This thriving Japanese city combines modernity with remembrance of things past and is best seen on foot.
Pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes for your trip to Kyoto. This charming city of about 1.4 million, is a stroller’s delight, with ancient temples, palaces and castles nestling in lush gardens and winding old streets that weave through a modern city.
Situated in the centre of Honshu, Kyoto was founded in 794 and was home to the country’s emperors until 1868. Untouched by the devastation of World War II it is still home to more than 2,000 temples and shrines, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Today it is the heartland of Japanese culture and history.
Kinkaku-ji The Golden Pavilion
Getting around the city as a tourist is easy with the good transportation system and prepaid bus and rail passes make hop-on-hop-off sightseeing a breeze. Taxis are reasonably priced and a sensible choice if you are on a tight schedule.
First, head to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, first shogun of the Edo period (1603-1867) and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the castle and its gardens are surrounded by stone walls and moats. One of the most interesting sections, the Ninomaru Palace, is still in its original form and consists of multiple separate buildings connected through corridors with so called “nightingale floors”, designed to squeak when stepped upon; a security measure against intruders. If it is cherry blossom season, then the gardens surrounding the palace will be a billowing sea of pink. Another favourite destination is Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, and its beautiful gardens. Although you cannot enter the pavilion, it looks lovely as the gold glimmers in the “mirror pond” as you walk around the edge. After visiting the temple take the time to amble through the magnificent giant bamboo forest nearby.
Few visitors to Kyoto want to miss out on enjoying the Path of Philosophy. This tranquil stroll takes you from the Ginkaku-ji (or Silver) Temple along a traffic-free, tree-lined path hugging the old Sosul Canal to two other temples. Cherry blossom dots the path and there are ample chances to stop and enjoy the stillness, or visit teahouses along the route. After an energetic bout of sightseeing, a quick bus or train trip will see you in Arashiyama where a relaxing boat trip on the river can cap off a perfect day.
One of the joys of Kyoto is its proximity to many other attractions which you can enjoy as day trips. A popular one is the spectacular Fushimi Inari Shrinean important Shinto site just a short train ride away. At the entrance is a massive orange-red torii gate but the real wow factor lies beyond, as visitors walk up the mountain through two densely packed “tunnels” of torii gates leading into the wooded forest of sacred Mount Inari. A 2-3 hour hike will take you to the top of the mountain, but most people simply stroll through the tunnels and back down to the temple grounds. Another excellent side trip is Hikone Castle, a national treasure, about an hour-long train ride through some lovely countryside. Admire the construction when climbing to the top floor to see the views, then take a tour of a small museum with its displays of armour and other artifacts.
Back in Kyoto, when evening falls, it is time to wander around the small alleys near the river and in the Gion district. As the lamps are lit and the restaurants fill, you might glimpse a geisha as she hurries off to her nightly assignation. Then it is time to stroll back over the river and into Nishiki Ichiba,the undercover food market known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and home to about 130 shops, to savour local snacks and tuck into a great Japanese dinner.
Torii Gate | Preserving and revering the past
Cherry blossoms in spring
Senmonten: 075-531-2733. Try the crispy goza (fried dumplings)
Boteju: 075-221-1662. And the okonomiyaki.
Hisago Zush: 075-221-5409, Kawaramachi Street.
Superb sushi. Set meals at 2,100 yen = 18 USD.
Daiwa Roynet Hotel Kyoto Shijo Karasuma (Tel: 075-342-1166). Twin sharing rates from US$95, depending on season.
Fly from Vientiane to Bangkok to Osaka.
From Osaka catch the special rapid train on the JR Kyoto
Line for the 30-minute journey to Kyoto.