Wednesday, 24 June 2020


エル: 日本京都への旅行


Kimi and Elchi in Kyôto

For more than a thousand years Kyôto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the Japanese emperors. Kyôto is, therefore, home to numerous temples and shrines as well as other historically valuable cultural assets. The city was spared massive destruction during the Second World War and preserved most of its pre-war cultural heritage. Kyôto, considered the cultural capital of Japan, embodies more than any other city in Japan the good old days, combined with an elegant, vibrant flair.

Some History

In the early days of Japanese history, it was common practice to move the entire capital with all its palaces and residences to another location, either after the death of an emperor or at the time of political unrest or due to other serious circumstances. In the eighth century, when Japan had developed into a centralized, emperor-run state, a more permanent capital was necessary for stability. However, the first permanent capitals proved by no means permanent. Nara was the capital of Japan between 710-794 under the name Heijôkyô (平城京). The capital was briefly moved to nearby Nagaokakyô (長岡京). According to Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀), a Japanese historical text commissioned by the emperor and completed in 797, the reason for the move was that the new location had better waterways. However, there are other explanations, including the emperor's desire to escape the power of the Buddhist clergy and courtiers. However, due to the ongoing misfortune, it was decided to look for a new capital. 

In 794, Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇, 737-806) moved the capital to Heiankyô (平安京), later known as Kyôto. Kyôto was ideal because it met several (Chinese) requirements for all permanent capitals to be established, such as mountains in the north, east and west or two rivers in the east, Kamogawa () and Takanogawa (高野) Rivers. This marked the beginning of the Heian period (平安時代, 794-1185).    

Phoenix Hall, Byôdôin, Uji.
These days politics was dominated by the powerful Fujiwara clan (藤原氏). The family's most important strategy for central influence was the marriage of Fujiwara daughters to emperors. Thus, the Fujiwara could gain influence on the next emperor since this meant that the Fujiwara daughters were empresses, that their grandchildren and nephews were emperors, and that members of their family received the entire patronage. It is agreed that the Heian Period reached its height during the life of Fujiwara no Michinaga (藤原 道長, 966-1028), the uncontested patriarch of the Fujiwara Clan. By this time, the emperors had become mere figureheads and state affairs had turned into a Fujiwara monopoly. His son, Fujiwara no Yorimichi (藤原 頼通, 992-1074), built the legendary Phoenix Hall of Byôdôin in Uji in 1052. 

Literature flourished in the Heian period. The text of the Japanese national anthem "Kimigayo" was written, as was "The Tale of Genji" (源氏物語, Genji monogatari), one of the first novels ever, written by a female, Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部, 978-1016?), herself a member of the Fujiwara clan.  Through this narrative, we learn about the achievements of this social class in poetry, music, calligraphy or painting, their rites, their social and political obligations and above all their love relationships. Almost the entire novel revolves around the love affairs of the prince.

Sei Shônagon
Murasaki Shikibu's rival contemporary, Sei Shônagon (清少納言, ca. 966-1025?), published "The Pillow Book" (枕草子, Makura no sôshi), with reports on various topics of everyday life at the imperial court, often including precise details such as the clothes people wore.

The Heian period also brought a flowering of poetry with works such as those by Ono no Komachi (小野 小町, ca. 825-ca. 900). Vividly colored yamatoe, (大和絵) Japanese style paintings, with themes on court life and stories about temples and shrines, were spread in the middle to late Heian period and continue to set standards for Japanese art today.

With the flourishing of culture, decentralization also flourished. The Fujiwara ruled the throne until the reign of Emperor Go-Sanjô (後三条天皇 1034-1073), the first emperor not born of a Fujiwara mother since the ninth century. Competition for resources among the extended families led to the gradual decline of Fujiwara's power and a struggle for power in the mid-tenth and eleventh centuries. The first military conflicts took place in the middle of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Members of the Fujiwara clan, the Taira () or Heike (平家) and the Minamoto () or Genji (源氏), families that had all emerged from the imperial family, attacked each other, claimed control over large parts of the conquered land, established rival regimes and generally caused hostility.

The five-year Genpei War (源平合, Genpei kassen, 1180-85), a national civil war between the Taira and Minamoto families, led to the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1185-1333) when the Minamoto won the Battle of Dan'noura (壇ノ浦の戦) in March 1185. The victorious Minamoto no Yoritomo ( 頼朝, 1147-1199) established a military government far east of the capital, near Tôkyô, which marks the beginning of a feudal period that was to last until 1868, with the emperor and the court aristocracy in western Japan (Kyôto) and the military government in Eastern Japan). However, the Ken’ninji Zen Buddhist temple was built in Kyôto during the Kamakura period. Other notable temples founded during this period are the Honganji and Tôfukuji temples.

With the help of Ashikaga no Takauchi (足利 , 1305-58) then emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐天, 1288-1339) was successful in bringing down the leadership of the Kamakura military government. However, the emperor was unable to prevent him to establish his military hegemony and failed to re-establish direct imperial rule. The Kamakura Shôgunate was defeated around 1333, which led to the Muromachi Shogunate (室町時代 1336-1573) or the Ashikaga era.  However, in 1336 Takauji drove Go-Daigo out of the capital and put another member of the imperial family to the throne. This marks the beginning of warfare and the split between the Northern and the Southern Courts (1336-92). Emperor Go-Daigo died in 1338 and his former enemy, Takauchi built Tenyûji Temple in Arashiyama, fearing the vengeful spirit of Go-Daigo. Like many temples and shrines in Japan, it was thus built to appease the ghost of a former enemy or a person who died violently.  

Kinkakuji, Kyôto
The Muromachi period merged the warrior culture with the earlier aristocratic culture. It reached its height during the rule of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利 義満, 1358-1408), the third Ashikaga shogun. He handed the Shôgunate over to his son and dedicated himself to Buddhism. He built the legendary temple Kinkauji, the Golden Pavilion, to live and pray there after his retirement. At the same time, Hosokawa Katsumoto (細川 勝元, 1430-1473) created the famous Zen rock garden of the Ryôanji Temple.

Famine, economic hardship and an inheritance dispute led to the 10-year Ōnin Civil War (応仁の乱, 1467-78), a a succession dispute erupted over the shogunate, when then shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (利 義政, 1436-1490) was considering retirement. Hosokawa Katsumoto, who created the Rock Garden of Ryôanji supported the shôgun's brother, while his father-in-law Yamana Sôzen (山名 宗全 1404 -1473) was supporting Yoshimasa's son. This dispute escalated into a nationwide war with the Ashikaga shôgunate and several Daimyô in many regions of Japan. The war initiated the Sengoku period (戦国時代, 1467-1600) "the time of the warring states". Unfortunately, many of Kyôto's historical treasures were destroyed during the war. 

The Azuchi-Momoyama period (安土桃山時代, 1573-1603) was the final phase of the Sengoku period. These years of political unification led to the foundation of the Tokugawa Shôgunate by the three so-called "unifiers of Japan", Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長, 1534 -1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣 秀吉, 1537 - 1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1543 - 1616). It extends over the years from 1573 to 1600, when Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshi put order to the chaos that had reigned since the collapse of the Ashikaga shôgunate. The name of this period is taken from two castles: Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle in Azuchi, Shiga, and Hideyoshi's Momoyama Castle, also known as Fushimi Castle, in Kyôto.

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, the decisive Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い, Sekigahara no tatakai) took place in 1600, a battle between the troops of Ieyasu and his opponents. After his victory, Ieyasu became Japan's Shôgun and founded the Tokugawa Shôgunate, which lasted until 1868. This period is known as the Edo period (1603-1868), a very stable political government. However, since Ieyasu moved the political center to his fortress in Edo, now Tôkyô, many craftsmen left Kyôto for Edo, where the Daimyô built their luxury villas. During this time, political power was exercised by the Shôgun in Edo; the emperor, who was still in Kyôto, was politically insignificant at that time. 

The Tokugawa Shôgunate pursued an isolationist foreign policy called sakoku (鎖国, "closed country") to prevent foreign invasions and religious missionaries. This policy ended after 1853 when the American ships led by Matthew Perry (1794-1858) forced Japan to open up to American (and Western) trade. The continuous opening of Japan caused great controversy among the population. As a result, various military movements emerged, some of which fought for the opening of Japan and the preservation of the Tokugawa-Shôgunate associated with it. Other rival clans from Western Japan, namely those from Satsuma, Tosa, and Chôshû, demanded that power be returned to the emperor and therefore voted against opening up to Western foreign countries. In Kyôto, you will find several places that remind us of the clashes between these two rival forces, such as the site of the Ikdedaya incident (see Mibudera) or the site of the Ômiya incident. 

The power struggle between shôgun and emperor was finally decided in the Boshin War (戊辰戦争, 1868-69). In the Battle of Toba-Fushimi (鳥羽・伏見の戦い , Toba-Fushimi no tatakai) in January 1868 the forces of the shôgunate and the allied forces of Chōshū, Satsuma and Tosa domains collided at Fushimi, Kyôto. The struggle lasted four days and ended with a decisive defeat for the shôgunate. The result was the transformation from a feudal society to modern Japan, beginning with the reign of Emperor Meiji (明治天, 1852-1912) in 1868. 

In 1869, the emperor left the city where his predecessors had resided for over a thousand years to establish his imperial court in Tôkyô. Since then, the imperial palace of Kyôto has been abandoned. It is said that the people of Kyôto stood by the roadside and wept when he left the city.

During the Second World War, many Japanese cities, such as Tôkyô or Ôsaka, were hit by heavy air raids and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reduced to rubble by atomic bombs. Kyôto alone was spared air raids on the recommendation of some benevolent Japanologists so that all cultural sites survived. For all Japanese, Kyôto today, therefore, serves as the spiritual  furusato (郷里) or home that still breathes the good old days.

In Kyôto there are six large tourist areas: 

(1) The heart of Kyôto with the famous Kiyomizudera Temple, the traditional Gion Geisha quarter and the Heian Shrine. Additionally, there are dozens of first-class sights here and it is the area considered to be downtown Kyôto. 

(2) In the northwest of Kyôto are Ginkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, the Ryônaji Temple with its world-famous rock garden and the Imperial Palace. 

(3) In the northeast of Kyôtô are Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, and the scenic Philosophers' Path. 

(4) In the center of Kyôtô is the Nijôjô Palace. 

(5) In the area around the Kyôtô Stn. is the Tôji Temple, the Temple Sanjûsangendô with its thousand Kannon statues and the National Museum. 

(6) In the south is Arashiyama with its famous bamboo forest and the famous Tenryûji and Daikakuji Temples.

Near Kyôto there are also some spectacular attractions like Byôdôin Temple in Uji in the south and Ôhara in the north.

(1)           The heart of Kyôto

Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺)


Kiyomizudera, Kyôto
The Kiyomizudera Temple is a must, although you have to go uphill and endure crowds to reach it. It is one of Japan's most famous temples. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyôto.

Kiyomizudera literally means "pure water temple" and owes its name to the pure water of the fall. In 1994 the temple was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Kiyomizudera is known above all for its wooden terrace, which was built in front of the main hall at a height of 13 metres on a slope. From the terrace you have a beautiful view of the numerous cherry and maple trees that transform the slope into a sea of flowers and colours in spring and autumn, and of Kyôto in the distance. 

View from Kiyomizudera.
The main hall, built like the terrace without nails, houses the main sanctuary of the temple, a small statue of the eleven-headed, thousand-armed canon.
At the foot of the main hall of the Kiyomizudera, the Otowa waterfall pours out. The water is divided by channels into three jets, from which visitors drink with cups attached to long poles. Each ray has a special meaning - longevity, success or happiness in love. The red entrance gate and the pagoda are an attractive photo motif.

San'nenzaka, Kyôto

Next to Kiyomizudera are San'nenzka (三年坂) and Ninenzaka (二年坂) Slopes, the legendary streets of Kyôto that represent Japan's good old days. The historic stone-paved streets are lined with traditional Japanese buildings, shops, cafes and inns. San'nenzaka was built in 808 as access to the Kiyomizudera Temple.

Yasaska-no-tô, Kyôto.
The connecting Ninenzaka, one of Kyôto's busiest streets, is best known for its picturesque view of the five-story Yasaka-no-tô Pagoda (八坂の塔), one of the most famous views of Kyôto. It stands on the top of the Yasaka-dori road, which itself is unique as there are no overhead lines. They were removed to preserve the view of the pagoda.

Kôdaiji Temple (高台寺)

Hashintei, Kôdaiji Temple, Kyôto.

From here it is about 400 m to the Kôdaiji Temple, one of the most important temples of Kyôto. It was founded in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (see history) by his wife Nene (Kitano no Mandokoro, 北政所, 1547?-1624), who is also enshrined in the temple. The main buildings have richly decorated interiors and are surrounded by beautiful Zen gardens, including the rock garden Hashintei (波心庭).
Ihôhan, Kôdaiji.
Famous is the Ihôan tea hut (遺芳庵), the Cottage of Lingering Fragrance, which  is a representative of Kodaiji Temple’s tea ceremony archchetecture. At the top of the slope behind the temple is a mausoleum for Hideyoshi and Nene. The interior is richly decorated with special lacquers, known as Kodaiji makie, decorated with powdered gold and silver, a technique for which Kodaiji is famous. 

Shiguretei, Kôdaiji.
Further up the hill are two other tea houses, one of which, the Shiguretei (時雨亭) or Shower Hut, was designed by tea master Sen no Rikyû (千利, 1522-1591), who is considered the person with the most profound influence on chanoyu (茶の), the Japanese "Way of Tea”. Although Rikyû had been one of Hideyoshi's closest associates, Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide in Kyôto in 1591 because of crucial differences of opinion. 

The entrance fee includes the Kodaiji Shô Bijutsukan Museum (高台寺掌美術館), which displays treasures of Kodaiji, Nene and several lacquer works of art. 

Only 2 minutes away from Kôdaiji Temple is the Kyôto Ryôzan Gokoku Jinja Shrine (京都霊山護国神社). It honors the samurai who died fighting for the restoration of imperial rule shortly before the Meiji Restauration in 1868 (see history). In the cemetery behind it there are graves of warriors who fought against the Tokugawa-Schôgunat, including the tomb of Sakamoto Ryôma, (坂本 , 1836-1867) a low-ranking samurai from the Tosa Domain on Shikoku, who was murdered in December 1867, just one month before the restoration of imperial power (see history). Sakamoto successfully negotiated the Satchō Alliance between the powerful rival Chôshû and Satsuma domains and united them against the Tokugawa Bakufu. Ryôma was assassinated at the Ômiya Inn in Kyôto in 1867 (see Ômiya Inn incident), presumabbly by the Shinsengumi, who were loyal to the  shôgunate (see Mibudera). 

Ishibe Koji Alley, Kyôto
Worth seeing is the nearby Ishibe Koji Alley (石塀小路), a narrow cobbled street with old-fashioned charm, especially at night when the lanterns are lit that bathe the streets in soft light. Adjacent is the Entokuin Temple (圓徳院), a small subtemple of Kodaiji that houses two more Zen gardens. 

Gionkaku Tower
After leaving the temple you can follow a series of the Nene-no-michi Path ( ), a beautiful stone walkway that connects some of the most important sights in downtown Kyôto. Perhaps you will feel even more like in ancient Japan.  At the end of the trail you will finally approach the Gionkaku Tower (祇園閣) in the Daiunin Temple (大雲院), built in 1587. It is usually not open to the public, but it is a spectacular view. From here you can directly reach Yasaka Jinja Shrine, Maruyama Kôen Park and the Gion District.


Gion (祇園)


Gion is the traditional entertainment district of Kyôto. It lies north and south of Shijô Street and stretches from the Kamogawa River in the west to the Yasaka Jinja Shrine in the east. Gion is the heart of Kyôto's geisha culture.  

 Gion, Kyôto.
Hanami Kôji Dori Street (花見小路) is particularly picturesque. The nearby streets are packed with restaurants and traditional tea houses. 

Geishas () are highly qualified entertainers who perform at high class dinners, private parties and special events to give the event a special touch. To become a geisha, or geiki (芸妓) as they say in Kyôto, young ladies between the ages of 15 and 20, called maiko (舞妓) go through five years of rigorous training. Geishas also exist in other cities like Tôkyô, but they usually do not undergo the strict training that defines the maiko and geiko of Kyôto, whose services are today expensive and exclusive During her career, maikos and geikos are affiliated with, a certain lodging house, or okiya (置屋). The okiya funds the training of affiliates under certain ochaya (茶屋 ) or teahouses. Each okiya has its own 'branch' of names that link them together. 

Kimi and Elchi in Gion, Kyôto.
The mother of the house, the okâsan (母さん) handles a young geisha's engagements, supports her training and helps her develop her skills through arranging lessons in dancing, singing, musical instruments and tea ceremony. However, many of today's postmodern geishas are increasingly independent, run their own blogs or websites and have established themselves as successful business women. However, overall their number is shrinking, and there are probably not much more than 1000 geishas throughout Japan. 

Every autumn, from November 1st to 10th, the Gion Kaikan Theatre (祇園会館) features the Gion Odori (祇園をどり), a festival of traditional geiko dance. The motifs draw from classical Japanese culture and incorporate everyday life as well as folkloristic elements, for example from the Tale of Genji (see Ryozanji). Famous is also the Miyako Odori (都をどり), literally the capital dance, which takes place four times a day from the 1st to the 30th of April at the Gion Kôbu Kaburenjô Theatre (祇園甲部歌舞練場). Gion is most atmospheric in the early evening when the lanterns are lit and the apprentice geishas are on their way to their appointments through the backyards.

Ken'ninji Temple (建仁寺)
Ken'ninji, Kyôto, twin dragons.

A stone's throw away is Ken'ninji Temple, the oldest Zen temple in Kyôto, built in 1202 (see history). It consists of several large halls and gates around which about two dozen smaller buildings are arranged. Most of the site is open to the public, but visitors must pay an entrance fee to enter the main buildings. 

A striking work of art in the temple are the twin dragons painted on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall.  

At the eastern end of Gion is the site of the Yasaka Jinja Shrine (八坂神), also known as the Gion Shrine, which is perhaps the most famous shrine in Kyôto and site of the famous Gion Matsuri Festival, which is celebrated every year in June. The shrine is located between the popular Gion District and the Higashiyama District and is often visited by tourists walking between the two districts.

Behind Yaska Jinja lies the beautiful Maruyama Kôen Park (円山公園), which is very popular for its cherry trees during the cherry blossom season. The heart of the park is a high shidare zakura (weeping cherry tree), which is illuminated at night druing hanami. From here you can continue to the temples of Chionin and Shôrenin.

                                    Chionin (知恩院)

Chionin, Sanomon Gate
Chionin is the main temple of the Jôdo sect of Buddhism. Remarkable is the massive Sanmon Gate, the main entrance of the temple, which is located along the road between Maruyama Park and Shôrenin Temple. It is the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates from the early 16th century. Behind the gate, a wide staircase leads to the main temple grounds, an open area with stone paths connecting the main temple buildings. Admission is free, only the two gardens are subject to a fee.

Shôrenin (青蓮院) is one of the city's "monzeki" temples (門跡寺院, monzeki jiin), i.e. temples whose chief priests were traditionally members of the imperial family. A winding route takes visitors through the various temple buildings and gardens of Shôrenin. There is also a small shrine and a bamboo grove. Characteristic are the massive camphor trees in front of the temple. From here it is a 15 minute walk to the Heian Jingu Shrine (see below).

Pontochô, Kyôto
If you walk from Gion towards the Kamogawa River and cross the bridge and turn right, you will reach Pontochô Alley (先斗町), a narrow alley leading from Shijô Dori Street to Sanjô Dori Street, a block west of the Kamogawa River. The alley is packed with restaurants on both sides offering a wide selection of restaurants. Pontochô is one of Kyôto's most atmospheric streets. In the evening geishas can be seen on the way to an appointment. At the end of Pontochô Alley was the place of the Ikedaya incident (see Mibudera).

Zuisenji (瑞泉寺) is a small temple at the end of Pontochô, just before the Sanjô bridge. It reminds of the public execution of the entire family of Toyotomi Hidetsugu (豊臣 秀次, 1568-1595), including children, wives and mistresses, in Sanjôgawara (near the Sanjô bridge) in summer 1595 (Sanjôgawara kôkaishokei, 三条河原の公開処刑).

Zuisenji, graves of the Hidetsugu family.
Hidetsugu was the nephew and heir of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the unifier and ruler of Japan from 1590 to 1598 (see history). After the late birth of Hideyoshi's son Hideyori (
豊臣 秀頼, 1593-1615), he was (erroneously) indicted for atrocities and attempted coup d'état. Hideyoshi ordered him to commit seppuku on Mount Koya, which was not unusual at the time. The harshness and brutality with which 39 innocent women and children were executed, however, shocked Japanese society.

Kyôto Kawaramachi Stn. (京都河原町駅) is the terminus of the Hankyû Kyôto Main Line and a central station when visiting downtown Kyôto. It is only 200 m away from Pontochô. Across the river on the other side of the bridge is Gion Shijô Stn, (祇園四条駅) the main metro in the north.

200m north of Kawarmachidori is the site of the Ômiya Inn Incident (近江屋事件). On the road there is a memorial stone and a sign dedicated to Sakamoto Ryôma, a low ranking samurai from Tosa and active opponent of the Tokugawa Shôgunate (see history and Kyôto Ryôzan Gokoku Jinja Shrine). Sakamoto fled from the Ômiya Inn during the last days of his life. Knowing that his life was in danger, he moved here because he believed the place was safe. On the night of December 10, 1867, a group of assassins stormed the building and surprised him. No one knows for sure who killed him, but the Shinsengumi (see Mibudera) were accused and their leader, Kondô Isami, was executed for his role in the conspiracy.

Beautiful hand-painted folding fan
The Nishiki Ichiba Market (錦市場), located about 300 m west of Kawaramachi Stn., is a narrow five block shopping street lined with more than a hundred shops and restaurants. Most shops specialize in a certain type of food, and almost everything sold on the market is produced and procured locally. The market has a history of several centuries, and many shops have been run by the same families for generations. The market with its covered arcades attracts locals and tourists alike.

Gion Shirakawa (祇園白川)


Gion Shirakawa

On the other side of the river, about 200 m from Gion Shijô Stn., is Gion Shirakawa, another picturesque part of Gion that runs along the Shirakawa Canal parallel to Shijô Dori Street. The canal is lined with willow trees, first class restaurants and traditional tea houses, many of which have rooms overlooking the canal. As it is a little off the beaten track, the Shirakawa area is typically calmer than the Hanami Kôji Dori Street in Gion.

The very pleasant walk along the Shirakawa leads directly to the Kyôto Museum of Traditional Art (Kyôto dentô sangyô fureaikan, 京都伝統産業ふれあい館) and to the park leading to the Hejan Jingû Shrine. The museum is a great place to learn more about Kyôto's incredible traditional crafts. Admission is free.

Heian Jingû Shrine (平安神宮)

Heian Jingu, tori gate

The Heian Jingû Shrine  is one of the most impressive Shintô shrines in Kyôto. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyôto as the capital of the country.

It is a replica of the original Heian Palace, the palace of the early emperors of Kyôto, but on a smaller scale. 

Heian Jingu, Kyôto
Visitors enter the outer sanctuary through the large Ôtenmon gate, a spacious open space surrounded by observation towers with a large ritual hall directly in front of them. The tori gate leading to the Heian Shrine is one of the largest in the country and is about 24 metres high.

Kimi and Elchi in Shin'en Garden, heian Jingu
The Shin'en Garden (神苑) of Heian Jingu Shrine, which consists of four different parts, is particularly beautiful and famous for its cherry blossoms in spring and its irises in summer.  You have to pay for the entrance behind the main hall, but this garden is highly recommended.

North of the Heian shrine is the Kyôto Handicraft Center (京都ハンディクラフトセンター). It's a good place to buy souvenirs, as you can't find them elsewhere at a lower price.

Close by the Handicraft Center is Shôgoin (聖護院). The area around the temple is famous for selling Shôgogin yatsuhashi sweets, a Kyôto delicacy, originated in the Edo Period and also for pickles (tsukemono) made from daikon radish and turnips.


(2) North Eastern Kyôto (Higashiyama, 東山)

North Eastern Kyôto is a large area in the Eastern Mountains (Higashiyama) of Kyôto with a number of temples listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also includes the most authentic of all Kyôto's historic urban areas.  

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, is a famous Zen temple in Kyôtô’s Eastern mountains. Modeled after the Golden Pavillion, it was built as the retirement villa of shôgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利 , 1436-1490) in 1482. The building captivates with its simple elegance and, contrary to its name, was never covered with silver. It is also famous for its excellent stone and sand gardens. Already in 1952, it was declared an UNESO World Heritage Site.

Close to Ginkakuji Temple is the former home, studio and garden of Hashimoto Kansetsu ( 橋本関雪,1883-1945), a distinguished painter in the Nihonga style. The Hakusa Sonsô Hashimoto Kansetsu Garden & Museum (白沙村荘 橋本関雪記念) is a large site, which includes stone lanterns and other stone work such as Buddha statues, water basins, pillars and small pagodas. Paths of stepping stones lead through mossy, thatched gates over small bridges. It features several buildings and a museum, dedicated to Hashimoto Kansetsu. 

Daimonjiyama (大文字山)

View from Daimonjiyama, Kyôto
One of the best hikes in Kyôto starts left from the entrance of Ginkakuji. In a one-hour roundrip you can hike to Daimonjiyama, which offers breathtaking views of Kyôto. 

Trail leading up to Daimonjiyama
During O-Bon festival, a large bonfire in the shape of the character (large) is lit on the mountain. It signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit this world during O-Bon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world.

Tetsugaku no michi, Philosopher's Path (哲学の道)

Kyôto, Philospher's Path
At the foot of the Eastern Hills between Ginkakuji and Nanzenji Temple runs a 2 km long canal and path lined with cherry trees, today known as the Philosopher's Path . The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro (西田 幾多郎, 1870-1945), one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyôto University. During World War II right wing thinkers attacked him as antinationalistic for his appreciation of Western philosophy and logic. A beautiful aqueduct, which is part of the canal, can be seen around Nanzenji Temple.

 Hônenin (法然)

Heading the path south, you will pass numerous temples, including
Hônenin, built in the 17th century in honor of the monk Hônen (法然, 1133-1212), the founder of the Jôdo sect of Buddhism.

Hônenin, byakushadan

It has a tranquil carp pond and is famous for its freshly raked sand garden called byakusadan (白砂).

Honenin's small cemetery holds some of the ashes of novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirô (谷崎 潤一郎, 1886-1965), who spent part of his life in Kyôto. 

   Tobstones of Tanizaki Jun'ichirô.

His masterpiece Sasameyuki (細雪), literally "A Light Snowfall," but published in English as "The Makioka Sisters", is a detailed characterization of four daughters of a wealthy Ôsaka merchant family who see their way of life slipping away in the early years of World War II. 

The inscription on the left tombstone shows the Japanese character for "simplicity" (seki, 寂 ) and the right one for "heaven" (sora, 空).  

Lucky Tanizaki has not only two tombstones here, but he can also be visited Sugamo's Somei Reien Cemetary (染井霊園), Toshima Ward, Tôkyô, where the other part of his ashes is buried just behind the famous Japanese writer and close friend Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (芥川 龍之介, 1892-1927).

Pagoda, Shinshô Gokurakuji Temple.
A little further south is Shinshô Gokurakuji Temple (真正極楽寺) or Shin'nyodô (真如堂), a very nice temple and less crowded than others in Kyôto. There is also a three-story pagoda and a giant bell in the grounds of Shin'nyodô Temple. The temple is often used as a film set for samurai dramas as its precincts most resemble an authentic Edo period temple.

Thombs of the Aizu warriors, Kurodani Temple
A short walk south from Shin'nyodô Temple is Kurodani Temple or Konkai Kômyôji (金戒光明), a superb and rarely visited temple on Yoshida-Yama Hill.

"Afro Buddha" at Kurodani Temple
The historic cemetery to the east contains the graves of Aizu clan warriors, who were stationed on the temple grounds during the final days of the Edo Period, and later killed in the Battle of Fushimi-Toba for the sake of the shôgunate (see history).
From the cemetery there are views over the city below. Kurodani Temple is also home to the Gokô Shiyui Amida Butsu (五劫思惟阿弥陀) statue, which is also dubbed the “Afro Buddha”.

At the southern end of Philosopher’s Path is Eikandô (永観), also called Zenrinji (禅林寺), a wonderful viewpoint in autumn. The temple has a long history, and there are a variety of buildings and a pond garden that visitors can explore. Eikandô's most recognizable building, however, is its pagoda, which is nestled in the trees on the hillside above the temple's other buildings Visitors can walk up to the pagoda, from where the rest of the temple grounds and the city of Kyôto can be seen. Eikandô is also home to the famous Mikaeri Amida (みかえり阿弥), the "looking back" Buddha, which, unlike most Buddha statues, looks over the shoulder, instead of straight forward.

Nanzenji Temple (南禅)

Nanzenji, Kyôto, aqueduct.
Just south is the enormous Nanzenji Temple complex, which is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. Nanzenji Temple occupies a large tract of land - about 800 meters long and about 500 meters at its widest - which Nanzenji Temple itself sits roughly in the center of, surrounded by over a dozen sub-temples and a great number of other miscellaneous structures, such as the large brick aqueduct that passes through the temple grounds. 

Built during the Meiji Period (1868-1912; see history), the aqueduct is part of a canal system that was constructed to carry water and goods between Kyôto and Lake Biwa in neighboring Shiga Prefecture. Nanzenji, founded in 1291,  is one of Kyôto’s most visited temples. Nanzenji's central temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, but separate fees apply for entering the Sanmon Gate, the Nanzenin sub-temple, and the Hôjô Teien garden.

The sub-temple Tenjuan (天授), one of Nazenji’s sub-temples is very worth seeing. Tenjuan is noteworthy for its two gardens, a rock garden and a pond garden, which are particularly attractive during autumn when they are illuminated in the evenings.

Konchiin Temple
At the outskirts of the Nanzenji temple complex is Konchiin Temple (金地), another sub-temple open to the public. Alone his garden is worth the admission fee. It is fairly certain that the famous garden designer and tea master Kobori Enshû (小堀遠州, 1579-1647) has built the garden. The main feature of the garden is the duo of crane and turtle island, arranged with rocks and shrubs.

Wild Monkey, Konchiin
If you are lucky enough to join special admission, you can see the wall paintings of “Wild Monkey” by Hasegawa Tôhaku (長谷川 等伯, 1539-1610), one of the great painters of the Azuchi–Momoyama period (see history). This monkey is trying to scoop up the full moon reflected on the pond.

Murinan (無鄰)


Murinan, Kyôto
A little south of Nanzenji is Murinan, the private villa of Yamagata Aritomo (山縣 , 1838-1922), one of the founding fathers of modern Japan. Murinan today is a nice place to sit down and relax. Yamagata was one of the group of seven political leaders, later called the genrô, the elder statesmen, who came to dominate the government of Japan after the Meiji Restauration of 1868 (see history). He served as war minister and prime minister, but in contrast to his political and military career he had a soft spot for horticulture. 

Murinan features a lovely little pond and a very nice garden. Preserved are a small teahouse, a two-story traditional structure, and a Western style building converted into a museum In the second floor of this building you find the room where Yamagata and other politicians of the day sat down to discuss policy before the Russo-Japanese war (Nichi-Ro sensô, 日露戦, 1904-05) in 1903, where Russia suffered defeat by Japan, which made Japan join the world powers. It is a nice place to feel the history, but also to forget the bustling world outside the garden wall.


(3) Northwestern Kyôto

Kinkakuji (金閣寺)

Kimi and Elchi at Kinkakuji, Kyôto

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, is one of the most famous temples in Kyôto, is completely covered with gold-leaf, which offers a magnificent view, especially in the sunshine. The temple was the retirement villa of the Shôgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (see history), and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. The temple, overlooking a large pond, is – due to its beauty – maybe one of the most photographed temples in Kyôto. It burnt down several times; the last time in 1950, when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. 

Famous Japanese author and enfant terrible, Mishima Yukio (三島 由紀, 1925-1970), who committed suicide by ritual seppuku, published “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion “in 1956 (trans. in 1959 by Ivan Morris). The monk Mizoguchi, whom Mishima had visited in prison, is described as so obsessed with the beauty of the pavilion that he burned it down in the end to free himself from this obsession. In 1955 the pavilion was rebuilt in its original stage.

Ryôanji (龍安)

Ryôanji, Zen rock garden
Aproximately 1.5 km southwest of  Kinkakuji is Ryôanji, a Zen Buddhist temple, which today is mainly known for its Zen stone garden with its mysterious arrangement of stones. Founded in the 15th century AD, the temple is one of the most visited tourist sites in Japan and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Zen Stone Garden of Ryoanji is perhaps the most famous stone garden in the world and certainly the most visited such garden in Japan.

Sôami (相阿弥, ?-1525), the great landscape designer, Zen monk, master of the tea ceremony and painter, designed the garden in the karesansui style (枯山水), a dry landscape technique that uses combinations of stones and sand to suggest mountains and water.

Tôjiin (等持院


Portrait of Daruma Daishi, Tôjiin
Most visitors to Kyôto come to Northwest Kyoto to see the Kinkakuji and the Zen garden at Ryôanji. Without question, both of these temples are magnificent and well worth a visit. But, they are always crowded. Tôjiin is a rarely visited Zen temple and a hidden gem, around 500 m from Ryôanji

The garden is superb, the halls are elegant and the teahouse is sublime. It was established by shôgun Ashikaga Takauji (see history), who’s tomb can be found between the east and west sections of the garden. Upon entering it’s main building the visitor is greeted by a large painting of Bodhidharma (called Daruma Daishi in Japanese), the 5th (or 6th) century Indian monk who is said to have transmitted the Zen teachings from India to China. A similar portrait can be found in Arahiyama's Tenryûji Temple. 

Tôjiin, Kyôto.
The garden, the ponds, and the Seirentei (
清漣亭) tearoom were designed by Musô Soseki (夢窓 疎石, 1275-1351), the most famous monk at his time calligraphist, poet and garden designer. Like Nijôjô, the boards of the broad veranda on the Main Hall's south side are laid in such a way that when walked upon, they produce a distinct squeaking sound, known as nightingale floor, which was designed in ancient times to signal the presence of intruders.

Nin'naji Temple (仁和寺)


Five-Storied Pagoda, Nin'naji.
Further southwest is Nin'naji, a large temple complex, which is listed as one of Kyôto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 by the retired Emperor. Uda ( 宇多天皇, 866-931).

It has a massive main gate and an exquisite Five-Storied Pagoda. Nin'naji Temple also has a beautiful Japanese garden, which offers breath-taking views of the Five-Storied Pagoda.  

Ninaji, Kyôto.
Ni'naji is one of Kyôto’s monzeki temples (see Shôrenin). Until 1867 it was a tradition for a member of the Imperial Family to act as head priest.  

The temple is especially famous for its Omuro Sakura cherry trees which are the latest blooming cherries in  Kyôto.


Myôshinji (妙心寺)


Kimi and Elchi at Myôshinji, Kyôto

1 km southwest of Ninaji Temple is Myôshinji, a large temple complex, comprising around 50 subtemples. It is the head temple of the associated branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.  

The grounds of the temple were formally a palace for the Emperor Hanazono (花園天皇, 1297-1348). Hanazono abdicated in 1318 and became a monk in 1335. Therafter he  donated the palace to found the temple.

The gardens of Myôshinji are a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site. The temple's bell, which was cast in 698, is the oldest-known example of a Buddhist temple bell in Japan, as well as being the oldest bell in the world still in use. Some of the temples are open for visitors and some at occasional events.  

Keishunin, Myôshinki
Keishunin (桂春院), which is open for visits, has a number of gardens, that are worth seeing.  The sliding doors (襖, fusuma) were painted with landscapes by Kanô Sansetsu (狩野 山雪, 1590-1651), a leader of the famous Kanô school of Japanese painting (see Nijôjô castle).

"Three-day moon and pine trees on gold ground"
Especially worth seeing is the composition on sliding doors "Three-day moon and pine trees on gold ground" (金碧松三日月, kinpekimatsu mikazuki). The tearoom Kihakuan chashitsu (既白庵茶室), the "Almost white hermitage", is unfortunately not open to the public.

This temple complex is not so crowded as many other places in Kyôto, which makes it a pleasant place to wander around.

Kitano Tenmangû (北野天満宮)

Kitano Tenmangû

2 km to the east is Kitano Tenmangû, a shrine built over 1000 years ago in honor of Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真, 845-903), a scholar and politician who represented the middle Heian period (see history), and, for the peace of the nation. There is much more to see on the extensive shrine grounds. It is known as one of the nation's best places to see plum trees. When the flowers blossom, the baien (Plum Garden) is open to the public (entrance fee).

Just 300m south of Kitano Tenmangû is Taishôgun Shôtengai -Ichijô Yôkai Monster Street (大将軍商店街 一条妖怪ストリート). In this tight commercial lane it is all about yôkai, ghosts or monsters. As the legend goes, thousands of years ago, the yôkai got fed up with humans and came to live here in the northern part of Kyôto. The shop owners cultivate this legend and you will find yôkai decorating nearly the shops. The street is home to a shopping district called Taishôgun Shopping Street, where the 400-meter walk is populated with homemade sculptures of these legendary monsters. The shops are local neighborhood shops; however it is very nice to stroll around and you might find an interesting piece to bring home.

Nishijin (西陣)

Nishijin Kyôgoku Street, Kyôto
Approximatly 1 km to the east lies the traditional textile district of Kyôto. Here you can learn about the history of Japanese textiles or stroll through the historic streets lined with old wooden houses called Machiya and small temples. It can be a good place to simply wander around, particularly around Jôfukuji Dori Street (浄福寺通). The Nishijin Kyôgoku Street (西陣京極) is just a few alleys, and it is a traditional residential area. In the heart of it all, you have Kyôgoku sentô, a public bath with a retro feel.  

Not far from here is the Nishijin Textile Center (西陣織会), an alliance, consisting of more than 700 small companies that continue to foster and nurture the ancient textile tradition. It is located on Horikawa Street, just south of Imadegawa Stn. Nishijin Textile Center is a museum, a factory, a shop and a gallery all in one and a good address to by a souvenir. The shops around the center sell pieces of silk textiles at low prices. 

 Abe no Semei Jinja Shrine (安部神社)

Abe no Seimei Jinja, Kyôto
Located in the nearby Horikawa Street is the Abe no Semei Jinja Shrine, dedicated to the famous onmyôji (陰陽師) Abe no Seimei (921-1005) a leading specialist of onmyôdô (陰陽道), also in’myôdô, the Way of Ying and Yang, during the middle of the Heian period (see history). 

Abe no Seimei was considered a magician at the time. He served the emperor and the Fujiwara family as a diviner, adviser, and astrologer. In addition to telling fortunes, he also held special prayers and was known as a talented astronomer. Abe no Seimei became a great favorite of the Imperial court and on his death, the shrine was built in his memory by Emperor Ichijô (一条天皇, 980-1011) in 1007. 

The shrine, which is on the site of his former residence, has many examples of the pentagram. The motif symbolizes the Five Chinese Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. In this system, Fire generates Earth, which generates Metal, which generates Water, which generates Wood, which generates Fire. The five elements system is used extensively in a variety of design, time and spatial systems in the East. 

Seimeimon, Abe no Seimei Jinja, Kyôto
The mystical symbol of the equidistant five-pointed star referred to in the West as a pentagram, is known in Japan as Seimeimon (晴明紋) or the Seal of Abe no Seimei. Most famous is his Senji ryakketsu (占事略决), The Summary to Judgements of Divinations. The text contains thirty-six chapters based on divination through the use of shikigami (,) conjured beings, made alive through a complex conjuring ceremony.

Shiramine Jingû (白峯神宮)

Shiramine Jingu, Kyôto
Just around the corner, towards the Imperial Palace (see below), is Shiramine Jingû (白峯神宮), one of the most curious sanctuaries in Kyôto. It has to do with sports, especially soccer. 

The reason for this is that in Shiramine Jingu Seidaimyôjin (精大明神) is worshipped, who is considered the protective deity of the mari (鞠), balls used in sports and games). 

The ancient game of kemari (蹴鞠), kickball, was played here by court nobles during the Nara, Heian, and Kamakura periods (see history) before it spread to the samurai and the common people. Every year on April 14th a kemari festival is held at the shrine, played by Shintô priests. Here one can wish success for future games or competitions or pray for the success of a football club.

  Kyôto Gosho, The Imperial Palace (京都御)


Kyôto Gosho, palace walls
Another 1.5 km further east is Kyôto Gosho (京都御所), the Imperial Palace, which was the former residence of the Japanese imperial family. The palace has been deserted since 1868 when the capital moved from Kyôto to Tôkyô (see history). The palace grounds can be entered and explored without a guide, but the buildings cannot be entered without a guide. 

The palace is located in the extensive imperial park of Kyôto (京都御苑, Kyôto gyoen), an attractive park in the center of the city, which also includes the imperial palace Sentô Gosho (仙洞御所), a secondary palace complex and several other attractions.

Kyôto Imperial Park
A visit to the Imperial Palace Sentô requires participation in a free guided tour of the Imperial Household Agency, which manages all the imperial properties. However, the visit to the park is free of charge. If you come in spring, the area has an additional attraction as visitors can see over 1,100 blossoming cherry trees, including weeping cherry trees and Japanese garden cherries.

Located near the Imperial Palace towards the Kamogawa River is Rozanji Temple (盧山寺), most famous as the site of the former manse where Lady Murasaki Shikibu (see history), author of the world’s first novel, “The Tale of Genji”, spent her years. However, it is also known for its lovely garden, Genji Garden, named after the main character of Murasaki Shikibu’s novel. 

Just North of the Imperial Palce, near Dôshisha University is Shôkokuji Temple (相国寺) located. It is is a living Zen temple of the Rinzai Sect od Buddhism and a tranquil spot close to the Imadegawa subway station and the Kamo River. It is a large temple copmplex; at present, there are 13 buildings, including Jôtenkaku Bitjutsukan Museum (承天閣美術館). The museum holds treasures from a number of Shokokuji's sub-temples including Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji. Further it exhibits a number of well preserved panel paintings.

Near the Imperial Palace, exactly where Kamôgawa River and Takanogawa River converge lies Demachiyanagi Stn.  (出町柳駅) , the terminal of the Keihan line and the starting point of Eizan line (to Kurama and Ôhara; see below) and the access point to either Northwest or Northeast Kyôtô

Shimogamo Jinja Shrine (下鴨神社

Shimogamo Jinja, Kyôto
500m north of Demachiyanagi Stn. lies Shimogamo Jinja Shrine, which dates back to the sixth century, is one of the oldest and most important shrines in Japan and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.It is located at the junction of the Takano and Kamo rivers and is surrounded by the Tadasu no mori, a forest which was preserved during the modernization of the city and contains trees that are up to 600 years old.
Shimogamo Jinja, Kyôro
Together with the Kamigamo Jinja Shrine, it forms a pair of Kamo shrines built to protect Kyôto from evil. Shimogamo is the older of the pair, being believed to be 100 years older than Kamigamo, and dating to the 6th century, centuries before Kyoto became the capital of Japan

Kamigamo Jinja Shrine (上賀茂神社)

Kamigamo Jinja Shrine
Kamigamo Jinja Shrine stands about three and a half kilometers upriver from Shimogamo Shrine. In fact Kamigamo and Shimogamo are the upper and lower halves of the same shrine. It is well known for two sand cones (tatesuna) on its grounds that serve a purification function for the shrine, and have been made ritually since ancient times. When Kyoto was established as the capital in 794, Kamigamo Shrine began to enjoy imperial patronage as the emperor acknowledged the importance of the Kamo shrines in preventing bad influences from reaching the newly founded capital.

Daitokuji (大徳寺)

Sanmon, Daitokuji
In the North, approx.. 1 km to the West from Kita Ôji Stn. is Daitokuji, another very large temple complex It is one of the main temples of the Rinzai school of Buddhism. There are more than 20 sub-temples within the compound walls, some of which are open to the public. 

Kôtoin, Daitokuji
Further it is famous for its beautiful Zen gardens. Most famous is Daisenin (
大仙) for its rock gardens in the karesansui-stlye – just like Rôanji. Legend has it, that Sôami has built this garden with his own hands as well.

Kôtôin (高桐), located on the west side of Daitokuji, is famous for its maple trees, specifically in autumn, and it tranquil moss garden. It is probably the most popular temple in the compounds.

The Kôetsuji Temple (光悦寺) and its seven tea houses were the residence of Hon'ami Kôetsu (阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), the most sophisticated tea master in the Kyôto of his time, in the 16th century. Hon'ami and his family had strong beliefs in the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, and the residence became a temple of the Nichiren sect after his death. The seven tea houses, each with its style, are located in different parts of the large temple garden. It is located in the Takagamine district of northwestern Kyôto, near the Genkôan Temple (源光庵), one of the so-called "Temples of Blood-soaked Ceilings" of Kyôto, on whose ceilings the blood of warriors can be seen, and the Jôshôji Temple (常照寺), known for its association with the courtesan Yoshino Tayu II (吉野太夫, 1606-1643) from the Edo period, famous for her beauty and grace. Like the Genokoan, Joshoji Temple is famous for its beautiful garden, which is especially popular during the autumn leaf viewing in Kyôto, and for its cherry blossoms.

Yoshida Jinja Shrine, Kyôto.

One kilometer east of Demachiyanagi Stn., and close to Kyôto University, is Yoshida Jinja Shrine (吉田神社), an ancient shrine on Yoshida hill. Surrounded by a deep forest, the shrine stands quietly amid an undisturbed stillness. It was founded in 859, during the Heian period, by the powerful Fujiwara clan (see history) and continues to be an important Shintô institution to this day. Many people overlook this shrine, since there are many tourist sites nearby, so you are probably almost alone here. On top of Yoshida hill sits Moan (茂庵), a special forest tea house, serving tea and sweets.

 (4) Central Kyôto 


Nijôjô Castle (二条城)

Nijôjô Castle was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu (see history), the first Shôgun of the Edo Period (1603-1867) as his residence. Surviving in its original form, the palace consists of multiple separate buildings that are connected with each other by corridors with so called nightingale floors (uguisubari no rôka, 鴬張りの廊), as they squeak when stepped upon as a security measure against invaders. The rooms feature elegantly decorated ceilings and beautifully painted sliding doors (fusuma, ), painted by the Kanô school (狩野), one of the most famous schools of Japanese painting. The castle also features amongst others the Nihonmaru garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden designed by the landscape architect and tea master Kobori Enshû (see Konchiin). The buildings are the best examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the whole caste was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

Not far from Nijô Castle you will find Shinsensen (神泉) (Sacred Spring Garden"), the original palace and pleasure garden of Emperor Kanmu  (桓武天皇, 737-806) , the 50th Tennô according to the traditional order of succession. It was built from 794, when the capital was moved to Kyôto (Heiankyô; see history) and was once the playground of the Heian nobility who held moon-viewing and boating parties on the lake. Even though it once was much larger, it has been restored to resemble its original layout with the Hôjô ike pond (法成) at its center. Today it belongs as a sub-temple to the Tôji near Kôto Stn. (admission free).

Mibudera (壬生寺)

Mibudera , one of Kyôto’s oldest temples once served as the headquarters to the Shinsengumi (新選), a special samurai force organized by the Shôgunate to protect their interests in Kyôto during a time of political turmoil shortly before the Meiji-Restauration of 1868 (see history). The continuous opening of Japan, which began with in the 60s of the 19th century, caused a great deal of controversy among the population. As a result, various military movements arose. Some fought for the opening of Japan and the associated preservation of the Tokugawa-Shôgunate. Others, the Shishi (), which included masterless samurai (rōnin) formally employed by the Chôshû and Tosa clans for example, made themselves felt with the slogan sonnô jôi (尊皇攘), “revere the Emperor, expel the foreign barbarians” and demanded that power be returned to the emperor, and thus voted against the opening to Western foreign countries.
Ikedaya, Kyôto
The Ikedaya incident (池田屋事件 Ikedaya jiken) was an armed encounter between the Shishi, and the Shinsengumi, in Kyôto on July 8, 1864 at the Ikedaya Inn. The Shishi were using the Ikedaya as a staging point for their forces. Rumor goes that the Shishi were preparing to set fire to Kyôto. Shinsengumi leader, Kondô Isami (近藤 , 1834-1868).  led a group of Shinsengumi troops to the Inn to arrest the Shishi. A total of eight Shishi were killed and twenty-three arrested. This incident made the Shinsengumi famous overnight. In the 1960s, the Inn was torn down and the only remnant being a stone memorial tablet relating the events that occurred on the site. The Ikedaya was located in Kiyamachi, at the end of Pontochô. Today there is a Shinsengumi themed restaurant, with staff dressed in Shinsengumi style uniforms
Mibudera, Kyôto

The power struggle between the Shôgun and Tennô was finally fought in the Boshin war (1868-69, see history). The Shinsengumi remained loyal to the Tokugawa Shôgunate and when the latter collapsed, the Shinsengumi were expelled from Kyôto. Following their departure, they fought in the Battle of Toba–Fushimi (鳥羽伏見の戦い Toba-Fushimi no tatakai) in January 1868, where Kondô suffered a gunshot wound at Fushimi. The battle ended in a decisive defeat for the Shôgunate, paving the way for Japan’s modernization. At the same time it meant the downfall of traditional Japan and its samurai. Kondô, who had been on the wrong side was arrested and executed by the winning forces.

Several graves of Shinsengumi members lay within the temple grounds, as well as a statue of their leader Kondô Isami. Their banner, which carried the sign makoto (), Japanese for loyalty, as well as other memorabilia are for sale in the temple.

 (5) Around Kyôtô Stn.


The area around the station is more modern and urban than other areas of Kyôto, and yet in 15 minutes you are at some of the city's most important historical sites, including the Tôji and Higashi Honganji Temples, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Tôji Temple (東寺)


Tôji, pagoda
Tôji Temple ist aporx. 15 min southwest on foot from Kyôtô Stn. Strolling through the narrow streets to the Tôji Temple, you will get a feel for what it was like to be a citizen of Kyôto hundreds of years ago. The elegant lines of its famous five-storey pagoda rise in an impressive sight over the surrounding roofs. It was founded at the beginning of the Heian Period (see history), just after the capital was moved to Kyôto in the late 700s. About thirty years after the temple's establishment, Kôbô Daishi (弘法大, 774-835), or Kûkai (空海), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, was appointed head priest of Tôji. Since then the temple became one of the most important Shingon temples besides the sect's headquarters on Mount Koya. A popular flea market, the Kôbôichi Market (弘法市) is held on the 21st of each month at Tôji Temple from the early morning hours until around 16:30h in the afternoon. The entry to the temple is partly free.

Higashi Honganji (東本願) and Nishi Honganji (西本願)

Higashi Honganji
Higashi Honganji was established in 1602 by Tokugawa Ieyasu when he split the temple in two - Nishi Honganji is a few street blocks away to the West being the other - in order to diminish its power. While the founder's gate (Goeidô mon; 御影堂 ) of Higashi Honganji is one of the three largest in Kyôto, the founder's hall (Goeidô) is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world and contains 927 Tatami mats. 
Kimi ans Elchi in front of the Karamon
The Karamon (唐門) gate of Nishi Honganji was originally built for Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Fushimi castle, probably around 1598 (see history). After the castle was dismantled in 1623, it was moved to Nishi Honganji in 1632 for a planned visit of  the shôgun Tokugawa Iemitsu to the temple. This lacquered gate is a msterpiece of art. Entrance to Hisgahi and Nishi Honganji is free. 

 Shôseien (渉成)   

Shôseien, Kyôto.

A small Japanese garden, Shôseien, is located another few street blocks east of Higashi Honganji and serves as a detached temple residence of Higashi Honganji. Today, the garden with its pond and beautiful autumn colors is open to the public. It is a very lovely garden with several tea houses and buildings of interest and very worth the small entrance fee.

Kyôto National Museum (Kyôto kokuritsu hakubutsukan, 京都国立博物館)

Further down Shichijô Street, on the other side of the Kamo River, is the Kyôto National Museum (Kyôto kokuritsu hakubutsukan, 京都国立博物館), a characteristic building from the Meiji era (1868-1912) that houses countless exhibits of Japanese handicrafts. A must for all interested in Japanese and Asian art and culture.

Sanjûsangendô (三十三間堂)  


Sanjûsangendô is located directly opposite the National Museum Kyôto. The temple was named after the construction of its main hall, whose 33 bay windows are decorated with astonishing 1001 statues of the Goddess of Grace (Kannon) and associated deities. It is one of Kyôto's most famous and thus most visted temples, so do not expect to be alone.No photos are allowed inside.

Chishakuin Temple (智積)


Chishakuin Temple, shôhekiga.

Next to Sanchûsangendô is Chishakuin Temple,which is famous for his beautiful historic garden and painted sliding doors. It is less crowded than neighboring Sanjûsangendô. The beautiful garden can be enjoyed from the veranda of the Grand Drawing Room in any season, and the interior is lavishly decorated in both modern and traditional screen- and wall paintings (shōhekiga, 障壁), some of which are recreations of gold-leaf covered National Treasures that can be seen in the temple’s Treasure Hall. The masterpieces on display in the Treasure Hall already justify the entrance fee.

(6) Arashiyama (嵐山)


Arashima is both: a beautiful landscape scenery and culture. You need at least one day to explore Arashiyama. Even though it lies on the western outskirts of Kyôto it is very crowded by locals and tourists alike. It is situated at the shores of Hozugawa River (保津川) and is a nationally designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty.
After passing Togestukyô Bridge (渡月), the Moon Crossing Bridge, Arashiyama's most iconic landmark, you will reach the main street, which forms the heart of Arashiyama. Here you will find numerous restaurants and shops selling traditional handicrafts and souvenirs. 

 Tenryûji Temple (天龍)


Tenrûji, Arashiyama

Soon you will arrive at Arashiyamas first highlight, Tenryûji Temple, the most important temple in this district.

It is famed for one of the finest gardens in Kyôto and wonderful mountain views, the lovely Sôgenchi Teien (曹源池庭園). Built in 1339 by the the founder and first shôgun of the Ashikaga Shôgunate, Ashikaga Takauji (see history), it was dedicated to Emperor Go
Sôgenchi Teien, Tenryûji
Daigo, who had just passed away. 

It is famous for the Cloud Dragon on the ceiling of Tenryûji's Hatto Dharma Hall, which was painted in 1997 by the renowned nihonga artist Kayama Matazô (加山 又造1927-2004), as one of the projects commemorating the 650th anniversary of the death of Tenryûji's founder, Musô Soseki (see Tôjiin), a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and teacher, and a calligraphist, poet, and garden designer and the most famous monk of his time.

Just behind Tenryûji temple is the small Nonomiya Jinja Shrine  (野宮神) In the Heian period (see history), successive imperial princesses stayed in the Nonomiya Shrine for a year or more to purify themselves before becoming representatives of the imperial family at the Ise Jingû Shrine (伊勢神),  the highest Shintô sanctuary of Japan. It already apperars in in the tenth chapter of the Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu (see Rozanji) in the early years of the 11th century.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Close to the shrine is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of Kyôto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world.
Ôkôchi Sansô Villa (大河内山) is one of the top sights in Kyôto. It rivals any of the city’s imperial properties, and you don’t need reservations to enter The villa was formerly the estate of the famed film actor Ôkôchi Denjirô (大河内 傳次,1898-1962). It has a high entrance fee, however, the main house here is one of the finest examples of traditional Japanese residential architecture and it has a wonderful tea house and garden.

Arashiyama, view from Kameyama Kôen Park
If you want to escape the crowds, walk up to Kameyama Kôen Park (公園). Here you can enjoy wonderful views of the landscape and the Ôji River below.

Hôgôin (宝厳院), a sub-tmple of Tenryûji, is a small temple by the riverside. With fewer visitors, it is quieter to enjoy the tranquility inside the temple. Its Shishiku Garden (獅子吼の庭), "the garden of the lion’s roar", has been famous ever since antiquity. However it is not always open, but during spring or during special admission times in fall it opens for visitors. In case you are lucky and it is open, you should visit the temple.

From the Bamboo Grove further to the north is Jôjakkôji Temple (常寂光). This mountainside temple was founded in 1596. With small, attractive buildings and gates, the temple has a quiet and understated atmosphere. Maple trees and moss are located just beside the paths and stairs that lead across the temple grounds. From a number of spots, visitors can enjoy views over Kyôto.

Rakushisaha, Arashiyama

Rakkushisha (落柿舎) the "Hut of Fallen Persimmons," is a famous landmark in the world of haiku poetry. It is a simple hermitage, its walls made of clay, its roof of thatch, in what was once a remote part of Kyôto. Less remote today, it still possesses a sense of tranquil seclusion. On the grounds are stone tablets inscribed with haiku, while ink-brushed poems hang on the walls inside. It was created by Mukai Kyorai (向井 去来, 1651-1704), chief disciple of Matsuo Bashô (松尾 芭蕉, 1644-1694), the great master of haiku poetry.

Nisonin, graves of the three emperors.
Nisonin Temple (二尊is similar to Jôjakkôji a hillside temple with slightly larger and imposing buildings. A generally understated atmosphere on the temple grounds is partly due to the overhanging trees along the approach. Founded in the mid-9th century, Nisonin is a temple of the Tendai sect. There are views over the city from the upper grounds. In the temple's cemetery, the ashes of three emperors, Emperor Tsuchimikado (土御門, 1195(96)-1231), Emperor Go Saga (後嵯峨, 1220-1272), and Emperor Kameyama (亀山, 1249-1305), and nobles are interred.

Giôji Temple, Arashiyama.

Giôji Temple (祇王寺) is even more nestled into the forest than Jôjakkôji and Nisonin. It is known for its moss garden that is punctuated with tall maple trees. The temple's entrance gate and small main hall have thatched roofs. The latter has an attractive round window looking into the garden. You can visit the Giôji in combination with Daikakuji temple.

Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street

Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street (嵯峨鳥居)

Much of this street along the way to the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple has been preserved in the style of the Meiji Period
Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street, Arashiyama.
(1868-1912). Many of the buildings are traditional machiya ("town houses") that served as private residences but have since been converted into shops and restaurants. The red tori and the old tea house at the end of the street is worth seeing.

Adashino Nenutsuji Temple, Arashiyama.

Adashino Nenbutsuji (化野念仏) is located at the end of the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. The temple was founded in the early 9th century when the famous monk Kobo Daishi (see Tôji) placed stone statues for the souls of the dead here. Today, the temple grounds are covered by hundreds of such stone statues. In the back of the temple, a short path leads through a bamboo forest.

Otagi Nenbutsuji TempleArashiyama.

Another ten minute walk north Adashino Nenbutsuji, is the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple (愛宕念仏), which is famous for its 1200 stone statues of rakan (羅漢), devoted followers of Buddhism, who advanced along the path of Enlightenment, each with a different facial expression. Created relatively recently in the 1980s and early 1990s, the many statues stand across the temple grounds which cover part of a forested mountain slope. It is a very lovely temple, very much worth visiting.

Daikakuji (大覚)

Daikakuji, Arashiyama, Kyôto
Daikakuji, the second important temple besides Tenryûji, is located in the north east of Arashiyama. It is a temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Formerly the residence of Emperor Saga (嵯峨天, 786-842), the buildings were converted into a temple in 876. 

During its history the temple traditionally had members of the imperial family serve as the head priest (see Shôrenin). It is made up of several buildings connected by elevated wooden walkways. The covered corridors, like the "nightingale floors" of Nijôjô's Ninomaru Palace, squeak quietly as you walk over them. 

Daikakuji, painted fusama

Many of the buildings are decorated with painted fusuma doors by the famous Kanô school (狩野派), which was the dominant style of painting from the late 15th century until theMeji Period (see Nijôjô).

Beside the main temple buildings there is the large Ôsawa no ike pond (大沢池) and a pagoda. Daikakuji is also featured in the Tale of Genji (see Ryozanji).

Also known as Saga Shakado, Seiryôji Temple (清凉) was constructed in 895 as a replica of Wutai Shan or Qingliang Shan of China. The temple has as its principal image a wooden standing statue of Shaka, one of the three most famous Buddhas of Japan. Seiryôji was originally the villa of Minamoto no Toru ( , 822-895), the inspiration for Price Genji in Murasaki Shikibu's "The Tale of Genji" (see Rozanji).

Hôkyôin Temple (宝筐院) was built during the Heian period (see history) by Emperor Go Shirakawa (白河天皇, 1127-1192) and was originally named Zenjyûji Temple. This Temple is surrounded by a picturesque garden, which is particularly beautiful in autumn.

Around Kyôto

South of Kyôto


Tôfukuji, Kyôto
Tôfukuji Temple (東福寺) is a large Zen temple in southeastern Kyôto and one of Kyôto’s oldest temples It is very easy to get to as it is just one stop away from Kyôto Station on the JR Nara Line. It is particularly famous for the artistry of its garden.
Wodden bridge, Tôfukuji.
In all seasons visitors can enjoy spectacular views here from the quaint wooden bridges that cross the ravine, but in autumn it is particularly beautiful featuring spectacular autumn colors. Several parts of Tofukuji's temple grounds are free to enter, including the area around some of its largest and most impressive buildings.

 Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)


Fushimi Inari Taisha
On the same line a little further to the south is Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社), one of Japan’s most famous shrines since it features thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings.

Fushimi Inari Taisha
The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. It is the head shrine of Japan’s almost 30.000 Inari or Fox Shrines. The fox symbolizes general prosperity and worldly success, and is one of the principal kami of Shintô. A must for all those who like to take pictures.

Obakusan Manpukuji (黄檗山萬福)


Obakusan Manpukuji, wodden corridor
Obakusan Manpukuji is a great Chinese-style temple. It was built with Sumatran teak and is an absolutely rare Japanese temple since it remains very well as it was at the time of its construction. Most of the buildings are designated as Important Cultural Properties.

Manpukuji Temple is famed for its pine trees and architecture and its long wooden corridors. Along with Byôdôin, Manpukuji makes a good day trip to Uji. 

Fushimi Castle (伏見) in the south east of Kyôto city, was originally built for Toyotomi Hideyoshi (see history) between 1592-1594  and it was here where he passed away in 1598. The Fushimi Castle you can see today was built in concrete in 1964. The interior is closed but it is still possible to visit the grounds of the castle. Nearby is the Mausoleum of Emperor Meiji (Meiji tenno no ryôba, 明治天皇の陵), as is Nogi Shrine - dedicated to Nogi Maresuke (乃木 , 1849-1912), a general who committed suicide along with his wife after the funeral of Emperor Meiji (明治天皇, 1852-1912).  

Also of historical interest is the Teradaya (寺田屋), - an inn where Sakamoto Ryôma (see history), an active opponent of the Tokugawa Shôgunate. was saved by his future wife running naked from her bath to warn him of approaching assassins. Today, visitors to the reconstructed Teradaya can still see a sword cut in one of the wooden pillars at the inn. Ryôma was assassinated at the Ômiya Inn in Kyôto in 1867 (see Ômiya Inn incident). Shinsengumi leader Kondô Isami (see Mibudera) was later executed on being responsible for the assassination.

 Uji (宇治) and Byôdôin (平等院


Byôdoin, Uji, Kyôto
Byôdôin (平等院) is World Heritage Site on the west bank of the Uji River and a designated National Treasure and Important Cultural Property. After the founding of Kyôto as the imperial capital in the 8th century, Uji became a retreat for court nobles, who built summer villas here. Byôdôin was originally an aristocrat's villa, built in 998, that was converted into a temple in 1052. It is renowned for its beautiful Phoenix Hall (hôôdô, 鳳凰). Phoenix Hall literally represents the mythical Chinese Phoenix (Ho-o) descending to earth. The Phoenix Hall is said to the be sole original building still remaining from the time of the temple's founding. Byôdôin is also famous for its exquisite garden, the oldest, and one of Japan's few remaining, Pure Land Buddhist gardens, characterized by a 'natural' layout.  

Uji is a lovely small town, famous for its excellent green tea. The picturesque Uji River is flowing through the center of the town. With its numerous gardens and tea houses, Uji invites you to take a walk. There are also many tea shops in Uji, some of which have existed for centuries. Here you can buy tea, learn about the history of tea and learn how to prepare matcha.

North of Kyôto


 Ôhara (大原)

Ôhara, Kyôto.

Ôhara is a rural city located in the mountains north of Kyôto. It is famous for its rural beauty and the historical and spiritual significance of its many temples. 

Since Ôhara is located in the northern mountains of Kyôto, you can expect some snow in winter.

 Sanzenin Temple (三千院)


Sanzenin, Ôhara.
The most famous temple in Ôhara is Sanzenin Temple, which is especially popular in mid-November during the autumn leaf season. Sanzenin is a temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism and was founded by the famous monk Saichô (最澄, 766(67)-822), who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan in 804. 

Sanzenin is one of Kyôto's monzeki temples (see Shôrenin), whose head priests were formerly members of the imperial family. It is surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens and paths. Its moss garden is particularly beautiful. There are also a number of smaller temples in the area. 

Sanzenin, Ôhara.

The access road from the Ôhara bus stop to Sanzenin is lined with shops and restaurants for temple visitors.  As you stroll through the village, you should stop by one of the miso shops for which Ôhara is famous. There are over a hundred different types of miso (味噌), the traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans. The local saikyô miso (西京味噌) has a sweet taste and is the gourmet among the misos, which is why it is usually used for sauces instead of soups.

Kimi and Elchi at the Otonashi Waterfall.

 Otonashi Waterfall (Otonashi-no-taki, 音無の滝)

Near Sanzenin is the Otonashi Waterfall, the "Soundless Waterfall".  According to legend, the sound of the waterfall has disappeared because it merged with the chant of the monk Ryônin (良忍, 1072 (?)-1132).

Ryônin, who had retired to Ôhara in his twenties, was the founder of Yûzû nenbutsu shû (融通念仏宗), which focuses on the ritual recitation of nenbutsu, the name of the Amitabha Buddha. 

The scenery along the path to the waterfall is a clear reminder that you are far away in nature. Here you can enjoy the greenery and relax from visiting temples.

 Jakkôin Temple (寂光院)

Jakkôin, Ôhara.

The Jakkôin Temple is located on the other side of the valley. Jakkôin, a temple of the Tendai sect, is rightly famous for the beauty and tranquility of its garden and the beautiful autumn foliage. Legend has it that Jakkôin dates from the 7th century, the Nara period, and was built by Lord Shotoku Taishi (see history).  The metal lantern in front of the main hall was brought from Fushimi-Momoyama Castle and donated to the temple of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (see history). Near Jakkôin you will also find two onsen where you can take a bath in a hot spring or stay overnight.

To reach Ôhara you can catch the Bus No. 16 from the bus stop at Shijô-Kawaramachi Subway Stn. or Bus 17 from  Kyoto Stn.You can also get on bus No. 19 at Kokusaikaikan Station on the Kurasama Line of the Kyoto subway.