Kyoto is a city in the central part of the island of Honshu. Up until 1868, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. With temples, parks, bustling business districts, markets, from regal estates to the tightly-packed neighborhoods, Kyoto is one of the oldest and most famous Asian metropolises.
Shrines and Temples
Kinkaku-ji, officially named Rokuon-ji and also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. The garden complex is an excellent example of Muromachi period garden design. The Muromachi period is considered to be a classical age of Japanese garden design. It offers one of the most serene views and is oddly moving.
Ryōan-ji is a Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto. It belongs to the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden’s meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.
Saihō-ji is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple located in Matsuo, Nishikyō Ward. The temple, which is famed for its moss garden, is commonly referred to as “Koke-dera”, meaning “moss temple”, while the formal name is “Kōinzan Saihō-ji”. The famous moss garden of Saihō-ji is situated in the eastern temple grounds. Located in a grove, the garden is arranged as a circular promenade centered around Golden Pond.
Ginkaku-ji, officially named Jishō-ji, is a Zen temple in the Sakyo ward. It is one of the constructions that represent the Higashiyama Culture of Muromachi period. Today, Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden. It is enjoyed by walking along a circular route around its grounds, from which the gardens and buildings can be viewed.
Enryaku-ji is a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hiei in Ōtsu, overlooking Kyoto. It was founded during the early Heian period. Located in Kyoto’s eastern mountain range on Mount Hieizan, Enryakuji is one of the most important monasteries in Japanese history and the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Many influential monks studied at Enryakuji, including the founders of a number of later sects, such as the Pure Land (Jodo), Zen and Nichiren sects.
Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan’s Jōdo-shū Buddhist sect, located in the town of Eikandō. Eikando’s main buildings are built alongside the base of the hillside and are connected by wooden corridors. The first building that visitors enter is the Shakado (Hall of the historical Buddha) with a small rock garden and beautifully painted sliding doors.
Tō-ji is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect. It once had a partner, Sai-ji and, together, they stood alongside the Rashomon, gate to the Heian capital. A popular flea market is held on the 21st of each month at Toji Temple from the early morning hours until around 16:30 in the afternoon. The lively market is crowded with vendors on the plaza and in the park that surround the paid temple grounds.
Tenryū-ji —more formally known as Tenryū Shiseizen-ji —is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, located in Susukinobaba-chō, Ukyō Ward. Unlike the temple buildings, Tenryuji’s garden survived the centuries in its original form. Created by the famous garden designer Muso Soseki, who also designed the gardens of Kokedera and other important temples, the beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains.
Nijo Castle is a flatland castle located in Kyoto. The castle consists of two concentric rings of defensive walls, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari-taisha is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines. This stunning shrine complex was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake by the Hata family in the 8th century. As the role of agriculture diminished, deities were enrolled to ensure prosperity in business. Nowadays, the shrine is one of Japan’s most popular, and is the head shrine for some 30,000 Inari shrines scattered the length and breadth of Japan.
Kyoto National Museum
The Kyoto National Museum is one of the major art museums in Japan. The museum is located in Higashiyama Ward. The collections of the Kyoto National Museum focus on pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.
Kiyomizu-dera, officially Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
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