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Traditional Beauty Of Kyoto, Japan – Extreme Holiday Tourism & Outdoor Adventure



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Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city on the island of Honshu. It’s famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.
Area: 319.6 mi²
Hotels: 3-star averaging $116, 5-star averaging $379. View hotels
Weather: 82°F (28°C), Wind NW at 9 mph (14 km/h), 93% Humidity
Local time: Friday 8:31 PM
Prefecture: Kyoto Prefecture
Population: 1.474 million (2010) UNdata

Japan’s capital for over 1,000 years, Kyoto remains awash with remnants of its past glory. The city’s stunning collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites alone would be enough to set it apart, but Kyoto also boasts a still-working geisha district, some of Japan’s most exquisite cuisine, and a whole lot of Zen. Not that it’s all temples and tradition: the city also hosts its share of hip cafes and modern art. Think of it as the cultural yin to Tokyo’s yang, but with a sprinkling of modernity. Here’s how to get a taste of it all.

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Top 10 things you should think about when visiting this place:

1. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
Be it capped by snow in winter or set against a lush green background in summer, nothing is as symbolic of Kyoto as Kinkaku-ji’s golden reflection shimmering across the rippled surface of the pond before it. Not even the crowds of tourists — and they come by the thousands — can detract from Kinkaku-ji’s undoubted splendor. The current gold leaf-coated reconstruction was unveiled in 1955, five years after the 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple’s monks.

2. Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)
Here’s an oddity: the Silver Pavilion doesn’t have a trace of silver on it. When the temple was built in the 1480s as a retirement home for the then shogun, the plan was for it to be coated in silver leaf. Scholars believe he ran out of money before they got to that part of the project. And when he died a few years later, the silver-less pavilion was converted into the Zen temple it is today. Though the temple itself is small and unassuming — a Spartan version of its illustrious golden cousin Kinkaku-ji — the reflective pond and manicured trees, the raked sand garden, and the mossy, wooded hillside to the east, from where you can see Ginkaku-ji holding back a sprawling, low-rise urban backdrop, all combine to make a spectacular whole.

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3. Ryoan-ji
Ryoan-ji Temple’s dry rock garden is a puzzle. Nobody knows who designed it or what the meaning is of the 15 rocks scattered across its expanse of raked white gravel. Some academics say they represent a tiger carrying a cub across a stream; others believe they depict an ocean accented with small islands or the sky dotted with clouds. There’s even a theory that the rocks form a map of Chinese Zen monasteries. The only thing scholars do agree on is that Ryoan-ji is one of the finest examples of Zen landscaping in the country. You could stay there for years quietly contemplating the garden’s riddles and still get no nearer to an answer, and maybe that’s the point.

4. Toei Kyoto Studio Park
Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it’s a bit tacky too, but dressing up as a samurai and watching TV actors hamming it up on set does hold a certain charm. Eigamura, or Kyoto Toei Studio Park to give it its English name, is a working TV and movie set that doubles as a theme park, where besides dressing up in period costume you can wander around a mock-up Edo-era samurai town and take in exhibitions of the well-known TV series and films shot here.

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It’s the live studio performances, however, that steal the show. The swordfights are extravagant, the facial expressions and body language overly dramatic, and the dialog at times delivered about as convincingly as an elementary school end-of-year play. It’s Japanese kitsch at its finest. Quentin Tarantino would love it.

5. Gion
It’s not the only geisha district left in Japan, but Gion, a collection of streets defined by its old wooden buildings, teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, is by far the most famous. Spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you’ll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their cumbersome zori sandals and exquisite kimono. Much to their annoyance, you’ll probably see camera-happy Japanese tourists stalking them too. Not that Gion is just about geisha. Every July, their charms are eclipsed by the Gion Matsuri, a festival that attracts in excess of a million visitors for its procession of festival floats and traditional musical performances.

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Numerous bus routes from Kyoto Station and other parts of the city stop at the Gion bus stop.

6. Kyo-Ryori
A waitress in kimono kneels on the tatami mat floor and silently begins placing a dozen or so small, yet picture-perfect dishes on the low dining table. Among the subtle favors and seasonal tones are a clear soup garnished with a sprig of green sanshou, slices of raw sea bream and tuna specked with tiny, delicate yellow flowers, and a simmering silver pot of off-white soy milk and tofu. Japanese cuisine doesn’t get more refined than Kyo-ryori, or “Kyoto cuisine.” For a quintessential Kyo-ryori experience, head to Gion and the 100-year-old Minokou restaurant, where they do an 11-course Kyo-ryori dinner for ¥15,600, as well as lunchtime sampler sets presented in shiny lacquer ware bento boxes for ¥4,000. Alternatively, try the equally traditional Kinobu, where they have a seven-course dinner for ¥12,000 and a ¥4,200 lunchtime sampler.

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