Learn more about Japanese culture in the city of Kyoto, which had been the ancient imperial capital of Japan for hundreds of years from 794 to 1868. That’s over 1,000 years of history! It’s famous for numerous classical Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, gardens, imperial palaces, and rich culture.
See a Geisha or Maiko
Geisha are fabled for their hospitality and performance skills. You can also meet a younger Geisha-in-training, or a Maiko, and possibly even get a private session. Gion, in Southern Higashiyama, looks like a street ripped straight out of an old-time Samurai drama film. The narrow wooden houses on narrow lanes are pretty accurate representations of housing just a couple of generations back. And this area is where you’re most likely to run into a geisha strolling through the street on the way to a client.
Visit a Shrine
With over 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto, deciding on which shrines to visit can be overwhelming. Each one has its own unique experience and rich history. The Kamigamo Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in the world and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The “golden temple” is a serene and beautiful temple surrounded by a lake and rich greenery. This zen temple is wrapped almost entirely in gold leaf, including in the inside. It was built by a former shogun and promised as a temple after his passing.
This beautiful hilltop temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by cherry blossoms. It is supposed to be quite a magical place, and has the Jishu Shrine honoring the god of love. You can find true love by visiting this temple.
Walk the “Philosopher’s Path”
Lined with cherry trees, this canal in Northern Higashiyama is a beautiful sight during blossom season in the springtime. The 1 mile path between the Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji temples is perfect for a nice stroll. It’s called the Philosopher’s Path because philosopher Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945) was reported to have strolled the path as part of his daily meditations.
Along the way you can also stop off at several more temples including temple Honen-in. It’s free to stroll the path, but it’s not very close to any train station, though the easiest way to get around Kyoto is by taxi, so it’s encouraged to start at one temple and walk to the next.
Visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum
Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan, so it makes sense that a ton of manga and anime history exists here. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is the perfect destination for a chilly day in Kyoto. The museum features exhibitions looking at the role of manga in Japanese culture, and the museum has tons and tons of manga and graphic novels to see. It costs less than $10 USD to enter.
Check out the Ninja Museum
I visited the Ninja Museum in Kyoto and found it to be pretty entertaining. It was a really small museum, probably no more than 20 or 30 people could visit at one time. But it was really neat to see some old-fashion ninja clothing and get to practice with rubber ninja throwing weapons.
Tips for Visiting Kyoto
Be warned that during the busy season there are hundreds of thousands of other foreign travelers visiting Kyoto, and everything tends to be crowded. Going in an off season is highly recommended if you want to experience things on a more intimate level.