Kyoto is a small city in Japan located north of Osaka. It was the ruling center of Japan for more than 1000 years and as such has a wealth of historical interest. Kyoto was saved from obliteration in World War 2 by then 'US Defense Secretary Henry Stimson, who recognized its historical importance'¹.
Kyoto is a city worth more than just one visit. The highlights can be done in a couple of days, but you could easily spend a week and not see everything. For a longer visit plan ahead and write to some of the temples on the outskirts of the city. These require advance notice of your visit, but you are repaid in their atmosphere of quiet contemplation and serene beauty away from crowds of tourists.
To get to Kyoto fly into Osaka Kansai Airport; you can then take a bus or train into Kyoto, which will take 2 hours or so. Both will drop you at Kyoto Station, a huge towering contemporary building with views of the city from the top floor. Kyoto is a well-organized city, with many people speaking some English. The city seems to run with a quiet sort of easy paced efficiency. Inside Kyoto Station you will find the Tourist Information, with enthusiastic guides who speak a variety of languages and will assist you however you need. Here you can acquire maps for the excellent public transport system and leaflets about the city. Within the Kyoto Station building you can catch the subway north into the city, or out front you can catch a bus to anywhere you want to go. Kyoto also has plenty of taxi's which, although not as cheap as Korea, are an easy way to get around the city if you are short on time. You can also rent a bike for your stay, but be careful where you park it because the city clears bikes that are not parked in official lots on a daily basis. The city is built in a block structure so it is very easy to navigate.
For a short trip to Kyoto there are some sights you will not want to miss, the most famous of which are the Gold and Silver Pavilions. Both are at the northern end of the city and easily accessible by bus. The Silver Pavilion is set within a small but beautiful Zen garden against a carefully manicured mossy floored hillside of trees. It encourages quiet, and climbing up the hill you get a lovely view of this corner of the city.
The walk down the hill from the Silver Pavilion takes you past gift shops and restaurants, some, like the rabbit gift shop, are a little different to what you find elsewhere. Turning left at the end of this row of shops brings you out onto the Path of Philosophy. This walk was made famous by the Philosopher Nishida Kitaro² who walked there often. Along this walk you will find other unique gift shops and cafés which line the small canal, there are several viewpoints which look across the city. You also have the option to visit several of the smaller temples along the way. Honen-in temple is small but beautiful and is situated a little further up the hill, off the path. This temple is surrounded by towering ancient trees, mossy walks and has some beautiful temple buildings to explore for free.
At the end of the Philosophers path you can walk another mile or so to reach the Nanzen-ji temple. This is one of the larger temples, with traditional protective animals on the roof of the gate and a Zen garden in the back. It also has several sub-temples and an aqueduct. There are many walks around and from this temple which go deeper into the beautiful surrounding countryside.
The Golden Pavilion, in comparison, has a defined route and its own gift shop and is very much geared towards tourists. The pavilion itself was originally built in 1397² and was built as a retirement villa for a shogun². Sadly you can't go inside but it is stunning to look at in all seasons.
Another interesting spot to visit in Kyoto is the Gion area of the city. Running alongside the river this area is historically where you might find Geisha's. This whole area on both sides of the river is well worth walking around. There are tiny streets like Ponto-cho, with restaurants lining either side, and charming streets like Shimbashi-dori which runs along a little river and requires bridges to access the businesses.
Other points of interest around the city include the Botanical Gardens which have a huge array of plants and flowers, well worth a visit for anyone missing their garden at home. The Imperial Palace, has extensive gardens and an area of the palace which tourists can enter. Also you will find rows of torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha to the south of the city.
There are flights from Busan, Seoul and sometimes Daegu to Osaka for a low cost. You can easily find accommodation online for everything from hostels to high end hotels.
Specific dates and names can be found in:
¹ The Rough Guide To Japan, written and researched by Simon Richmond and Jan Dodd. 3rd Edition published 2005.
² Lonely Planet's Kyoto, written and researched by Chris Rowthorn, 5th Edition published 2012.
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