Endless historical charm & authentic traditions of Kyoto

Mayo Harry | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Kyoto is one of Japan's leading tourist destinations with over 2000 shrines and temples and 17 World Heritage Sites. This city prospered as the capital of Japan for about 1200 years, from 794 to 1868. Modern Kyoto offers many places where you can feel the atmosphere of that time, and it is gaining popularity, both inside and outside the country, as a place where you can feel the endless hisitorical charm and authentic traditions of Japan. There are many famous temples in Kyoto, such as the Kiyomizu-dera temple and Kinkaku-ji temple. Also, you can witness real Maiko walking in the historical rock path around the old town. Kyoto’s unique gastronomical culture is another element that you cannot miss when you are visiting this city. 

Main areas of Kyoto

Kyoto city can be divided into five different areas - north, south, east, west and central.  The eastern area is also known as "Higashiyama". In this area, there is the Kiyomizu-dera temple, which is a must-see in Kyoto. The western area is famous for the World Heritage Site - Kinkaku-ji golden temple, and the stone garden that expresses Zen ideas. The historical kimono textile town, Nishijin, is in this area. The central area, where the Kyoto station is located, plays a central role in the history of Kyoto, with Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle, which were both very important in Japanese history. There are many modern departments, shops and reasonable accommodations that can be found in this area.  The northern area of Kyoto offers more World Heritage sightseeing spots, including Shimogamo Shrine and Shugakuin Imperial Villa, where you can enjoy a vast view of lush greenery. In the southern part of the Kyoto area, there are Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (which has about 10,000 red torii gates) and Daigoji Temple (which is famous for its cherry blossoms). There are so many more must-see sites further away from the city but within Kyoto Prefecture.

© iStock/Sean Pavone

Gion and Higashiyama are in the eastern area of Kyoto, where you can see picturesque scenery no matter where you cut. Hanamikoji (where teahouses are lined up), Gion Shirakawa (where the willows along the river are beautiful), and Ninen-zaka to Sannen-zaka (which are crowded as the approach to Kiyomizu-dera from the north), are all full of Kyoto atmosphere. There are also famous shrines and temples that you would like to visit at least once. In 2020, the main shrine of Yasaka Shrine was registered as a national treasure, and at Kiyomizu-dera, a new "Kiyomizu Stage" has just appeared. It is a standard area for sightseeing in Kyoto that you will want to take a closer look at.

Kyoto is** crowded with many domestic and international tourists throughout the year, especially in spring and autumn when you can enjoy gorgeous temples and shrines views with cherry blossoms and colorful autumn leaves. During the high season, it can be difficult to make reservations for accommodations, and restaurants. So, make your priorities for your Kyoto visit before the arrival. It can be a key to have a smooth and enjoyable time in Kyoto**. A little extra research prior to your visit can help a lot.

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is located on Mt. Otowayama in the east of Kyoto City. Therefore, to visit Kiyomizu-dera, you need to climb some slopes, which makes the visit to the Kyomizu temple extra special. Kiyomizu-dera is known for its famous wooden stage. The view from the wooden stage will be an unforgettable memory of your Kyoto visit. 

© iStock/Aguus

There are two areas in Kiyomizu-temple which you might be interested in visiting and receiving the sacred benefits. Jishu Shrine, behind the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera, is dedicated to matchmaking. Otawa Waterfall is at the base of the Kiyomizu-dera main hall. "Otowa no Taki" is where three waters flow down from overhead. The spring water of Mt. Otowa is flowing, and it is called "Ogonomizu"(golden water) and "Enmeinomizu" (eternal water) and has been revered for a long time. People draw water here, cleanse their bodies (usually just hands), and make wishes.

© iStock/sorn340

Kiyomizu-dera is a very large temple and is always crowded with tourists. If you look around everything from corner to corner, you will not have enough time and energy. So be mindful when you visit.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka shrine is known as one of the best tourist destinations in Higashiyama and is the head shire of about 2,300 shrines nationwide that enshrine Shinto God, Susanoo-no-Mikoto. It is believed to have been built in the year 656. The main hall is the national cultural property.

© iStock/superjoseph

In the precincts, nearly 20 shrines surround the main shrine, and various gods are enshrined. There is a shrine and power spot related to beauty in the precincts called Utsukushigozensha. It is said that the "beauty water" that springs next to the torii is a spiritual test. It is said that when this water is applied to the skin, it will be beautifully polished not only for beautiful skin but also for the cleanliness of the mind and body, the fulfillment of virtues, and good luck.

Gion - meet Maiko in real life

© iStock/krblokhin

If you want to encounter real Maiko on the street of Kyoto, it is best to hang out in the Gion area. The main street of Gion, a flower district, is full of Kyoto atmosphere, with townhouses and former teahouses lined up on cobblestones. It had been having an image that the area is luxurious and expensive and not for a casual visit, but recently, the number of modern cafes and restaurants have popped up, and it became more open to tourists.

Ninen Zaka and Sansen Zaka

© iStock/fannei

Ninen Zaka and Sannen Zaka are pilgrimage routes leading to Kiyomizu-dera from ancient times. The gentle slopes of the cobblestones, typical for Kyoto, are lined with sweets shops and souvenir shops, making it a fun spot to walk. Every year in March, they hold an event, "Higashiyama Hanatouro", where the neighborhood is lightened up and creates a special atmosphere.

Walking through Kyoto in kimono

© iStock/Page Light Studio

Recently, it has been very popular to walk through Kyoto in kimono in winter and yukata in summer. There are countless quaint roads and sceneries that match with wearing Japanese traditional wear. Many rental kimono shops in Kyoto offer you many cute and funky kimonos to choose from. So, if you want to feel the Japanese tradition in Kyoto, try to wear a kimono.

There is no doubt that Kyoto has been one of the most popular tourist destinations domestically and internationally. It has endless historical charm to explore and many things to do to experience the authentic traditions of Japan. So, try to include the visit to Kyoto in your itinerary, do the research and explore it area by area. Kyoto offers so many photogenic spots that you will probably have a problem choosing photos for your Instagram feeds. 

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