Guide Location: Japan » Kyoto
Guide Type: Self-guided city tour
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.4 km
Image Courtesy of Flickr and Francesco_G
They say visiting Japan without seeing Kyoto is worthless, because a visit to Japan will never be complete without knowing Kyoto's treasures. A city of tradition, history, and culture, Kyoto has plenty of touristic spots to offer. The next walking tour takes you to the core of Kyoto and the main attractions of the city that are located in its central area. Enjoy!
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Shimogamo ShrineThe Shimogamo Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. It is one of the 17 monuments in old Kyoto that have been declared World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO.
The Shimogamo Shrine dates back to the 6th Century and was originally constructed to protect the city of Kyoto. It is located within a forest called Tadasu no Mori or Forest of Truth. It is dedicated to the deities, Kamotaketsunumi-no-mikoto and his daughter Tamayorihime-no-mikoto and the God of fire and Thunder, Honoikazuchi-no-mikoto. The shrine received imperial patronage during the Haien Era and from 1871 to 1946, it was a Kanpei-taisha or Government supported shrine of the first rank.
The Shimogamo Shrine is famous for the annual Hollyhock Festival or Aoi Matsuri that takes place on May 15th. It is also the site of an annual New Year Ritual called the Kemari Hajime. Kemari is a traditional Japanese sport that dates back to the Haien Era. Its performance almost disappeared after the Meiji Restoration but was revived by the efforts of the Kemari Preservation Society from 1903. The Tadasu no Mori surrounding the shrine is a tranquil green space in the midst of the bustling city. It has many ancient and beautiful trees and is crisscrossed by clear streams. The forest has been regarded as an important Haien era botanical site.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Chris Gladis
2) Rozan-ji TempleThe Rozan-ji Temple is located to the East of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It is built on a former mansion belonging to the father of the author of the epic Japanese novel, the Tale of Genji.
The Rozan-ji Temple was constructed in the year 938. Its location at the time of construction was on a mountain called Funaokayama. The Buddhist priest Ganzan Diashi designed and built the temple. In 1571, many of the temples in Kyoto were burned by the warlord Oba Nobunaga. The Rozan-ji escaped destruction unlike the other temples. The Emperor Kokaku commissioned the expansion and rebuilding of the structure at its present site soon after.
Today, the Rozan-ji temple is the last resting place of many renowned personalities from the Edo period. Many princes, princesses and the renowned maker of Buddhist statuary, Jocho Busshi are buried here. In front of the temple is a small moss and gravel garden with beautiful bellflower plants. The Day of Setsubun, an annual traditional Kyoto ceremony is held here on the 2nd and 3rd of February where a court ceremony of driving out demons is performed. Visitors come to pay homage to Lady Murasaki who wrote most of the Tale of Genji here.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and PlusMinus
3) Sento Imperial PalaceThe Sento Imperial Palace was once the residence of retired Emperors. Today, one can visit the garden surrounding the palace and some structures within after seeking permission from the Imperial Household Agency.
The Sento Imperial Palace was constructed in 1630 as the retirement residence of Emperor Go-Mizunoo. The nearby Omiya Palace was also built in the same year as the residence of the Empress Dowager. It became the residence of subsequent emperors after their retirement. Both palaces were burned down and rebuilt several times. After a devastating fire in 1854, the Sento Palace was never rebuilt. The Omiya Palace was rebuilt and still remains the Kyoto residence of the Imperial family.
Visitors come to view the extensive gardens on the location of the Sento Palace today. It covers an area of 22 acres and has two ancient tea houses within its grounds. Visitors enter the garden that is surrounded by an ancient mud wall through a large wooden gate. Its main feature is a large pond with islands, bridges and walkways. The southern part of the pond has a beautifully landscaped ocean shore consisting of round and square stones and cherry trees. On the western side of the pond are two tea houses. The Seikai Te tea house has a shingled roof and the Yushin-Tei has a thatched roof and a unique round window.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Daderot
4) Kyoto Imperial PalaceThe Kyoto Imperial Palace was the former residence of the Emperors of Japan until the Capital of the country was shifted to Tokyo. It was also the venue where the enthronement of the Emperors of Japan took place until recently.
The present Kyoto Imperial Palace was built in 1855. It was constructed after a devastating fire destroyed a previous structure completely. Its design resembles the palaces of the Heian period in Kyoto. The buildings in the palace complex include the Dairi or Imperial Residence, the Sento or palace of the retired Emperor, a library, several ceremonial halls, the Kaninnomiya Mansion which was the residence of the Fujiwara nobility and houses for the Empress and other officials with high ranks.
The Kyoto Imperial palace is surrounded by a long earthen wall called the Tsuji with 6 ancient gates. It is also surrounded by a clean green space called the Kyoto Imperial Park or the Kyōto Gyoen. The park has gravel paths, lawns and many shady trees. The Konoe Pond in the Northwestern corner of the park has a group of cherry trees that bloom between March and April. The palace is managed by the Imperial Household Agency. Visitors can reserve a place on conducted tours around the palace and grounds. The one hour guided tours are available in English and Japanese.
Image Courtesy of Flickr and Matthias Rosenkranz
5) Nijo CastleThe magnificent Nijo Castle was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is one of the few palaces of Kyoto where visitors are allowed to view the interiors.
The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was later enlarged by his descendant Tokugawa Iemitsu. He added a five floored tower called the Honmaru that was later destroyed by a fire. It was also the site where the last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu restored power to the Emperor in 1867. The Castle was opened to the public by the city of Kyoto in 1940.
The Nijo Castle is surrounded by gardens and a moat. It is not fortified unlike other palaces. There are two structures, the outer building called the Honmaru and the main building and residence of the Shogun, the Ninomaru. The unique feature of the Ninomaru is its squeaking floors called nightingale floors (uguisubari). The noise made while one walked on the floor warned residents that someone had entered the building. The interiors of the castle have many beautiful paintings and sliding doors. There are also wax mannequins dressed in ancient costumes so that visitors can relive the life of a historical royal residence. In 1994, Nijo Castle became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Reggaeman
6) International Manga MuseumManga is the Japanese word for comics and print cartoons. The International Manga Museum is dedicated to the preservation of comics, cartoons and animation.
The Museum was established by the Kyoto Seika University in collaboration with the City of Kyoto. It is housed in the former Tatsuike Elementary School; the buildings and land were donated by the City and it is managed by the University. A joint committee consisting of University officials and members of the City Government oversee its management. The Museum has over 200,000 items donated by individuals and corporations.
The International Manga Museum houses a large collection of Japanese Manga and international comics. The exhibition explains the development of Manga as an art, its origin, different drawing techniques and tells about well known characters and artists. The museum is divided into a gallery zone, a research space, a collection zone, the permanent exhibition area, a space for special exhibits, a museum shop and a Kissaten or Japanese style coffee shop. There is a Manga wall that holds 40,000 books and magazines. Some interesting exhibits are Meiji era magazines, an early Japanese edition of the Punch Magazine, the first Japanese Manga magazine called Eshinbun Nihonchi and the first children’s Manga magazine in Japanese, called the Tokyo Pakku.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and ja:利用者:珈琲ルンバ
7) Pontocho AreaThe Pontocho Area in Kyoto is home to many traditional Geisha houses and tea houses. It is a long dark and narrow cobbled street between the Shijo Dori and Sanjo Dori.
The Pontocho Area was a Geisha entertainment area from the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is known as the birthplace of kabuki and the first exponent of the art was a Meiko called Okuni. Her statue is located on the opposite side of River Kamo and is visible from the street. Geisha houses have existed in the area from the 16th century. The Kaburenjō Theatre located here has served as a Geisha practice hall from the 1870s.
The Pontocho Area, today is a popular street with restaurants serving a range of delicacies. One can get inexpensive sushi and yakitori at the eateries that flank the street or enjoy traditional and modern Kyoto cuisine at some of the restaurants. There are also exclusive establishments where Geisha perform for customers. Some restaurants on the street serve international cuisine and others offer outdoor patios overlooking the River Kamo in summer. Geisha perform the Kamogawa Odori or River Dancing twice a year at the Kaburenjō Theatre where they dance, perform Kabuki and play traditional instruments. Visitors can view performances of real Geisha at this time.
Image Courtesy of Flickr and dany13
8) Gion DistrictThe Gion District in Kyoto is the location where the traditional Japanese entertainers called the Geisha and their apprentices called Maikos reside and entertain businessmen. The Kyoto word for Geisha is Geiko which means Women of Art.
The Gion District is located around Shijo Avenue in Kyoto between the Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River. All the buildings that flank the streets are built in traditional Japanese style and are called Machiyas or Town Houses. Inside these are shops, restaurants and Ochayas - traditional Tea Houses where Geiko entertain customers. Gion has been a Geisha district since the 1500s. Part of the street has been declared a Historic Preservation District and the City of Kyoto has made efforts to preserve the traditional architecture by moving all overhead utilities underground.
Tourists flock to the Gion district today to catch site of a Geiko or Maiko en route to her engagement in full regalia. The district comes alive at night when patrons of the Ochayas come for their evening entertainment. A cultural show is held every day at the art center, called the Gion Corner, where tourists can view Geikos performing several traditional Japanese arts like tea ceremonies, dances and short comic plays. In April, the Miyako Odori festival, where Meiko perform traditional dances, is held here.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Francesco_G
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