By Nomadic Boys
Kyoto is THE place you want to head to in Japan for culture.
Remember all of those beautiful scenes you see in films like Memoirs of a Geisha? They’re set in Kyoto.
Kyoto was the former capital city of Japan until 1869 when it was moved to Tokyo.
It has retained its regal charm and as a result is packed with incredible gardens, beautiful monuments and heaps of blow-me-away temples.
These are our favorite cultural gems from Kyoto.
The Golden Temple: Kinkaku-Ji
The Golden Temple is the mother of all temples.
She is absolutely stunning, made almost entirely from pure gold leaves.
The Kinkaku-Ji is possibly the most iconic image of Japan and one of the most visited places in the entire country. As a result, it’s packed with busloads of tourists, everywhere.
The Golden temple is based in the Western part of Kyoto and was originally built in 1397 as a villa belonging to a very rich politician: Saionji Kintsune.
After Kintsune’s death, it was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple, burnt down in 1950 and subsequently reconstructed to its former glory to the joys of visitors.
Tourists aren’t allowed anywhere near it so you view it from the surrounding riverbank. Best advice is to come as early in the day as you can and if possible, avoid weekends.
The Sagano bamboo forest at Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a district in Northwestern Kyoto, 30 minutes by train from central Kyoto. There, you can find the famous Sagano bamboo forest.
The walkway path through the bamboo forest makes for some great photos. It’s also an incredibly serene and relaxed environment to walk through.
The bamboo forest is particularly famous for the rustling sound of the wind as it blows amongst the bamboo. So much so that in 1996, the Japanese Government’s Ministry of Environment included it on its list of “100 Soundscapes of Japan” as part of its efforts to combat noise pollution by getting locals to rediscover the sounds of everyday life.
The Philosopher’s Path and the Silver Temple
The Philosopher’s Walk is a pedestrian stone path that’s just over a mile long that follows a cherry-tree lined canal in East Kyoto. It is called the "Philosopher’s Walk" or "Philosopher’s Path" because of the famous Japanese philosopher, "Nishida Kitaro" who practiced meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.
The famous cherry blossom season you hear about in the Spring? This is the place to come and truly marvel at the colors. We visited in October, so had the Autumn version instead.
The Philosopher’s Walk is also a good base to stop over into the many neighbouring temples alongside it. The most famous and beautiful is the Ginkaku-Ji Silver Temple.
The temples in Kyoto are particularly special because of the stunning gardens surrounding them. This was where the former Emperors would come for contemplation and meditation.
The Japanese Gardens are designed in a unique zen-style, with immaculate attention. Everything is so precise, extremely well maintained and so very photogenic.
Geisha spotting in Gion
Gion is the Geisha district area of Kyoto where "Memoirs of a Geisha" was set. Tourists (including us of course) come here to try and get their money shot of one of the 2,000 elusive Geisha.
The Geishas are traditional Japanese female entertainers for the rich who will hire them for an evening. The word Geisha literally translates as "art person". They are trained from a young age (when they are called Maiko) to perform various Japanese arts like classical music, dance and games.
The Geisha are famous for their beautiful dramatic outfits and heavy white make up.
One fun activity in Gion is Geisha spotting. They are so hard to find that when one is spotted, you have seconds to get your money shot before she disappears from sight.
We were fortunate to see these two beauties walking down a back alley in the Gion district of Kyoto:
The Fushimuri Inari Shrine
The Fushimuri Inari shrine is located towards the Southern end of Kyoto. This is the shrine to Inari, the Japanese God of rice and the patron of business.
The shrine contains thousands of "torri" red gates, lined against each other, creating numerous corridors. These corridors take you up the Sacred Anari Mountain, 733 feet high, with some incredible views across the city.
The Inari shrine tunnels were a particular highlight of ours in Kyoto. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before and another one of those iconic unique images you will take away with you.
Nomadic Boys are Stefan and Sébastien, who quit their lives and jobs in London in 2014 to travel the world and have been going ever since. Check out their travel blog to follow their adventures as they eat their way around the world.