Kyoto, Japan Mar. 26 Sun 8:44AM
The Cultural Heart of Japan
Kyoto is the cultural and religious heart of Japan. Arguably it’s the most popular destination in Japan and one of the most popular in the world because it offers absolutely everything- from its natural splendor and vibrant seasons, to thousands of temples, shrines, and traditional gardens, and gourmet offerings that exemplify the beauty and simplicity of Japanese cuisine. Bustling, modern streetscapes are juxtaposed with serene temples and Zen gardens, and geisha still hurry along to evening appointments. Kyoto is the quintessential Japan experience, and it’s truly unique and unforgettable.
Kyoto became Japan’s capital in the 8th century and remained so for over 1000 years. During that time, Kyoto’s flourishing economy brought prosperity to the city in the form of intricately built shrines and temples, exquisite gardens, and fine examples of traditional Japanese architecture and design. Kyoto has also experienced wars between shogunate clans that have shaped Kyoto’s rich history. Vestiges from these times still remain scattered throughout the city in the shape of temples turned fortresses, and castles equipped with unique features to aid in protection during these unstable times.
Geisha in Arashiyama
Those who have been to Kyoto also know that the beauty of each of the four seasons in Kyoto must be mentioned. It is truly a dynamic city year round- plum and cherry blossoms burst to life from February to April, enveloping the city in a soft pink. In late spring and throughout summer, lively festivals bring the city to life. The shocking reds and yellows of autumn surround brightly colored temples and shrines, making for an incredibly vibrant backdrop to such a scenic city. Finally, winter snow blankets the city in powdery white, and all is peaceful.
Festivals also mark the passing of the seasons- in winter, thousands of people visit shrines to pray for good fortune in the new year, and bells are rung throughout the city in appeal to the gods. In spring, celebrations of the blossoms are marked with the traditional spring geisha dances. In summer, the Gion Festival fills the streets with parades of music, dancing, and portable shrines. Autumn brings brilliant colors lit up at night at temples and shrines around the city.
Kinkakuji, The Golden Pavillion
With thousands upon thousands of things to do, see, and eat, Kyoto can seem overwhelming at first. However, the city is manageable in size and has excellent public transportation that is geared towards visitors. Additionally, much of the city is very walkable, and there is ample opportunity to discover hidden gems, like back alleys that have been unchanged for generations, or tiny restaurants serving the most traditional of food to locals.
Along with endless sightseeing, Kyoto offers visitors a truly unique experience by offering a plethora of traditional Japanese-style inns, ryokan, many of which also have natural hot springs and locally sourced meals and Kyoto-style cuisine. The true experience of Japanese hospitality, simplicity, and attention to detail can possibly best be observed in ryokan. Unwinding in a ryokan after a day of exploring Kyoto is perhaps just as rewarding as experiencing Kyoto itself.
For all types of travelers, Kyoto’s multifaceted cityscape is worth the visit. Nature, culture, religion, and modern city life are combined unlike anywhere else in Japan, or even the rest of the world. Adventurers, nature lovers, history enthusiasts, and Japanese culture aficionados alike can all find theirs in Kyoto.