Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Enjoy the charms of ancient Kyoto to the fullest, where 1000 years of history and Buddhist culture live on today.
Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan for as long as 1,000 years after 794. Thirteen temples, three shrines and Nijo Castle are all registered as World Heritage Sites.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built by Sakanoue Tamuramaro (758-811), a military commander and Enchin monk, and is one of the most popular sightseeing places in Kyoto. Among its many interesting features, the most famous is the "Kiyomizu-no-butai (main hall's wooden veranda)". It is supported by 139 pillars and built as though projected on to the mountain slope. It is said that if you jump from this veranda and survive with no injuries, your wishes will be fulfilled and if you die, you will become a peaceful saint. For a long time there seemed to be no end to the people willing to jump from there and in order to stop this phenomenon, the government enacted a law in 1872 to prohibit jumping.
Rokuon-ji Temple, commonly known as "Kinkaku-ji" or Golden Pavilion, was constructed in 1224 as a second house for an aristocrat. Later, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) took it over as his residence, and after his death, it was converted into a temple. This 3-tiered building facing the pond is a rare construction with each successive tier designed in a different style. Its stunning image embossed with gold leaf and reflected in the pond, is indescribable. The famous novel "Kinkaku-ji" by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) is based on an incident in 1950 when a young monk, obsessed by the temple's beauty, set fire to it and burnt it down.
Ryoan-ji Temple is a well known for its "Sekitei" rock garden. There are no ponds or other water features in this garden; natural water scenery is expressed using stones and gravel. The simple forms with lines in white gravel made by sweeping with a broom, and 15 large and small stones set at 5 points, symbolizes formal Japanese beauty, in which all superfluity is eliminated. There is also a bit of playfulness in the design as one of the 15 stones is always hidden behind another stone no matter from which angle the garden is viewed, which fascinates visitors.
Other interesting sightseeing points in the area registered as World Heritage sites include:
- "Saiho-ji Temple" more familiar under its other name of "Koke-dera" because it has a garden covered with koke (moss)
- "Jisho-ji Temple (Ginkaku-ji)" with its beautiful garden representing Higashiyama culture from the mid Muromachi period
- "Ninna-ji Temple" known for its symmetrical five-story pagoda; "Kyouou Gokoku-ji Temple" (aka To-ji) with its spectacle of 21 statues of Buddha expressing Tantric Buddhist ideology
- "Enryaku-ji Temple" on Hiei Mountain with more than 200 towers and halls
- "Daigo-ji Temple" built across Mount Daigo as one of the best large-scale temples in Kyoto
- "Byodoin" famous for "Amidado" reflected like a floating palace in the water of a pond
- "Kozan-ji Temple" considered the birthplace of Japanese tea and still filled with tea orchards
- "Tenryu-ji Temple", a representative temple of the Zen Buddhist School
- "Hongan-ji Temple" (aka Nishi-honganji) where various national treasures including the oldest Noh stage in Japan are preserved
- "Kamowakeikazuchi-jinja Shrine" (aka Kamigamo-jinja Shrine) with its brilliant vermilion-lacquered gate
- "Kamomioya-jinja Shrine", one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto
- "Ujikami-jinja Shrine" with a main hall known as the oldest shrine architecture in Japan
- "Nijo-jo Castle", where the last Shogun lived, is worth visiting for the incredible paintings on its sliding screens
All of these heritage sites convey Japanese history and culture and offer many highlights that you should not miss, so it is strongly recommended that you plan your schedule in order to fit in as many places as possible when you visit Kyoto.
Access: From Tokyo - 2hrs 15mins to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line on 'Nozomi' or 2hrs 45mins by 'Hikari'.
From Osaka - 28mins to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Line's new rapid service.