C – Attractions & Things To Do
Nestled among mountains in Western Honshu, Kyoto has a reputation worldwide as Japan’s most beautiful city, boasting more World Heritage sites per square inch than any other. However, most visitors’ first impressions will be of the vast urban development of central Kyoto, which stretches in all directions from its hub at the ultra-modern glass-and-steel railway station.
Kyoto does not have an airport, but it has the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo, which glides almost silently between the two cities in only 2 hours and 14 minutes. For connections to points along the way, travelers can take the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka, or the Kintetsu line to Nara.
Kyoto was Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. It is the country’s seventh largest city with a population of 2.6 million people. Kyoto is still considered the center of Japanese culture and is a city of revered temples and serene gardens most of which were built for emperors, shoguns, geishas, and monks during the period of imperial power.
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was not chosen as a target of air raids during World War II.
Kyoto is in the Kansai region of Japan, located near Osaka and Kobe. It is famous for its 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. Kyoto features the famous Ryoan-ji temple’s zen garden and is the place where the Kyoto protocol was developed. (In 1997, Kyoto hosted the international conference that bears the city’s name, which resulted in issuance of the protocol on the limiting worldwide of environmentally harmful greenhouse gas emissions.)
Highlights of Kyoto include Nijo Castle with its series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru complex and its “nightingale floors” : wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on as a result of nail placement in the floor joists. This was a warning system signaling an intruder to the resident shogun’s guards. From the donjon of the inner castle, visitors enjoy panoramic views of the castle layout, and of the entire city.
The Imperial Park is a large, peaceful area in the centre of Kyoto, circling the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is only open to visitors on pre-booked guided tours. Rianji Temple is known for its Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the “dry-landscape” style. Surrounded by low walls, an arrangement of fifteen rocks sits on a bed of white gravel and is designed to inspire contemplation and inner peace.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, formally known as Rokuonji is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 12th century, and converted into a temple by his son. Rebuilt after a deliberate fire, it has been embellished with extra layers of gold leaf and fairly blazes in the sunlight. Visitors follow a path through the moss garden surrounding the pavilion.
The history of Kyoto extends over 1200 years, and during this time various traditional crafts have developed. Today, these traditional crafts continue to be produced by hand and are being appreciated and passed on to the next generation. Among these treasured crafts is the construction of the Kyo-Ningyo, the Kyoto doll, Kiyomizu pottery, Tegaki Yuzen, hand dyeing, and Kyo-shikki, Kyoto lacquerware.
Kyoto has earned a well deserved reputation as a truly vibrant city recognized and appreciated throughout Japan and the rest of the world.
Time Zone: The time is 13 hours ahead of EST time in New York City. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Local Seasons: Kyoto has a relatively mild climate with four distinct seasons. The average daily temperature, which varies from 42 F in the winter to 86 F in the summer, is 61.3 F. Average precipitation peaks during the rainy season, which is usually between late June and late July, and in September during typhoon season.
January 1 – New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu)
The second Monday in January – Adult’s Day (Seijin-no hi)
February 11 – National Founding Day (Kenkoku Kinen-no hi)
March 20 or 21 – Vernal Equinox (Shunbun-no hi)
April 29 – Greenery Day (Midori-no hi)
May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpou Kinenbi)
May 4 – National People’s Day (Kokumin-no Kyuujitsu)
May 5 – Children’s Day (Kodomo-no hi)
July 20 – Marine Day (Umi-no hi)
September 15 – Respect-for-the-Aged Day (Keirou-no hi)
September 23 or 24 – Autumnal Equinox (Shuubun-no hi)
The second Monday in October – Health/Sports Day (Taiiku-no hi)
November 3 – Culture Day (Bunka-no hi)
November 23 – Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinrou Kansha-no hi)
December 23 – Emperor’s Birthday (Tennou Tanjoubi)
From Kansai Airport: If you arrive in Japan at Kansai International Airport (KIX) outside Osaka, the JR Haruka Super Express train has direct service every 30 minutes to Kyoto Station; the trip takes approximately 75 minutes. A cheaper, though less convenient, alternative is the JR Kanku Kaisoku, which departs every 30 minutes or so from Kansai Airport and arrives in Kyoto 100 to 120 minutes later with a change at Osaka Station.
If you have a lot of luggage, try the Airport Limousine Bus (tel. 075/682-4400) from Kansai Airport; buses depart every hour or less for the 105-minute trip to Kyoto Station.
Kyoto Station is like a city in itself with tourist offices, restaurants, a hotel, a department store, a shopping arcade, an art gallery, a theater, and stage events, and is connected to the rest of the city by subway and bus.
By Train from Elsewhere in Japan: Kyoto is one of the major stops on the Shinkansen bullet train; trip time from Tokyo is 2 1/2 hours. Kyoto is only 20 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka, but you may find it more convenient to take one of the local commuter lines that connect Kyoto directly with Osaka Station. When taking the bullet train, be prepared to enter and exit at a high rate of speed. The train is truly efficient, and there is only a moment’s stop before it glides on at its rapid pace.
From Kobe, you can reach Kyoto from Sannomiya and Motomachi stations.
By Bus from Tokyo — Night buses depart from Tokyo every evening for Kyoto, arriving the next morning. Buses depart from Tokyo Station at both 10 and 10:50pm, arriving in Kyoto at 5:55am and 6:32am respectively, and from Shinjuku Station at 10:45, 11:10, and 11:50pm, arriving in Kyoto at 6:02, 6:32, and 7:12am. Day buses depart Tokyo and Shinjuku stations several times daily. Tickets can be purchased at any major JR station or a travel agency. Contact the Tourist Information Center (TIC) in Tokyo for more information.
By Cruise Ship
Large Cruise Ships dock at the Port of Kobe or the Port of Osaka. There is excellent public transportation available at either site.
Kyoto features a rectangular street system. Unlike the streets in other Japanese cities, most of central Kyoto’s streets are named. The main streets running from east to west are numbered in ascending order from north to south, and are about 500 meters apart from each other, with several smaller streets in between. For example: Shijo means “4th Avenue” and Nijo means “2nd Avenue”.
Kyoto’s city center with the highest concentration of dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities, is located around the junction of Shijo-dori (4th Avenue) and Kawaramachi-dori (Kawaramachi Street). JR Kyoto Station is located south of the city center at the top of Hachijo-dori (8th Avenue).
The most prominent north-south street is Karasuma-dori (Karasuma Street), which runs from Kyoto Station via the city center to Kyoto Imperial Palace. Another north-south axis is Kamo River, about one kilometer east of Karasuma-dori.
Few of Kyoto’s tourist attractions are located close to subway or train stations. Instead, Kyoto has a dense bus network with direct bus lines from Kyoto Station and/or the city center around Shijo-dori (4th Avenue) and Kawaramachi-dori (Kawaramachi Street) to most major sights.
Kyoto is served by multiple bus companies. For getting around central Kyoto, the green Kyoto City Buses are most numerous and useful. The red buses by Kyoto Bus are second most prominent and convenient to access sights in more outlying areas of the city.
The tourist offices provide a superb English network map for the Kyoto City Buses, which makes it quite easy for foreign visitors to access tourist attractions by bus. Despite the good map and some English displays and announcements, however, getting off at the correct bus stop can still be stressful, especially in crowded buses.
Since buses are small and operate surprisingly infrequently even on some major routes, buses to major tourist sights can often get crowded, especially on weekends and during holidays. In addition, much time can be lost when buses get stuck or only proceed slowly in the busy street traffic.
Use subways and trains as much as possible, and use buses only for medium and short distances, for example, from the closest subway or train station to the destination.
Buses are entered through the back door and left through the front door. The fare has to be paid when leaving the bus. Inside much of central Kyoto, there is a flat rate per ride. Outside the flat fare zone, the fare increases with the distance..
There are two subway lines in Kyoto, the Karasuma Line which runs from south to north along Karasuma-dori (Karasuma Street) and stops at JR Kyoto Station, and the newer Tozai Line which runs from east to west and crosses the Karasuma Line at the intersection of Karasuma-dori and Oike-dori.
Japan Railways (JR)
All JR lines including the Tokaido Shinkansen pass through or commence at JR Kyoto Station. JR trains are a good option for accessing the Arashiyama area (Sagano Line) and some attractions in southern Kyoto along the JR Nara Line, e.g. Fushimi Inari Shrine and Byodoin in Uji.
Hankyu Railways connect Kyoto with Osaka. The line initially runs below Shijo Avenue from Kawaramachi westwards in direction of Osaka. It is a good option for accessing the area around Katsura Rikyu.
Keifuku operates two tram like train lines in northwestern Kyoto. For train lovers, a ride on these trains is a small attraction by itself. The lines can be an option for accessing Arashiyama and the area around Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
The Keihan Main Line runs next and parallel to Kamo River, but unfortunately does not connect to Kyoto Station. The line continues to Osaka and is an alternative to the JR Nara Line to access attractions in southern Kyoto.
The Eizan train lines commence where the Keihan Line ends, at Demachi Yanagi Station in northern Kyoto. Eizan Railways operates two lines, one to Kurama and one to the base of Hieizan.
Kintetsu offers good connections from Kyoto Station to Nara. Note that some trains on the Karasuma Subway Line continue to run on the Kintetsu Nara Line, and the other way around.
Kyoto is probably the Japanese city with the highest concentration of taxis. Especially in the city center, taxis are found everywhere. Taxis can not only be a more comfortable, but also an economical alternative to buses on short to medium distances for groups of three or more people.
Most taxis accommodate up to four passengers (not including the driver), while larger vehicles are able to accommodate an additional fifth passenger.
Kyoto Sightseeing Card (one day and two day)
Unlimited usage of Kyoto City Buses, Kyoto Buses and the two subway lines in the city of Kyoto. The 2-day pass can be used on two consecutive days.
Kyoto City Bus One Day Card: Unlimited use of Kyoto City buses in central Kyoto. The area of validity is smaller than that of the Kyoto Sightseeing Card, and doesn’t include some of the city’s more outlying districts, such as Arashiyama.
Prepaid cards don’t give discounts, but they make the process of taking trains and buses easier, as you do not need to buy a new ticket for each ride. Prepaid cards can be purchased at vending machines.
Surutto Kansai Card: Surutto Kansai prepaid cards can be used on most trains and buses in the Kyoto/Osaka region with the exception of JR trains. The Surutto Kansai Card is also known under various different names, depending through which company you are purchasing it, e.g. Miyako Card (subway and city buses), K Card (Keihan) and Lagare Card (Hankyu).
Taxis can be a worthwhile alternative when in doubt, and if time is a factor.
Around Kyoto Station: The southern ward of Shimogyo-ku, which stretches from Kyoto Station north to Shijo Dori Avenue, caters to tourists with its cluster of hotels and to commuters with its shops and restaurants. Kyoto Station, which was controversial when built because of its futuristic appearance, is now this area’s top attraction with Isetan department store, a shopping arcade, restaurants, a cinema, a theater, an art gallery, and a rooftop plaza.
Central Kyoto:Nakagyo-ku, the central part of Kyoto west of the Kamo River and north of Shimogyo-ku, is the location of Kyoto’s main shopping and nightlife districts, the major ones being on Kawaramachi and Shijo Dori avenues. In addition to its many shopping arcades, restaurants, and bars, Nakagyo-ku also has a number of exclusive ryokan (Japanese style Inns) scattered through these neighborhoods that are typical of old Kyoto. It is also home to Nijo Castle. Nakagyo-ku is one of the most desirable places to stay in terms of convenience and atmosphere.
Pontocho, a narrow lane that parallels the Kamo River’s western bank just a stone’s throw from the Kawaramachi-Shijo Dori intersection, is Kyoto’s most famous street for nightlife. It’s lined with bars and restaurants that boast outdoor verandas extending over the Kamo River in summer.
Eastern Kyoto: East of the Kamo River, the wards of Higashiyama-ku and Sakyo-ku boast a number of the city’s most famous temples and shrines, as well as restaurants specializing in Kyoto cuisine and Buddhist vegetarian dishes and shops selling local pottery and other crafts. Eastern Kyoto is a great area for walking and shopping, particularly Higashiyama-ku, and has several ryokan (Japanese style inns) as well
Northern Kyoto: Included are the Kita-ku, Kamigyo-ku, and Ukyo-ku wards. Northern Kyoto is primarily residential but contains a number of the area’s top attractions, including the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), and Ryoanji Temple, site of Kyoto’s most famous Zen rock garden.
C – Attractions & Things To Do
Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji-cho, Northern Kyoto
Take Bus: 101, 102, 204, or 205 to Kinkakuji-michi
Open Daily 9-5.
One of Kyoto’s best-known attractions, and the inspiration for the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, Kinkakuji was constructed in the 1390s as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and features a three-story pavilion covered in gold leaf with a roof topped by a bronze phoenix. Apparently, the retired shogun lived in shameless luxury while the rest of the nation suffered from famine, earthquakes, and plague. On a clear day, the Golden Pavilion shimmers against a blue sky, its reflection captured in the waters of the pond.
However, this pavilion is not the original. In his novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion), author Mishima Yukio tells the story of the destruction in 1950, by fire, of the original Golden Pavilion. According to this account, the fire was set by a disturbed student monk. The temple was rebuilt in 1955, and in 1987 was re-covered in gold leaf, five times thicker than the original coating. The surrounding park with its moss-covered grounds and teahouses provides a lovely setting.
Nijo Castle (Nijojo)
On the corner of Horikawa Dori and Nijo Dori, Central Kyoto
Take the Subway: Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Subway Line. From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line. The whole trip from Kyoto Station takes about 15-20 minutes.
Or connect to Bus: 9, 12, 50, or 101 to Nijojo-mae. Nijo Castle is most easily accessed from Nijojo-mae Station.
Open Daily 8:45am-5pm (you must enter by 4pm)
Note: Shoes must be removed before entering. There is a wall of numbered “cubbies” in which to deposit your footwear while inside the castle. It is suggested that you bring slipper socks to wear on the tour (especially on a cool, rainy day).
No photography is permitted. It is possible to rent an audio guide in English which describes the significance of what is being seen.
The Tokugawa shogun’s Kyoto home was designed for residential use, unlike most of Japan’s other remaining castles, which were constructed for the purpose of defense. Built by the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, in 1603, Nijo Castle is of Momoyama architecture, built almost entirely of Japanese cypress and boasting delicate transom wood carvings and paintings by the Kano School on its sliding doors.
The main building, Ninomaru Palace, has 33 rooms, some 800 tatami mats, and an understated elegance, especially compared with castles being built in Europe at the same time. All the sliding doors on the outside walls of the castle can be removed in summer, permitting breezes to sweep through the building. Typical for Japan at the time, rooms were unfurnished, and the mattresses were stored in closets.
One of the castle’s most notable features is its “nightingale” floors. To protect the shogun from intruders, the castle was protected by a moat and stone walls. In addition, the nails in these special floorboards were placed in such a way that the floors “chirped” when trod upon in the castle corridors. The nightingale floors were supplemented by hidden alcoves for bodyguards. Only female attendants were allowed in the shogun’s private living quarters.
Outside the castle is an extensive garden, designed by the renowned gardener Kobori Enshu. The original grounds of the castle, however, were without trees.
Ironically, it was from Nijo Castle that Emperor Meiji issued his 1868 decree abolishing the shogunate form of government.
Izutsu Building, 5th floor, Shinhanayacho Dori, Horikawa Higashiiru (on the corner of Horikawa and Shinhanayacho sts. just northeast of Nishi-Honganji Temple), Around Kyoto Station
Open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm
Transportation Bus: 9 or 28 to Nishi-Honganji-mae (2 min.), or a 15-min. walk north from Kyoto Station
This one-room museum is filled with a detailed replica of the Spring Palace as immortalized by Murasaki Shikibu in The Tale of Genji, complete with scenes of ceremonies, rituals, and everyday court life depicted by dolls wearing kimono and by miniature furniture and other objects of the Heian period. The exhibit, including costumes, changes twice a year. In an adjoining room, life-size kimono and costumes can be tried on, so be sure to bring your camera.
Ginkakuji (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion)
Ginkakuji-cho, Eastern Kyoto
Transportation Bus: 5, 17, 102, 203, or 204 to Ginkakuji-michi; or 32 or 100 to Ginkakuji- Open Apr-Nov daily 8:30am-5pm; Dec-March daily 9am-4:30pm
Ginkakuji, considered one of the more beautiful structures in Kyoto, was built in 1482 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who intended to coat the structure with silver in imitation of the Golden Pavilion built by his grandfather. He died before this could be accomplished, however, so the Silver Pavilion is not silver but remains a simple, two-story, wood structure enshrining the goddess of mercy and Jizo, the guardian god of children. Note the sand mound in the garden, shaped to resemble Mount Fuji, and the sand raked in the shape of waves, created to enhance the views during a full moon.
Nishi Tennocho, Okazaki, Eastern Kyoto
Transportation Subway: Higashiyama (10 min). Bus: 5, 32, 46, or 100 to Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae
Open 8:30am-6pm (to 5pm Nov-February)
Free admission to grounds; Admission charged to Shinen Garden
Kyoto‘s most famous shrine was built in commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto and is a replica of the main administration building of the Heian capital. It also deifies two of Japan’s emperors: Emperor Kanmu, 50th emperor of Japan, who founded Heian-kyo in 794; and Emperor Komei, the 121st ruler of Japan, who ruled from 1831 to 1866. Shinen Garden, constructed during the Meiji Era, displays weeping cherry trees in spring, irises and water lilies in summer, changing maple leaves in the fall. The effect is exceptional.
Hosomi Art Museum
Address 6-3 Okazaki
Saishoji-cho. Diagonally across from the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (Fureaikan), Eastern Kyoto
Take the Subway: Higashiyama (exit 2) Bus: 31, 201, 202, or 206 to Higashiyama-Nijo
Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm
This highly acclaimed private museum houses changing exhibits of Buddhist and Shinto art, primarily from temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara, including Heian bronze mirrors, Buddhist paintings, lacquerware, tea-ceremony objects, scrolls, folding screens, and pottery.
The building is starkly modern and utilitarian. There is a gift shop displaying finely crafted goods.
Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizudera)
Take Bus: 80, 100, 202, 206, or 207 to Gojo-zaka
Open Daily 6am-6pm (Jishu Shrine closes at 5pm)
This is Higashiyama-ku’s most famous temple, known throughout Japan for the views from its main hall. Founded in 798 and rebuilt in 1633 by the third Tokugawa shogun, the temple occupies a spot on Mount Otowa, with its main hall constructed over a cliff and featuring a large wooden veranda supported by 139 pillars, each 49 feet high. The main hall is dedicated to the goddess of mercy and compassion, but most visitors come for the magnificence of its height and view, which are so well known to the Japanese that the idiom “jumping from the veranda of Kiyomizu Temple” means that they’re about to undertake some particularly bold or daring adventure. Kiyomizu’s grounds are spectacular (and crowded) in spring during cherry-blossom season and in fall during the turning of the maple leaves.
The Shinto shrine behind Kiyomizu’s main hall has long been considered the dwelling place of the god of love and matchmaking. Ask for the English pamphlet and receive instructions for the ultimate test: On the shrine’s grounds are two “love-fortune-telling” stones placed 30 feet apart. If you can walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, your desires for love will be granted.
Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)
Kyotogyoen-nai, Karasuma-Imadegawa, Central Kyoto
Take the Subway: Karasuma Line to Imadegawa; then turn left and walk south on Karasuma Dori.
Tours in English Mon-Fri at 10am and 2pm, also 3rd Sat of every month and every Sat in Apr, May, Oct, and Nov.
Note: Permission to tour must be obtained in person from the Imperial Household Agency Office (075/211-1215), on the palace grounds near the northeast corner (open Mon-Fri 8:45-noon and 1-4). Foreign visitors can apply in person in advance or on the day of the tour (before 9:40am for the 10am tour, before 1:40pm for the 2pm tour), but tours can fill up (especially in spring and fall); 1-day advance application required for Sat tours. You must be 18 or older (or accompanied by an adult) and you must present your passport. Parties of no more than 8 may apply.
The residence of the imperial family from 1331 until 1868, when they moved to Tokyo. The palace was destroyed several times by fire but was rebuilt in its original style. The present buildings date from 1855. The palace is constructed in the design of the peaceful Heian Period. The emperor’s private garden is available for viewing.
The palace may be visited only on a free, 1-hour guided tour. Tours are conducted quickly, and only view buildings from the outside, though they do provide information on court life and palace architecture.
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (Fureaikan)
In the basement of the Miyako Messe (International Exhibition Hall), Okazaki, Eastern Kyoto
Take the Subway: Higashiyama (5 min.). Bus: 5, 32, 46, or 100 to Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae (2 min.)
Open Daily 9-5
This excellent museum is near Heian Shrine and is dedicated to the many crafts that flourished during Kyoto’s long reign as the imperial capital. Displays and videos demonstrate the step-by-step production of crafts from stone lanterns and fishing rods to textiles, paper fans, umbrellas, boxwood combs, lacquerware, Buddhist altars, and Noh masks. There are explanations in English. Crafts are sold in the museum shop.
Kyoto National Museum (Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan
Across the street from Sanjusangendo Hall, Eastern Kyoto
Take Bus: 100, 206, or 208 to Hakubutsukan Sanjusangendo-mae (1 min.)
Open Tues-Sun 9:30-5
This museum features changing exhibits of the ancient capital’s priceless treasures, many of which once belonged to Kyoto’s temples and the imperial court. Japanese and Chinese ceramics, sculpture, Japanese paintings, clothing and kimono, lacquerware, and metal works are on display.
Museum of Kyoto (Kyoto Bunka Hakubutsukan)
At Sanjo and Takakura sts, Central Kyoto
Take the Subway: Karasuma-Oike (exit 5)
Open Tues-Sun 10-7:30
This museum presents Kyoto’s 1,200-year history from prehistoric relics to contemporary arts and crafts. Architectural models depict a local market, merchants’ homes, and a wholesale store, and even the vermilion-colored Heian Shrine model with its holographic display of construction workers. The third floor features changing exhibitions of Kyoto arts and crafts as well as a Japanese-style room and garden. The annex houses archaeological finds and folk crafts.
Explanations are in Japanese only, but the museum does offer free English guides every day from 10-5. Personal tours last between 30 and 60 minutes. I is wise to make a reservation fro a tour in English. The guides are museum volunteers. Movies from the extensive Japanese film collection are shown twice a day on certain days.
Nishijin Textile Center (Nishijin-Ori Kaikan)
On Horikawa Dori just south of Imadegawa Dori, Central Kyoto
Take the Subway: Imadegawa Bus: 9, 51, 59, or 101 to Horikawa Imadegawa
Open Daily 9-5
About a 10-minute walk west of the Imperial Palace is this museum dedicated to the weavers who for centuries produced elegant textiles for the imperial family and nobility. The history of Nishijin silk weaving began with the history of Kyoto itself back in 794; by the Edo Period, there were an estimated 5,000 weaving factories in the Nishijin District. Today, the district remains home to one of Japan’s largest handmade weaving industries. The museum regularly holds weaving demonstrations at its ground-floor hand looms, which use the Jacquard system of perforated cards for weaving.
There is a free Kimono Fashion Show, held six or seven times daily, showcasing kimono that change with the seasons. There is also a shop selling textile products and souvenirs.
Goryoshita-cho, Northern Kyoto
Take Bus: 59 to Ryoanji-mae; or 12, 50, or 51 to Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae
Open March-Nov daily 8-5; Dec-February daily 8:30-4:30.
About a 20-minute walk southwest of the Golden Pavilion is Ryoanji, the best known Zen rock garden in Japan. It was designed at the end of the 15th century during the Muromachi Period. Fifteen rocks set in waves of raked white pebbles are surrounded on three sides by a clay wall and on the fourth by a wooden veranda. The interpretation of the rocks is up to the individual.
After visiting the rock garden, take a walk around the temple grounds. They features a 1,000-year-old pond, on the rim of which is a beautiful little restaurant, Ryoanji Yudofuya, with tatami rooms and screens. There is also an attractive landscaped garden.
Take Bus: 100, 206, or 208 to Hakubutsukan Sanjusangendo-mae
Open April to mid-November daily 8-5; mid-Nov. to March daily 9-4.
No photography is allowed in the building.
Originally founded as Rengeoin Temple in 1164 and rebuilt in 1266, Sanjusangendo Hall has 1,001 wooden statues of the thousand-handed Kannon. Row upon row, these life-size figures, carved from Japanese cypress in the 12th and 13th centuries, make an impressive sight; in the middle is a large seated Kannon carved in 1254 by Tankei, a famous sculptor from the Kamakura Period. The hall stretches almost 400 feet, making it the longest wooden building in Japan. In the corridor behind the statues, archery competitions were held.
Toei Uzumasa Eiga Mura (Toei Uzumasa Movieland)
Uzumasa, Ukyo-ku, Northern Kyoto
Take the Train: JR line to Uzumasa or Hanazono Station (8 min.) or Keifuku Line to Uzumasa (5 min.). Bus: 75 to Uzumasa Eigamuramichi
Open Daily 9am-5pm (9:30am-4pm Dec-February) Closed Dec 21-January 1
A studio park for one of Japan’s three major film companies and where most of the samurai movies are made. This is not a theme park, but an actual, working studio with indoor and outdoor movie sets re-creating the mood, setting, and atmosphere of feudal and turn-of-the-20th-century Japan, with “villages” lined with samurai houses and old-time shops. Stagehands carry props, hammers and saws, and rework sets. You may even see a famous star walking around dressed in a samurai outfit , or come upon a scene being filmed.
There is a museum tracing the history of the film industry, a 20-minute Ninja show four times a day Monday through Friday, a special-effects show, a haunted house, a games arcade, and indoor rides and play areas for children. You can also have a photo taken of yourself in a kimono or samurai gear. Note: Back lots are open only on weekends when there is no filming, but children will prefer a weekday when there are Ninja shows and filming. Plan to spend a morning or afternoon as there is much to see and do.
Join the throngs of people who flock to Osaka’s Imamiya Ebisu Shrine to pray for prosperity and luck in business during this boisterous, colorful three day festival.
Ebisu is the God of Wealth and one of the ‘Seven Gods of Good Fortune’ (‘shichi-fukujin’). He is the patron saint of those in business and commerce and is usually portrayed carrying a fishing rod and a large fish – a symbol of abundance. Those in business never fail to make an annual visit to the Ebisu Shrine during this festival to purchase a lucky ‘fukusasa’ (good fortune bamboo branch) from Shrine Maidens who call out the promise “Buy branches and your business will prosper”!
”Toka Ebisu’ means the Tenth Day Ebisu, and indeed the highlight, a colorful parade of palanquins bearing geisha and famous celebrities, takes place on the 10th. Other attractions include geisha dances, traditional performing arts and rice cake making. The festivities each day last well into the evening, when the streets are illuminated with colored lanterns and lights.
More than a million people pass through the shrine during these three days
+81 (0) 6 305 3311
Setsubun (Bean Throwing Festival)
In Japan, the ritual driving out of demons, bad luck and evil spirits in preparation for the lunar New Year is achieved with boisterous mame-maki (bean throwing ceremonies), performances by colorfully dressed oni (goblins and demons) and high-profile celebrity appearances at shrines and temples across the country.
Roasted soy beans are the weapon of choice against the oni, which appear on this day in homes, schools, kindergartens and in temple and shrine precincts. As colorful “devils” wearing grotesque masks rush threateningly around, lively crowds pelt them with beans while shouting “Fuku-wa-uchi, Oni–wa-soto!” (“Good luck in, devils out!”), finally vanquishing them and chasing them away. The beans are said to symbolize the sowing of seeds and the impregnation of the Earth with new life.
Late February-Late March
Nitten: The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition
The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition at the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind. On display are carefully selected pieces of art, sculpture and calligraphy from the finest of Japan’s established modern artists, as well as talented newcomers.
With a history going back almost a century, the Nitten has certainly built a reputation for itself. Its Japanese-Style Painting category features modern interpretations of traditional styles, whereas Western-Style Painting uses foreign techniques to produce a modern representation of Japan’s natural features. Sculpture, Craft as Art and Calligraphy add variety to this already diverse blend..
+81 (0) 6 6771 4874
The March Basho
The greatest Sumo wrestlers in Japan, and therefore the world, meet at the Osaka Municipal Gymnasium for the March Basho, one of the year’s six Grand Tournaments.
Sumo is one of Japan’s most popular sports, steeped in legend, history and ceremony. To the outsider it can seem like a mere battle of strength and power, but it should be remembered that this is a sport with over 70 different throws, trips, forms and tricks. Only when these are mastered will the wrestler stand a chance of becoming a Yokuzuna (grand champion).
The best seats in the house are those situated closest to the dohyo (the ring). Make sure that you order tickets early though, as they can sell out quickly.
+81 (0) 3 5211 2171
Late March-Mid April
Osaka Mint Bureau – Cherry blossom viewing
No flower has a greater place in the hearts of the Japanese than the cherry blossom – the national flower of Japan
The Ministry of Finance’s Osaka Mint Bureau is situated on the Yodo Riverside Promenade.
The promenade can be walked along freely at any time, but in a tradition dating back to the late 19th century, the Mint Gardens open to the public for just one week a year during the peak blossom period. As an added bonus, the cherry trees are illuminated in the evenings. The Mint Bureau blossoms are so famous that the people of Osaka even have a special phrase, “zoheikyoku sakura no torinuke“, which means “viewing the cherry blossoms while strolling through the Mint Bureau gardens”.
The Mint Bureau gardens boast 400 cherry trees, including examples of almost 100 different varieties, some very rare. Particular attention is paid to a variety that produces light green flowers, and another where the petals are pale yellow.
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Tanabata Star Festival
Wish upon a star and roam streets festooned with colorful decorations during the lively traditional Tanabata Star Festival, inspired by a romantic legend and held throughout Japan.
The event, which is thought to date back to the 8th century, is based on an old Chinese legend of two lovers. Separated by the milky way, the cowherd Kengyu (the star Altair) and the weaver Orihime (the star Vega) are permitted to meet only on one night of the year, the seventh day of the seventh month.
Streets are decorated with lanterns and colorful streamers, and bamboo poles festooned with paper strips inscribed with wishes (tanzaku), origami, talismans and colored threads are erected along the streets and outside homes.
Carnival parades, beauty contests and firework displays also take place in many areas.
+81 (0) 3 5211 2171
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