By Steven Ericson
Estimates say there are 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto. Regardless of precise numbers, many of Japan’s best-known temples and shrines reside in the former imperial capital. Images from many of these places grace guidebooks and brochures touting the beauty of Japan. Beyond temples and shrines, Kyoto has several other beautiful and interesting places worth visiting.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Known by many names, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a natural forest of bamboo in the northwestern part of the city. There are multiple paths through the forest and no set route visitors should follow. In 1996, the Ministry of Education named it one of the official 100 Soundscapes of Japan as a place for people to enjoy the sounds of nature. The grove is open all day with no admission fee, so people should visit early in the morning or at sunset to avoid the crowds.
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Saga-Arashiyama Station (Sagano Line)
No place is more closely associated with Japan’s bright red torii (gates) than Fushimi Inari-taisha. There are nearly 1,000 torii stretching over the path to the top of the mountain. Dedicated to the kami Inari, who is the deity associated with rice and agriculture, there are several statues of foxes around the complex. Foxes are messengers of Inari, so statues at the shrine typically depict foxes (kitsune) with scrolls around their necks or chaffs of rice in their mouths. It is head shrine of all Inari shrines throughout the country.
Shrine website: http://inari.jp/en/
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Inari Station (Nara Line)
Ginkaku-ji (a.k.a. Silver Pavilion)
Despite the translation of its name to the “Temple of the Silver Pavilion,” Ginkaku-ji is not covered in silver foil. The temple’s official name is Jishō-ji, which translates to “Temple of Shining Mercy.” Initially created as a retirement villa and garden for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the pavilion mimics Kinkaku-ji. Original plans called for silver foil to cover the exterior, but those plans were never fulfilled. After Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the complex became a Zen Buddhist temple. Famed landscape artist Sōami supposedly designed the gardens.
Temple website: https://www.shokoku-ji.jp/en/ginkakuji/
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Ginkakujimae Bus Stop; Ginkakuji-michi Bus Stop
Geishas (“person of the arts”) are a well-known symbol of Japan and the Gion District of Kyoto is the place most associated with this unique class of female entertainers. In the Kyoto dialect, these women are called geiko, which translates to “a woman of art.” The district is full of shops, teahouses, and restaurants. Visitors are apt to see geikos and maikos (geisha apprentices), but encouraged to be respectfully as these women travel between different restaurants and teahouses to entertain guests. Being entertained by a geiko can be very exclusive and expensive, so visitors with a more modest budget should consider attending a performance at the Gion Corner theater or exploring local tours.
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Gion Bus Stop
Kinkaku-ji (a.k.a. Golden Pavilion)
One of the city’s most aesthetically pleasing sights is Kinkaku-ji, which literally translates to “Temple of the Golden Pavilion.” However, the temple is officially called Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple). Built in 1397, Kinkaku-ji did not become a Zen Buddhist temple until 1408 following the death of shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who bought the property from the original owner’s family to create a mountain retreat. The current pavilion dates to 1955 after a novice monk burned it down in 1950. The top two stories of the pavilion are coated in pure gold leaf. The beauty of the pavilion is said to evoke paradise on earth and is part of UNESCO’s Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
Temple website: https://www.shokoku-ji.jp/en/kinkakuji/
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Kinkakujimachi Bus Stop
Covering approximately 32 acres, Kiyomizu-dera is a sprawling complex of thirty Buddhist buildings connected to the Kitahossō sect. Although established in 778, most buildings were destroyed and reconstructed many times with most current structures dating to 1633. Built into a cliff on the eastern edge of the city, it provides sweeping views of downtown from its veranda in front of the main hall. It is part of UNESCO’s Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.
Temple website: https://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Gojozaka Bus Stop
Nijō-jō (Nijo Castle)
Completed in 1626, Nijō Castle is a reminder of the Tokugawa shogunate’s power. Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered all feudal lords in western Japan to contribute to the construction of the castle, which served as the Kyoto resident of the shōguns. The site consists of the Ninomaru Palace, ruins of the Honmaru Palace, and two sets of fortifications. It is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which is a 17-property UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Castle website: https://nijo-jocastle.city.kyoto.lg.jp/?lang=en
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Horikawa Oike Bus Stop
Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba)
Visitors looking to see, and sample fresh food should head to Nishiki Market. It has served as “Kyoto’s kitchen” since 782 with over 100 shops. Shops sell a variety of items from fresh food like fruits and seafood to everyday items like Japanese hand towels (tenugui) and souvenirs.
Market website: http://www.kyoto-nishiki.or.jp/index.html (Japanese only)
Closest Station/Bus Stop(s): Shijō Station (Karasuma Line)