Kyoto Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Japan > Kyoto > History

As the ancient and spiritual capital of Japan, Kyoto affords visitors a mircocosmic view of the country as a whole. Like hustling and bustling Tokyo, there are areas of the city which resemble any other Japanese metropolis, especially the downtown zone. You will find a throng of huge department stores in the vicinity of Shijo, a congregation of fine hotels around Kyoto Tower (pictured left), and exciting nightlife and entertainment at Pontocho in the Gion district.

However, an important historical fact sets Kyoto apart from other urban centers: it was never bombed during the Second World War. For this reason, it is possible to wander the older streets of the city and get a good idea of how life used to be in the medieval days of artisans and courtiers, merchants and samurai. You can still find streets lined entirely by wooden buildings--in the weaving district of Nishijin, for example. Some of these structures are more than a hundred years old, which may seem somewhat surprising considering the susceptibility of such buildings to the dangers of fire, earthquakes and modernization, not to mention the ephemeral qualities that Japanese culture considers a strength, even in architecture. No nails were used in the construction of many of these relics of the past.

Longevity of a different sort can be found in the great Buddhist temples of Kyoto, especially the internationally famous Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji. The latter of these was made even more famous by author-playwright Yukio Mishima, and you may wish to read his novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion before visiting. Other must-see attractions in Kyoto are Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji near Kyoto Station, Nanzenji to the east and Daitokuji to the north. These are functioning temples where you just might encounter a Buddhist ceremony or festival.

It is to see these sights, principally, that visitors come from around the globe. Kyoto has been acclaimed as the second most-visited city on earth, after Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Some 40 million visitors descend here each year. Yet it is rather easy to escape the crowds and have a rewarding time in an out-of-the-way temple or shrine. After all, there are some two thousand of them to choose from. Even Kyotoites themselves will pop into a shrine or temple now and then, to pray or simply to relax for a few minutes before continuing with shopping, studies, business, and life's more mundane tasks.

These historic and religious venues, with their fascinating gardens and artifacts, are not the only places you can experience traditional Kyoto. Vestiges of the past are also to be found in local products, such as damascene, cloisonne, and ceramics. You will find excellent souvenirs in locally produced combs, knives, fans and incense, kimono, woodblock prints and hand-made paper. These can be readily found in stores throughout the city, and particularly at shops between Karamasu and Kawaramachi at the approach to the old Floating World district of the city. Yakata Antiques, for example, carries many such items at its location in Gion's antiques quarter.

Ancient customs can also be experienced at Japanese lodgings, like the elegant Hiiragi-ya. You can travel back in time with local food and drink, too: sake, tofu, noodles, confectionery, vegetarian temple food, or the famous seasonal Kyoto cuisine of delicate flavours called kyoryori. And be sure not to miss tradition as it walks the streets in the form of geisha (properly called geiko in Kyoto), or the occasional kimono-clad housewife. Kyoto people are conservative, indeed: one isn't thought of as a real Kyotoite unless one's family has been living in the city for at least three generations!

The above notwithstanding, Kyoto also concerns itself with things modern. It is the home of world-reknowned manufacturers, like Nintendo and Kyocera. It is also considered one of the top up-and-coming cyber-sites in the world, according to Wired magazine. The modern arts scene is vibrant, and, as far as music is concerned, many people are referring to it as "the new Bristol." Experience this rennaissance city for yourself and see if you don't agree.

If you are like most visitors, you will probably plan to visit Kyoto during cherry-blossom season in April, or at the end of November to see the spectacular colours of the autumn leaves. But it really doesn't matter much which season you come to visit. The rainy season in June is considered the best time to view the mosses at Saihoji Temple. The stepped approaches to Kiyomizu Temple are also thought to look best in the rain. The end of July and August can get pretty muggy. You will be rewarded, however, with sparse crowds at the more famous tourist spots. The beer gardens are also open at this time, as are the decks outside the restaurants overlooking the Kamo River, which cuts through the very heart of town. And in the cold winter months of January and February, you will be able to attend the Yoshida Jinja Setsubun Festival and see the camellias in bloom at Honen-in and other gardens around the city.

Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 47° 48° 55° 67° 75° 81° 88° 91° 82° 72° 62° 52°
Avg. Low 32° 33° 37° 47° 56° 64° 72° 74° 67° 54° 44° 36°
Mean 39° 40° 46° 57° 66° 72° 80° 82° 74° 63° 53° 44°
Avg. Precip. 2.0 in 2.6 in 4.4 in 6.0 in 6.1 in 9.8 in 9.2 in 5.6 in 8.0 in 4.4 in 2.7 in 1.6 in

Fahrenheit temperature scale is used.