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Plan Your Kyoto Vacation

The astonishing number of temples, shrines, and palaces that adorn the city make Kyoto's architecture its most famous feature worldwide. Japan's capital for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto was the center not only of politics, but religion, philosophy, art, culture, and cuisine. All of Japan's refined cultural arts blossomed from seeds planted here, including the tea ceremony, Kabuki theater, Zen, and Tantric Buddhism.

Breathtaking sights are everywhere, though some places truly stand out, among them Kyoto's great temples, such as Kiyomizu-dera in the city's eastern mountains, and the forest-cloaked Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine pathway through a miles-long chain of towering vermilion gates. Visitors also flock to cultural hubs like the Museum of Traditional Crafts, which showcases the city's artisanal legacy, and Sanjusangen-do, with its 1,000 golden statues of Kannon.

Kyoto residents have a fierce sense of propriety about nearly everything, ranging from good table manners to family pedigree. This subtle yet strict code has some notorious consequences for locals—who are not considered true Kyotoites unless they can trace their lineage back four generations—but certain benefits for visitors. Wear out your welcome in a Kyoto home and they are likely to offer you tea as a signal that your time is up. The refined and symbolic Kyoto mind-set, however, insists that nothing made here should be of less than exquisite craftsmanship and stellar design. This philosophy means that whether browsing for gifts in a handkerchief shop, sightseeing at a local temple, or sitting down to a 12-course dinner, whatever you encounter is likely to be top-notch. As a visitor here you're a guest of the city, and Kyoto will make sure you leave with wonderful memories.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Architecture Despite modernization, about 27,000 traditional houses still grace the Kyoto cityscape. The preservation districts include Sannen-zaka, Gion Shin-bashi, the sake brewing district in Fushimi, and the canal street leading to Kamigamo Jinja.
  2. Gardens Chinese-influenced gardens symbolize paradise on Earth. The karesansui (rock gardens) of Zen temples signify the quest for wholeness; the most famous of these is at Ryoan-ji.
  3. Crafts There's no shortage of art and antiques shops; secondhand kimonos are a bargain; and ceramics, lacquerware, and woven bamboo make great souvenirs.
  4. Living culture With their opulent kimonos, hair ornaments, and artistic skills, the professional dancers and performers known as geisha are revered as an embodiment of Japanese culture.
  5. Festivals Kyoto is known for its elaborate festivals, many of which occur between May and October.

When To Go

When to Go

Cherry-blossom time in spring (usually the first week of April) and the glorious autumn foliage in early November are remarkable, though the...

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