Northern Higashiyama is too amazing to be missed during your Kyoto trip. Filled with temples and shrines, the area takes you on a journey of Japanese cultures and history and gives you a chance to breathe in the midst of the hustle and bustle in the urban area of Kyoto.
Founded in 1291 and expanded in 1597, Nanzen-ji Temple has played a significant role in Zen Buddhism over the years. Bearing the title of “First Temple of The Land”, it is highly respected and is the head temple of the five greatest temples of Kyoto. While Nanzen-ji is called “a temple”, it has various subtemples inside, occupying a large area of land. The most well-known subtemple is Nanzenin Temple, the mausoleum of the emperor. Highlights of the Nanzen-ji are the magnificent and humongous Sanmon gate and Nanzen Oku-no-in, a 200 meter waterfall grotto.
A large area of parks and canals, two of the best museums in Kyoto – Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, and National Museum of Modern Art – are situated in Okazaki-koen. If you are looking for special exhibitions from Japan, take a visit to the Municipal Museum of Art, particularly for Kyototen: an exhibition held every June to showcase some of the best work of Kyoto artists. If modern art is more your thing, definitely don’t skip out on a visit to the National Museum of Modern Art. On top of these two art museums, Fureaikan Museum of Traditional Crafts is also recommended, examining the past and future of Kyoto traditional crafts.
As large as two third of Kyoto’s original imperial palace, Heian-jingu is regarded as a cultural property of Japan as well as Beppyou Jinja – the head of shrines. Various festivals are held in Heian-jingu such as Jidai Matsuri, and festival for the memorial of Emperor Komei and Emperor Kammu. Next to the shrine area, you will see a large Japanese style garden where you can find rare species and enjoy picturesque scenery whilst listening to traditional Japanese music.
Philosopher’s Path is a path that starts at Ginkaku-ji and ends at Nanzen-ji. It is lined with cherry blossom trees, attracting many people during the cherry blossom season. Not only does the Path connect different scenic spots, temples and shrines, but there are also good Japanese restaurants, tea houses and small shops along the way too. Named in honor of a professor who walked the path each day to meditate, it is the perfect place to be peaceful and philosophize.
Founded in 1680 to honour Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect, Honen-in Temple attracts many visitors in April and November as, during April, the main hall is opened to the public and cherry trees are in bloom, while November is the season when maples turn red. Watch out for the black Amida Buddha figure, a magnificent presence in the main hall. The scenery here is tranquil and very green, and is the perfect place to really feel the Buddhist peace and connection to the earth.
Shugakuin Rikyu Imperial Villa, as one of the four properties managed by the Imperial Household Agency, and has three villas covering more than 135 acres of land. It was built in 1655 for the retired Emperor Gomizunoo to enjoy the natural scenery around, but today welcomes visitors (in a guided tour) to experience the Japanese garden with rich Imperial style and unique cultural characteristics. The spacious and luscious gardens are the best place for relaxation after a tour of temples and shrines in Northern Higashiyama.
If you are new to Kyoto, you must visit the Kyoto International Community House. The House acts as a welcoming spot which provides information you need to know while travelling in Kyoto. You can access the Internet, tourist information and even free Japanese lessons! Opened in 1989, the House has become a hub for international tourists to interact with each other and share travelling tips and ideas. A wide range of activities, from concerts and exhibitions to conferences and symposiums, take place in the house! If you find nowhere to go in the middle of your trip, take a break at the lounge area or cafe and plan ahead for your journey.
Overwhelmed by temples and shrines? It is time to do some shopping! Unlike other places that sell homogeneous souvenirs, Kyoto Handicraft Centre offers an immense variety of souvenirs from Japanese books, dolls and woodblock prints to Kyoto sweets, cakes, tea and even sake. Shopping here is another way to learn about Japanese customs and traditions too. Round off your journey with the souvenirs unique to Kyoto.
Eikando Zenrinji temple, the leading temple for the worship of Jodo-shu (or Jodo Buddism), is famous as an ancient center of learning, and for its breath-taking autumnal colours. The temple lies in the Eastern mountain, and its many buildings are connected via walkways and staircases over a variety of heights. Look out for the Amida Buddha – a 77cm statue which is the central object of worship for the temple. Visit in autumn when the maple leaves are at their loveliest.
Ginkaku-ji Temple literally means “Temple of Silver Pavillion”, and is so named after initial plans to cover the whole building in silver foil. Well-known for being wabi-sabi, a world view towards imperfection and translence, Ginkaku-ji Temple is very popular among tourists and local Japanese. The highlight of the temple is the Ginshaden, known as Sea of Silver Sand. It is a 1.8m high and wide garden with smooth white sand on it, which beautifully reflects the moonlight at night.