Kyoto is a major metropolitan city, but just 30 minutes away is Sagano bamboo forest. Beautiful and serene, it's a lovely place to spend an afternoon taking in the greenery. Bamboo has long played a starring role in Japanese culture and continues to do so today. Tranquil Sagano offers a sharp contrast between modern Japan and its traditional past.
With just 1.5 million people compared to Tokyo's 13.22 million, Kyoto feels practically quaint, but for more than 1,000 years, it was Japan's capital city. Today, it's as bustling as ever.
The foliage in Kyoto changes just as beautifully as it does in the northeastern United States. Here, the fiery trees are reflected in a pond at Heian Shrine. The shrine was built in 1895 to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto being founded as the capital of Japan. There are a number of weeping cherry trees here which are gorgeous during cherry blossom season, usually mid April.
Gion is Kyoto's historic geisha quarter and an area that still retains a sense of Old World charm. The area is also dotted with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and our Synchronized Spirituality: Shinto & Buddhism experience takes place in the surrounding area. Gion is fantastic neighborhood for examining traditional daily life in Kyoto, from the historic housing that still stand today to the lively Gion Festival, which takes place every July, to the important role of Geishas in Japan's cultural history.
This shrine is the most important of several thousand shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It's most recognizable for its thousands of bright orange torri gates, donated by individuals and companies; a large gate will run you a million yen. Behind the shrine's main building are trails that run up 233-meter Mount Inari; the climb to the top can take up to three hours, but after 45 minutes you'll reach Yotsutsuji intersection, which offers sweeping views of Kyoto.
Covering some 275,000 square meters, this enormous castle was built in 1603 and, as one of the best remaining samples of castle architecture from Japan's feudal era, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Nijo Castle is surrounded entirely by stone walls and moats. Within, there's Honmaru, the main circle of defense, Ninomaru, the second circle of defense, and then traditional Japanese gardens surrounding the two. The castle's gardens are particularly lovely during cherry blossom season and when the foliage changes color.
Woodblock printing artist and Michigan, U.S.A native Richard Steiner has lived in Japan for more than 40 years, all of them spent as a woodblock printmaker. His woodblock printing workshops are one of our most interactive experiences and ensure you leave Kyoto with a truly unique souvenir.
Zen Buddhist temple Ryoan-ji dates back to 1450, but who landscaped its garden and when is the topic of much heated debate. The gardens, the ideal place to Zen out, are considered to be one of the best examples of a Japanese rock garden. The garden's 15 stones are placed so that no matter your viewing angle, you can only see 14 of them.
Kyo, meaning kyoto and yasai, meaning vegetable, are Kyoto's traditional vegetables. Given that Kyoto is far from water and Buddhists don't eat meat, it only seems logical that farmers would cultivate unique vegetables. Many kyo yasai appear odd to Western eyes, but most are quite sweet and delicious. The eggplants, in particular, the shape and size of a softball and a rich purple color, are known to be deliciously meaty.