In Kyoto, you feel as if you are in the ancient capital. There are many best sights such as historical shrines and temples and quaint cityscapes, making it a perfect tourist destination to enjoy the uniqueness of Japan. It is also very popular among foreign tourists, and it is estimated that 8.8 million people visited in 2019. Let's explore the top must-see spots where you can feel the history and culture of Kyoto.
History of Kyoto
The history of Kyoto began in 794 when Emperor Kanmu relocated the capital from Nagaoka-kyo to Heian-kyo. The Heian period was the time that the influence of the Chinese continent diminished due to the abolition of the envoy to Tang China, and Japan's unique culture was formed in many fields such as literature, Buddhist sculpture, architecture, and painting.
During the Kamakura period, new Buddhist denominations were born one after another, and many famous temples such as Nanzenji, Kenninji, and Nishi Honganji were constructed. Furthermore, in the Muromachi period, cultures of court noble and samurai were mixed so that new arts’ forms such as Ikebana, Tea ceremony, Nogaku, and Shoin-zukuri flourished.
In the Edo period, the center of politics moved to the east, but Kyoto continued to be the center of culture and economy. The culture that developed around Kyoto and Osaka at this time is called Genroku culture. Supported by townspeople with economic power, new cultures such as Ukiyo-zoshi, Kabuki, Ukiyo-e, Haiku, and Ningyo Joruri prospered.
Edo was renamed to Tokyo in the Meiji era, and after nearly 1100 years since 794 the emperor's residence moved to Tokyo. Despite the whole Japan is modernizing, the ancient townscape and landscape remain in Kyoto, and it still has a strong presence as the cultural capital of Japan.
What is the charm of Kyoto?
The charm of Kyoto, that attracts many tourists from all over the world, is that there are still many streets and temples to make you feel the magnificent history. In 1994, 17 temples and castles were registered as World Heritage Sites as "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto".
Kyoto is also an area that shows different faces seasonally, such as cherry blossoms in spring, fresh green in early summer, colored leaves in autumn, and snowy scenery in winter.
Recommended sightseeing spots in Kyoto
Kinkakuji Temple (Rokuonji Temple)
Many people may think of Kyoto as a golden temple on the shore of a lake. Its official name is Rokuonji, but it is called Kinkakuji (Kin = Gold) because of the famous golden shrine, Shariden. It is part of "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" and is particularly popular among tourists. The gardens and architecture in the Kinkakuji represent the world of paradise.
A popular temple famous for the saying "jump off the stage of Kiyomizu". In 2020, the construction to replace 166 floorboards on the stage was completed. From the main hall, you can overlook the cityscape of Kyoto. The precincts are large, and there are many attractions such as the three-story pagoda and the Niomon gate in addition to the stage and main hall. The three waters dripping from "Otowa Waterfall" in the temple are said to bring benefits in love, academy, and longevity.
The head temple of the Rinzai sect Nanzenji school. It is one of the highly-ranked Zen temples in Japan. The Sanmon Gate, known as the "Tenka Ryumon", is one of the three major gates in Japan. The large brick aqueduct that runs through the precincts of Nanzenji is famous as a photo shooting spot. It is also known for autumn leaves, and many worshipers visit during this season.
The top Inari Shrine of about 30,000 nationwide. Its long history started in 711 before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. The "Senbon Torii", a passage of numerous red torii gates is beautiful and is now a standard tourist spot for foreigners visiting Japan. If you walk in the precincts, you may meet the fox, the messenger of Inari Okami god.
A Zen temple built in 1450 in the Muromachi period. It is known worldwide for its dry landscape garden called Sekitei. White sand is spread over a space of 250 squared meters, and 15 large and small stones are placed there. It is a garden with many mysteries such as who made it and when.
Kyoto, which once prospered as the capital of Japan, has countless tourist attractions. We hope that you will fully enjoy the charm of Kyoto and can feel the traditional Japanese culture just by strolling around.