Top Attractions in the World Heritage City Kyoto - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Top Attractions in the World Heritage City Kyoto

A couple of weeks ago I got contacted by an American director who was going to come to Kyoto in order to hold a speech at Ritsumeikan University's symposium about motion capture at the Biwako campus this weekend. He was looking for someone who could show him around in Kyoto during his days here, and I decided to take some of my time to help him out. For two days my new friend Bo and me went all over Kyoto, visiting some of the most beautiful sights the World Heritage City has to offer.

The Golden Pavilion (金閣寺)

The first place we visited on our sightseeing trip was the world famous temple Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), also known as the Golden Pavilion. Although Kinkaku-ji now is considered a Zen Buddhist temple it was originally a villa until it was bough by the shogun in 1397, and only later converted into a Buddhist temple. The Kinkaku-ji complex has had a pretty rough history including both wars and fires. Last time Kinkaku-ji had to be rebuilt was after 1950, when the temple suffered total destruction after having been set on fire by a monk. As a result of this, the current version of the Golden Pavilion actually only dates back to 1955.

How to get there: The easiest way to get to the Golden Pavilion from Kyoto Station is to take bus nr. 101 or 205. The bus costs 220 yen for adults and 110 yen for kids, and it takes you there in about 40 minutes.
Admission fee: 400 yen
Picture I took of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) last year, when the vegetation was a bit greener.. :p
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)
You can try and toss your coins, and see if you are lucky.. 
One of the ponds in the Kinkaku-ji complex
Another detail from the pond
Japanese stone lantern 
In addition to good luck charms (and some "remove bad luck" charms.. xP) they also sell a vide range of other souvenirs at the site. 
..And of course, being a temple complex, there are also places where the religious visitors can pray.

Ryoan-ji (龍安寺)

Our second destination was the Ryoan-ji temple, which is within a short walks distance from the Golden Pavillion. The name of this temple literarily means dragon peace temple, and this temple is mainly known because of its magnificent stone garden. Just like the Golden Pavilion this temple is also considered a World Heritage site. In addition to the stone garden, Ryoan-ji also has a beautiful traditional Japanese garden, although I guess January unfortunately is a little bit off-season for that.. Anyway, Ryoan-ji is the perfect place if you need to sit down and relax for a little while; I'm pretty sure I could sit for hours just looking at that stone garden.. Haha..

How to get there: From Kyoto Station you can take bus nr 59 getting of at Ryoanji-mae (竜安寺前), or alternatively to Ritsumeikan University (立命館大学) and walk from there (+/- 5 min.). A buss fare costs 220 yen for adults, and 110 for children. Also, if you are combining the trip with a visit to the Golden Pavilion it should not take more that about 15 minutes to walk from there, or alternatively you can take a taxi.
Admission fee: 500 yen.

The pond in front of Ryoan-ji temple

The famous stone garden of Ryoan-ji has 15 boulders in it, but it is impossible to see more than 14 at a time
A bit of cheating.. This picture was taken during one of my previous visits to Ryoan-ji, when it was a bit greener..
Entrance to the main temple by the stone garden
Golden wall paintings. This picture is also from a previous visit, I suppose they might be keeping these in a dryer place when it's off season..
Roof of one of the temple buildings

The famous tsukubai (蹲い) showing the signs 召 (I), 唯 (only), 足 (sufficient) and 知 (know). This inscription has been interpreted to mean "what one has is all one need"
A lady writing calligraphy inside Ryoan-ji temple 
For those interested in buying calligraphy Ryoan-ji has a lot to offer.
Entering Ryoan-ji temple

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社)

The second day of our sightseeing Bo and I visited one of my favorite shrines in Japan: the Fushimi Inari Taisha. This shrine dates back to 711, and is considered the head of the Inari shrines which consists of around 32,000 sub-shrines all over Japan. It is not a surprise that this shrine complex also is on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Inari is considered not only the god of rice, but is also a god that brings along good luck and fortune for businesses. Thus, a lot of companies donate toori (red gates) to the shrine, and these gates then gets the name of the company inscribed on their backside. 

How to get there: From Kyoto Station you simply go by train two stops down the JR Nara line to Inari (稲荷), and the train costs 140 yen one way.
Admission fee: Nothing!
When entering the Fushimi Inari complex you can already see the first big toori.
The fox is used as a symbol for the Inari shrines, and the animal is believed to be messengers bringing good luck. 
One of the smaller shrines
Fushimi Inari Jinja is famous for its around 1300 toori gates. 
..and when you turn around you can see signs stating the age of the toori and not to mention the donator.
Toori dating back to the heisei-period
Japanese shrines usually have Ema (絵馬) where you can write about your wishes for the future etc. The ema at Fushimi Inari are however quite significant with their shape of a fox's head.
More toori from Fukshimi Inari Taisha
For people interested in buying their own toori they have a lot of different sizes to choose from, ranging from approximately  2270 to 16.900 dollars each.
A miniature toori is however probably buyable for a more reasonable prize

Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)

The last temple we visited was the Kiyomizu-dera (which can be translated to Clear Water temple), a UNESCO World Heritage site famous among other things for its beautiful view of Kyoto. It is a Buddhist temple dating back to 778, but most of the buildings were totally rebuilt in 1633 by the 3rd shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa. Amazingly enough the structures are built without the use of a single nail. Another "funny" fact about the temple is that people used to believe that surviving a jump from the balcony would mean that one got a wish granted, and as a result of this 234 jumps were recorded during the Edo-period. Apparently about 85% of the jumpers did survive the 13 meter jump thanks to the cushioning vegetation, but there haven't been any jumping for years since the practice was forbidden in 1872 by the Meiji government.

How to get there: Take bus nr. 100 or 206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi (清水道). From here you have you can walk or take the taxi up the hill in order to get to the temple complex.
Admission fee: 300 yen (for the main hall and balcony)
A monk by the entrance to the Kiyomizu-dera complex
Girls in their kimonos at Kiyomizu-dera
Every year they have light-ups at Kiyomizu-dera during autumn and spring, and this is a picture from my visit in 2010. 
Kiyomizu-dera: The view of the famous balcony with Kyoto in the background
On the way to Kiyomizu-dera you pass a lot of small cute shops. In some of them you can even try Kyoto's famous Yatsubashi (a type of Japanese confectionery/wagashi) for free.
One of the shops on the way to Kiyomizu-dera

We did manage to see a lot in these two days, however Kyoto do have a lot more to offer for those who want to check out this amazing city. Having lived here for one and a half year there are still a lot of places I have not seen yet, and I doubt I will have the chance to see all there is to see. But that is one of the charming things about Kyoto; there is always something interesting to discover. Finally, I have added a picture I took of a map showing different famous sites in Kyoto. Pretty, isn't it? :)
Map showing attractions in Kyoto (photo taken in Fushimi Inari Taisha)
Anyway, after having spent so much time sightseeing I'm kinda behind on my studies.. Better continuing working on my last report for this semester! Only one week left until spring break!!

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Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave me a comment or question below!
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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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  1. Wow! This post is huge! You've taken a lot of wonderful photos as well =) There certainly are a lot of interesting angles and motifs.

    In particular, I very much liked the one with Kiyomizu-dera. Maybe because it's not the typical picture of the temple towering over the forest with either pink sakura-blossoms or autumn colored leaves. There's a certain gloomy feeling, with the grey sky and leafless trees. In a good way, of course... :)

  2. Thanks Jostein, I'm glad you liked the photos! This post really turned out a bit longer than I had originally planned, just had so many pictures to post:)

    It's true, one can really get some good pictures during the winter season as well. It was a rainy day, which also made it possible to get pictures without crowds of people in them ^^ haha..

  3. Yeah, good point! Crowds of people are hard to avoid when visiting tourist attractions =)


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A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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