For this week’s Exploring Japan, we go to the Kansai area with the old capital Kyoto.
Kyoto is situated in western Japan, with a small coastline facing the Sea of Japan, though the majority of people live in the south near Osaka. It has a population of 2,633,428. The capital city is Kyoto. The 5 largest cities are:
- Kyoto (1,473,746)
- Uji (189,929)
- Kameoka (92,889)
- Maizuru (88,669)
- Joyo (80,037)
The overall population is remaining quite stable for both the prefecture and the cities.
Nijo Castle in Kyoto was the Tokugawa Shogun residence until they moved to Edo. The original castle burned down, but Ninomaru Palace now exists, and it seems to be quite impressive.
Fushimi Castle in Kyoto was to be a retirement castle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, it burned down, and was later rebuilt and then dismantled. It was finally rebuilt again in 1964.
Fukuchiyama Castle in Fukuchiyama is a recent reconstruction. It’s now a local history museum.
Shoryuji Castle in Nagaokakyo has a few buildings on compact grounds. The grounds were reconstructed about 20 years ago.
The only major team in Kyoto is Kyoto Sanga F.C. soccer team in J-League division 2.
Things to see and do
There is an extensive number of things to see in Kyoto. I’d love to cover it all, but that would result in a very long post. Kyoto is famous for being the old capital, and as such, it is a very historic city with an incredible wealth of historic places. Kyoto was untouched during World War II, so almost everything is original.
Kyoto, the old capital, has 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are: Kinkakuji temple, which is the Golden Pavilion; Ryoanji temple, which has an amazing zen garden; the beautiful and extensive Ninnaji temple; Kozanji temple, famous for its autumn foliage; the beautiful red Shimogamo Shrine; the big and beautiful Kamigamo Shrine; Nijo Castle (see above); Nishi Honganji temple is an impressive-looking temple; Toji temple with the tallest pagoda in Japan; Kiyomizu-dera temple, the hillside temple that was built with no nails; Ginkakuji temple, often known as the Silver Pavilion; Tenryuji temple, with its beautiful grounds, destroyed or severely damaged 9 times, but always rebuilt; Saihoji temple with its beautiful moss garden; and Daigoji temple, with its five-storey pagoda. In central Kyoto, you can see the following: Nijo Jinya (samurai house), The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto International Manga Museum, Higashi Honganji (with the largest wooden building in the world), Shoseien Garden, Kyoto Tower (with a good city view), Bukkoji temple, Mibudera temple, Shinsenen Garden, Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, and of course the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Western Kyoto has the following: Okochi Sanso, Nonomiya Shrine, Iwatayama Monkey Park, Otagi Nenbutsuji temple, Daikakuji temple, Adashino Nenbutsuji temple, Gioji temple, Jojakkoji temple, Nison-in temple, Horinji temple, Koryuji temple, Toei Movie Village (they filmed many samurai films here), Katsura Imperial Villa, Umenomiya Shrine, and Suzumushi-dera temple. On the east side are the following: Mount Daimonji, Sanjusangendo temple, Kyoto National Museum, Yogen-in temple, Heian Shrine (has a beautiful garden), Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, Yoshida Shrine (holds a famous Setsubun Festival), Kyoto City Zoo, Hosomi Art Museum, Maruyama Park (great for cherry blossoms), Kodaiji temple, Chion-in temple (with a huge gate), Shoren-in temple, Ryozen Kannon Statue, Ryozen History Museum (about the Meiji period), Ryozen Gokoku Shrine (dedicated to the war dead), the Gion district with its traditional buildings, Yasaka Shrine (known for the Gion Festival), Kenninji temple, Honenji temple, Anrakuji temple, Kounji temple, Eikando temple, Nanzenji temple (with a 2-storey gate and aqueduct). In the north, you can find: Daitokuji temple (big, with a beautiful garden), Imamiya Shrine, Hirano Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Myoshinji temple, Jingoji temple, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Entsuji temple, Myomanji temple, Shisendo temple, Jakko-in temple, Sanzen-in temple, Raigo-in temple, Amidaji temple, Shorin-in temple, and Hosen-in temple. Finally, in the south, you can see the following: Fushimi Inari Taisha (a very famous Inari shrine with hundreds of red gates), Tofukuji temple (with a beautiful garden), Jonangu Shrine, Zuishin-in temple, Kajuji temple, Oharano Shrine, Shoboji temple, Shojiji temple, and Yoshiminedera temple. And of course, a lot of people want to see Geisha in Kyoto. In the far northern part of Kyoto, you can also see the Kuramadera temple, and the Kurama Fire Festival.
Uji, the second largest city, is right next to Kyoto and also has several historic sites, including a couple UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include Byodo-in temple, which is known for the Phoenix Hall. This building is on the 10 yen coin. Also, the Ujigami Shrine is on the list. It’s the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan. Next to it is the Uji Shrine. For literature fans, The Tale of Genji Museum is in Uji. Koshoji temple has a long tree-lined walk to the main temple. Mimurotoji temple is well-known for its flowers and gardens. Manpukuji temple was built with a Ming Dynasty style. Amagase Dam provides great views. Uji is the tea capital of Japan, so the tea ceremony is very famous here, as is the Tea Festival. You can also watch cormorant fishing. Mt. Buttoko offers great views of the area.
In Fukuchiyama, apart from the castle, there are some things to see. You can see some art at the Fukuchiyama City Sato Taisei Memorial Art Museum. If you like Japanese demons, or oni, you can see the Oni Exchange Museum. Also available to see are Enman-in temple and the Fukuchiyama Zoo.
Joyo city has something that might interest some people. That’s the Aodani Ume Grove, which contains 10,000 ume (Japanese apricot) trees.
Kyoto is very well-known for matcha, which is green tea. There are many ways to enjoy matcha, including drinking it, and the very popular matcha ice cream. Also popular is yatsuhachi, a snack originally made with cinnamon, but also flavoured in a variety of ways, including strawberry, and of course matcha. But probably one of the biggest things is kaiseki ryori. This is traditional Japanese cooking, and people in Kyoto are very proud of it. However, people from outside of Kyoto tend to say it’s rather bland.
Have you visited Kyoto? Please leave a comment with your recommendations!