Kyoto is a truly magical place, you can feel it on every corner, on every street, on every bridge. Whoever enters the old imperial city is transported to a different time with each step. Modern manga shops border on old, small pubs and restaurants. Beautiful geishas float through brightly flashing shopping centers. Traditional temples sit enthroned above chic skyscrapers.
The metropolis, which was the seat of the imperial Japanese court from 794 to 1868, is located about 400 kilometers southwest of Tokyo in the central west of the main Japanese island of Honshu, about ten kilometers southwest of Lake Biwa and about 40 kilometers from Osaka. According to the classic Chinese geomancy, Kyoto is laid out like a checkerboard. The center and the south are the economic heart of the city. Some of the tourist sights are in the center, but most of the famous temples are in the north.
In the center of Kyoto city, there is a beautiful food market named Nishiki Food Market which maintains the dining table of the residents and is affectionately called Kyoto’s Kitchen. In the shops of the covered arcade you can find everything from Japanese pickles, tea, sweets and tofu to ceramics and other traditional goods. Since many shops offer take-out, try some of the food at the market.
At the eastern end of the Nishiki Market is the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine, which specializes in meeting the needs of those who are studying or doing business. Insert a coin to start the mechanized lion dancer who will choose your luck. The Japanese-English fortune of the Lion Dancer comes in two versions: one with your fortune and one with a traditional Japanese floral design.
Even within Japan it is rare to find a museum and library dedicated to manga. From precious post-war pieces to modern popular manga and international publications, the International Manga Museum in downtown Kyoto has collected some 300,000 different works. The building itself was renovated from an old primary school building. Inside the building, visitors can browse the “Manga Wall” with its huge collection of foreign and local manga and immerse themselves completely in the history of manga in time and space.
Shijo Street runs through the famous Gion entertainment district. Here you are sure to find numerous geisha houses and other traditional shops. Explore the shops that offer macha, a kind of bitter green tea, various sweets, traditional sweets and kimono accessories, all of which focus on the one street that truly captures the essence of Kyoto. At the eastern end of Shijo Street is the Yasaka Jinja Shrine, the face of Gion. The arcade leads from Keihan Shijo station to the western gate of Yasaka Jinja Shrine.
The Teramachi mall is full of variety, from youth clothing stores to second-hand books and drawings from the Edo period, also known as ukiyo-e. Many shops specializing in locally produced goods carry unique items such as samurai wigs. The northern part of Sanjo Street is lined with cafés and more traditional shops selling items such as tea and Japanese paper.
Gion Corner is a unique theater that features one-hour performances of seven professional performing arts from Kyoto – the classical comedy of Kyogen, Kyomai dance, the gagaku music of the imperial court, the Koto harp, Bunraku puppet theater, tea ceremony and flower arrangement. The Gion Corner is located in the Yasaka Hall on the north side of the Kaburenjo Hall of Gion, where geishas give beautiful presentations. There you can also experience a real tea ceremony and learn about the etiquette of the tea ceremony in a relaxed atmosphere, if you are interested. Since the explanations of the presentations are given in English, Gion Corner is very popular with tourists from abroad.
When you visit the Kifune-jinja shrine, you will be able to feel the presence of various gods and spirits. Forget the hustle and bustle of the city in the silence here, with the soothing murmur of the river splashing right beside you, and enjoy the relaxing feeling of the cool air coming from the river. The Kifune-jinja shrine has long been visited by people who pray for happiness and prosperity, for marriage and for the fulfillment of their wishes.
The Kifune Jinja Shrine is revered by the imperial household and is familiar to many people in Japan. It looks beautiful in the fresh green of spring, which is getting deeper every day, and the area is popular in the summer because of the food at the Kawa Doko Riverbank. The shrine is also popular for its flaming autumn foliage and the dramatic contrast of its red lanterns, which are covered with white snow in winter. If you want to dive deep into Kyoto, you should pay it a visit.
For a turn into the quirky, go to Konkai Komyo-ji Temple, not far from the famous Philosopher’s Walk in Tetsugaku-no-michi street and only a ten-minute walk from the Okazaki-michi bus stop of the Kyoto City Bus. The temple itself has an impressive two-story gate, and in the Mie-do Hall is a wooden seated statue of Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. The temple’s beautiful gardens with sand paintings depict the lives of Honen and others associated with the founding of the temple. In autumn, the maple trees surrounding the temple ponds are reflected brilliantly in the waters.
Hidden within the temple grounds you will find this unusual statue of Amidha Buddha. This may not be what you think of when you imagine a Buddha statue with its traditional hairstyle of tight turns: This one has a head of curly hair so big that it almost looks like an Afro! It is said that this Amidha figure spent such an extraordinary amount of time devoting to his ascetic training and praying for the fate of mankind that his hair grew longer and wilder until it piled up high on his head. There are only 16 such figures in all of Japan. Try to take a picture of this unusual stone Amidha Buddha with his wild hair.
Fushimi is a part of Kyoto but it feels kinda different and nostalgic. In a good way. The Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine and its magnificent one thousand vermillion gates are known around the world but the ward has quite a few more hidden gems. Located in the south of Kyoto, it has long played an important role as a transportation hub, connecting Kyoto and Osaka by river. Due to its abundant underground reserves of clear, high-quality water, Fushimi has also blossomed into a center for sake production, a tradition that continues to this day with more than 20 active breweries.
And then there is the famous Imperial Palace of Kyoto, which was the residence of the imperial family until the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1869. It is located in the Gyoen Park of Kyoto. Within the imperial palace grounds, surrounded by a covered clay wall, are the Seiryo-den, the Palace Hall, and the Kyogosho, the Small Palace, which are strongly reminiscent of this dynastic era. Except for five days in spring and autumn, when the Imperial Palace is open to the public, you must apply in advance to obtain permission to visit the palace.
If Tokyo is too loud, too crowded and too confusing for you, then you will love Kyoto. Everything is a little calmer and more relaxed here. And maybe a little more natural. The time-honored spirits of bygone eras seem to take care that the city does not lose its balance. Traditions can be found everywhere in Kyoto, but the colorful streets are neither dusty or antiquated. And even if you just take a walk on the Kamo, you will fall in love with Kyoto and its residents in a heartbeat.