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This is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district and is highlighted by traditional machiya-style merchant houses, which are narrow and long. The area is infused with ochaya (teahouses where geisha entertain), shops, and restaurants—making it the perfect place for shoppers and foodies to explore. One of the highlights is a stroll along the Shirakawa Canal by night. The canal is lined with willow trees, and when illuminated, it is a beautiful sight. Keep in mind that the chances of seeing a geisha walking around increases at night, but it is still a rare occurrence. Your best bet is to take in a show or visit an ochaya for tea.
Located in the eastern part of Kyoto, Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s eleven wards featuring charming restaurants and shops. It is a great place to buy local pottery, candy, or regular souvenir items. The highlight of the area is Kiyomizudera “Pure Water” Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site built in 780 AD, by one of the oldest Buddhist sects in Japan. Taste the spring water that gives the temple its name and enjoy sweeping views of Kyoto from the famous wooden terrace.
ZEN STATE OF MIND
Kyoto is famous for its Japanese Rock “Zen” Gardens. The most famous is the karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. Here the simple use of moss-covered boulders representing waterfalls and raked gravel representing waves make for a calm space to lose your mind in thought. Lesser known but equally impressive is the garden at Saihoji Temple, also known as Kokedera (Moss Temple). This UNESCO World Heritage site is a fine display of the other Japanese garden-style called tsukiyama “hill garden,” which typically consists of a hill with a stream and pond. Here you can meander through the paths and admire the beauty surrounding you.
This covered street market is where the local residents, restaurants, and hotels buy their food. Here you will find traditional Japanese cooking ingredients such as pickled daikon, mushrooms, and octopus as well as savory foods to eat like baby squid, fish cakes, and sushi. You will also find other items for sale, including dishes, cooking utensils, and clothing. It is best to go in the morning before things pick up and the locals do their shopping. Hours of operation vary, but shops are typically open from 9 am to 6 pm and closed on either Wednesday or Sunday.
Located to the northeast of Kyoto, Mount Hieizan is home to Enryakuji Temple, one of the most important religious sites in Japan. Originally built by Buddhist monks of the Tendai sect in 788 to protect Kyoto from evil spirits, it eventually grew into a monastery complex with both size and power. In fact, it had so much power that in 1571, the mountain was invaded, and every building was burned to the ground. The complex was rebuilt in the 17th century when new rulers came to power. Ride a cable car up the mountain and explore the temple and other buildings in a beautiful mountain setting.
This “Temple of the Silver Pavilion” was built by the grandson of the man who built the “Temple of the Gold Pavilion” with the intention of covering it in silver leaf. Don’t expect to see the glimmer though as unfortunately his plans were never carried out. Nonetheless the temple stands as a monument of simplistic Japanese design and has lovely gardens so it is definitely worth a stop.
The “Pure Water Temple” is the most popular Buddhist temple in the city. For over 1200 years, pilgrims have climbed the slope to pray to the temple’s 11-headed Kannon image and drink from the sacred spring. The main hall which is a Japanese architectural marvel is made with no nails and offers wonderful views of Kyoto.