Posts from Daniel




Located at the foot of the wooded mountains to the north west of Kyoto, Koetsuji and Genkoan temples offer visitors a fantastic mix of architecture, culture and nature sightseeing. The mountains to the north of the two temples are known as Kitayama (the north mountains), home to the famous Kitayama pine. The area also has a wonderful collection of maple trees, making it a perfect destination for enjoying the autumn foliage, which is usually at its best in November and early December.


Koetsuji is the former home of Honami Koetsu (17th century), the leader of one of Kyoto’s most influential art movements, the Rinpa school. This school drew on older Japanese motifs and images, tended to be highly decorative, and heaving based on the changing seasons and nature. Like the Renaissance men, many artists of the period were skilled at a number of different arts, and Koetsu, who was a master of calligraphy, lacquer, ceramics, and tea, was no exception t

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The presence of Zen temples and various Zen sect headquarters throughout much of Kyoto is almost enough to warrant labelling Kyoto the city of Zen. Amongst these numerous temples of national fame and great historical and cultural importance, two Zen temple complexes, that of Daitokuji and Myoshinji, provide the city with mini-Zen villages. Both of these temple complexes and their car-free maze-like cobbled paths and beautifully manicured gardens, are well worth spending a few hours. Here I will introduce Myoshinji, and one of the 46 temples in its compound, Taizo-in.


Myoshinji was established on the grounds of the Imperial Villa of the 14th century emperor, emperor Hanazono. This became the headquarters of the Myoshinji Rinzai Zen, one of the fourteen branches of Rinzai Zen. Along with Soto and Obaku Zen, Rinzai Zen is one of the three major Zen denominations in Japan, with Soto and Rinzai being the most influential in the west. It is difficult to pinpoint the esse

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Autumn is one of the best times to visit Kyoto, and for anyone visiting during the maple-leaf season of November-December, there is one place that I always recommend for a day’s exploration: Saga-Arashiyama.



The primary tourist attractions of Arashiyama (meaning ‘Storm mountain’) is Tenryuji temple. Tenryuji is a World Heritage listed Zen temple with a fantastic garden and the scenery of the surrounding mountains in the background. However, there are often far too many visitors in the peak season- so go there early in the day if you plan to visit. The area between Tenryuji and the beautiful Togetsukyo bridge (‘Moon-crossing’ bridge) can also be too crowded during the peak seasons of Spring (March-April) and Autumn (October-December). Still, in a way that is typical of most tourist areas in Kyoto, just a short distance away from the central sightseeing area are some amazing hidden treasures. The path on the other side of the Togetsukyo bridge which follows the Kat

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Koyasan was founded by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), a man considered something of a saint across Japan for his contribution to religion, and a genius for his artistic nature, engineering and other accomplishments. He is without a doubt one of the most influential people in Japan’s religious and cultural history, and is also a central figure in the history of Kyoto.



Kobo Daishi founded Koyasan in 806 after spending 2 years learning about Buddhism in Chang-an, the capital of T’ang China at the time, and a city that became the very model for the design of Kyoto. In this short time, Kobo Daishi mastered the teachings of orthodox Esoteric Buddhism, and became the 8th patriarch of this sect before bringing these teachings to Japan.



As Kyoto was the capital of Japan at the time (it had been from 794), Kobo Daishi brought these teachings back to the city, where he set up his temple and the Shingon sect in the city’s mountains (current Jingoji

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Stretching almost 100 km from Kyoto city to the Sea of Japan is a forested mountain range dotted with quaint villages and farms. These mountains provide the people of Kyoto with a plethora of hiking trails and places to explore, but apart from the towns of Kibune, Kurama and Ohara, to the immediate north of Kyoto, the vast majority of this area is not often visited by foreign tourists. Amongst other things, the area is known for the Saba kaido (‘mackerel highway’), which was used in old times for the transportation of salted mackerel to Kyoto, as well as its wealth of vegetables and game meats.


As for sightseeing, however, the highlight of this area has to be the Miyama-cho area, amongst which Kitamura village and its kayabuki (thatched houses) is the primary attraction. While there is no accommodation in Kitamura (North Village) that is easily reserved in English, the lovely Miyama Heimat Youth Hostel makes an enjoyable stay in this area easy.



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Maruyama Park

At the centre of Kyoto’s Higashiyama’s tourist sites, which extend all the way to and beyond Shugakuin Imperial Villa north of Tofukuji temple (which is in the south), you can find Maruyama park, one of the most loved parks of Kyoto by both locals and tourists alike. It is especially worth visiting in spring, when its famous cherry trees are in blossom (usually late March to early April).

Maruyama park is an excellent place to get a glimpse of Kyoto gardens on a larger scale, and a fantastic space to take a rest after a hard days walk through some of Kyoto’s most well-known sightseeing spots. On its north side is Chion-in, one of Kyoto’s largest and most impressive temples (it also has one of the largest gates and bells in Japan- all of which are free to visit), to the south is another famous temple, Kodai-ji, and further on from this is Kiyomizu temple, and to the west side (going downhill) is one of Kyoto’s most important shrines, Yasuka shrine, and the geisha area of Gion

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Hozugawa River Boat Ride

Kyoto is a city surrounded by mountains, and from these mountains a number of rivers and streams flow, bringing water through the city. Currently the area around these rivers, primarily Kamogawa and Katsura, serve as a vital park and relaxation space for residents. In the past, however, they were important routes for transporting goods, especially timber, into the city. For hundreds of years, the boats of the Hozugawa river served such a function, though rather than lumber, today they annually take thousands of tourists on a scenic and thrilling ride through the mountains and forests and into the city.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride

The Hozugawa tourist boat rides have been running for more than 100 years, and are one of the best ways to experience Kyoto’s surrounding nature and escape the crowds for a few hours. It is especially recommended for people who are not physically able to hike through the mountains.

The boat ride starts in the outskirts of Kameoka,

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Machiya / Kyoto

Machiya Houses

Machiya café have been sprouting up in Kyoto over the last 20-30 years, but over the last 5-10 years machiya café have grown radically in number, and are now an icon of the city for the young generation of Japanese. Machiya, or traditional wooden city houses, especially the Kyoto versions, known generally as Kyo-machiya, are themselves symbols of Kyoto. The Kyo-machiya are famously narrow and long, hence the nickname of ‘eels bed’, and generally feature a cool inner garden, with koshi wooden lattices on the front, and are typically two floors in height. Sometimes they also feature roji alleyways, often decorated with stone paths or plants, which lead visitors to the entrance.

As well as embodying a sense of beauty and craftsmanship, these houses are also excellent examples of Japanese ingenuity. The lattice work on the front allows a great deal of privacy, while also allowing people on the inside a clear view of the outside. In Kyoto’s notoriously h

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In Kyoto, Geisha are actually referred to as geiko and maiko (apprentice geiko). With four hanamachi (‘flower town’) geiko/maiko districts and a larger population of them than anywhere else, geiko and maiko are the living face of Kyoto and in many ways represent the traditional culture and arts of the city itself. The Gion district, made famous internationally by such books as Memoirs of a Geisha and the film version, is the largest and most well known district in Japan. However, there are also lesser-known areas, such as Pontocho (parallel to the Kamogawa river between Sanjo and Shijo streets), Miyagawa Cho (south of Gion) and Kamishichiken (next to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in the city’s west).

Though these districts remain primarily exclusive and closed-off to drop-in visitors, they have increasingly opened to outsiders. This process actually began more than 100 years ago, in order to avoid the decline of such districts when the nation’s capital was officially moved to Tokyo. From t

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Kiyomizu Temple

Intro: Out of all the famous and almost countless temples in Kyoto, I think that Kiyomizu temple is without a doubt the most spectacular and unique. Kiyomizu temple is like a temple in the clouds guarding over the city. Close to the hearts of locals, an unbeatable position perched in the eastern mountains at the centre of Kyoto’s best preserved historical area, attractive in all seasons, architecturally and aesthetically stunning, and one of the oldest temples in the city. It is no wonder that Kiyomizu was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was Japan’s candidate for a new 7 wonders of the world list in 2006.

Specifics: Meaning ‘pure water’, Kiyomizu temple has three streams to drink from. The first of these is for good fortune in health, second for longevity, and the third for study. The temple was established before the city itself, in the 8th century, though the present buildings are from the early 17th century. The central figure of w

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