Kyoto's Imperial Charms

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan. Its imperial charm can still be found in places like Gion and the countless centuries-old temples scattered throughout the city. Kyoto is a craft and cultural center but still retains a throbbing nightlife.

Kyoto's Imperial Charms

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

Kyoto is deservedly famous for its temples. The highlights include Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Ryoan, and Kiyomizu. The Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, called Ishimi Inari, deserves a visit. Those who enjoyed reading Tale of Genji will want to visit the small town of Uji in the south of Kyoto, where many events in the book took place. There are also many art and craft museums. Those wishing to see a real geisha can hunt in the charming alleyways around Gion in the early evening. For those wishing to party, you can hit central Kyoto for some clubbing or head to nearby Osaka. Himeji Castle, located about an hour away, is also worth a side-trip. ${QuickSuggestions} If you go to the 9th floor of Kyoto Station (JR line) then you'll find the tourist information center with English speakers. They have a lot of maps and other information that will benefit you greatly. You can also ask them about any events that may be happening during your stay or ask them to reserve tickets that require Japanese speakers. ${BestWay} Kyoto is too spread out to be walkable. I highly recommend renting a bike if the weather is good. The roads are flat and bike-friendly; the pedestrian lanes are very large, especially compared to the rest of Japan where they may be non-existent. Many locals get around by bike, also. Just be careful to park it in the right place or it may be impounded; also take care to lock it because bike theft is not uncommon. For longer distances, the subway and trains are great and tourist-friendly. Buses run to may destinations and their flat fee or day-pass is tourist-friendly but they get very crowded around Kyoto Station and Gion. Taxis are expensive, environmentally unfriendly, and not recommended. Fees for renting a car are outrageous and it is difficult and expensive to find parking in the city center. For reasonable distances (i.e., from Ginkakuji to Heian Temple), walking can be quite pleasant.

Kyoto's Cheapest Inn

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

Kyoto's Cheapest Inn is, as described, a cheap hostel located near Nijo Castle. There are dormitories and private rooms available. The cheapest accommodations are for tatami bunk beds, which means you must bring a sleeping bag if you want to sleep comfortably. The normal bunk beds start at 2,000 yen per night but a sheet charge and possibly a seasonal charge may be added onto the amount. Fortunately, when making a reservation, the inn-keepers outline the full price that you will pay so there are no surprises. A credit card or bank transfer is necessary to secure your reservation.

I stayed on the 3rd floor, with the normal bunk beds. The room was neat and clean and included toilets and tables and chairs. The sheets and blankets were clean and comfortable. There was a curtain for privacy, which was nice. Guests are expected to store their baggage under the bed and keep valuables in lockers which were provided for free. The only problem with the dormitory arrangement was the presence of a snorer in the bed next to mine! Although I had brought earplugs (highly recommended), this particular sleeper managed to nearly break my eardrums with his loud snoring. Otherwise, the arrangements were quite good.

On the bottom floor, there is a communal kitchen and three individual showers. The kitchen was well-stocked with a microwave, toaster, hot water heater, fridge, rice cooker, some pans, cutlery, and mugs. The showers included shampoo and body soap, and hot water was plentiful. You must provide your own towel (which you can dry outside of the shower) or rent one from them. The bottom floor also contained free lockers, a TV, and a coin washing machine. It was a bit cramped but there was a table and some chairs right outside. There was also a nice area on the roof for hanging out.

The staff were efficient and helpful. They also speak passable English and are willing to help you with travel questions. They have some pamphlets and brochures available. They also provide a computer with free Internet use by the reception.

The location was also quite good because it was near Nijo Castle and on the corner of a large street that had many bus connections to places such as Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) or Ginkakuji (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion). The closest subway station, Nijomae, was about a ten minute walk. The closest JR rail stop, Nijo, was about a ten minute walk as well. Because of the clean facilities, cheap price, free kitchen, and location, Kyoto's Cheapest Inn is a great deal. You can check availability at their English website located here:

Kyoto's Cheapest Inn
783 Sabamatsu-cho
+81 75 821-3323

Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

Kinkakuji was originally built in the 14th century but The Temple of the Golden Pavilion may have achieved fame in the West due to the book by the same name by Yukio Mishima. This book is a fictionalized account of the psychology behind the crazed monk that decided to burn down the temple after World War II. Fortunately, the beautiful golden pavilion was re-built and now may be even more remarkable than before the fire, when the gold leaf was peeling and barely visible.

I highly recommend visiting this popular temple early. It opens at 9am. If you can make it early, you will avoid the masses of tour groups clammering for a peek. After purchasing your ticket, you will walk in for a stunning view of the golden pavilion. It is a large structure surrounded by a peaceful moat. On the roof of the temple you'll notice phoenixes, a symbol of re-birth. You can't enter the temple but you will walk the path surrounding it, getting a unique view at different angles.

Near the exit, you have the option of participating in a tea ceremony for a small fee. Watch the Japanese people there for help on how to behave. When you are presented the tea cup, be sure to turn it around so that the most beautiful side is shown to the hostess. You'll also find extensive gift and food options. Feel free to take a sample of traditional Japanese sweets if you see a small tray and toothpicks. You can also purchase a temple charm, or omomori, embroidered with phoenixes and a small Golden Pavilion.

This beautiful temple shouldn't be missed. It has something to offer at each season, from the time of the cherry blossoms to the change of the foliage to the coming of snow. For the most awe-inspiring visit, come early before the crowds hit and bring your camera!

Kinkaku-ji/Temple of The Golden Pavilion
1 Kinkakuji-cho Kita-ku
Kyoto, Japan, 603-8361
+81 (75) 461 0013

Ryoan-ji Temple

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

Ryoan-ji is a Buddhist temple famous for its Zen rock garden, built in the 15th century. Although the rock garden may be the main attraction, the temple grounds are beautiful, especially during the cherry blossom time or during Fall.

After purchasing your ticket, you'll follow a path along the grounds. There's a lake with a small boat and a little island with a small shrine. There are many cherry trees with beautiful blossoms in spring. There is also different kinds of moss covering the trees and ground.

The path leads up to the main temple which contains the rock garden. The garden is composed of raked gravel and fifteen rocks. From every angle except one, only fourteen rocks can be seen. You are allowed to sit in front of the garden and contemplate to your heart's content. The Buddhists want you to come to your own conclusion about the garden and what it means to you. They don't tell you what you should see.

Ryoan-ji is another popular temple that is best visited in the morning, before the crowds hit. It opens at 9am and this is when you'll find the fewest people. Having less people there allows you the best atmosphere for meditation or deep thought.

Although staring at rocks may not sound like a great time, if you're in the right mental state then it can be an exhilarating experience. The wonderfully landscaped grounds can help bring this about. Be sure to come here with a calm mind.

Ryoanji (Ryōan-ji Temple)
13 Goryonoshita-cho Ryoanji Ukyo-ku
Kyoto, Japan, 616-8001
+81 075 463 2216

Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

Nijo Castle was built in the 17th century to accommodate the Tokugawa Shoguns. Today, it's still in fantastic shape and a great place to learn about Japan in feudal times.

Your first view of Nijo Castle will be the imposing moat and bright white fortifications. There's only one open entrance to this large fortress and it's on the east side, across a large bridge. First you must purchase a ticket on the outside, by using a ticket machine. Put your money in first and then select the ticket you want (600 yen for adults and less for children).

Once inside the castle, head towards the Ninomaru Palace. Be sure to remove your shoes and put on the provided slippers. This part of the castle contains beautiful screen paintings and information about how life used to be in the castle. The first thing you may notice is that the floor squeaks like a bird! These clever nightingale floors were constructed to alert the occupants to any invaders.

After visiting the buildings within the castle, you'll get to wander through the gardens. These peaceful gardens are especially beautiful when the cherry blossoms are out or during the turning of the Fall foliage.

On the way out, you'll pass many food vendors and have the option of buying souvenirs and partaking of a snack or meal.

Nijo Castle hosts various events throughout the year. The fee is usually quite small. When I visited, in early spring, the castle was open after 6pm for nighttime viewing of the cherry blossoms. There was also live koto and taiko music being played near the exit. Be sure to ask at the entrance if anything special is taking place.

Nijo Castle
Nishi Nijojo Nijohorikawa Nakagyo-ku
Kyoto, Japan, 604-8235
+81 075 841 0096

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 2, 2007

The Fushimi Inari Shrine can be found just two stops down from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara line. The temple is just a few minutes away from the station exit. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the female spirit of fertility and rice. This shrine is particularly remarkable for the unbelievable amount of large torii, or gates, covering the grounds. These large gates were all donated by worshippers as a way of giving thanks to the spirit. Entrance to this shrine is free.

After entering the main torii gate, you'll come to a large shrine. There's another shrine up the steps. To the side you'll find the start of the seemingly endless procession of orange gates. This path provides a charming walk. The gates stretch on and on, and even go up a mountain. To the sides you'll find small paths that lead to little shrines dotting the mountain. You can keep in climbing and climbing, passing small noodle houses, and eventually you'll reach a fantastic view of the city. By this time you might be sweating a river from the strenuous climbing; this shrine is not for the weak of heart!

The Fushimi-Inari shrine was so large that I couldn't even explore all the grounds. The gates just keep on going! It's an incredible sight and one you shouldn't miss. When I went, near dusk, the shrine was not crowded. It's supposed to close at sunrise but people were wandering around long past. The lanterns along the side are lit but you must be careful at night due to the incredibly amount of steps and the possibility of tripping and falling. Be sure to have a good and safe time at this awe-inspiring shrine!

Fushimi Inari Shrine
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchi-cho
Kyoto, Japan, 612-0882
+81 075 641 7331

Miyako Odori (Cherry Blossom Dance)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dackelynn on April 3, 2007

The Miyako Odori is one of the few times that outsiders can experience the sight of a true geisha and maiko performance. Normally, one would have to be Japanese, extremely wealthy and have high connections to be entertained by a geisha. In Kyoto, there are supposed to be less than 150 geisha remaining. When I read about the Miyako Odori in the Fodor's Japan book, I jumped at the chance to attend this festival.

I got my ticket weeks in advanced. Since I can't speak Japanese, my friend called the Gion Kaburenjo Theatre and reserved the tickets. It required a bank transfer in order to secure the reservation. If you don't have a Japanese friend then supposedly one can ask the tourist office at Kyoto Station to reserve a ticket if you are able to arrive before they are sold out. Tickets start at 1900 for third-floor tatami seating (unreserved), and go up to thousands of yen for a first-class seat included with a pre-festival tea ceremony.

The Miyako Odori was started in 1872 as a way for Kyoto to assert its cultural importance after the capital of Japan was moved to Tokyo. It is held throughout the month of April as a celebration of cherry blossoms and springtime and part of November. The dance is performed by geishas and their students, called maiko.

The dances celebrate the changing of the seasons. While the sets are fantastic, the women and their costumes are stunning. The dances are slow but well-rehearsed and entrancing. A singer, the koto and other instruments accompany the geiko and maiko. There are about five or six different songs and dances, each with different sets. The seasons change as the songs progress. At the finale, all the geiko and maiko take part in a beautiful dance. The whole show lasts about an hour. It's a rare, unforgettable experience.

You can find more information at
Miyako Odori (Cherry Blossom Dance)
Gion Kaburenjo Theatre, Gion
Kyoto, Japan

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