It’s more than ten years since my last travel to Japan, and I can barely recall everything I have experienced. I was only 13 years old when my mother’s Japanese company selected me as a participant in their cultural exchange program. Back then, we’ve been to different cities in Japan, and one of them is Kyoto.
My family was supposedly going to visit Japan for two weeks last April 2020. Sadly, the pandemic began, and it ruined every travels that we planned. So while we cannot travel, I decided to keep my wanderlust burning by having virtual tours and simply looking at some inspiring travel photos.
These 10 photos of Kyoto that I share on this post are the ones among the hundreds I saw on the internet that really blasted a fire to the wick of my wanderlust. They are really the best that you can find out there! And I’m sure they will also make you dream about going to Kyoto as well.
Just for everybody’s knowledge, Kyoto is Japan’s former capital city. It served as the emperor’s residence from the year 794 until 1868. This has led to many developments in the city, not only economic but also in its culture. Today, Kyoto is a prominent spot in Japan for many Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, imperial palaces, traditional wooden houses, and gardens.
Below are the 10 beautiful photos of Kyoto – the images of places/things in Kyoto that will be the reason why you will visit Kyoto.
Reason #1: Daigoji Temple
Let’s start with what Kyoto is much loaded with, Temples. There are 1600 temples in Kyoto, and seeing all of them would take us months or even years to see every one of them. They just show the meditative and spiritual character of Japanese people I have always admired. Here is the photo from Kyoto taken from Daigoji Temple:
One of the temples in Kyoto I discovered is Daigoji Temple. It is a designated world heritage site and significant to Japanese Buddhists, especially for the Shingon sect. The structure in the photo, called Bentendo Hall, is not the entire Daigoji temple but only a part of it. The primary temple grounds are at the mountain’s base and linked to numerous other temple buildings by a hiking path around the summit.
Whatever the remaining parts of the temple might look like, the spot on the photo shall probably be the reason why I’m visiting Daigoji Temple. It just feels so serene and tranquil, like it’s gonna give me the peace I haven’t experienced lately. The temple, its reflection on the calm water, and autumn leaves are, I think, the main appealing elements in the photo that really captivated me.
Reason #2: Kiyomizudera Gate
Whenever I travel, I always include a destination on the highlands because I seek a panoramic view of the city or nature I’m visiting. That’s why when I saw this photo of the Kiyomizudera temple gate, I did not hesitate to include it on the list. Panoramic views give me a sense of awe which is actually good for our well-being. Here is the photo from Kyoto taken at Kiyomizudera Gate:
Kiyomizudera Temple, or Pure Water Temple in English, is one of the most important temples in Japan. With the temple’s grandeur, I was not surprised that it is also on the UNESCO world heritage sites list. But what’s really mind-blowing about this temple is the fact it is already more than a millennium old! It was founded in the year 780 in the eastern hills of Kyoto with the association of the Buddhist Hosso sect.
I learned that Kiyomizudera’s main hall was also built with Otowa Waterfall inside its compound. And it has a lot more scenery to offer, not just Kyoto’s skyline. From the main hall of Kiyomuzdera, Koyasu Pagoda can be viewed nestled in the forests of another hill. All of these excites me to visit Kiyomizudera and Kyoto! I just cannot wait for that day to come.
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Reason #3: Toji-in Temple and Garden
My first time to see an actual pagoda was during our travel to Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan. It was called Cien Pagoda, and ever since that grandeur, peaceful experience, I became a fan of East Asian character and architecture. I’ve also been to Ninh Binh, Vietnam, where again I visit another pagoda.
This time in Kyoto, Japan, I craves to see the pagoda in Toji-in Temple next. Here is the photo of Kyoto captured from the Toji-in Garden:
What I love about Japanese temples are their accompanying ponds and zen gardens. They make every temple in Japan much more elegant, more photogenic, and they will definitely make you feel that you are in Japan! Like what you can see in the photo, you cannot find such a view like this anywhere else in the world, right? Besides, the Toji-in temple seems so relaxing and peaceful. It is what an adulting person, like me, would ever want to experience in their life now.
Toji-in Temple is a Zen temple established by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji in the year 1341. What others like about Toji-in Temple are that fewer tourists come here even during Spring. Hence, it is quieter than some other temples in Kyoto. The stroll inside the zen temple will let us discover more exquisite gardens and ponds.
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Reason #4: Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha
Contrary to Toji-in Temple, Fushimi Inari Taisha is a place in Kyoto that gets tons of visitors every day. No one I know who has been in Kyoto did not have a photo souvenir in Fushimi Inari Taisha, particularly in Torii gates. Well, nobody would want to miss the spectacular vermillion tunnel of hundreds of Torri gates, creating a mesmerizing infinity-mirror-like effect, right?
However, I felt Torri Gates has already turned into a cliche because of the numerous people visiting it every day and sharing the same picture on social media. I somehow lost my interest in it until I saw this photo. This picture gave me a new perspective on how to admire the gates, fueling up my wanderlust.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main shrine of Inari, the god of wealth. It is also a deity whom people ask for blessings for businesses, trades, and manufacturing. It is the most prominent Shinto shrine in Kyoto and one of the city’s most spectacular attractions. The shrine is located at the base of Mount Inari. It consists of several smaller sub-shrines that stretch for 4 kilometers up the 233-meter (764-foot) hill.
DISCOVER | 15 Best Things to do in Kyoto Aside From Temples & Shrines – click to open in a new tab and read later
Reason #5: Bamboo Forest, Arashimaya
Another popular attraction that nobody misses visiting in Kyoto is the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama. Like the Torii gates in Fushimi Inari, it somehow became a cliche destination when traveling to Kyoto.
I’ve read that tourists flock to the bamboo forest, diminishing the real essence of the green zone. Yet, I still included this on my list. Here is the photo from Kyoto taken from Arashimaya Bamboo Forest:
Why? Because it is natural, and we tend to benefit from it. Besides, the park is open 24 hours, according to insidekyoto.com. Meaning we can visit it at a time when there are fewer crowds. Thus, we can commune with nature, observe its beauty, and experience some kind of tranquility to refresh our minds. In fact, it is included in Japan’s 100 soundscape destinations, the places where we can escape noise pollution.
Just look at the photo. Imagine that you are there. It is so quiet, and all that you can hear is the rustling of the bamboo trees. As the breeze blows, the bamboo trees bump to each other and create the soothing unreal sound of nature. While at the same time, you also hear the sound of the wind and bamboo leaves like water flowing downstream. Does it inspire you to visit Kyoto too?
LEARN MORE | The Forest in Kyoto And Other Natural Attractions To Visit – click to open in a new tab and read later
Reason #6: Kinkakuji Temple
I told you a while ago that I am already a fan of East Asian Architecture. So, when I learned that there are more than 1600 temples to see in Kyoto, I got really excited. Because I know now that I can see many structures manifesting East Asian architecture without traveling from city to city.
One of the temples I discovered in Kyoto with the utmost grandeur is Kinkakuji Temple, the Golden Pavillion. Here is the photo of Kyoto taken from the pond of Kinkakuji Temple:
Like Toji-in Temple, Kinkakuji Temple is a Zen Temple. So we must expect a beautiful landscape and tranquil pond near the temple structures. It is located in the northern hills of Kyoto, built in the year 1398. It shows the extravagant culture of the Kitayama practiced by Kyoto’s aristocrats during Yoshimitsu’s times. The most appealing structure, the Golden Pavilion, has two top floors completely covered in gold leaf. It is the highlight of the Kinkakuji Temple visit.
Honestly, I could not stop looking at the Golden Pavilion. The golden walls on the top floors and the minimalistic white panels below are just so satisfying to the eyes. The water reflection makes it much lovely! This just turned my adoration for Japanese style and architecture much more profound. Perhaps I must visit Kinkakuji Temple in the same weather and time this photo above was taken to get a freaking wholesome and majestic experience in Kyoto.
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Reason #7: Higashiyama District
When I was a kid, I used to watch Anime like Inuyasha and Samurai X. For a kid born in the ’90s, that is something I am really proud of! That’s at least I did not spend most of my childhood acting cool, flirting, and scrolling social media nonsense all day. Watching animes let me learn and discover Japanese culture and eventually led me to write this blog post.
Here is the photo of Kyoto taken from Higashiyama District:
Those Animes introduced me to the Japanese life during and before the Industrial Revolution- the life portrayed in the streets of Higashiyama district in Kyoto. When I saw the photo above, I was able to reminisce all those animes immediately. It inspired me to behold in person the streets where the characters in the anime walked. Though they are fictional, I know you get the point.
Higashiyama District is a great place we experience traditional old Kyoto, particularly in the city between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine. Here, we can see the narrow streets, wooden houses, and traditional merchant shops nostalgic of the atmosphere of the old capital city. The Higashiyama District is one of Kyoto’s best-preserved historic districts, located on the lower slopes of the city’s eastern mountains.
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Reason #8: Hyakumanben Chijon-Ji Shrine
One of the most incredible things that I’ve learned from traveling so far is the beauty of diversity, including religion. Homogeneity is ugly, it is boring, and it seems nothing will make sense with it.
That’s why I am inspired by this photo. It shows me what is inside their temples and how they do their religious rituals. Here is the picture of Kyoto taken inside the Shrine of Hyakumanben Chijon-Ji:
Being a Roman Catholic Christian, I’ve been to churches hundreds of times. I have even memorized all the prayers we are singing and reciting every Sunday! To witness another form of worship just excites me.
The Chionji Temple is one of the temples in Kyoto where we can watch Japanese Buddhism rituals. It is located just north of Kyoto University at the Hyakumanben crossroads of Imadegawa and Higashioji streets. One of Japan’s “Three Significant Statues of Monju Bosatsu,” the Buddhist deity of wisdom and knowledge, can be found in this temple. As a result, students and other tourists flock to the temple to seek wisdom, as well as academic and personal success.
Honestly, I haven’t experienced any Buddhist rituals in my life. Even monks, I’ve only seen them on YouTube and TV. I think that visiting Chionji Temple could really be a satisfying experience for my ever-growing curiosity about the world out there.
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Reason #9: Hozugawa River, Arashimaya
Nature has always inspired me to travel. Whether it is a simple lake or a tall mountain, I will forever be attracted to come to those places. There are just tons of benefits which we can get in nature. We get better when we hike or when we go near the water.
That’s why when I saw this photo of Kyoto taken from the Hozugawa River, I immediately added it to this list. Not only because rivers will benefit us, but it also looks so peaceful and peaceful and perfect!
The usage of the Hozugawa river traces history back 400 years ago when it was a transport route for logs and goods brought to Kyoto and Osaka to construct castles and temples. As Japan progressed, roads were built, and people stopped using the Hozugawa river to bring construction materials to the city. Now, it is used as a boat ride sightseeing destination with serene waters and colorful trees along the river.
At first, I got inspired to visit the Hozugawa river because it’s a nature destination. I really loved the sights from the river, too, like, the colorful trees during the autumn season. But after some research, I learned that there are rapids during the boat ride, which could really be exciting! For me, this is one of the most unique things to do in Kyoto, aside from visiting temples.
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Reason #10: Tsukubai at Ryoanji Zen Rock Garden
While creating the blog post, Kyoto’s Best Nature Destinations, I discovered Tsukubai in Ryoanji Zen Rock Garden. Tsukubai is a washbasin installed at the entrance of a sacred place to allow visitors to wash their mouths and hands in preparation for a tea ceremony. On some occurrences, visitors use Tsukubai to clean the said parts of the body before visiting the grounds of a Buddhist temple.
At first, I did not care much about it. It’s just a washbasin, a simple garden ornament, I thought. But what’s written on it makes it “really interesting,” especially for growth-seeking travelers. According to stonelantern.ch, the writings on the Tsukubai forms the anti-materialistic teachings of Buddhism. They translate to:
- What one has is all one needs
- I am content with what I have
- I alone know I am content with things
- If you learn to be content, you are rich in spirit
- I learn only to be contented
- He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich
- All I know in life is to be contented, to be grateful
- I know only satisfaction
At the end of the day, this photo of Tsukubai inspires me to visit Kyoto because it means Kyoto is not just a destination for temples and sightseeing. It’s more than that! The presence of Tsukubai tells us there are thought-provoking and meaningful artifacts that await us in Kyoto. They are little things that give “travel” an essence, the ones that teach and the ones that make us better individuals.
With all the photos I posted here, we should keep in mind that they were captured photo opportunities that the photographers had. We must still be realistic in our expectations. We must not forget that there could be other people or bad weather that may downgrade the scenery.
However, I believe that photographs don’t give justice to the actual scenery. This is why I’m always excited to visit the places I’ve only seen in photos. It is why I am moved to travel most of the time and see more wonders in person. If the picture makes me feel awe, what more if I see them in person?
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