By Steve Laser and Craig Nicol reporting from Kyoto, Japan
The ancient capital of Japan is an incredibly beautiful place to visit any time of the year. Let’s take a closer look at some of the popular attractions including two of our favorites: Kiyomizu-dera and the Golden Temple.
Incredible scenery abounds at Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist Temple located near Mt. Otowa. Founded more than 1,200 years ago it’s registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto. Visitors dressed in brightly colored kimono add to the ambience making a visit unforgettable. Kimono rental shops, some hundreds of years old, can be found near the base of the temple and across the city.
Join us for a quick video tour of Kiyomizu-dera as we climb hundreds of steps and highlight the sights including the magnificent stage of the Main Hall.
We started training for our visit to Kiyomizu-dera well in advance by climbing stairs during our daily workout. The complex is spread out on the hillside and many of the buildings are separated by steep flights of stairs.
Our tech editor stands next to a huge Torii gate on the way to Kiyomizu. To make the journey more fun, we walked from our hotel near Kyoto Station to the temple, a journey that took about 90 minutes. (Taxi or bus rides to the area are encouraged for those who want to save time.)
The narrow streets leading up to the temple are reserved for foot traffic and lined with shops and restaurants. This is a great place to stop for refreshments before making the steeper climb to the main buildings.
Amazing beauty and intricate details make Kiyomizu a paradise for photographers. Kyoto enjoys a true four-season climate so it’s hot and humid in the summer and cold and often snowy in the winter. We like to go in the autumn when the weather is usually warm during the day and a little chilly at night.
Your editor stops for a photo near the pagoda. A spectacular vista of the city skyline can be seen in the background. Kiyomizu is an incredibly beautiful place that we try to visit whenever we’re in Kyoto.
The famous Kiyomizu Stage of the Main Hall is supported by 400-year-old logs assembled without nails. Walking onto the stage reveals breathtaking views of the mountainside. Afterwards, we walked down the trail below to take a photo of the pillars that support the stage.
On the way down from the Main Hall, we stopped at the Otowa Waterfall. Visitors can use the cups provided on long sticks to take a drink and make a wish.
Instead of carrying souvenirs up the stairs to the temple, we stop at the shops on the way back down. Souvenirs and gift items are beautifully presented and artfully wrapped in this shop. A wide array of gifts can be found in the shops.
Golden Temple Kinkaku-ji
The magnificent Golden Temple (Pavilion), or Kinkaku-ji, is another Kyoto monument on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The original structure dates to 1397 and the time of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, Shogun III. As the story goes, there were two major renovations to the original Kinkaku, in 1649 and 1906. The temple was completely rebuilt in 1955 to replace the original that was destroyed by fire in 1950. It’s said that the newest temple is a nearly exact replica adorned with thicker gold leaf.
Kinkaku-ji is incredibly beautiful and a major destination for visitors to Kyoto. Our video takes a closer look at the exterior of the pavilion and the surrounding pond and gardens.
The first floor of the temple is made of unpainted wood while the top two floors are plated with gold. A large pond that serves as a reflecting pool along with a beautiful garden makes this one of the most popular picture spots in Kyoto. While the temple’s interior is not open to the public, walking along the pathway around the pond offers a closer view.
The garden at Kinkaku-ji is another treasure of the site including a small shrine, a running spring, a waterfall and bridge. In the center of the Anmintaku pond (above) is a small pagoda.
Many visitors toss coins and make wishes at the site of these statues. Nearby is a teahouse called Sekka-tei and a small temple hall.
Souvenirs and mementoes can be purchased at the conclusion of a visit. We stopped to rest and enjoy green tea (matcha) ice cream from a concession stand before heading to our next destination in Kyoto.
Kyoto is filled with excellent restaurants yet one of the best places to visit when we’re in a hurry and just want a snack is Nishiki Market. With a history spanning more than 400 years, there’s something for everyone here. Narrow lanes that stretch on for blocks are filled with more than 100 shops offering prepared dishes and snacks along with the raw ingredients for those who want to cook at home.
While many of the sweet treats at Nishiki Market are made by hand, some shops speed up the process with devices like the anpan machine shown in our above video.
Can’t decide what to eat? Many of the shops offer free samples of their specialties including seafood, vegetarian dishes, pickles, tofu and more.
This shop had an amazing display of seafood making it tough for us to decide. We sampled sashimi that was so fresh and delicious it melted in our mouths.
From chestnuts to ice cream, or whatever your sweet-tooth desires, you’re likely to find it at Nishiki Market. We try to save the sweets for last before we depart to our hotel or another Kyoto attraction.
We love to eat unagi (fresh-water eel) in Japan. It was excellently prepared at this shop. Our editor devoured an entire portion without stopping for a drink.
Nishiki Market is surrounded by narrow streets, a typical sight in Kyoto. Many of the supplies and goods are delivered by small vans like this one that are easy to park.
As a major tourist destination in Japan, Kyoto is a very busy place. We’ve discovered areas off the tourist map that are less crowded including the banks of the Kamo (Kamogawa) River.
In this video, we go for a short walk along the bank of Kyoto’s Kamo River. It’s a great place to explore and admire the scenery.
Narrow bridges with single-lane traffic for cars and a separate path for pedestrians and bikes are common sights in Kyoto.
Here’s a much wider bridge filled with traffic on a busy day. While we enjoy walking around Kyoto, local buses offer a quicker way to travel around the city.
Pathways lead to the riverbank where locals and visitors alike come to relax. We walked along a trail by the water’s edge to admire the beauty of the area.
We discovered this pathway hidden below a street during a walk to the Golden Temple.
More adventures await visitors to Kyoto including the Imperial Palace, Heian Shrine and Nijo Castle. Visit the Kyoto City Official Travel Guide for more information when planning a trip to Kyoto.
Story, photos and videos © 2015 CarNichiWa.com