Kyoto was formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years. Home to many cultural and religious landmarks, Kyoto is also the cultural capital of Japan. Due to its historic value, Kyoto was spared from attacks during World War II, hence many of its temples and shrines are still beautifully preserved in current times.
With over 1,600 temples scattered all around Kyoto, it was hard choosing which ones to visit with limited time and budget. Here are my picks:
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
The Kinkaku-ji and its shimmering reflection in the calming waters of the pond is definitely one of Kyoto’s iconic sights. The temple was originally the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and he left instructions in his will to convert it to a Zen temple after his death. The golden structure we’re seeing is rebuilt in 1955 as the original one was destroyed in a fire. We were lucky to visit at a time when it wasn’t very crowded and could get a good view of the Kinkakuji from the opposite end.
Getting there: Take bus 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop. A faster way is to take to Kitaoji Station and take a bus (101, 102, 204, 205) to Kinkaku-ji.
Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
Inspired by the Golden Pavilion his grandfather built, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasu ordered the construction of the Ginkaku-ji as his retirement complex. Yoshimasu loved the arts and he played an important role in the rise of the Higashiyama Culture, famous for tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Noh drama and garden design.
Expecting to see a shimmery silver pavilion, I was surprised to find that the Pavilion has never been coated in silver. Turns out that it was a nickname to contrast it with the Golden Pavilion. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the building gives off a silvery appearance when moonlight falls on its exterior. It’s hard to ascertain that cos the temple closes early in the evening.
Getting there: Take 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station to Ginkaku-ji michi bus stop. You can reach Ginkakuji by foot via the Philosopher’s Path from Nanzenji.
Nanzenji is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. It is the headquarters of a branch of Rinzai Zen. The temple has a sprawling complex, with multiple sub-temples housed within it. Nanzenji was the retirement villa of Emperior Kameyama in the mid 13th century before it was converted into a Zen temple.
One is first greeted by the majestic Sanmon gate. I like Nanzenji because of its spacious temple complex, allowing space for exploration. The temple grounds are open to the public for free, but an admission fee is needed to enter the temple buildings, including the gate.
A feature that looked out of place in a Japanese temple complex is this large brick aqueduct that runs through the temple ground. Turns out that it was built during the Meiji Period to carry water and goods between Kyoto and Lake Biwa.
Getting there: A 10 minute walk from Keage station on the Tozai line. Alternatively, walk from Nanzenji-Eikando-mae bus stop (Take bus 5 from Kyoto Station, approx. 35 mins)
Nanzenji can also be reached from Ginkaku-ji via the Philosopher’s Path
One of the most famous sights in Kyoto, Kiyomizudera is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also a popular spot in Kyoto known for its gorgeous spring and autumn views. What’s impressive about the structure is that its main hall and the supporting wooden stage were built without the use of any nails.
On the temple complex is also the Jishu Shrine, which is dedicated the deity of love and matchmaking. Saw many young couples praying to the deity. There were also two stones placed apart and one will get lucky in love if the person successfully finds their way to the other stone with eyes closed.
Getting there: Take 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and alight at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Walk uphill for 10 mins. From Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Railway Line, it’s a 20 min walk.