One of Japan's most historic and beautiful cities is the fascinating Kyoto. Similar to many other Japanese cities, it has a wide array of intriguing streets, plenty of local restaurants with unique dishes, brightly lit shopping arcades, and intricately embellished temples with overlooks of the city. However, Kyoto goes above and beyond both with the architecture and the cultural aspects. Here some of the Japanese traditions remain a part of daily life and are certainly worth spending a few days to explore.
Geisha's are the traditional Japanese performers that entertain male customers with music, dance, and conversation. There is a common misconception that they are prostitutes, but they are actually just performers and the term literally means entertainer or preforming artist. It is rather expensive to hire their companionship for an evening and quite rare to see them out outside of the hanamachi which is the district that all the geisha houses are located. Kyoto is one of the few remaining places it is still possible to witness this aspect of the culture and see the geishas though walking around in in their ornate kimonos with the classic mask-like white makeup and elaborate combs.
Kinkaku-ji is a popular Zen Buddhist temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. This striking temple is one of Japan's most famous as even its reflection in the mirror pond dazzles visitors on sunny days. The temple was built in 1397 as a residence but converted years later into a temple. After it burned down in 1950 it was rebuilt in the same location and has since become the most iconic site in Kyoto.
Arashiyama or the Bamboo Forest, is another striking sight with numerous pathways weaving through the tall bamboo stalks. This is certainly a unique forest, but it truly demonstrates the importance placed on respecting nature within Japanese culture. Going first thing in the morning is the perfect time to catch the early morning light as the sun begins to filter in through the leaves far overhead and it is still empty before the crowds of tourists that fill the trails arrive. There is no admission fee and the forest is open 24/7.
Thousand Torii Arches
One of the loveliest shrines in Japan is Fushimi Inari Shrine which is most well known for the thousand Torii arches leading to the entrance. The windy trail leads through a wooded forest on the sacred Mount Inari and it takes about two hours to do the full hike up to the top of the mountain. The oldest of the Torii gates date back to the 8th century, but new ones are constantly being added as business donate the money to build them to ensure good luck. This mesmerizing tunnel of gates is definitely one of the city highlights!
Boasting one of the most impressive collections of statues in the world, this 120 meter long Buddhist Temple holds 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Making this temple more impressive is the fact that the entire temple is made out of Japanese Cypress and this is the world's longest wooden building which has been maintained for over 700 years. The statues inside are also carved out of Japanese Cypress and covered in gold leaf creating an striking display of intricate details on each the deities.
While these were my five favorite sights to visit in Kyoto, there are numerous other shrines and temples well worth exploring. Also the famous Uji- Green Tea Street is a lovely shopping street in the city that offers every imaginable type of green tea produced as well as some very unique confectionary creations including matcha ice cream!