Kyoto is mostly famous about its Geisha culture which originates from Gion district. However, it is a less known fact that this city has been Japan’s capital from 794 until 1868. The new capital has been established by the Emperor Kammu in 794 based on the model of Xi’An, the capital of China’s Tang Dynasty. The word “Kyoto” literally means Capital City and it is the center of traditional Japanese culture, buddhism and fine textiles. This city is also blooming in tourism, not only foreigners but also one third of the population of Japan visits yearly.
I hope that’s enough of history, let me share with you my favorite things to do in Kyoto. If you want to see how I spent 72 hours in Tokyo, click here.
Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of the city.
This area is a nationally designated Historic Site, it has a beautiful mountain and river, but it’s mostly famous from its Bamboo Forest. The Bamboos can reach up to 20 meters height and its a magical place to walk.
However, there are many tourists, so if you want to have a beautiful photo by yourself, you have to arrive before 8 am.
Another great thing to do is to visit the Monkey Mountain. There are at least 100 monkeys wandering around here, I really enjoyed seeing them playing, fighting and the mother monkeys were taking care of their children, which is amazing to see from close.
If you have more time in the area, it is worthwhile to visit the beautiful Japanese gardens too. These places weren’t crowded by tourists as the previous two sightseeing posts.
2. Dress up as a Geisha
When you walk in Kyoto, you will see tourists and Japanese ladies dressed up in Kimonos everywhere, even in the metro. There are plenty of places, where you can rent a Kimono for a day. However, for me that experience simply wouldn’t be enough. I thought if I come to Kyoto, I must do a whole makeover, including make up. There are many places in Gion, who offer this service, there are plenty of packages to choose form. I chose this place and I was absolutely satisfied.
I really loved their professional make up, choice of clothing. To be precise, I dressed up to be a Maiko, who is a student, learning to be a Geisha. The word Geisha means artist, therefore their talents include dancing, playing instruments and entertaining.
If you want to have a closer experience with a real Maiko or Geisha, there are many restaurants where you may enjoy your dinner while being entertained by them. These dinners can be organized for small groups as well as large groups, but they are quite expensive, it costs around $200 per person.
3. Walk around Gion district
This district has beautiful, wooden houses and walking in this part of the city, it really feels as if you were in the Memoirs of a Geisha. Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.
The Gion Historic Preservation District was originally the neighborhood around the Yasaka Shrine, but in the Edo Period it became the pleasure quarters (not the red-light district; Gion was never home to courtesans), and had about 500 chaya at its peak. The characteristic of these buildings is that the first floor has lattice work and the second floor has bamboo screens with protruding edges.
The buildings hasn’t been renovated for more than 100 hundred years, to preserve the historical look.
4. Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremonies in Japan have a long lasting history, it is a way of Art. Matcha tea also originates from here and I think Tea Ceremony thought me the most about Japanese culture. Tea ceremonies are performed on important occasions such as New Year, Birthdays and Wedding celebrations.
Tea Ceremony is an event, where a professional lady is pouring tea for you and in this time, you may not talk, not take pictures, you are supposed to pay attention to your thoughts inside. During these 30 minutes, we did not talk, and we may have only touched our cup or the small biscuit when we were told to do so. The taste of the high quality Matcha Tea is bitter and strong, but it is a must try experience.
The movements were slow and precise, felt like is she would be dancing with her hands.
You may find ceremonies performed in many traditional Gion district houses.
5. Fushimi Inari
The vibrant orange Tori Gates are a symbol of Japan. Fushimi Inari Taisha is dedicated to the God of Rice.
Tori serves as a kind of transition, it separates the regular world from the sacred world.
The Shrine sits at Inari Mountain and the Tori gates lead up to the top. The walk around the upper precincts is a pleasant day hike.
This shrine, dedicated to the god of rice and sake in the 8th century, also features dozens of statues of foxes. The fox is the symbolic messenger of the god of grain foods, Inari, and the stone foxes are often known by the same name.
6. Capsule Hotel
When in Japan, sleeping a capsule hotel at once is a must do. I found the most interesting, the most high tech capsule hotel in Kyoto. The Millenials Capsule hotel exceeded my high expectations. It has an amazing design, cool common places to hang out and modern, clean bathrooms.
The capsule itself is a smart pod, so you can manage your “room” lights, the angle of the bed and the fan from an IPad.The best part was the waking up. In order to avoid noise, you could set an alarm on the IPad and instead of a ring sound, the bed rises up to sitting positions and the light turns on slowly. I wish I could wake up like this every day.
Sleeping in a room which only has a bed is a good experience to understand what you really need for comfort is really basic.
Tip: Be friendly, meet new people and hang out for a beer in the common areas 🙂
7. Kinkaku-ji Pavilion
Located quite far away from the city center, Kinkakuji is a Zen Temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408.
This Pavilion is a scenic area surrounded by a lake and Japanese Garden. However, I would highly recommend to arrive early in the morning, because as most places in Japan, it gets very crowded after 9 am.
In addition, Kyoto also has amazing restaurants (traditional ones are best at the Gion District), shopping areas and entertainment, gaming centers.
Kyoto is very close to Osaka, only 1 hour by train or car, I highly recommend to spend at least 4-5 days to visit both cities.
I hope you learnt something new about Japan, if you have any more questions, feel free to ask 🙂 If you want to see how I spent 72 hours in Tokyo, click here.