Kyoto Tourist Attractions
Top Tourist Attractions in Kyoto
The city of Kyoto lies, surrounded by hills, in central Honshu, near the southwest end of Lake Biwa. Occupying an area of more than 230sq.mi/ 600sq.km in the south facing basin between the rivers Katsura to the west and Kamo to the east, it is Japan's fifth largest city, chief town of Kyoto prefecture and the educational hub of western Japan, with several universities and higher educational establishments.
Although it is one of Japan's great tourist Meccas, attracting more than ten million visitors every year, it has preserved much of the atmosphere of the past, having been the only one of Japan's major cities to escape damage during the Second World War. The climate of the Kyoto area shows marked differences between the seasons, with hot dry summers and relatively cold winters.For almost 1,100 years, from 794 to 1868, Kyoto was the residence of the Emperor and in consequence Japan's principal cultural center, where architecture, sculpture, painting and many other arts achieved a magnificent flowering. At an early stage the arts came under strong Buddhist influence, and as a result many of the surviving works of art are to be found in the old temples. In our own day Kyoto continues to play a dominant part in Japanese religion: thirty of the city's temples are centers of various Buddhist sects, and in addition there are some 200 Shinto shrines within the city limits.
The Nijo Castle, complete with walls, towers, and moat, was built in 1603 and later served as the seat of government. The complex has several buildings and contains significant works of art.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The original Kyoto Imperial Palace was built in 794 and was replaced several times after destruction by fire. The present building was constructed in 1855. Enthronement of a new emperor and other state ceremonies are still held there. The palace can be visited only on guided tours held by the Imperial Household Agency
Opening hours: Jan 6 to May 13: Closed: Sun, Sat
May 18 to Dec 24: Closed: Sun, Sat
May 18 to Dec 24: Closed: Sun, Sat
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Children should be accompanied by adult (20 years old or over). Groups must be smaller than 9 per tour. (Larger groups must have separate tour times). English tours are currently held twice a day on weekdays and on some Saturdays.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji (or the Golden Pavilion) was built in the 14th century to serve as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The three-storey temple has gold leaf on the the top two stories. There is a lovely garden around the Golden Pavilion.
The Kiyomizu Temple, which like the Chion-in Temple, is in the east part of the city, is situated on a hill up which runs a road known as "Tea-pot lane" (good porcelain). The Temple was founded in 790 and is dedicated to the eleven-headed Kannon. (The statue of her is a protected monument.) The present buildings were erected after 1633 in the period of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. They stand mainly on a rocky outcrop above the Otowa Waterfall. The terrace of the main hall makes a particularly strong impression. It rests on 95ft (30m) tall pillars with five rows of cross-beams. It is used as a stage for temple dances and ceremonies, and from it there is a wonderful view over the city. There is a Japanese saying, which defines foolhardiness as jumping down from the terrace of Kiyomizu Temple.
Sanjusangen-do Temple (Rengyoin Temple)
Sanjusangen-do, the "Temple of the 33 Niches", takes its name from the way it is built. Its façade is divided into 33 (sanjusan) niches (gen), to reflect the belief that Kannon, the goddess of compassion, could take on 33 different personifications.The Temple was originally built in 1164. The present building was put up in 1266, after a fire. In days gone by archery competitions used to be held in the Temple grounds, as is still shown clearly by the holes in the pillars and timbers.The most important work of art in the Temple is the "Kannon with a Thousand Hands". This statue, which is 10ft (3.30m) high, dates from the 13th C. On each side of it are 500 standing figures of Kannon.In the passage behind it there are further sculptures - 28 "celestial auxiliaries", spirits who are subordinate to Kannon.
Kyoto National Museum
The National Museum was established in 1897, with three departments (history, art and applied arts).
Address: 527 Chayamachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kansai 605-0931, Japan
Opening hours: 9:30am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Entrance fee in JPY: Adult ¥420.00, Group discounts ¥210.00, Students ¥130.00, Senior over 70 FREE, Disabled FREE, Child 12 & under FREE
Useful tips: Last admission 4:30pm. Free admission on second and fourth Saturday of each month. Group discount available for 20 or more.
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Transit: Bus 206 or 208
The Yasaka Shrine (or Gion Shrine) is dedicated to the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, his wife Inadahime and their sons. The present buildings, erected in 1654, were modeled on the original architecture. To the south of the main shrine, which is roofed with cedar-wood shingles, stands a stone torii 30ft/ 90m high. Among the art treasures possessed by the shrine are wooden koma-inu figures (lion-like animals) by the well-known sculptor Unkei. The Gion-matsuri, celebrated in July, is one of the great Japanese festivals.
The Kodaiji Temple was built in 1606 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's widow. The Founder's Hall (Kaisando) is decorated with pictures of the Kano school. The nearby funerary shrine (1606) has fine lacquer work (Tatamakie). The two small pavilions on higher ground came from Fushimi Castle. There is a beautiful landscaped garden laid out by Kobori Enshu.
Sanjusangendo Hall is a Japanese temple featuring 1,001 wooden statues of the thousand-handed Kannon of Mercy. The figures were carved from Japanese cypress in the 12th and 13th centuries. The hall is one of the longest wooden buildings in Japan.
Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Hall
Kawai Memorial Hall displays the works of Kanjiro Kawai, a distinguished potter, with examples of folk art, ceramics and his kiln.
The Nishi-Honganji Temple in Kyoto is an exquisite Buddhist structure containing impressive statues from various time periods.
Home to numerous works of art, Higashi-Honganji Temple allows visitors to freely visit the Founder's Hall and the main Cult Hall. The Founder's Hall features large wooden columns and is entered by a two-story gate.
Toji Temple was founded in 794 as a guardian temple for Kyoto. It was one of only two great temples allowed in the city after the capital was moved from Nara to escape the meddlesome Buddhist clergy.The Lecture Hall contains 21 images representing a Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism) mandala. The Main Hall (Kondo) contains statues depicting the Takushi (Healing Buddha) trinity. The southern part of the garden has the five-story pagoda which, despite having burnt down five times, was rebuilt in 1643 and is now the highest pagoda in Japan.
The permanent display produces 3-D scenes from the 'Tale of Genji,' until now experienced only in writing or illustrations. Life-size mannequins in period dress with all the adornments, can be seen among period furnishings.
Address: 42 Sumiyoshi-cho, Nishinakasuji, Rokujo-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kansai 600-8468, Japan
Opening hours: Jan 7 to May 31: 9am-5pm; Closed: Sun
Jun 20 to Dec 15: 9am-5pm; Closed: Sun
Jun 20 to Dec 15: 9am-5pm; Closed: Sun
Entrance fee in JPY: Adult ¥400.00, Group discounts ¥350.00, Disabled ¥300.00, Child 12 & under ¥200.00
Useful tips: Last admission at 4:30pm.
Facilities: Gift shop
Typical Visit: 15 minutes
Kikokutei Shosei-en Garden
The garden borrows the scenery of the Higashiyama mountains. Such trees as plum trees, cherry trees, wisteria and maples add seasonal colors to the garden. The 17th C garden was laid out by Ishikawa Jozan and Kobori Enshu.
Mount Hiei (2,782ft/ 848m), northeast of Kyoto, is an hour's bus ride from the city center, and can also be reached by rail (Keifuku-Eizen private line to Yase-yuen). From the Yase-yuen Station a cableway runs up to the summit in two stages. Near the upper station of the cableway, at Shimeigatake, are a viewpoint with a revolving tower (views of Kyoto and Lake Biwa), a natural history museum and a botanic garden.
The Enryakuji Temple was once one of the mightiest temples in Japan. Founded in 788, at the behest of the Emperor Kammu, by a Buddha priest named Saicho (762-822). The temple belonged to a family which had come to Japan from China, after Saicho's return from a stay in China. The site of the temple, lying northeast of the city, was selected in order to ward off evil spirits coming from that direction. The growing political influence of the increasingly numerous monks, however, soon presented a threat to Kyoto, and accordingly Oda Nobunaga felt it necessary to destroy the temple. Although it was rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and enlarged by Tokugawa Iemitsu the temple never recovered any degree of secular power.
Shugaku-in Rikyu Imperial Villa
Daitoku-ji Temple is an important temple of the Rinzai sect, consisting of 22 buildings. The Zen gardens, based on gardens from Chinese paintings, are of particular note.
The Koryuji Temple or Uzumasa-dera was founded by Hata Kawakatsu in 622, but the present buildings are later. The Lecture Hall, the second oldest building (1165) in Kyoto, contains three old statues: in the center a seated figure of Buddha, flanked by figures of the Thousand-Handed Kannon and Fukukenjaku-Kannon. In the rear hall (Taishi-do, 1720) is a wooden statue of Shotoku-taishi, probably a self-portrait (606).An octagonal hall, the Keigu-in or Hakkaku-do (1251), in the northwest part of the temple precinct, contains a statue of the 16 year old Shotoku-taishi and figures of Nyoirin-Kannon (presented by a king of Korea) and Amida. There is also some fine sculpture in the temple museum (Reiho-kan), including wooden statues of the Yakushi-nyorai (864) and Miroku-bosatsu (the oldest work of sculpture in Kyoto, dating from the 6th-7th C; said to be by Shotoku).
The Ninnaji Temple, originally the Omuro Palace (begun in 886). After the abdication of the Emperor Uda (9th C) the palace became a temple of which Uda was the first Abbot. The present buildings date from the first half of the 17th C. To the right of the Middle Gate is a five-story pagoda 108ft/33m high. The main hall contains a wooden statue of Amida. The temple precinct with its numerous cherry trees is a magnificent sight in the cherry-blossom season (April).
The Myoshinji Temple is the principal temple of the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect, which has many subordinate temples.The temple was built in 1337 on the site of an earlier residence of the Emperor Hanazono. To the west of the Buddha Hall is a belltower with a bell cast in 698. The Buddha Hall itself (Butsuden) contains a statue of Shakyamuni. The ceiling paintings in the Lecture Hall (Hatto) are by Kano Tanyu. To the east the Gyokuho-in contains a likeness of Hanazono. To the west of the priests' lodgings are a number of smaller buildings, including the Reiun-in (also known as the Motonobu Temple), with many paintings by Kano Motonobu. The Tenkuyan Temple contains works by Kano Sanraku, while the Kaifuku-in has caricatural pictures by Kano Tanyu on the wall screens.
North of the city by a little lake stands the delightful Golden Pavilion (kinkakuji) which in 1955 was restored in the style of the original building, dating from 1397, which had been burnt down. The three stories are of different periods. Their designs are, however, in perfect harmony. The roof is crowned by a bronze phoenix.The pavilion takes its name from the gold leaf covering its exterior walls. As well as the statues of Kannon, etc, the mural paintings are particularly noteworthy.In the park of this Buddhist temple complex - it belongs to the Rinzai sect - there is also a little teahouse.
The Ryoanji Temple stands in the north part of the city. It was founded in 1473 and belongs to the Rinzai sect. It is particularly worth a visit on account of its Zen stone garden, which is renowned far beyond the confines of Kyoto as a place for meditation. The patterning created by the groups of rocks of various sizes is conducive to meditation of every kind. The rocks which are placed on smooth raked expanses of ground could, for instance, be mountains emerging from the clouds, islands in the sea or elements of a picture.
The Byodoin Temple, a characteristic example of the temple architecture of the Heian period. The site was originally occupied by a country residence which belonged to Minamoto Toru, Fujiwara-no-Michinaga and Yorimichi. In 1052 Yorimichi made over the site for the building of a temple, and the main hall, Hoo-do (also known as the Phoenix Hall), was constructed in the following year. On the gable ends are two bronze phoenixes. The interior decoration (Heian period), much damaged, has been partly restored. The temple contains works by the 11th C artist Takuma Tamenari an imposing gilded figure of Amida (by Jocho, 11th C). The altar and ceiling are inlaid with bronze and mother-of-pearl, but of the ceiling paintings of the 25 Bosatsus little now survives. Adjoining is the Kannon-do, a hall situated directly above the river and accordingly also known as the Tsuridono ("Fishing Hall"). Close by is a monument to Minamoto Yorimasa (1104-80), who took his own life here after suffering defeat at the hands of the Taira clan; his tomb is in the Saisho-in, behind the Byodo-in.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
Fushimi-Inari Shrine is much frequented by merchants and tradesmen who pray for prosperity. One of the greatest shrines in Japan, founded in 711, is dedicated to the goddess of rice-growing, Ukanomitama-no-mikoto. The main building (1499) is in typical Momoyama style. A notable feature is the 21/2 mi/ 4km long avenue of red torii presented by worshippers. Here, too, are many sculptures of foxes (which are reputed to be messengers of the gods).
The Mampukuji Temple, the principal temple of the Obaku sect was founded in 1661 by a Chinese priest, Ingen. The Main Hall (Daiyuho-den) is built of Thai teak. In the Lecture Hall (Hatto) which lies beyond it are preserved the 60,000 wooden blocks with which the complete edition of the Obaku Sutras was printed in the 17th C.
The Tofukuji Temple of the Rinzai sect was founded in 1236. The 13th C gate (Sammon) has sculpture attributed to Jocho (d. 1057), and the ceiling paintings are believed to be by Mincho (1352-1431) and his pupil Kandensu. In the extensive gardens are the Founder's Hall (with a portrait of the founder) and the Main Hall (burned down in 1882, rebuilt 1932). Among the temple's treasures is a picture scroll (39ft/ 11.9m by 26ft/ 7.9m) by Mincho depicting Buddha's entrance into Nirvana (shown only on March 15).
The Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa was built in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Villa is a jewel, both for its architecture and magnificent Japanese gardens.
Saihoji Temple, of the Rinzai sect, was probably founded in the 12th C and rebuilt in 1339 by a priest named Muso-kokushi, who was also a notable landscape gardener. In the lower part of the Zen garden surrounding the temple are a lake with a much-indented shoreline and a teahouse, which probably dates from the Momo-yama period. The garden is particularly noted for the 40 different species of moss, which have earned it the name of the Kokedera ("Moss Temple"). In the face of the increasing numbers of visitors it has been found necessary to lay down a limit of 200 people a day, and accordingly prospective visitors must make written application at least three months in advance.
Saihoji Temple is said to have been founded by Priest Gyoki during the Nara Period and restored in 1339 by Zen Mater Muso Kokushi, who was known for his landscape gardening.Known as the Moss Garden, since it is covered with a thick carpet of 120 species of moss. There are two types of gardens - a dry landscape garden comprising only rocks and sand, and the "circling a pond" style garden with a pond in the shape of the Chinese character of "s".
The Daigoji Temple of the Shingon sect, built by a priest named Shobo in 874 as one of two centers of the ascetic Shugendo doctrine. Notable among the temple buildings, some of which are very ancient, is the five-story pagoda, one of the oldest structures in Kyoto (951).
Adjoining the Daigoji is the Sampo-in Temple, principal temple of the Daigo school of the Shingon sect. Built in the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, this contains a fine collection of paintings and calligraphy and has a mural-painting by Kano Sanraku. The garden (16th C) is particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom season.
Established in 876 as a temple, it is located adjacent to the Ozawa pond. In the 1600s, Emperor Saga's imperial detached villa, Saga Palace, was taken apart and reassembled here. Noteworthy are the fusuma painted by Sanraku Kano with the flower motifs. Daikaku-ji is well known for its Heian era garden, it is among the oldest gardens in Kyoto. It is the home base for ikebana's Saga Goryu flower-arranging school.
The Tenryuji Temple is the principal temple of the Tenryuji school of the Rinzai sect, founded in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji, the first Ashikaga Shogun, in memory of the Emperor Godaigo. The Zen garden behind the priests' lodgings was laid out by Muso-Kokushi, first Abbot of the temple, in the 14th C. The present buildings date from about 1900.
"Togetsu-kyo" literally means the bridge which the moon crosses. The river running above the bride is named the Katsura river and below is the Ooi river. River cruises are available and are a delight, especially during spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
More Kyoto Pictures
Map of Kyoto Attractions