Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Kyoto is the city which used to be a center of Japanese culture for a long time. There are many temples, shrines, castles and gardens, and 17 historic monuments among them were registered as the World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994. Since there are many other attractive tourist spots in Kyoto, I would like to recommend that you stay for a while to enjoy them.
The table below shows you the list of 17 monuments in Kyoto registered as the World Heritage Site. You can also find an example of the travel route to visit them at the end of this page since they are dotted around the wide area of the city.
|Central area of Kyoto||Around Kyoto Station||Toji Temple||The five storied pagoda here, the tallest wooden tower in Japan, is a symbol of Kyoto.|
|NishiHonganji Temple||There are the representative structures of Momoyama culture such as the Karamon Gate and the Hiunkaku Pavilion.|
|Nijo Castle||It is the castle which had watched the whole history of Edo Bakufu, the military government founded by Ieyasu Tokugawa.|
|Eastern part of Kyoto||Higashiyama||Kiyomizudera Temple||The main hall here is famous for its traditional structure and the broad stage with the beautiful scenery.|
|Ginkakuji Temple||Here you will be able to find Japanese “Wabi-sabi” world, which means “Beauty within simplicity”.|
|Western part of Kyoto||Kinukake-no-michi Trail||Kinkakuji Temple||The structures covered with gold leaf and the gardens show you “the Land of Happiness” in Buddhism.|
|Ryoanji Temple||It is a Zen temple which is famous for its rock garden attracting hundreds of visitors every day.|
|Ninnaji Temple||The temple which has a relationship with the Imperial Household is also famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms.|
|Mt. Toganoo||Kosanji Temple||It is quietly standing in Mt. Toganoo and famous for its painted scrolls which are said to be the first manga in Japan.|
|Arashiyama||Tenryuji Temple||It is famous for its lusly green garden with the mountain view and the bamboo forest nearby.|
|Saihoji Temple||The garden is covered with the 120 kinds of moss which looks like a green carpet. (needs a reservation in advance by mail)|
|Southern part of Kyoto||Uji||Byodoin Temple||The Phoenix Hall, one of the representative structures of the Heian Period, is featured on the back of a Japanese 10 yen coin.|
|Ujigami Shrine||It was built as the guardian shrine for Byodoin Temple. The main hall is the oldest standing shrine architecture in Japan.|
|Mt. Daigo||Daigoji Temple||It is the large temple in Mt. Daigo. The five storied pagoda here is the oldest wooden structure in Kyoto.|
|Northern part of Kyoto||Around Kamo River||Kamigamo Shrine||It is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto which has the myth of the deity of thunder.|
|Shimogamo Shrine||It is dedicated to the mother and the grandfather of the deity of thunder. The history is as old as that of Kamigamo Shrine.|
|Mt. Hiei||Enryakuji Temple||The mountain itself represents the temple. It is called the mother of Japanese Buddhism since many famous monks studied here.|
Around Kyoto Station: Toji Temple, Nishi Honganji Temple, Nijo Castle
Toji Temple was founded just after the Japanese capital was moved to Kyoto in the late 7th century, and its five storied pagoda, the tallest wooden tower in Japan, is a symbol of Kyoto. Most of the visitors in Kyoto will see it from Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) just before arriving at the station. The five storied pagoda as well as the Kondo Hall has been designated as a national treasure, and I would like to recommend the Kodo Hall in which 21 statues of Buddha are placed according to a mandala representing the world of enlightenment. A mandala is usually drawn in two dimensions, but the statues here are said to be the three dimensional version.
The government power in Japan was moved from court nobles to warriors called “samurai” in the 12th century. Nishi Honganji Temple has the representative structures and gardens of Momoyama culture in the late 16th century, and there are the numerous national treasures. I think you should not miss a lot of beautiful sculptures of the Karamon Gate and the Hiunkaku (Flying Cloud Pavilion) which is listed as one of the three famous pavilions along with the famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji Temple) and Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji Temple).
Nijo Castle was built by Ieyasu Tokygawa in the 17th century, the founder of the last military government in Japan called “Edo Bakufu”. At the same time it is known as the site where the government power was transferred back to the Emperor in the 19th century. That is why we say this is a castle which marks both the beginning and the end of “Edo Bakufu”. The Ninomaru Palace here has been also designated as a national treasure.
Toji and Nishi Honganji Temple are within walking distance of Kyoto station. Nijo Caslte is a little away from them, and it is about 40 minute walk from Nishi Honganji Temple to Nijo Castle. I think you should take a subway from Kyoto to Nijojo-mae station.
Sculptures of the Karamon Gate
Higashiyama: Kiyomizudera Temple, Ginkakuji Temple
Kiyomizudera Temple is famous for the broad stage of the main hall, where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery such as cherry blossoms in spring and colored leaves in autumn. It must be also a great experience for you to enjoy the special night viewing offered by the temple during the peak seasons. Most of the tourists in Kyoto visit this temple and then enjoy the traditional atmosphere of the street nearby which is one of the best preserved historic districts in Kyoto.
Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) is also very popular among the tourists. The atmosphere is quite different from that of Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), and you will find Japanese “Wabi-sabi” world there, which means “Beauty within simplicity”. It has wonderful scenery in each season such as the garden covered with moss in early summer, colored leaves in autumn, and snow in winter. In addition I would like to recommend the walking path nearby called “Tetsugaku no michi” (Philosopher’s Path), where you can enjoy cherry blossoms in spring and colored leaves in autumn.
Kiyomizudera Temple is located in the south of Higashiyama Area. On the other hand Ginkakuji Temple is in the north. If you have enough stamina, you should enjoy hiking in this area. It is about 40 minute walk on the Philosopher’s Path from Ginkakuji Temple to Nanzenji Temple. After taking a subway from Keage Station (near Nanzenji Temple) to Higashiyama Station, you can walk to Kiyomizudera Temple in 40 minutes or so. It must be good for you to visit Gion on the way, the famous “geisha” district in Kyoto.
Traditional street around Kiyomizudera Temple
Kinukake-no-michi Trail: Kinkakuji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, Ninnaji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) is famous for the structures covered with gold leaf and the gardens which are said to show you “the Land of Hapiness” in Buddhism. You will be able to enjoy a picturesque view in each season such as the temple with cherry blossoms in spring, shining under the blue sky in summer, with colored leaves in autumn, and with white snow in winter.
I would like to recommend hiking on Kinukake-no-mich Trail to visit Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji Temple. Ryoanji is a Zen temple which is very famous for its rock garden. Many tourists relax around the garden and enjoy its quiet atmosphere.
Ninnaji Temple has a relationship with the Imperial Household and the Kondo Hall has been designated as a national treasure. Since it is also known as a place to enjoy cherry blossoms and colored leaves, it is crowed with the visitors in spring and autumn. It is about 50 minute walk from Kinkakuji to Ninnaji Temple.
The Kondo Hall in Ninnaji Temple
Mt. Toganoo: Kosanji Temple
Although I have not visited Kosanji Temple, it is located in Mt. Toganoo in northwestern Kyoto. It is famous for its painted scrolls which are said to be the first manga in Japan, and also known as a place to enjoy colored leaves in autumn.
There is Toganoo bus stop near the temple, where you can find a bus to Ninnaji Temple. I think it is a good option for you to enjoy a day trip around Mt. Toganoo as well as Kinukake-no-michi Trail.
Arashiyama: Tenryuji Temple, Saihoji Temple
Tenryuji Temple is a Zen temple in Arashiyama which has the lushly green garden, and the visitors enjoy cherry blossoms in spring and colored leaves in autumn. In addition, the Cloud Dragon painted on the ceiling of Hatto Hall can be seen on Saturday, Sunday, public holidays in Japan, and the special exhibition days in spring and autumn. After visiting the temple, you should also enjoy the bamboo groves nearby and the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge), the symbol of Arashiyama over the Katsura River. Both of them have a quiet atmosphere which has been loved for a long time.
Saihoji Temple is a little away from Arashiyama. It is a Zen temple which is also known as “Koke-dera”, meaning “moss temple“. The garden here is covered with the 120 kinds of moss which is so beautiful like a green carpet. In order to visit the temple, you need a reservation in advance by mail. It is about 20 minute walk from Matsuo-taisha Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line, or 10 minutes by taxi from Arashiyama. There is a bus stop near the temple, and you can find a bus to Kyoto Station.
Uji: Byodoin Temple, Ujigami Shrine
Uji, one of the most popular tea growing areas in Japan, used to be known as a noblemen’s villa in the Heian period (794-1192). Both Byodoin Temple and Ujigami Shrine show you the representative structures and gardens of Heian culture.
Byodoin Temple is very famous for the Phoenix Hall which shows you “the Land of Hapiness” in Buddhism and has many statues of Buddha designated as national treasures inside. If you come to Japan, you can also find it featured on the back of a Japanese 10 yen coin.
On the other hand, Ujigami Shrine is located on the opposite side of the Uji River. It was built as the guardian shrine for Byodoin Temple, and you can find the representative structures of the Heian period. It is said that the main hall here is the oldest standing shrine architecture in Japan.
I would like to recommend that you enjoy walking to visit both the temple and the shrine from Uji Station.
The Main Hall of Ujigami Shrine
Mt. Daigo: Daigoji Temple
Daigoji Temple is a large temple in Mt. Daigo and has the five storied pagoda, the oldest wooden structures in Kyoto. It is located between Kyoto and Uji. Although I have not visited yet, I think it must be good for you to visit this temple when you go on a one day trip from Kyoto to Uji.
Around Kamo River: Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine
There is a myth relating to the two shrines. The story begins far in the past. When a girl “Tamayori-hime” was playing in the Kamo River, she found an arrow floating on the river and took it home. She slept by the arrow at night, and she got pregnant. Time passed, and when the child had coming-of-age ceremony and was asked to offer his father a cup of sake (rice wine), he left for the heaven with the cup. It is said that the child was the deity of thunder.
Kamigamo Shrine is dedicated to this deity of thunder. On the other hand, Shimogamo Shrine is dedicated to “Tamayori-hime” and her father. Both of the shrines are located along the Kamo River, and you can visit them by bus.
Mt. Hiei: Enryakuji Temple
The mountain itself which is 848m high represents Enryakuji Temple. It is a very sacred place called the mother of Japanese Buddhism since many famous monks studied here. Although it used to have military and financial power which could not be controlled even by the persons in authority, it was burned down by Nobunaga Oda in 1571, the most famous “samurai” in Japanese history who changed this country.
It is located between Kyoto and Shiga prefecture, and there are some tourist spots to enjoy a panoramic view of Lake Biwa. I think many tourists rent a car to get around the mountain, but you can also find a bus to Mt. Hiei at Kyoto and Demachiyanagi Station (near Shimogamo Shrine).
A panoramic view of Lake Biwa
Other Tourist Spots
There are many attractive tourist spots in Kyoto other than monuments registered as the World Heritage Site. For example, I would like to recommend Ohara and Kurama. Ohara is a quiet mountain village which has the several beautiful gardens such as that of Sanzen-in Temple. Kurama is a village in the mountain which is famous for the hot springs and “Tengu”, the guardian of the deity and Buddha in Japan, and many tourists enjoy hiking from Kurama to Kibune. Kyoto is an attractive city no matter how many times you visit there.
The garden with little Jizo statues of Sanzen-in Temple
Many tourists get around the city by subway or bus from Kyoto station. In addition, I think it is also a great experience for you to walk in the unique streets lined with traditional houses of Kyoto.
For your reference, I have summarized an example of the travel route to visit all of the monuments registered as the World Heritage Site in Kyoto. In order to enjoy them, you should stay for a while since they are dotted around the wide area of the city.
|1||Tokyo/Osaka -> Kyoto (JR)||Toji Temple
Nishi Honganji Temple
|2||Kyoto Station -> Ginkakuji-mae Bus Stop (Bus)
Ginkakuji Temple -> Philosopher’s Path -> Nanzenji Temple (Hiking)
Keage Station -> Higashiyama Station (Subway)
Higashiyama Station -> Gion -> Kiyomizudera Temple (Hiking)
Gojozaka Bus Stop -> Kyoto Station (Bus)
|3||Kyoto Station -> Toganoo Bus Stop (Bus)
Toganoo Bus Stop -> Omuro Ninnaji Bus Stop (Bus)
Kinukake-no-mich Trail (Hiking)
Kinkakuji-michi Bus Stop -> Kyoto Station (Bus)
|4||Kyoto Station -> Saga-Arashiyama Station (JR)
Around Arashiyama (Hiking)
Arashiyama -> Saihoji Temple (Taxi)
Kokedera Suzumushidera Bus Stop -> Kyoto Station (Bus)
|5||Kyoto Station -> Uji Station (JR)
Around Uji (Hiking)
Uji Station -> Rokujizo Station -> Daigo Station (JR, Subway)
Daigo Station -> Yamashina Station -> Kyoto Station (Subway, JR)
|6||Kyoto Station -> Kamigamojinja-mae Bus Stop (Bus)
Kamigamojinja-mae Bus Stop -> Shimogamojinnja-mae Bus Stop (Bus)
Shimogamo Shrine -> Demachiyanagi Station (Walk)
Demachiyanagi Station -> Enryakuji Bus Center (Bus)
Enryakuji Bus Center -> Kyoto Station (Bus)
|7||Kyoto Station -> Next|
(* needs a reservation in advance by mail)