Fun things to do in Kyoto

  • Ryoanji Temple
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    Gion

    by IreneMcKay Updated May 6, 2014

    In the evening we had a quick stroll through the Gion area of the city. It was pretty with its wooden buildings and lamps. However, I do not feel we really did the area justice as we were exhausted, hungry and cold by the time we got here.

    Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. It is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It has shops, restaurants and teahouses. Geisha are known as geiko in Kyoto dialect.

    I am cheating with the photo. I don't think it was taken in Gion, but as my camera was no good at night time shots, I don't have any Gion photos.

    Kyoto.
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    Rakushisha

    by Rabbityama Written Feb 24, 2014

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    Rakushisha is a small and simple hut located in Arashiyama. The famous poet Matsuo Basho stayed here and wrote many famous haiku in his Saga Diary during his stay. The original builder of the house, Mukai Kyorai, a student of Basho who also wrote haiku. His grave is within the grounds of the hut. The building itself is open so that you can view inside from the outside. It's small, so there is not much to look at, but it's still an interesting place to stop for anyone exploring Arashiyama or fans of Basho.

    Rakushisha is also famous for its persimmon trees. It gets quite busy in the autumn, because the persimmons are out and also because Arashiyama is a popular place for seeing autumn leaves.

    Entrance is 200 yen.

    Rakushisha Rakushisha Rakushisha Rakushisha Rakushisha Persimmons
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    Higashiyama

    by toonsarah Written Dec 18, 2013

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    The Higashiyama district lies along the lower slopes of the mountains to the east of Kyoto, and is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially around Kiyomizu-dera. These streets have been recently renovated to remove telephone poles and repave the streets to increase the traditional feel of the district. This atmosphere is enhanced by the many girls wearing kimono to do their sightseeing – although perhaps less so by the hoards of other tourists who throng to this area.

    The street leading up to the temple, Chawan-zaka, has been given the nickname of Teapot Lane because of the large number of shops selling china goods (as well as other crafts and souvenirs). We bought a pretty little sake cup in one of these – not cheap but very nicely made (see photo five). We also had a nice cup of coffee in the upstairs café of another of the shops, where some large items, we noted, cost hundreds of pounds.

    Part way up the street, on the left-hand side if you are facing uphill, is a small shrine (see photo three). I haven’t been able to uncover a name or any other details about this – has anyone got any information?

    After our shopping and coffee break here we were ready for another temple visit. We met up with the rest of our group and all piled into taxis again to head to Sanjusangen-do.

    On Chawan-zaka Roof detail Shrine on Chawan-zaka On Chawan-zaka Our sake cup

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    Joshoji Temple

    by Rabbityama Written Dec 6, 2013

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    Joshoji Temple was established in 1616 as a seminary for the Takagamin Danrin. At that time, the temple grounds were huge (over 30 buildings). Today, there are only a few buildings. This is not a problem, though, because the buildings are not what attracts visitors. Joshoji has cherry trees that are popular in the spring and many trees that turn colors in the autumn. I came as part of an autumn leaf visit to the area. The pathway leading to the temple is lined with trees that change colors. Actually, they are cherry trees, so they line the path with blossoms in the spring. They were donated in honor of Yoshino Tayu, a famous Kyoto courtesan who donated the temple's gate. There is a nice path leading downward behind the temple where you can view more leaves and nature. Many visitors either don't notice it's here or don't want to walk down, so it's peaceful and quiet.

    Entrance is 300 yen.

    Joshoji Temple Foliage at Joshoji Temple Joshoji Temple Joshoji Temple Joshoji Temple
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    Konpukuji Temple

    by Rabbityama Written Dec 1, 2013

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    Konpukuji Temple was founded in the 9th century but it became famous in 1670 when it was noted that the famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho stopped at a hut here. Less than 100 years later (in 1760) Buson, another haiku poet, was traveling in Kyoto and wanted to visit the place where Basho stayed. He couldn't find the location on his as it was not on any maps but some locals brought him here. By that time the hut had fallen into great disrepair, so Buson together with a priest rebuilt it. Buson died in 1783, and his grave is located within the temple grounds, just above the Basho-an (Basho's hut).

    The temple itself features a small but nice zen garden. There are also some artifacts inside the temple that can be viewed. It's definitely a nice place to visit in conjunction with the other famous temples in the Shugakuin area, especially in the fall when the leaves are brightly colored.

    Entrance is 300 yen.

    Konpukuji Temple Konpukuji Temple Konpukuji Temple Konpukuji Temple's Bashoan Konpukuji Temple
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    Genkoan Temple

    by Rabbityama Written Nov 24, 2013

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    Genkoan is a lesser-known famous temple in the northern area. It was built in 1694. The temple is known for its unique windows; one is round and the other is square. The round window is called the Window of Realization and it symbolizes everything zen. The square window is called the Window of Delusion which represents the life most humans live. The reason I say Genkoan is both lesser-known and famous is because many Japanese recognize the famous windows in images however, they often don't know its actual name. It's also not known by foreigners.

    Another interesting feature of the temple is that the ceiling inside the hondo was built using the floorboards of Fushimi Momoyama Castle. The castle was the site of a massacre that took place during its seige so the wood was used in building various temples in hopes of appeasing the souls of the victims. You can tell the battle was brutal because of how abundant the blood stains are. There is even a distinct footprint of blood in one of the boards. I also saw a handprint.

    There is also a landscape garden that you can view from the temple. The trees in the garden have made Genkoan a popular temple in the autumn. I waited until autumn to come here for that reason. It's a great temple anytime though!

    Entrance is 400 yen.

    Genkoan Temple Genkoan Temple Genkoan Temple Bloody Footprint on Genkoan's Ceiling
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    Kiyomizu-zaka, Higashiyama

    by Ewingjr98 Written Oct 19, 2013

    Kiyomizu-zaka is the street leading uphill to the gate of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Hagashiyama, eastern Kyoto. This street is lined with touristy shops selling food, ceramics, clothes and local crafts. The best part of the area are the free samples of mochi and tea that many shops offer.

    In the morning the street will be quiet, but by noon, Kiyomizu-zaka is filled with tourists and worshipers heading to the shrine.

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    Shirakawa Canal, Gion

    by Ewingjr98 Written Oct 18, 2013

    Shirakawa Canal lies north of Shijo-dori in Gion. This a a beautiful-and much less touristy area of Gion--that features many nice restaurants and a willow-lined cobblestone lane along a small waterway. The restaurants here are expensive, and many offer fantastic tables overlooking the canal.

    This is a great area for a romantic stroll along the water as you seek out that perfect dinner. The peaceful trees and the canal create the perfect ambiance.

    Shirakawa means "white river" in Japanese due to the sand in the river before it gets to Kyoto.

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    Tofuchaya Saga Tofu Sanchu - Arashiyama

    by Ewingjr98 Written Oct 16, 2013

    Tōfuchaya Saga Tōfu Sanchū (嵯峨豆腐三忠) is a small street-side stand in Arashiyama st the entrance to the bamboo forest. We stopped here for a quick snack before hiking into the forest, and we enjoyed corn on the cob, Chinese-style dumplings, fried chicken, grilled pineapple, and a few bottles of water. The food is simple, but freshly made right in front of customers, or those in a hurry can grab the pre-made snacks. Prices are cheap, 200-300 Yen per item, and this booth is extremely popular due to its great location.

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    Higashiyama District - Eastern Kyoto

    by Ewingjr98 Updated Oct 7, 2013

    Higashiyama, or East Mountain, is a very well preserved, historic, and popular district of Kyoto. The area features traditional wooden houses linked by narrow stone streets interspersed with a number of temples, parks, and pagodas. This area seems to be much more lively than the side streets of nearby Gion, with more small cafes and shops, along with a lot of ryokan, many of which cater to casual visitors.

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    Shijo Street (Shijodori)

    by Ewingjr98 Written Oct 7, 2013

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    Shijo Street, literally translating to mean "Fourth Street," is the main commercial thoroughfare of Kyoto. This busy street stretched about 5.5 miles from Yasaka Shrine in Gion to Matsunoo Shrine in Ayashiyama. The eastern end of the street passes through the busy commercial area of Gion, before crossing the Kama River to Central Tokyo. From here, the Hankyo Subway Line follows Shijodori all the way to Ayashiyama, where it crosses the Katsura/Oi River via the Togetsukyo Bridge.

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    Kyoto Municipal Museum of School History

    by Rabbityama Written Jun 22, 2013

    The Kyoto Municipal Museum of School History is an interesting museum with exhibits about the history of education in Kyoto and how school life has changed over time. The museum itself is located in a former school building. The museum begins with documents and information about people who were important in the development of education in Kyoto. It's probably the least interesting part for most visitors, but it moves on to show old diplomas and then gets even more interesting with displays of old textbooks.

    The history moves forward with pictures and artifacts from the schools during World War II, as well as afterwords. From there, there are interesting displays of how school lunches have changed over time.

    The rest of the museum (other area of the first floor and the second floor) contain the special exhibits. When I was there, they featured a variety of textbooks. I really enjoy seeing how the world was viewed and what values were promoted through education in the past so these were interesting to me. They featured pictures of foreign people as they viewed them (Europeans, Iranians, Peruvians), music books, etc. It's probably a good idea to see what the special exhibit will be during your visit.

    I think this museum would be especially fascinating if you are able to come with older Japanese or Japanese from different generations. I'm sure the exhibits would spark a lot of interesting conversations and comparisons!

    Entrance is 200 yen.

    Museum of School History
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    Shinnyodo Temple

    by Rabbityama Written May 7, 2013

    Shinnyodo Temple is a Tendai sect temple first built in the 10th century. The present buildings were rebuilt around the 17th century after being destroyed in the Onin War. The temple's Amida Statue was said to have instructed its creator to take it to Kyoto (from Enryakuji on Mount Hiei) in order to allow all people to receive salvation. The funny part of the story is that in spite of the statue's wishes, it was left at Enryakuji for many years until a priest was made aware of the request and sent it to Shinnyodo. The statue survived the war, so it's still here.

    The temple is most famous today as one of Kyoto's great autumn leaf temples. There are many trees here that change colors, so a fall visit allows you to see vivid red leaves everywhere. I went when the leaves were falling which created beautiful red and yellow carpets of leaves.

    Entrance is 500 yen.

    Shinnyodo Temple Shinnyodo Temple Shinnyodo's Modern Rock Garden
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    Toyokuni Shrine

    by Rabbityama Written May 4, 2013

    Toyokuni Shrine was built in honor of the former leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi, considered to be Japan's second great unifier. The shrine is famous for its gate which was actually built by Toyotomi himself at Fushimi Castle during the Momoyama Period. It was moved to this location later. It's now a National Treasure.

    Aside from the gate, the shrine has a treasure house. The treasure house contains many artifacts from the Momoyama Period said to relate to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There are chests, weapons, samurai armor, scrolls, and other objects. The painted screens are particularly famous.

    The shrine grounds are free. The treasure house costs 300 yen to enter.

    Toyokuni Shrine Screen Toyokuni Shrine Toyokuni Shrine Carvings on Toyokuni Shrine Gate Toyokuni Shrine
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    Kodo (Gyoganji)

    by Rabbityama Written Mar 2, 2013

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    The Kodo, also known as Gyoganji, was originally built in 1004. The current structure dates back to 1815. The temple grounds are small with statues of the seven lucky gods and some other monuments and statues.

    It is the 19th temple of the Saigoku 33 Temple Kannon Pilgrimage and has a Kannon statue. Truthfully, there isn't much to this temple, so it's likely only going to be of interest to those who are trying to complete the pilgrimage.

    Entrance is free.

    Kodo Temple Kodo Temple Kodo Temple Kodo Temple Statues at Kodo Temple
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Kyoto Things to Do

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As the capital for much of Japan's history, Kyoto flourished for centuries with many important temples and shrines being built around the imperial city.

While many of the nation's great...

Map of Kyoto