Top 10 Reasons Why You Have To Visit Kyoto, Japan Before You Die
Maizuru Port, Kyoto Profecture, Japan
Home to Amanohashidate, one of the top three well known scenic views in Japan, Maizuru Port is regarded as the northern entrance to World Heritage site, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Located at Maizuru Bay, this has been an important port for centuries, having regular services to and from China, South Korea and Russia. It is a base port on the Sea of Japan coastline for international container ships, international ferries, roll-on/roll-off ships and ocean cruise vessels.
This port is protected by mountains and has a narrow entrance to the bay making it a gentle and safe area to berth a ship. Before World War II, Kyoto Maizuru Port was an important naval base and after the war it resumed its commercial activities and was developed as a hub port of the Kansai region.
An Overview On Kyoto:
First called as “Heian-kyo” under Emperor Kammu in 794 and became the capital of Japan, it was also the residence of the Imperial Family until 1868, it was built as a replica of China‘s Tang Dynasty capital, Chang’an (now Xian). Considered as the heart of the country in that period, Kyoto (or “capital city”) was home to a lot of cultural landmarks. Under the reign of Emperor Kammu, temples and shrines were built in the ensuing years and even though it had seen off assassinations, civil wars and natural disasters, Kyoto remained a city of timeless beauty.
The center of ancient Japanese culture, despite the transfer of political power to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1868, Kyoto remained as a cultural and artistic hub and for most of Japan‘s history, it has been the Imperial seat. During World War II, the area was spared of bombings as then US Secretary of War Henry Stimson thought that destroying Japan‘s cultural capital was wrong. This made Kyoto rich in historical buildings and cultural assets while it was not left behind in the flow of industrialization that swept Japan.
Right after we left the Port of Osaka on January 2016 with the bulk carrier IVS Kingbird, we sailed straight away to Kyoto for wheat loading. This city if well known in the world for its unequaled beauty where 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are found. Tourists are attracted here for its majestic palaces, shrines and temples as well as its manicured Zen (meditative calm) gardens, each spring season cherry trees bloom and visitors are entertained to hanami (flower viewing party). Probably the most valuable destination in Japan, here are top reasons why you have to visit Kyoto at least once in your lifetime.
One Time, Big Time Cherry Blossoms and Sakura Season
The city that is influential with the word hanami (flower viewing party), cherry blossom season is a big deal here, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. In just a fleeting moment, the ubiquitous sakura found along canals, streets, in parks and temples is such a magical sight to behold. In fact locals consider hanami an important cultural experience where they grab a bento box and enjoy a picnic with friends or loved ones under the cherry trees, thus at this time of the year (between March- April) sakura areas can become very crowded and if you want to experience this fantastic but short phenomenon you have to be at parks early then get your spot with a picnic mat before the mankai (full bloom) is over.
Explore Gion, To Spot A Geisha
The city’s most famous entertainment area, Gion is a district that reveres the past and present of Japan, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto as it comes huge with its Geisha culture. Geishas (or geikos as they are called in Kyoto) are professional entertainers recruited to present a performance or sometimes interconnect with guests during dinners and other occasions as contrary to popular assumptions. Here in Gion, you can either dine at one of its award-winning ochaya (tea house) or visit a machiya (traditional wooden merchant’s store) to watch the Geishas perform conventional dance and theatrical moves.
Make A Wish At Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto’s Famous Temple
Sometimes known as the “Temple of Pure Spring Water” and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu-dera is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan of which no single nail was used during its construction that began in 773, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. It has sprawling verandas that offer an impressive view of the city and underneath the temple is Otowa Waterfall believed to have the power to grant wishes if you drink its waters. Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a Jishu Shrine as well, dedicated to a god of love and matchmaking where you can find a pair of “love stones” situated 10 meters apart each other and if you’re single, walking around these stones with your eyes closed will help you find your true love.
Satisfy Your Craving For Japanese Treats At The 400-Year Old Nishika Market
Whether it’s tako tamago (skewered baby octopus with quail’s egg), mochi (sticky rice cake), satsuma age (fish cakes) or senbei ( rice crackers), there’s plenty of Japanese treats you can try at the 400-year old Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba), a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. Often called as the city’s kitchen, this market which has been around since the 14th century truly lives up to its moniker with its satisfying array of Japanese treats to feast on. Occupying a narrow lane along Nishikikoji Street in Kyoto, Nishiki Market is a vital checklist to any food traveler’s itinerary because most of the vendors offer samples of food on sticks, each free taste better than the last one.
Sleepover At A Ryokan, Arashiyama District
Anyone coming to this city is encouraged to explore also the stunning Arashiyama District on the western area and spend a night at a time-honored Japanese hotel called ryokan, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. Arashiyama is a flourishing tourist spot linked with Zen (Buddhist philosophy of calmness and peace through meditation), old-world Japanese customs and traditions, numerous cultural and religious sites including stunning ryokans. What a better place to unwind and relax after exploring Arashiyama all day than spending the night in a ryokan, enjoying a delicious kaiseki (Japanese meal) in your room, taking an open-air warm bath and sleeping on a futon (Japanese bed) over a tatami mat.
Stroll Along Magical Sagano Bamboo Grove
If you’ve been planning for a trip to Japan lately, perhaps you’ve seen pictures of a sprawling bamboo forest in its tourism websites- well this is the Sagano Bamboo Grove which is also found in Arashiyama District and a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. Also referred to as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, this magical place consists of a special type of bamboo, “meso bamboo” that reach a height of about 92 feet and when the wind blows, the bamboos make an incredible soothing sound. Winding roads slice through this forest and entering it is like being in another realm that is so calm and serene shrouded in a beauty of green but sometimes the path could get very crowded, so again it’s better for you to be at the area early in the morning or in the late evening and not on weekends when the locals prefer to go there to enjoy a lovely walk.
Photo Opportunity At The Garden of Tenryu-ji Temple
While Sagano Bamboo Grove allows you to spend a fleeting chance to enjoy its stunning scenery, another big draw to explore in Arashiyama District is the Tenryu-ji Temple across the Katsuru River, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical and cultural importance. It is believed that this temple was constructed (1339-1345) next to the bamboo grove to obstruct evil energy and attract a good vibe instead. The most prestigious Zen temple in Japan, it has a “teien garden” surrounding the Sogenchi Pond, the landscape of it changes in every season but most spectacular during fall and spring, great for instagramble photo opportunities.
Admire The Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji Temple
Another iconic place in Japan, Kinkaku-ji Temple (or the Golden Pavilion) found in upland Kitayama District, the top 2 floors of which is extravagantly covered in gold leaf (or foil), a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. Located magnificently in a garden at the edge of a lake, Kinkaku-ji’s golden cover is believed by ancient Japanese to deflect negative aura and eradicates pollution in the environment. Originally a shogun’s villa it has been turned into a temple and it’s where the ashes of Buddha are laid, so the area is sacred and the temple can be viewed only from across the pond but it’s better for you to visit it in the morning when the wind is still as you can see the reflections of the temple and its surroundings clearly on the pond.
Selfie Along The Red Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
An important Shinto (way of the god, an ancient Japanese religion) shrine, Fushimi Inari is dedicated to the (Shinto) god of rice Inari and said shrine is famous for its thousands of brilliant red torii gates, best spot for a selfie and a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. Torii gates are erected at the entrance of shrines in Japan which indicate the transition from the earthly to the heavenly world and at Fushimi Inari the famous path of red gates is the most visited and pictured spot in the city ever since it was featured in the Hollywood movie Memoirs Of A Geisha in 2005. It is advised that you visit the area early in the morning for your selfie without a crowd of photo bombers as the torii gates are busy with tourists all year round.
Try Matcha Flavored Snacks At A Tea House
While this city is famous as the cultural capital of Japan, it is also equally known as the place where the superlative matcha comes from, and if you are a green tea lover, you can try some of the best matcha flavored snacks at a tea house, a top reason why you have to visit Kyoto. At the Uji area where this excellent green tea is produced, if you are a connoisseur of matcha desserts, then this is the place to be. They serve seasonal sweets as well as the sakura themed dessert for spring but the most famous is the Hydrangea Parfait which consist of blueberries, purple matcha sweet potato and green leaf matcha cookie accents.
While there are other cities in Japan in which you could immerse in its dazzling culture I can say that there’s no other place that offers an exceptional assembly of history and tradition than Kyoto. It’s certainly worth of your visit and should be on your travel bucket list for it is an evocative city that makes you feel like you’re inside a time machine from the past. There are so much to see and encounter in Kyoto, it is certainly the heart and soul of classical Japan.
References: Wikipedia; www.britannica.com; www.quora.com