Japan

Kyoto

Former imperial capital and heart of Japanese tradition

Photo of Kyoto, Japan (pagoda surrounded by trees photo by Su San Lee)

Kyoto, with its rich history and enduring cultural heritage, is a cornerstone of traditional Japan. The city was the nation’s capital for over a millennium and is home to numerous ancient temples and shrines, many of which are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

About Kyoto

Established in 794 as Heian-kyo, meaning “capital of peace and tranquility,” Kyoto remained Japan’s imperial capital until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This extensive period as the seat of power enriched the city with a significant number of historical sites. Thanks to being largely spared from the bombing raids of World War II, its pre-modern architecture, including around 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, has been well-preserved.

Iconic among its numerous historical sites is Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, first built in 1397. Although it has faced destruction, the current structure was reconstructed in 1955. Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, was erected in 1482 and stands as a testament to the Higashiyama culture that deeply influenced Japanese culture, including the arts and the tea ceremony.

The Heian Jingu Shrine is a more recent addition, constructed in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of Heian-kyo’s founding. The Heian Jingu Shrine Gardens reflect traditional design influenced by earlier periods and are celebrated for their cherry blossoms.

Kyoto’s temples are diverse, with Ryoanji Temple known for its karesansui rock garden, and Tofukuji Temple famed for its autumn colors. Daitokuji Temple offers a tranquil experience with its Zen sub-temples.

Tenryuji Temple, the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of the Rinzai Zen school, is noted for its garden that blends with the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The nearby Okochi Sanso Villa provides a traditional setting with its well-maintained gardens.

Kiyomizudera Temple, established in 778, is renowned for its wooden stage with views over the city. Nijo Castle reflects the power of the Tokugawa shogunate with elaborate decorations and its unique ‘nightingale floors’.

Noteworthy as well is Fushimi Inari Taisha, celebrated for its vermilion torii gates, and Nanzenji Temple with its grand Sanmon gate. Eikando Temple offers a panoramic view of Kyoto.

The Philosopher’s Path provides a scenic route for contemplation, with cherry trees lining the way near significant cultural sites.

Traditional tea ceremonies, seasonal festivals, and the historic Gion district, where geisha culture thrives, are essential elements of Kyoto’s living tradition. Visitors may also explore Kenninji Temple, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, and Yasaka Shrine, central to the Gion Matsuri festival.

Kyoto is a present-day center for culture, arts, and education, where the historical narrative is woven into the city’s everyday life.

Around Kyoto

Top attractions in Kyoto the best of Kyoto

People say about us...

It's an awesome guide and has been so helpful in that it covers much more than just the destinations itself. - Jeff

Brilliant job. Your insight will let us plan our days so much more effectively. Very much appreciated. -  Gordon & Claire