Kyoto – The Heart of Japan

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Thought of as the heart of Japan, Kyoto is home to many Buddhist Temples as well as gardens, traditional wooden houses, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and some of the finest cuisine Japan has to offer. Unlike Tokyo or Osaka, with their frantic bustling, Kyoto has a more relaxed, unfrenetic pace.


There are over 1600 temples in Kyoto. ‘The Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji, has to be the most spectacular of the Temples in Kyoto and probably the most popular and most frequently photographed. Built in 1937, originally as a villa, it was later converted into a Zen Temple. During the war it was destroyed by fire and burnt by a priest in 1950. What one now sees in a reconstruction of the original temple. Perched in the centre of the lake the picture postcard perfect reflection of this gilded pavilion on the water is truly stunning.


‘The Silver Pavilion’, Ginkakuji Temple, although not silver in colour, is also impressive. The gardens are perfectly manicured and the view from above, revealing the entire ‘compound’ plus extended panoramic view over the rooftops of the rest of the city is a joy to behold.


Built in 780 and reconstructed in the 17th Century Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Kyoto’s must-see attractions. Perched on the side of the mountain it has some of the most beautiful panoramic views of both the city and the surrounding woodland area. Adorned with heavy brass light fittings that are ‘to die for’ and surprises around every corner one can loose themselves meandering alone the paths surrounding this vast temple.


Very interestingly this temple’s main hall and stage was built without the use of a single nail. At the base of Kiyomizu-dera, Otowa Waterfall divides into 3 streams; one for longevity, one for scholastic success and the third for luck in love. Visitors are welcome to chose to drink from one of these streams, not all three.


Everything about Chion-in is on a grand scale, starting with the amazing joinery of san-mon gate that serves as the official entrance to the compound. Once inside one is faced by a climb up the very steep steps used on the set of the 2003 movie ‘The Last Samurai’ starring Tom Cruise.


Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei, is a registered UNESCO World Cultural Asset.  There is an explicable feeling of peace and tranquility and also spirituality that envelopes this beautiful sacred mountain area. Originally built as a monastery in the 8th Century it has produced many of the most important priests and is the principal seat of Tendai School of Buddhism. The temple complexes are dotted all around Mount Hiei and there is something of interest whichever path your may chose. The views are once again sensational with Lake Biwa as a crystal blue back drop. After strolling through the beautiful grounds those in need of sustenance or refreshment can relax at one of the restaurants or food stalls. There is also a delightful curio shop to browse through.


Many temples have beautiful gardens featuring raked gravel Zen gardens, lily ponds, rock gardens, and peaceful paths and walkways. It was a fairly common feature to find ponds or pots to throw coins into. Good aiming skills will bring you good luck!


Kyoto is not only about the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. With more than a thousand years of history this ancient capital has the most amazing sculptures and architecture, museums and historic sites, including the Nijojo Castle and the Ninomaru Palace which is part of it. The Sanjusangendo temple which houses 1001 statues circa 13th Century of Kannon, Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy and Pets, is worth a wander on a rainy afternoon. (Kannon is a Bodhisattva, which means she has prolonged her own eternal enlightenment to stay behind and help everyone who suffers in this world).


Fill an evening with a tea ceremony and tempura dinner or attend a Maiko (traditional Japanese dance) show by an apprentice Geisha. Go out for a tasty meal of Katsu-don (pork cutlet on rice), Teriyaki or Okonomi-yaki; Japanese crispy ‘as-you-like-it’ pancake made with cabbage, Hakurikiko flour, pickled ginger, bacon, egg  or cheese topped with Okonomi Sauce  (Japanese Worchester Sauce), Japanese Mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Restaurants have window displays of their cuisine created entirely of wax that are as realistic as the food placed before you.


There are so many delicious Japanese dishes to chose from be it sushi or sashimi for those who enjoy raw fish to the mouth-watering Japanese desserts and confectionery for those with a sweet tooth. It truly is a culinary adventure.


If possible visit Japan during cherry blossom season (autumn), it is fabulous to behold, with streets bordered with a delicate show of pink. The Japanese are a very quiet, kind, helpful and respectful race. The streets are spotless, hotel rooms small but immaculately clean. Regardless of where you stay or what you do your experience of Japan will remain a wonderful, treasured memory.

  • Shrines are often dedicated to deities from Shintoism, a religion native to Japan
  • You will always find one or more torii (or gate)
  • They often have some sort of guardian animal such as dogs, lions, or foxes
  • Temples are based in Buddhism
  • Often times there will be a pagoda on the premises
  • They always house an image of Buddha
  • You will often find incense burning (the smoke is said to have healing properties)

 Photography and text by Adelia Cook for



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