Kyoto. once the capital and emperor’s residence in Japan, it boasts a great collection of temples with utmost historical significance. it is, i believe, quite impossible to visit every single temple in Kyoto as there are so many.
so here are the 5 temples i’ve visited:
1. Kinkakuji Temple, Northern Kyoto
the golden pavilion. anybody with a guidebook about where to go in Kyoto would be familiar with this temple.
it is pretty. it is shiny. it is golden.
the temple used to be a retirement villa of a shogun in the 1400s, and was converted into a Zen temple after his death.
the closest station to the temple is Kitaoji station. from there, it takes about 15 mins to walk to the temple.
i got there pretty early in the morning, which must have been kinda wise because they were only just allowing people in so it wasn’t too crowded. i must imagine that the place ought to be rather packed with tourists at peak hours.
i didn’t spend too much time there. the main attraction was the golden temple itself and i could only admire it from the outside. i can’t remember if you’re even allowed into the temple (i doubt it). there’s also a tea house where you can participate in a tea ceremony – though there are many temples which have that now in Kyoto.
so, to be quite honest with you, i think it’s only worth visiting this temple if you just want to have a look at it up close and take photos. otherwise, you can just do a quick Google search to admire the beauty of the temple in all its golden glory.
admission: 400 yen.
2. Ginkakuji, Eastern Kyoto
the silver pavilion. although this one is technically not silver in colour.
it was built after the Kinkakuji and served as a retirement villa of another shogun. i wondered why it’s called the silver pavilion although it’s nowhere near silver. apparently it served as a nickname in the past, to help differentiate it from the golden pavilion. another explanation: the building gave off a sort of silvery appearance when moonlight shone onto its dark lacquer coating in the past. HMM.
whatever the explanation, it is not silver in colour. i repeat, not silver.
but still pretty.
like the Kinkakuji, the interior of the silver pavilion isn’t accessible to public. there are a few smaller temples around and a peaceful little garden by the temple.
you can get to Ginkakuji by bus from Kyoto station, or by walking, which was what i did, from Keage station. if you choose to walk, you can make a stop at Nanzenji temple, a really pretty temple that i unfortunately, had not the time to visit. from Nanzenji temple, you can walk along Philosopher’s Path which is supposed to be very pretty in spring, but i went in early spring so the cherry blossoms weren’t in full bloom yet.
admission: 500 yen
3. Sanjusangendo, Eastern Kyoto
this temple is so underrated. when i was there, there weren’t as many tourists as the other 4 temples featured in this post. in fact, there were quite many local Japanese tourists.
this temple is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
it is a very long temple and the name Sanjusangendo means 33 intervals, the number of intervals between the building’s support columns.
in the main hall, there is one large statue of a 1000-armed Kannon, flanked on each side by 500 golden statues of human sized 1000-armed Kannon.
it was an awesome sight to behold. no cameras are allowed inside the building so you can’t take a photo of the Kannons, which is why it is worth going there to see them for yourself. unlike the Kinkakuji or Ginkakuji, which you can easily do a Google search to admire if you can’t visit in person, the Sanjusangendo is best experienced in person.
the statues didn’t really have 1000 arms though. there is a way of counting the number of arms to make up the 1000 arms but i cannot recall the math of it all.
would recommend coming here for a visit. you can get here by bus from Kyoto station or a 5 minute walk from Shichijo station.
admission: 600 yen
4. Kiyomizudera Temple, Eastern Kyoto
the name of this temple literally translates to “pure water temple”. a UNESCO world heritage site, it draws tourists from all over the world. it is most famous for its wooden platform allowing great views of the trees at the hillside.
in the temple’s main hall, the object of worship is a small statue of a Kannon. having seen the many Kannon statues in Sanjusangendo, i wasn’t too impressed by it.
at the base of the main hall lies the Otawa Waterfall. people use cups attached to long poles to drink water from the three separate streams, each stream representing a particular wish.
when i was there, the place was packed with tourists, which wasn’t very pleasant. i also caught sight of a few Mainland Chinese tourists stepping barefeet into the little pond where the Otawa Waterfall poured into and thought that it was rather disrespectful.
but nonetheless, it is still a temple worth visiting for its historical significance.
admission: 400 yen
another highlight about visiting Kiyomizudera is the Higashiyama District. located very near to the temple, it is packed with shops and restaurants catered to all visitors and showcases some old school Japanese architecture. you may also happen to see geishas walking around while exploring the district.
5. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Southern Kyoto
definitely, without a doubt, my favourite temple in Kyoto.
this is a Shinto shrine famous for its gazillion brightly-coloured torii gates. a lot of people come here for its torii gate covered hiking trail, which goes all the way up Mount Inari and takes about 2-3 hours to complete.
you will notice many fox-themed items and statues here. this is because foxes are thought to be messengers for Inari, the Shinto god of rice.
i really enjoyed just walking through the entire trail. there were many temple cats around. while i was petting a pretty-looking black and white cat, she decided to jump on my lap and refused to budge. the onlookers found this amusing, as i remained trapped, squatting amongst the torii gates with a cat lying way too comfortably on my lap. local kids were pointing at it and shouting “Neko! Neko!”
but that’s how i got to being friends with a pleasant Chinese tourist. seeing my awkward predicament, she helped me take a photo with the cat first, and then helped me pry it away from my lap. we bade the cat goodbye, and then hiked the entire trail together, chatting the whole way through.
i spent the entire afternoon here and it was definitely worth it.
it is very close to JR Inari station and admission is free. so if you only have time to visit one temple in Kyoto,i highly recommend this one. 🙂