The capital of old Japan, Kyoto was the center of power, culture, art and religion in the country for over 1,000 years. As a result, ornate palaces, historic shrines and charming temples fill this city in the mountains of Western Honshu, making it a premier tourist destination. But you'll have to do a bit of work before you can actually see the Kyoto of your imagination. For in the largely urban sprawl of central Kyoto, in the striking modern architecture of the Kyoto Train Station and the shopping complexes that surround it, the passive tourist will find the poetic Kyoto hidden from view. So bring your walking shoes. The inquisitive visitor will be rewarded with the many gems to be discovered around Kyoto the beautiful.
Within walking distance of Kyoto Station in the city center is Higashi Honganji, the historic residence of shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. And that's just the start of the long list of fascinating destinations here: there are 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the category Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and many other places that will etch their image and ambience in your memory. These 14 include Nijo Castle, the golden Zen temple of Kinkakuji, the silver pavilion of Ginkakuji, the Tenryuji Zen temple (ranked tops among Kyoto's five great Zen temples) and the Daigoji.
If you can, book a tour with the Imperial Household Agency, which manages the imperial palaces in Kyoto and Tokyo (you must apply in advance). Available tours include the Kyoto Palace, Sento Imperial Palace, Katsura Imperial Villa and Shugakuin Imperial Villa. For something less formal, take a walk along Philosopher's Path in eastern Kyoto and enjoy the famous cherry blossoms in the spring. The Fushimi Inari Shrine, Heian Shrine, Hirano Shrine and Kyoto Botanical Gardens are also great sites to visit.
If the kids are getting restless from all the contemplative shrines and temples, take them to the Kyoto Municipal Zoo and the Arashiyama Monkey Park for a chance to feed the monkeys, or to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Experience a Japanese bath at Funaoka Onsen or Gokoyu. And don't miss the Gion district, where you'll get the chance to see white-faced geishas walking the narrow flagstoned streets. If you're into Japanese ninja films, check out the Toei Uzumasa Movie Village, with its on-site theme park and movie museum. It's crowded but cool.
Dining and Shopping
Great food starts on arrival. There are delicious ramen, sushi, sashimi and tempura in the restaurants on the 10th and 11th floors of Kyoto Station and scattered all around the downtown area. Good eats may also be found in the Gion district and the area around Kyoto University.
Kyoto's prime shopping location is at the junction of Kawaramachi Dori and Shijo Dori in the central district, where you can find the Takashimaya and Hankyu department stores. Gion is the place to buy antiques and souvenirs, and, of course, there are perfectly Japanese stores everywhere in the city.
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