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10 things to do in Kyoto to discover traditional Japanese style

Top 10 things to do in Kyoto if you are looking for traditional Japanese interiors and architecture

 

It’s been exactly one year since I came back from our 10 days in Japan between Tokyo and Kyoto. While we already shared many info about our Tokyo visit, including a full Tokyo Design Guide and the first digital art museum of the world, I still did not wrote anything about Kyoto.

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But this does not mean I didn’t love Kyoto. Actually, the former Japanese capital is one of the cities I love the most. It is a really unique place and, I don’t know how to explain this, it is a city which brings you a feeling of calm and serenity. Actually, even by thinking back to these places, I feel better. Sounds strange but if you have been in Kyoto maybe you will understand what I mean.

Kyoto is also the top city where to get in touch with traditional Japanese interiors and architecture. This is because, during the II World War, Kyoto was not bombed by Americans, unlike Tokyo, so here you can still find a lot of Japanese traditional buildings. So, if you have love Japanese style -like me-, or maybe have just grown up with Japanese cartoons -like me- this is the perfect place for you .

Enjoy my list of the top 10 things to do in Kyoto, if you love Japanese interiors and architecture.

 


Top 10 things to do in Kyoto if you love design


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1. Sleep in a Ryokan

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Ok guys, obviously you can do this in every Japanese city. In fact,ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, which have existed since the eighth century A.D. and you can still find today in Japan. When you think about a traditional Japanese interior, that’s to say tatami flooring and futon beds, you think of this. Sleeping in a ryokan in my opinion is that thing you have to do when in Japan, same as having a ramen soup or buying a weird drink from the machines. And we decided to do this in Kyoto, the most historical city of Japan, to get a special extra feeling of this. And we were right! No shoes on and a really traditional, while at same time comfortable, bedroom which included two futons, a cosy sitting tea in front of the window and of course the bathroom (with the washlet, of course). We stayed at the Ryokan Kyoraku, which was in a very convenient location near the central station.

PS: If you are wondering if sleeping on the floor over a futon is comfortable, well, it is! Perfect sleeping for three nights 😉

 

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2. Take part in a Tea Ceremony

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Another kind of interior you can’t miss when in Kyoto are the traditional tea houses. A chashitsu (茶室, “tea room”) in the Japanese tradition is an architectural space designed to be used for tea ceremony (chanoyu) gathering. Tea ceremony is a really traditional activity, dated back to the 9th century and still active today, thanks to many schools of Japanese tea ceremony. It is a long ceremonial which includes preparation and presentation of matcha (抹茶), the powdered Japanese green tea, linked with Zen Buddhism and culture. Today, you can book and assist to a tea ceremony in a traditional tea house and this is another kind of activity that you can’t miss when in Kyoto. We booked the EN tea ceremony, in a cute tea house near Gion. The ceremonial lasted one hour and we couldn’t take picture, but probably we wouldn’t have taken our phones out anyway, as the atmosphere was really intimate and magical!

 

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3. See the Golden Temple

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

You should know that Kyoto is the city of temples. There are over 1600 temples and shrines (temples = Buddism; shrines = Scintoism), you will find temples anywhere in Kyoto. As a consequence, you absolutely have to make a selection and go through some guides before choosing which ones to visit! A must see, because it is one of the most famous landmarks in Japan, is for sure the Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺), better known as the Golden Pavilion. Built in 1397, it is a Zen Buddhist temple part of the UNESCO heritage. The temple is covered on two floors with a gold leaf and its three floors are designed in three different Japanese styles, making it one of the most interesting and original architectures of the whole Country. The temple overlooks a large pond and it reflects over its surface, creating an amazing visual effect. You can’t enter inside the temple but – trust me – seeing it from the outside is something you will never forget!

 

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4. Visit a zen Garden

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Together with their unique traditional architectures, Japanese temples contains amazing traditional Japanese zen gardens. You should also know that actually the term “Zen garden” is not the correct name, which is instead “karesansui” (dry landscape garden). Karesansui gardens can be found inside all Buddhist temples. If you are looking for the best Japanese zen gardens, make sure to visit for example the Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺), best known for its stunning rock garden, and the Tenryuji Temple (天龍寺), known for its gorgeous Japanese garden. Anyway, make sure to spend some time inside a karesansui in quite contemplation: even the most overactive person (here I am!) will find relax and mindfulness here.

 

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5. Fushimi Inari Shrine

 /  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

I will tell you, this is my favorite place of all the places I have never been. There is something magical in walking till the top of the Fushimi Inari. The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) is one of the most popular sites in Kyoto and it became so popular after its appearance on the movie Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005. With its 10,000 vermilion shrine gates, it is a truly unique jem,  as well as the headquarters of the more than 30,000 inari shrines across Japan. The grounds of the shrine stretch to Mount Inari and it takes more than two hours to cover it. My advice is to take your time and walk till the top: first because in the mountain peak you can view the entire city of Kyoto; second, because the more you walk the less crowded it will be, so you can take amazing pictures and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of this place without the noise!

 

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6. Walk in the Bamboo Grove

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Another iconic landmark of Kyoto that you can’t miss – and which is not about architecture but that I include in this guide for its uniqueness – is the Bamboo Groove. Located in the Arashiyama area a bit outside the city center, the grove runs between Tenryuji Temple and Okouchi Sanso Garden. It’s one of the most popular photo spots in Kyoto and it’s quite a short route. It is also one of the most popular Instagram-Worthy locations of Japan (if not, of the world!) so be prepared to the crowd. Unless you come here very early in the morning or late in the evening, take it easy and have fun in finding the perfect shot to cut off the crowd: see below!

 

Instagram situation

Real situation

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7. Kiyomizudera Temple

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

The Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) is one of the most important and oldest historic monuments in Japan built in 780. The temple is especially popular in autumn and during the sakura in spring, when the hills around the temple are covered with colorful trees. The temple is known for its wooden terrace that stands out from its main hall, an amazing wooden structure 13 meters above the hillside below. Unfortunately, when we visited it, the structure was covered because under restoration, so I am using a picture from the web! Around the temple, you can find many other building temple and a beautiful path inside the nature. Part of the fun in the visit is also the approach to the temple along the busy street of the Higashiyama District, filled with cute shops.

 

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8. Walk in Gion

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Gion (祇園) is a district in Higashiyama ward in Kyoto City, which used to be the entertainment district and is well-known as home to Geisha dancers. Filled with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, nice shops and tea houses, Gion is a truly unique area and you can’t miss a walk here when in Kyoto. The wooden architectures are characterized by narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but then they extend up to twenty meters inside, this is because once property taxes were based upon street frontage. Hanami-koji street is the most popular and touristic street of the area, together with the Shirakawa Area which runs along the Shirakawa Canal parallel. If you are lucky, you can still spot here a traditional geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha ) or maybe a maiko (a geiko apprentices).

 

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9. Dinner at Kamogawa River 

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Kamogawa River or Kamo River (鴨川) is the symbolic river which run through the city of Kyoto, and a popular landmark itself. Its riverbank is filled with traditional wooden buildings with terraces on palisades, where in the warm season you can enjoy a drink or have dinner.

 

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10. Walk around and enjoy!

/  top 10 things to do in Kyoto

Just take your time and loose yourself in the cute streets of Kyoto. You will never forget this city !

 

All images ©ITALIANBARK

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