traditional Japanese wooden machiya merchant houses as well as shops, restaurants, tea houses and the famous geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices).
The teahouses in Gion, also known as ochaya, are the most exclusive and expensive. It is also where geishas and maikos entertain Kyoto visitors . During an evening at an ochaya, geishas and maikos will engage in light conversation with you, serve drinks, perform traditional Japanese dances and even play music. Please note that geisha and maiko services are fairly expensive and traditionally require a connection from an existing customer.
You could spot a geisha or maiko on their way to work during the evenings between 5-7pm. The only day where you will have a difficult time spotting a geisha is on a Monday evening because that is usually the day of rest for them. Another important thing to note is that when you eventually spot a geisha on her way to work, please do not get in her way. You could take photos, but try not to stop her from getting to where she needs to be. It is seen as rude and disrespectful when you try to get a “selfie” with a geisha.
During my last evening in Kyoto, I was lucky enough to spot two geishas on their way to work. They were so beautiful!
View All of Japan’s Famous Comic Books at the International Manga Museum:
Even though I never truly got into anime or Japanese cartooning, I still have an appreciation for the culture behind it. A cool thing to visit during your time in Kyoto is the International Manga Museum that consists of four floors of everything manga related. There are countless amounts of cartoon and comic books as well as posters, clothing and stuffed animals.
A thing to note prior to going to the International Manga Museum is that there is a small collection of books dedicated to foreign and English-translated manga. The majority of their collections are in Japanese.
Wander through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove:
Located 45 minutes to an hour outside of the heart of Kyoto is the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This beautiful area on the western outskirts of Kyoto has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794 – 1185). Nowadays, it is a major tourist attraction and is quite popular during fall and cherry blossom season.
If you are trying to avoid heavy crowds, it is best that you get to Arashiyama early in the morning. (There are many different forms of transportation that you could take to get there such as a taxi, bus or subway. I personally got the day pass that included access to both the bus and subway.) You could also rent a car for cheap through Skyscanner.
When you first arrive in this area, you will spot the Togetsukyo Bridge, a beautiful flowing river and luscious green hills and mountains. It is absolutely beautiful and peaceful. If you are planning on spending a lot of time in this area, you could also rent a canoe or pleasure boat. In addition, Arashiyama also offers many small shops, restaurants and the Tenryuji Temple.
As you make your way into the forest, you will begin to see tall and mystical bamboo trees. There is a trail (which is actually shorter than it seems) where you could walk through and feel at peace. The best time to stroll through the forest is when there is a light wind and you could see the bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. It also makes for a beautiful breeze on a hot day.
In addition to seeing the famous bamboo forest, there is also a monkey sanctuary, which I unfortunately didn’t have time to go to.
Dance the Night Away at One of Kyoto’s Night Clubs:
As a 27 year old, I could definitely say that my nightclub days have been over for a few years at this point, but I couldn’t help but go to one during my time in Japan.
When the sun goes down, everyone heads to Kiyamachi, a strip that offers nightclubs, dive bars, sake breweries and so much more. It is a lively area where you fill find a lot of college students as well as international young adults who are studying in Kyoto. I will admit that I am definitely not used to being in a nightclub anymore, so I was a bit overwhelmed and quite annoyed by the crowds, but it was fun dancing the night away with my new friends. The two nightclubs that we went to were Butterfly and Kitsune.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about my time in one of my favorite Japanese cities. If you have any questions about my time in Kyoto or my trip to Japan in general, please feel free to email me at email@example.com, contact me via social media or leave a comment below.
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