As the capital of Japan, Tokyo is known as one of the main tourist attractions in Japan. Speaking of the attractions for traditional culture and the history of Japan, it seems that nothing can beat the charm of Kyoto.
Kyoto. The city located in Kansai district indeed is not as large as Tokyo. Even looking at its number of population, Kyoto ‘only’ holds the 6th or 7th ranking among all cities in Japan, while Tokyo (which really is the name of a city and a prefecture) hold the first position.
In this city, don’t expect to see skyscrapers like those seen in Shinjuku district, Tokyo. Don’t even ask if in Kyoto you can find a specific area that is famous for the otaku or for the latest fashion trend, such as Harajuku and Shibuya inTokyo or Amerikamura in Osaka.
However, Kyoto holds a plethora of nostalgic charm of Japan’s past, which deems the city sexy and enchanting in the eyes of travelers, especially for those who admire the originality of Japan’s traditional culture and history.
That’s why even though the city does not possess mega tourist attractions such as Tokyo DisneyLand and Tokyo DisneySea, Kyoto will always pique the travelers’ interest to visit it at least once in their lifetime. To summarize it, here are 13 reasons why you should step your feet in Kyoto when you travel to Japan.
1. Let’s begin with the first historical fact: Kyoto was one of the cities that survived the aircraft attack during World War II.
Do you recall the nuclear bomb attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the World War II? For your information. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only war victims. Other cities in Japan was also devastated by the air attack from their enemy. Tokyo is among these cities.
Even so, several cities missed the air attack. One of the most popular cities among them is Kyoto. This city was actually on the list for air attack targets, but due to an unknown circumstance the plan was switched. You may see the consequence below.
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2. Kyoto has numerous original historical artifacts.
As mentioned above, many cities in Japan were subject to air attacks during the World War II. As a consequence, many historical buildings and temples were demolished from earth. No wonder many glimmering temples and historical buildings in Japan are actually reconstructed from their decimated original versions.
Have you ever been amazed by Osaka Castle in Osaka and Sensoji Temple in Tokyo? Those two cool buildings are only some of the many examples of famous buildings in Japan which have gone through reconstruction, meaning they’re not the original versions.
It’s a little bit different in Kyoto. Considering that the city was not subject to the air attack, many historical buildings and temples of centuries of age are still standing tall with all their authenticities. Of course they have been renovated to preserve their conditions overtime, but generally you can consider them authentic.
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3. In Kyoto and surroundings, you may find 17 World Heritage Sites.
Checking out tourist attractions? That’s typical. How about checking out a variety of the World Heritage Sites? Now that’s amazing! The World Heritage Sites are a collection of places deemed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having unique physical or cultural features that should be preserved and handed down to future generations. In other words, any place that has been certified as the World Heritage Site is extraordinary and you should check is out.
As a city that successfully preserves its variety of heritage, Kyoto hosts several places certified at the World Heritage Sites. We’re not only taking about one or two places, but there are 17 places spread out in Kyoto, Otsu, and Uji, all of which are nearby to each other.
Those 17 places that made it to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji, Otsu) list consist of 13 Buddhist temples, 3 Shinto temples and a castle. The numerous buildings within these spots have also been certified by the Japanese government as the National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties, Special Places of Scenic Beauty, dan Places of Scenic Beauty. Isn’t that cool?
Would you like to know where the World Heritage Sites in Kyoto and its surroundings are? Here’s the list:
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Location: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto.
- Rokuon-ji K.A. Kinkaku-ji Location: Kita-ku, Kyoto.
- Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine K.A. Kamigamo Shrine. Location: Kita-ku, Kyoto
- Kamomioya Shrine K.A. Shimogamo Shrine. Location: Sakyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Jisho-ji K.A. Ginkaku-ji Location: Sakyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Kyoogokoku-ji alias K.A. Temple. Location: Minami-ku, Kyoto.
- Daigo-ji Location: Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.
- Kozan-ji Location: Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
- Ninna-ji Location: Ukyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Ryoan-ji Location: Ukyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Tenryu-ji Location: Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
- Saiho-ji Location: Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Nishi Hongan-ji Location: Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Nijo Castle Location: Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto.
- Enryaku-ji Temple Location: Otsu, Shiga.
- Ujigami Shrine Location: Uji, Kyoto.
- Byodo-in Location: Uji, Kyoto
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4. This city bears more than 2000 Shinto and Buddhist temples. You’re guaranteed to keep busy exploring Kyoto!
The 17 World Heritage Sites are not enough to explore? Just wait until you find out how many temples exists in Kyoto.
It was predicted that there are around 2000 Shinto and Buddhist temples spread out through all corners of Kyoto. Wow! With those many, many options of temples to visit, you’re guaranteed to have no time to get bored in Kyoto! The list below highlights some of the popular temples in Kyoto, other than those that are included in the World Heritage Site list.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha,the temple with a thousand red torii.
- Yasaka Shrine,a temple located in the geisha district, Gion.
- Rengeo-in K.A. Sanjusangendo,a temple with 1001 man-size Kannon statues.
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5. Kyoto has copious amount of cool districts that will bring you back to the past.
It is common for a city to develop; exchanging old buildings with new ones to fit the needs of the current time. As a consequence, many big cities may look similar to each other.
Kyoto is not the case. As a city that has reputation to preserve and to care for its heritage, Kyoto hosts several districts in which the ambiance of the past was maintained intentionally. These districts are popular among travelers who love the history of Japan. If you are a fan of the oldies ambience, these districts will make you fall in love even more with Kyoto.
Well-known as the best district to see the geisha, Gion is also known for its numerous old buildings, most of which are still quite preserved. Some popular spots to visit in Gion are Hanamachi Street and Shirakawa. If you visit them in the late afternoon, you might get a special bonus: you might be able to see the geisha and maiko passing by Gion on their way to work.
Similar to Gion, Pontocho is known as one of the best geisha spots, as well as to immerse yourself in the ambiance of Japan in the old times. In Pontocho, you will find many Japanese restaurant by the alley that fits pedestrians, ini pun banyak resto Jepang yang berdiri di sisi lorong pejalan kaki, enough to bring your imagination to Japan in the past.
Other than Gion, Higashiyama is known as a district that preserves its traditional nuances. You might even feel a strong sense of the old times in Higashiyama than in Gion, as the district is quite large.
Higashiyama is located very closely to Kiyomizu-dera temple, one of the World Heritage Sites in Kyoto, so you can visit the Kiyomizu-dera and Higashiyama within one route. By the way, if you happen to be in Higashiyama, don’t forget to stop by Nene-no-michi Street. It’s one of the preservation sites in Kyoto. Even though it’s not comparable to Higashiyama, you can still catch a glimpse of Japan in the past.
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6. Not just limited to temples, Kyoto also has gorgeous landscape that will steal your heart.
In general, travelers know Kyoto for its various gorgeous and cool temples. However, not many people are aware that the sceneries in Kyoto will make your heart tremble. Try taking the Sagano Romantic Train or the Hozugawa River Boat and you’ll see for yourself.
You can also enjoy the beautiful sceneries surrounding the mountains in Arashiyama. Or, simply stop by at the suburban areas of Kyoto, such as Ohara, Kumara, or Kibune, all of which offer the ambience of a village by the mountain. Hmmm, you’ll fall in love with Kyoto even more!
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7. Would you like to know how the past rulers of Japan lived? Visit the various emperor palaces in Kyoto.
At the moment, Tokyo is known as the capital of Japan. Do you know that Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan for several centuries, up to the end or the Edo period in 1868?
That’s why Kyoto bears historical heritage sites linked to the Emperor and his family, including the palaces, villas, and gardens. The cool thing is, you may visit these places for free. You can simply sign up through this link and follow the instructions.
By the way, here are some places connected to the Empire of Japan that you can explore:
- Kyoto Imperial Palace,the palace of the Japanese Emperor up to the 18
- Sento Imperial Palace,a resting palace for the Emperor and his family.
- Katsura Imperial Villa,a dwelling house for the Katsura family of the Empire of Japan.
- Shugakuin Imperial Villa,a resting palace with a large, mesmerizing garden.
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8. Are you tired of the temples and palaces? There is a plethora of non-temple tourist attractions in Kyoto!
Who said that Kyoto was only all about temples and the remains of the past? There are many options for non-temple and non-palace attractions you can visit. There are museums, theme parks, and also an aquarium. You can also ride the travelers’ train or take a boat ride alongside Hozugawa river. For more details, let’s check our recommendations for places of activities that do not involve temples in Kyoto. They’re a blast!
- Toei Eigamura,a theme park with the nuance of the Edo period.
- Kyoto Aquarium,a small aquarium with quite complete and modern facilities.
- Kyoto National Museum,one of the oldest and the best museum throughout Japan.
- Nishiki Market,the most crowded and unique market in Kyoto.
- Kyoto Tower,the best spot to immerse in the view of Kyoto from 100 meter height.
- Sagano Romantic Train,a romantic train ride alongside the Hozugawa river.
- Hozugawa River Boat,the best way to stroll along Hozugawa River.
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9. Foodies are going to love this city because Kyoto is rich of yummy and eye-pleasing food.
Tokyo is known as one of the best culinary destination in Japan. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean Kyoto can’t be a special destination for foodies. This city hosts 3 Michelin stars-restaurants. Some of them are even popular for their eye-pleasing dishes, such as the Nakamura, which has been run by eight generations and is well-known for the beauty of its sushi.
If a 3 Michelin stars-restaurant is not your thing, there are many other choices of restaurants and dishes to try in Kyoto. For example, the kawadoko (a restaurant above the flowing river), kaiseki ryori (Japanese style haute cuisine), shojin ryori (the special diet for Buddhist monk), and many more. The bottom line is, for all culinary adventurers, Kyoto is ready to pamper your taste buds with its tasty and eye-pleasing culinary diversity.
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10. And, don’t forget that this is the city where the Geisha culture was born.
Who has never heard of the geisha (or geiko in Kansai dialect)? This artist/entertainer figure is even more well-known since the release of the novel and film Memoirs of Geisha, which was popularized a few years back. For you unfamiliar souls, it was believed that the geisha profession was initiated when Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the year 794, then the culture spread to other cities.
Furthermore, to date you can still find the geisha district (known as hanamachi) in Kyoto. Here you can find real geisha and maiko (= apprentice geisha)! Simply head to the numerous hanamachi in Kyoto. At the right timing, you may even see the geisha and maiko on their way to work, plus other travelers who all race to capture their figures into photographs.
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11. For those who love the traditional culture of Japan, Kyoto is the best place to study authentic Japanese culture.
Kyoto is a city that makes a point to preserve Japanese traditional culture, and they open up the opportunity for travelers who are interested in enjoying or even learning about the art of traditional culture for an affordable price. Still not convinced? This city holds several large festivals that often highlight geisha and maiko performances.
If you would like to watch the geisha and maiko performance with your own eyes, yet you have limited budget, you may check out a variety of cultural performances at Gion Corner, where the tickets are only about 3,000 Yen. You may also check out numerous art workshops that are often showcased in the shopping centers. The point is, Kyoto is definitely the best place to experience the true Japanese culture!
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12. In Kyoto, you’ll find plenty of iconic sceneries that are part of your daily life whether you realize it or not.
Check out these sceneries. Most of these pictures may seem familiar to you because you can find it as your desktop wallpaper or in other media. These places really do exist! You can find them in Kyoto. Isn’t that cool?
That’s only a small part of the iconic sceneries you may find in Kyoto. Here, there are so much more views that could’ve been your desktop wallpaper for years. So, why would you hesitate to visit this city?
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13. As a tourist town, Kyoto is very ready to welcome foreign travelers, even if you’re a rookie traveler.
Japan might be one of the most developed countries in the world. However, it’s been well known that the Japanese are quite difficult to chat with in English. Hence, some foreign traveler – especially those who can’t speak Japanese – may not be inclined to visit the Rising Sun country due to the language.
However, first time traveller, do not hesitate to visit Kyoto. This city, which indeed focuses on tourism as its main attraction, is more than ready to welcome foreign tourists. Many directions and important information are presented in Japanese and in English.
A lot of restaurants present their menu in two languages. Even most train station officers, minimart attendance, and the workers in many tourist attractions are not anti-English; at least they know how to speak basic English and how to tell you how much you should pay. So, there’s no need to hesitate to visit Kyoto, even if you’ve never been to Japan!
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