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10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling in Kyoto, Japan

Updated on September 28, 2012
Kinkakuji | Source
Kiyomizudera | Source

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, is Japan’s most popular tourist destination.

Impressive shrines, temples, and other historic structures were built here during the time it was serving as the seat of political power in the country.

Many of Kyoto’s ancient structures have been well-preserved, drawing in all year round millions of local and foreign tourists who want to have a feel of Japan’s glorious past.

No less than the UNESCO or the United Nations United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognizes the superb beauty of Kyoto.

It declared many of the city’s ancient structures as cultural world heritage sites.

Even the United States recognized the matchless beauty of the city, dropping it from the list of cities that were supposed to be bombed during World War II.

While there are many tourist spots in Kyoto, below is a list of the ten best places to visit when travelling Japan’s ancient capital and most famous sightseeing place.

1. Kiyomizudera

A Buddhist temple with a large, elevated, wooden veranda from which tourists can have a sweeping view of Kyoto is Kiyomizudera or Pure Water Temple.

It was originally built in 780 on a Kyoto hillside where the leaves explode in the beautiful colors of orange, red, gold, and chocolate brown during autumn.

This celebrated Japanese temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exquisiteness and historical importance to the Japanese people and the Buddhist religion.

2. Kinkakuji

Once a retirement villa of a powerful shogun, Kinkakuji is now a Zen temple of striking gold color.

It serenely stands in a pond within a Japanese-style garden.

Aptly called the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji exudes the fine taste for good living of aristocrats who lived in Kyoto’s ancient past.

Each of its three floors exhibits three different styles for Japanese palaces, samurai residences, and Chinese Zen halls.

Kinkakuji’s roof is decked with a golden phoenix and its interior is used as storehouse of Buddha statues.

3. Fushimi Inari Shrine

A major and notable Shinto shrine located in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, world famous for its crimson torii or shrine gate that leads to the trail of the hallowed Mount Inari.

Inari is the Shinto god for rice, an important food for nourishment in Japan.

Inari’s messengers, the foxes, are likewise venerated in the shrine, with several fox statues built across the shrine grounds.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is quite dated.

It has existed in Kyoto long before the city was declared Japan’s capital in 794.

4. Nijo Castle

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kyoto is the Nijo Castle, a former imperial residence in Japan and the old Kyoto villa of Tokugawa Ieyasu, regarded as Japan’s Edo Era founder and first shogun.

Nijo Castle is the foremost example of Japan’s castle architecture during its historic feudal period.

It has three important areas – Honmaru or the major layer of defense, Ninomaru or the minor layer of defense, and the gardens surrounding Honmaru and Ninomaru.

It is fortified on all sides, with thick stone walls and entrenched moats.

5. Higashiyama

With its narrow and paved streets, wooden buildings, as well as old-fashioned and charming shops, Higashiyama in Kyoto is a historic district ideal for experiencing the city’s glorious past.

Higashiyama has attracted pilgrims and curious visitors for many generations now and has served as an enticing stopover for people travelling between Kiyomizudera and the Yasaka Shrine.

Interestingly, its shops sell local and time-honored specialties like pickles, pottery and sweets.

6. Sanjusangendo

An amazing temple in Kyoto that has an awesome sight is the Sanjusangendo, which has 1,001 statues of the goddess of mercy Kannon.

Originally built in 1164, Sanjusangendo has a stretched wooden structure that measures about 120 meters.

In this structure, statues of the multiple-armed and multiple-headed Kannon line every side, with each statue believed to lift mankind from grief and agony.

7. Ginkakuji

Inspired by the Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji, the Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion was originally built in 1482 as a retirement villa fit for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa.

The villa was patterned after the shogun’s grandfather’s retirement villa Kinkakuji.

Because he was passionate about arts, Ashikaga Yoshimasa made his villa a center of Japanese arts.

The now Zen temple Ginkakuji was a stage for popular Japanese tea ceremonies and noh theaters.

8. Shugakuin Villa

A picturesque imperial villa in Japan is the Shugakuin Villa, built between 1655 and 1659 by then Emperor Gomizuno.

It features a total of three villas, gardens, and buildings – all made in old Japanese architecture and designs.

The beauty of the villa extends to its surrounding farmlands where farmers continually toil and work the soil the traditional Japanese way.

9. Kokedera or Saihoji

A part of Kyoto’s protected places included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kokedera or Saihoji is popularly known as the Moss Temple, an allusion to the temple’s gardens where about 120 varieties of moss thrive.

Originally built as a villa for a prince, Kokedera served as a Shinto shrine before being transformed into a Buddhist temple in 1339.

10. Katsura Villa

Another imperial villa that is of outstanding beauty is the Katsura Villa.

This villa has scenic a garden landscape and traditional Japanese architecture.

This Japanese villa in Kyoto’s original appearance when it was first constructed in 1645 is largely the same as it is now.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

Places to See in Kyoto, Japan

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    • profile image

      The Fastionista 5 years ago

      Hi kerlynb! Thanks for such an informative hub! Kyoto sounds so beautiful - I hope I can visit it one day. But I'm glad I can read your hub and close my eyes and pretend I'm there. :) (Well, I'll close my eyes after I do the reading - it would probably be hard otherwise..) Voted up, interesting, and beautiful!

    • lilian_sg profile image

      lilian_sg 6 years ago from Singapore

      Ooh...can't wait to visit Japan someday!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      If I ever go to Kyoto, this list will come in handy. Any chance you can include a map showing where these sights are located? Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Julz09 profile image

      Julz09 6 years ago

      ahh Fantastic, what more can i say :) Look at the amount of snow they get over there!! simply breath taking the scenery. Tokyo rocks though :P

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 6 years ago from Germany

      Lovely photos! Thanks for the information about where I would visit when I will be in Kyoto, Japan.

    • SimpleGiftsofLove profile image

      SimpleGiftsofLove 6 years ago from Colorado

      Absolutely beautiful.