Kyoto, Japan is the epitome of traditional Japanese history and culture. As the former imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, Kyoto was also historically nicknamed, “the City of Ten Thousand Shrines.” Although Kyoto is a modern city, Japan’s deeply rooted history and culture is preserved and prevalent here today.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Kyoto on a family vacation. After numerous visits to technological, urban Tokyo, I was intrigued by the contrast that Kyoto had to offer. During our visit, we stayed at a ryokan, or a traditional Japanese inn, called Three Sisters Inn. This offered the quintessential ryokan experience, including rooms with tatami-mat floors, paper-lined dividing walls, traditional decor, and authentic Japanese breakfast. After arriving and being greeted with a hot cup of green tea, we began to explore this historical city.
As it’s historical nickname implies, temples are predominant throughout Kyoto. I personally found the most memorable and breathtaking temple to be Kinkaku-ji, or “Golden Pavilion.” This temple is widely photographed, notably for its striking beauty as this golden structure is reflected in the shimmering pond below. Kinkaku-ji was originally built in 1393 for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga as a retirement villa. Its exterior was intended to be entirely coated with gold, but only the ceiling of the third floor was completed with gold leaf prior to the shogun’s death. Following his death, Kinkaku-ji was converted to become a Zen temple, which was burned down several times throughout history. The current “Golden Pavilion” rebuilt in 1955 contains two floors completely coated in gold leaf, which honors the shogun’s original, intended design. Its vibrant gold reflects beautifully in the sunlight, as well as in the pond below. The temple’s location over the pond is intentional to elicit the concept of a position between heaven and the earth. Although this is an attraction flooded by tourists, it is a stunning sight, well worth the visit.
Another highlight of my trip to Kyoto was visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. With an area of about 16 square miles, the grove contains winding paths, which allow you to fully immerse yourself in these swaying, green stalks. Bamboo is a beautiful and fascinating plant, known for its strong, durable, and flexible qualities. It is also an extremely fast-growing plant, with the ability to fully regenerate its mass within only six months after being cut. These qualities make bamboo very useful for Japanese interior design, art, martial arts, music, and kitchenware. In addition, it is also an integral part of Japanese culture and folklore. Bamboo is considered a symbol of prosperity and is also believed to have the power to ward off evil. After learning the amazing qualities and Japanese significance of bamboo, I gained more respect for this plant, and the atmosphere that this grove offered. The feeling of walking through these towering bamboo stalks was truly indescribable and could not be fully captured through photographs. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a popular tourist attraction that can draw heavy crowds, but there is still a sense of beauty and tranquility that can be found here.
Kyoto is also famous for and regarded as the birthplace of geisha culture. Although the number of geishas has dwindled in modern times, they still have a presence in Kyoto, and many tourists flock to catch a glimpse of a geisha in the Gion district. In Kyoto dialect, geishas are known as “geiko” or “maiko” (a geisha apprentice), and are professional entertainers who undergo years of training in the areas of hospitality, Japanese arts (music, dance, etc.), and communication. Their customers pay an expensive fee to attend geiko dinners or traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, where the geiko/maiko are trained to serve, entertain, and engage in games and conversation with their guests. During my visit to Kyoto, my family went to the Gion district in the evening so we could see a few geishas on their way to work. Their kimonos and makeup were so intricate and beautiful that we were inspired, like many tourists, to go to a studio where we were dressed like geishas. Since my sister, cousins, and I were preteens/teenagers at the time, taking pictures with full maiko wigs, makeup, and kimonos, made for the ideal conclusion to our Kyoto vacation.
To experience Kyoto for yourself, join D-Travel’s tour of Japan this spring. For more information or to make your reservation, contact D-Travel. Following is a digital flyer of the upcoming tour.