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When it comes to discovering quiet corners and hidden gems in Japan, no-one knows more than our tour leaders. InsideJapan tour leader Thomas Siebert takes us to five of his favourite places to get off the beaten track in Kyoto.
Kyoto is often said to be the centre of Japanese culture and as such, it is high on the bucket list of most travellers coming to Japan. With an increasing number of tourists, more and more visitors flock to the major sightseeing spots in Kyoto. Luckily, there are still quite a few beautiful places that are less well known. Here are five of the best places to escape the crowds in Kyoto.
The Arashiyama area is famous for its bamboo groves, the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, and its stunning autumn colours; but if you walk just a bit further to the north, you can also find a less famous, but nonetheless very beautiful temple nestled in the western mountains.
Gioji is an atmospheric, small temple with a picturesque moss garden and tall maple trees within its precincts. Although Giōji cannot compare with the grandeur of some of Kyoto‘s other temples, the natural surroundings and tranquil atmosphere of this temple make a visit more than worthwhile, especially during the autumn leaf season.
The Philosospher’s Path makes for a great stroll along a small canal and is famous for being one of Kyoto’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spots. Take a break from the crowds with a visit to Honen-in, a small temple located around halfway along the Philosopher’s Path, south of Ginkakuji. After walking through the moss-covered gate, you pass two sand mounds (said to purify the visitor), before crossing a small stone bridge leading you to a tranquil moss garden.
Sanjusangendo is well-known of having 1,001 Kannon statues. On most days the long wooden building is filled with tourist groups and school classes. Most visitors don’t know that just a short walk further north you can find a hidden pearl.
The temple garden of Chishaku-in is modelled after a holy mountain in China and is especially beautiful in late April – early May when its azaleas are in full bloom. Besides the garden, you can admire astonishing sliding screen paintings that were created by painters of the renowned Kano school. If you are lucky, you might get a chance to listen to young monks chanting in the main hall.
On top of a hill, not too far from Heian Shrine, there’s another, mostly overlooked, temple in Kyoto called Shinnyodo. The temple grounds encompass several buildings, including a three-storey pagoda. Most parts of the temple are free to visit, with only the inner chamber and the rock gardens requiring an entrance fee. The inner chamber features a golden canopy, along with several statues and impressive paintings. One of the two gardens is a unique modern dry garden with geometrical stone patterns representing a family crest.
If you have time to leave the city centre, take the bus to Ohara. Here you can head to Sanzen-in, a monzeki temple founded in the 9th century; it‘s one of the few temples whose head priest used to be a member of the imperial family.
The Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall, built in 1143, is the oldest building of the temple complex and houses a famed statue of Amida Buddha, accompanied by statues of the Bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi. The gardens are especially beautiful in autumn, but summer is also a good time to visit, as the mountainous area of Ohara is usually a bit cooler than the city.
As a firm favourite, Kyoto features on many of our trips. For a taste of our tour leaders’ exclusive insights, join one of our award-winning Small Group Tours, or spend a day with a guide on a Self-Guided Adventure.