Kyoto (京都市 Kyōto-shi) is the former capital and still the chief city of Japan’s Kyoto Prefecture, located in the Kansai region on Honshu island.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a millennium.
Kyoto is also considered by many to be the most beautiful city in Japan.
In Japanese, Kyoto literally means “Capital City”; more accurately, it refers to the old Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years.
Kyoto was also the home of Ashikaga Takauji, Japan’s first shogun (general). Kyoto has been the center of Japanese arts since ancient times. It is a city where old meets new and East meets West. In recent years, tourism and economic boom have overtaken Kyoto’s traditional image as a place of Zen culture and history.
With the Shinkansen bullet train line opening in 1964, Kyoto can now be reached just over an hour from Tokyo and is a popular destination for day-trippers. Although still one of Japan’s top tourist destinations, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of tourists.
Kyoto is a prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. Its borders include Osaka Prefecture (to the West) and Nara Prefecture (to the north). The prefectural capital is Kyoto City, which has been the country’s capital since 1868.
Kyoto prefecture contains:
- Lake Biwa (JAPAN’S largest lake) to the north.
- Nara prefecture to the northwest.
- Osaka prefecture to the West.
- Hyōgo Prefecture to the south.
Two major rivers pass through Kyoto: the Katsura (河原) and Uji (宇治). Kyoto city is situated between these two rivers.
Five different areas of Kyoto city cater to all sorts of travelers.
- They are Kinkaku-Ji,
- Kyoto Imperial Palace East Garden,
- Arashiyama area, and
- Higashi Hongan-Ji Temple Area.
The other is Central Kyoto (Between JR Kyoto Station & Kamo River). If you’re interested in seeing the very best of Kyoto, you should visit all five.
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It’s best to be sure that you have a small map with you at all times, as there is little or no English-language signage in this area.
Most streets do not have Japanese names; instead, the city has adopted a unique identifier for each lane and alleyway. The city weaves its way through the mountains and valleys of western Honshu, on a bed of ancient seas and rivers that have shifted course over the millennia.
Kyoto has many beautifully landscaped gardens located in historical settings, although most are not immediately visible from public roads. The best place to view these is from the Philosopher’s Walk.
The climate in Kyoto is temperate. The best times to travel to Kyoto are spring (April, May, June) and fall (October, November, December).
Spring for cherry blossoms, fall for the changing leaves (kōyō). Summers can be humid and hot, with the temp reaching 35 °C at times.
Popular tourist sites include:
Kyoto is famed for its temples and gardens, as well as for the geishas who live in its teahouses.
Most of Kyoto’s temples and shrines are located on or around the east side of Kyoto Station.
These can be easily reached by bus or subway. The city center itself is a magnet for shopping, dining, entertainment, and nightlife.
Kyoto is home to historic Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. As an incredibly diverse range of other attractions, including traditional theaters, ancient castles, museums, art galleries, a baseball stadium, and a famous cherry blossom tree-lined avenue.
Kyoto is home to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where visitors can enjoy exhibits and workshops from a manga perspective. It is located on the northwest edge of the city.
Kyoto’s main shopping street is Oike Dori (“in front of the canal”), which runs through downtown Kyoto.
Kyoto’s historic buildings, beautiful nature, and museums make it a great place to visit.
Kyoto Station is the largest train station in Japan, accommodating an average of 3.3 million passengers per day (over 90% of its design capacity).
The Kintetsu Kyoto Line terminates at this station, and most local trains on the Keihanna Tango Railway network also end there. Several other railway lines may be used, such as the Keifuku Electric Railroad and the Hankyu Kyoto Line.
Side Trips from Kyoto.
There are many famous temples located near Kyoto. Ninna-Ji is the world’s largest wooden building and houses many priceless treasures.
It can be reached by bus in about a hundred minutes from Kyoto station, and you can climb to the sixth floor for an unobstructed view of ancient Kyoto.
- Kinkaku-Ji (The Golden Pavilion) is the world’s best-known Zen temple.
- The Daigo-Ji and Matsuo-Dera temples are also worth visiting, as they are located on hills overlooking Kyoto.
Other popular locations to visit from Kyoto include Nara and Osaka.
Nara has the famous Todai-Ji temple complex with the largest wooden structure in the world and other famous temples and shrines.
Osaka is a 3-hour train ride from Kyoto.
Osaka has many shopping areas, and learning about its history is easy with several museums located near the city hall, including the Umeda Sky Building observatory, which provides a fantastic view of the city even during daylight hours.
There are also a few good beaches in the Kansai area, including Yanbaru in Wakayama prefecture and Sunabe in Ehime prefecture.
It takes about an hour to reach these areas by train from Kyoto station, and many people visit them during the summer when it is too hot to walk through the city.
Kyoto is surrounded by many other beautiful cities and rich in nature.
There are two nearby ski areas, Yamagata-Yamagata at the northern tip of Honshu from Kyoto and Annupuri at the southern end of Honshu from Kyoto.
Kyoto is also close to Japan’s most famous onsen towns, such as Kinosaki Onsen, Bibai, and Myoko.
Kyoto International Schools.
Kyoto International School has elementary, junior high school, and high school.
The Japanese language is mandatory in all classes, but English and Dutch can be used for some upper elementary-level subjects.
For international students who are not proficient enough in Japanese to follow lessons entirely in that language, some programs allow them to learn Japanese and their regular classes.
Most activities at the school are in English, from sports clubs to science projects.
Furthermore, there is a great deal of cultural exchange with local international schools and Japanese schools through various festivals and trips throughout Japan and abroad.
Kyoto American School is located in Sakyo-Ku in Kyoto City.
Festivals in Kyoto.
Several festivals are held in Kyoto throughout the year, such as the Aoi Matsuri (20 April) and Gion Matsuri (July).
The most famous is perhaps the Jidai Matsuri or “Festival of Ages,” which takes place in Kyoto in October. A parade of floats takes place on two nights, accompanied by the scurrying of children carrying candles and adults in old-fashioned clothing.
Other festivals include:
- The Gion Festival (July), a month or so after the Gion Matsuri.
- The Kamogawa Odori (August).
- Kyoto’s fireworks display for winter illumination in December.
Kyoto is also famous for the mikoshi (portable shrines) carried by people running in a frenzied procession. This can be seen during citywide festivals, most notably the Gion Matsuri.
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, and as such, has shrines and temples throughout the whole city.
Perhaps Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous, a shrine dedicated to the Shinto deity Inari. It is renowned for its thousands of vermillion torii gates along paths and trails leading up the mountain, known as Inari’s foxes.
Other famous shrines include Kinkaku-Ji Temple, a golden temple with a beautiful garden, and the Heian Jingu Shrine near Kyoto University.
There are also many temples in Kyoto:
Tofuku-Ji Temple, which has been standing for over 800 years, and the Ryoan-Ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple where the rock garden causes visitors to meditate.
Kyoto has plenty of hotels, which are often underutilized except for a short period during festivals.
Many of these hotels are very reasonably priced and located near sightseeing spots or public transport.
A few hostels are available in Kyoto, but they tend to fill quickly, so reservations are recommended.
Kyoto is famous for its ryokan: traditional Japanese inns that have been running for centuries.
There are a few different Kyoto ryokans, including those with an attached onsen and those without.
Regardless, all employ some amount of elegance and traditional culture in their design. In addition to the standard Japanese rooms, some ryokan will offer a masseuse or public baths with various amenities.
Many restaurants in Kyoto serve traditional Japanese cuisines such as tempura and sushi. Still, there is also plenty for those who prefer Korean food or Western-style fried chicken at KFC.
Many restaurants cater to tourists, so it is best to ask the locals for good food.
Kyoto has many small shops and boutiques that carry everything from traditional Japanese souvenirs like fans, kimonos, and bowls; to sweets at Kyoto’s famous confectionery stores; to modern Japanese clothing, textiles, and jewelry.
One of the most famous things that one can do in Kyoto is to go onsen or visit an outdoor hot spring.
There are various areas in and around Kyoto where onsens are laid out, such as Sanjo Onsen, Jyoto-ga-Onsen, and Demachi-yu Onsen.
Kyoto is a very walkable city, so visiting the shrines and temples and other places of interest should be accessible on foot.
However, electric carts can take passengers from one site to another at certain times of the day.
For those looking to do shopping or nightlife: there are many clubs and pubs to choose from.
Kyoto is located in the northeast region of Japan, approximately a 3-hour bullet train ride away from Tokyo. The city is served by Kansai International Airport and Itami Airport, which can be reached by bus or train.