Japan, on a whole, is a sight for sore eyes. Not surprising that it is on the top list of holidaymakers from all over the world, as well as the Middle East. With 60 per cent of its landscape being hilly, chances are you may come across many scenic mountain top attractions that are once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Within all these, Kyoto holds a special place. If you are in the prefecture, chances are that the cultural capital of Japan will take you aback with surprises. No wonder then, it was the Imperial Capital until the year 1868. I spent two days visiting Buddhist shrines, Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens, and each spot holds a special meaning.
This Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the forested hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the pure waters. Drink from the temple's small, pure stream — its waters are said to provide numerous spiritual advantages, including longevity, success, and love. A wide wooden stage, located just outside the main hall, provides a stunning perspective of Kyoto and the breathtaking scenery around you. Another unmissable spot behind the temple is the Jishu Shrine, a shrine devoted to the deity of love and matchmaking. It is said that successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed brings luck in finding true love. Need a better reason to visit this tranquil place?
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto is home to numerous spectacular temples and this one surely adds to the list! The Fushimi Shrine is particularly well-known for the crimson Torii gate tunnel that leads to the main compound. Mount Inari, which is part of the temple grounds, is located at the foot of the shrine. The main walk to the summit of the mountain is a pilgrimage route, and you'll likely see dozens of little statues and torii gates as you walk up to the top. Hiking up and back takes some time and effort, but when combined with a visit to the shrine, can make for a fun day out. What’s more? You will be rewarded with a magnificent view of Kyoto from the summit of the mountain.
Kinkakuji Temple or the Golden Pavilion
The stunning Kinkakuji Temple, located in northern Kyoto, rests on the bank of a huge pond and is surrounded by lush trees and plants, giving it a sense of tranquillity. The primary draw of this temple is the Golden Pavilion, a three-story structure coated in gilded gold leaf situated on the edge of a tiny pond known as Kyko-chi, or mirror pond (The pavilion is best photographed from the opposite side of Kyōko-chi). The hillock also holds an age-old tea house that is reminiscent of how the shoguns carried on their daily social activities. After you’ve taken your photos, take a stroll around the area, which includes numerous lovely Japanese zen gardens and modest outdoor shrines. And if you are lucky enough for a clear day, you will even see the reflection of the palace in the water. This sight is considered to be lucky for the viewer.
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka
The historic cobblestone streets of Ichinenzaka, Ninenzaka, and Sannenzaka have thrived since ancient times. These sloping lanes are dotted with traditional Japanese-style houses that typify Kyoto, as well as numerous souvenir stores. These two hills lead to the iconic Kiyomizudera Temple which is also one of the city's primary attractions due to its stunning backdrop. Once you are here, you can’t help but take photos of this nostalgic scenery.
The shrine, which was built over 1,350 years ago is located between the famous Gion and Higashiyama areas, and is frequently visited by visitors strolling between the two districts. The main hall of the shrine combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into one structure. A dancing stage sits in front of it, with hundreds of lanterns that are illuminated in the nights. In exchange for a donation, each lantern contains the name of a local business. The shrine is also host to Kyoto’s biggest and famous festival, the Gion Masturi held in July every year.
Your trip to Kyoto remains incomplete if you have not ventured the Sagano Romantic train that runs between Arashiyama and Kameoka along the Hozugawa River. Its lovely, old-fashioned trains wind through the mountains at a leisurely speed, taking 30 minutes to complete the seven-km route, providing passengers with a scenic vista as they travel from Arashiyama through the wooded ravine and into rural Kameoka. The saga station also features a rent-a-cycle service, as well as Diorama Kyoto Japan — one of the country's greatest collections of model trains, featuring beautifully recreated miniature reproductions of Kyoto's historical monuments and neighbourhood scenes. If you have seen enough of Japan’s natural beauty, the night trip on Sagano will be forever etched in your memory.
If you need to satiate your hunger pangs, we suggest you head to one of the best tea houses in Kyoto. Located in the centre of Gion, the café delights you with Uji tea, tea confectionary, matcha parfaits, tea beverages and tea flavoured ice-creams. Don’t miss their renowned matcha parfait that is a wholesome goodness of matcha ice-cream, caramalised cream, mochi and salted biscuits. You can also buy tea souvenirs on your way out.