In the Fall of 2015 I visited Kyoto, Japan with my childhood best friend and her fiance – the same one’s that I went to visit in Bali earlier that summer. Kyoto was the capital of Japan & where the Emperor lived from 794 until 1868. It is a uniquely historical city that allows its guests to travel back to Japan’s ancestral times.
One of the best ways to travel to Kyoto from Tokyo is on the Shinkansen (also known as the bullet train). There is so much to do and see in Kyoto and its surrounding cities, so I recommend allotting enough time to see as much as you can, and definitely make a list of the places you don’t want to miss. I only had a very short time to visit, which just gives me a better reason to go back again 😉
The first place on my ‘must-see’ list was the Kinkaku-ji Temple (aka the Golden Pavilion). It is a Zen Buddhist temple that is completely covered in gold leaf on the top two floors. Prior to becoming a Zen temple in 1408, it was the retirement home for the shogun – Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. This temple has been burned down many times throughout history and the current structure was rebuilt in 1955.
Up next on my list was the Kyoto Botanical Gardens which was founded in 1924. It is one of the oldest public botanical gardens in Japan. While it was beautiful during the season that I visited, it would have been more impressive during Cherry Blossom season when its 500 cherry blossom trees are in bloom.
Our second day began with a visit to the Nijo Castle which was built in 1603. This castle was home to the first shogun of the Edo Period – Tokugawa Leyasu. In 1867 the castle was used as an imperial palace before being donated to the city of Kyoto as a historical site. It later became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
We made a very brief stop at the Tofuku-ji Temple, but did not have enough time to explore the entire grounds area. This is a Zen temple that was founded in 1236. It is considered one of the main Zen temples in Kyoto, and is also a head temple of one of the schools of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.
Our last stop of the trip was to the Fushimi Inari Shrine – my favorite! It is a Shinto shrine that has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794. The best part of the shrine, in my opinion, was the hiking trail that is covered in over 1,000 Torii Gates on Mount Inari. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s (the Shinto god of rice) messengers, which is why you can find so many fox statues on the shrine grounds.
I don’t recommend leaving Japan without making a trip to Kyoto. I only had 2 half days and 1 night there, but I was able to see the top items on my list of places to not miss. Experiencing the historical side of Japan will give you a chance to fall even more in love with this magical country.