Kyoto lives up to its reputation as the former capital of Imperial Japan with elegance and grandeur. Surrounded by scenic mountain vistas on three sides, Kyoto has a bit of everything to attract visitors from all over the world. It is home to some of the most brilliant UNESCO World Heritage Sites, scenic and peaceful Zen Temples, great food and age-honoured traditions and customs. A couple of days in Kyoto can hardly do it justice, but if that’s all you had to spend in Kyoto, you may want to do the things in the following list…
1.Try to make sense of the rock puzzle at Ryoan-ji
Ryoan-ji is one of the most famous rock gardens and Zen temples in Japan. Formerly, this was the residence of a Japanese aristocrat, and was later converted into a Zen temple. The speciality of the temple was the rock garden, which consisted of 15 rocks laid out in small groups in white gravel. There is no one single theory about the meaning of the placement of the rocks, but it is implied that each individual can make his or her own interpretation of the infinitely serene landscape. What is interesting is that from any point of view that you see the rocks, at least one rock is hidden from the viewer. Is that a secret message, that the meaning of life is that you can never see the complete picture, however hard you try? Well, that’s my interpretation at least. What’s yours?
Address: 13 Goryonoshita-machi, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Business Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (8.30 am to 4.30 pm from December to February)
Official Website: http://www.ryoanji.jp/smph/eng/
2.Absorb Manga culture at Kyoto International Manga Museum
Whether or not you are a fan of manga, the distinctively Japanese comics art form, you must visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Less of a traditional museum, and more of a library and repository of manga related art exhibits, this museum invites visitors to get hands-on with their 300,000+ displays. There are entire walls dedicated to influential manga comics, arranged by year, from 1945 to recent years. You can also participate in the regular ‘manga making’ workshops conducted by the museum, which teach people how to create their own manga comics. If you ever fancied becoming a Japanese manga artist, here’s your opportunity.
Name: Kyoto International Manga Museum
Address:Karasume Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Business Hours:10 am to 6.00 pm (Admissions close at 5.30 pm), Closed on Wednesdays
Official Website: https://www.kyotomm.jp/en/
3.Dress up and visit the Kyoto Toei Studio Park (Eigamura)
If you ever wanted to dress up as a Japanese Samurai, or always wanted to watch soap opera stars act in a television show, you must visit Kyoto’s Toei Studio Park. Tourists can dress up in costumes from the Edo era and pretend to live in an age long gone by, in this functional TV and movie set that is also a theme park. You can even catch some of the live studio performances with over dramatic gestures, hammed up performances and over-the-top stunts.
Address:10 Uzumasa Higashihachigaoka-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Business Hours:9:00 am -5:00 pm (Timings from December to February are slightly different)
Official Website: http://www.toei-eigamura.com/en/
4.Experience the Chado (Tea Ceremony) in Gion
Gion is famous as one of the few geisha districts left in Japan. It has many Japanese teahouses, known as ochaya, where the tea culture and the geisha culture are still alive. Many restaurants use geiko (the local term for geisha) and maiko (geisha apprentices) to entertain the customers during their meals. Visit En, one of the small ochayas to witness one of the most elegant tea rituals you will ever see. Observe the servers clean the utensils, prepare the tea, and bow down as they hand you your cup. Every small action transforms the simple act of drinking a cup of tea into a mesmerising spiritual and theatrical experience. Trust me, it is an experience you will not forget soon.
Address:272, Matsubara-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Access:5 minutes walk from Gion bus-stop
Business Hours:Group Tea Ceremony sessions start after 1 pm.
5.Enjoy the Street food at Nishiki Market
After the formality of the Tea Ceremony, you can experience the street style cuisine of Kyoto at its largest traditional food market, Nishiki Market. This is what traditional shopping streets in Japan looked like many years ago. Despite urban development and modernisation, Nishiki Market has still not changed much. You will find lovely Japanese pickles, some Kyo-yasai (local Kyoto vegetables and produce), wagashi (Japanese sweets), fresh fish and shellfish here. Some shops will offer you free samples of a simple dish, which you can try and order more if you like it. People manning small carts outside different shops cook and serve the food as per your preference. A trip to this market to get a taste of authentic Kyoto cuisine is indeed an experience of a lifetime.
Address:Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura), Kyoto, Japan
Access:5 minutes walk from Gion bus-stop
Business Hours:9am-5pm (differs for individual stalls)
Kyoto is totally opposite to the futuristic capital of Japan. It allows visitors to explore the nuances of Japanese culture through its spirituality, obsession for manga, and great culinary art. If you want to come close to understanding the Japanese way of life, you cannot afford to not visit Kyoto.
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