The unknown and undiscovered world of the East, with a culture so completely different from other countries, is all embodied in Japan. And while Tokyo is the beating heart of the country, Kyoto is its true soul. Most of our trip was spent exploring Kyoto and its neighbourhood.

What’s there to discover in Kyoto?

One of the brightest attractions in Kyoto is the Kiyomizu-dera or ‘Shrine of Pure Water’ Buddhist temple complex. According to a legend, the place where the temple was constructed was pointed out to the monk by the thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. There are several other architectural monuments listed as national treasures, as well as waterfalls. It is said that the water here has healing power and drinking water from three different springs brings health, longevity and success in learning. It’s also a good place to admire the red maples (momiji-gari) and sunset!

The Fushimi Inari-taisha or Temple of the Goddess of Rice and Fertility is another popular sight in Kyoto. This sacred place is located on the slopes of a mountain with a spectacular view. Within the shrine is the famous ‘Thousand Torii Tunnel’ of red torii (U-shaped gates without flaps). This is a very popular touristic and photographic spot, so the best time to get here is early morning.

Naturally, we also visited Gion – the geisha district of Kyoto. This is the most famous geisha district, which has preserved the spirit of the Middle Ages: tea houses and restaurants with traditional architecture, stone-paved streets, maiko in colourful clothes (geisha followers). Despite understandable decline in the number of geishas over the past hundred years, Gion is still very famous, and part of the area has been declared a National Historic District, to be protected.

Outside the city centre is the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The picturesque bamboo grove of thousands of evergreen trees dates back to the 14th century. When the wind blows, the tree stalks create a unique sound. It’s a pleasure to listen to this melody, lost amongst numerous narrow paths.

It is convenient to combine a walk through the Bamboo Forest with a visit to the Arashiyama district. This is a very picturesque area on the western outskirts of Kyoto, popular with locals and tourists, especially during the cherry blossom season and in autumn. This is where we headed for the “momiji-gari”. The amazing nature of these places is conveniently observed from the traditional sightseeing ships and rental boats floating along the Hozu River.

Nara is a must-see town on the outskirts of Kyoto. The ancient city of Nara has been often personified with ‘Great Buddha, nature and reindeer’.

It is also home to Japan’s biggest Buddhist temple Tōdai-ji or ‘Eastern Great Temple’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest wooden building in the world, containing a giant bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha. There is also a deer park with over 1,200 almost tame deer, foxes, raccoons and other animals on the temple premises.

Reindeer are considered to be Shinto divine ambassadors, and over the centuries they have been carefully protected in Nara, so they have become completely tame. In the park you will not just observe reindeer freely walking around, but you can buy special biscuits and feed the animals from your hands.

If you’re staying in Osaka, be sure to go to the observation platform of the futuristic Umeda Sky Building. This 40-storey ‘Umeda Sky Building’ has an unusual shape and consists of two towers connected at the top by a ‘Garden in the Sky’ deck. The new landmark in Osaka offers breathtaking views of the city and surrounding area.

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This is just a small part of places to enjoy inside and around Japan’s most soulful and charming city, Kyoto!