Tokyo and its Surroundings
Former capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, Kyoto is today the cultural capital of the country.
With its 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, Kyoto is one of the cities in the world with the richest historical heritage. The Americans had initially chosen it as the target to drop the atomic bomb but thanks to its historical importance the city was spared and Hiroshima chosen in its place.
The city has known many disasters: fires, earthquakes and wars but was always rebuilt identically. Today the modern city and the traditional city merge perfectly into each other. A stone's throw from the commercial arteries, you can find the serenity of nature and temples.
Kyoto is a bit like Disneyland, there is so much to see that you can never go around it and you never regret buying your camera. With its temples, palaces, museums and gardens, the city has something to retain tourists for a long time. Here is a small presentation of some unmissable places.
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)
Arguably the most famous building in Kyoto. If you can only visit one thing then it must be this Zen temple.
Built in 1397, the Golden Pavilion rises over three floors, each of which represents a different architectural style (Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi). The walls of the 2nd and 3rd floors are, outside and inside, completely covered with a thin layer of gold. It is unfortunately impossible to enter the building, many tourists will have to be content to observe the pavilion and its magnificent golden reflection in the mirror lake from the outside. The garden which surrounds the palace is magnificent in all seasons, whether in bloom or under the snow.
In 1950 the pavilion was burnt down by a young Buddhist monk and completely rebuilt thereafter.
Note that there is also a superb silver pavilion (Ginkakuji) which, contrary to what one might think, is not covered with silver.
Kiyomizu Dera (“Temple of Pure Water”)
This Buddhist temple is one of the most famous and most visited temples in Japan. Built in 798 (and rebuilt in 1633) in honor of the goddess of mercy with eleven faces (Jûichimen kannon), it is known for its enormous wooden terrace supported by 139 large pillars of about twenty meters. It has a three-story pagoda, a source of pure water and a magnificent panorama. The negative point is that there are too many visitors, difficult to enjoy the serenity of the place in these conditions.
Heian Jingu (shrine of peace and quiet)
This temple was built in 1895 to mark the 1100 years of the city of Kyoto. The shrine is dedicated to the first and last Emperors who reigned from Kyoto (Emperor Kammu and Emperor Komei). It has eight buildings of a bright orange color, the spiritual color of Buddhism.
Heian Shrine has a garden famous for its lotus bloom in late August.
The Big Buddha of Kyoto (Daibutsu)
Less famous than the great Buddha of Kamakura (Tokyo), the Buddha of Kyoto is no less impressive because of its size and its pure white color. It is possible to go inside the statue to admire representations of Buddhist deities but it is especially the outside that is worth a look
In front of the Buddha one can see burning incense (osenko) in a large perfume burner and soak up the smoke which is renowned for its healing properties.
The Big Buddha is much less visited by tourists than other more famous shrines like the Golden Pavilion or the Temple of Pure Water. Certainly it is not an unmissable place but it is the kind of place where you can still appreciate the tranquility that reigns there.
There is a typical Kyoto cuisine called “Kyô-ryori”. Among the city's specialties, there is notably Tofu (slightly fermented soybean paste).
Did you know?
* When Emperor Kammu decided to transfer his capital from Heijo (now Nara), he first chose Nagaoka in 784 but a series of misfortunes fell on the city which will only remain capital for ten years. . Among these bad omen are the assassination of the controller of the works of the Emperor, the death of the Empress and the appearance of a mysterious disease which decimated the imperial court. Also, shortly after the Emperor's arrival in his new capital, a mudslide demolished the main gate of his palace and Nagaoka's weak point was discovered.
* The kana (hiragana - katakana) have spread to Japan from Kyoto.