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Kyoto is the heart of Japan. This may surprise some visitors – isn’t Tokyo this huge capitol metropolis? – but the history and beauty of the Land of the Rising Sun is all focused in this older city, from which the emperors ruled for almost 1100 years. Kyoto is a very safe place – that is why it was chosen as the capitol centuries ago. After bouncing around between a few locations and being treated to extreme weather or earthquakes every few years, in 794 AD the royal family moved to Miyako, or Heian-kyo, later renamed Kyoto (Capitol City). The ground is relatively stable, suffering little from the 10,00 earthquakes that hit Japan each year (don’t worry, most are too small to be felt). It is far enough from the Pacific and Japan Sea that storm surges aren’t a problem, and the mountains that surround the city on three sides shear off most of the wind from typhoons. As a bonus, Kyoto is also near a variety of exciting tourist spots in their own right. Nara was a short-lived capitol in early Japanese history, and hosts the oldest wooden structures in the world. Osaka is the economic heart of Western Japan and, as previously mentioned, offers all the electric paradigm excitement of Tokyo. And Kobe is an old beautiful port town, with a bay to the south and mountains to the north, where the oldest foreign communities all settled. A day trip away is Himeji, home of the White Crane Castle, often considered the benchmark for Japanese feudal architecture. Taken together, this region of Kansai offers the most diverse and complete experience Japan, or Nihon, has to offer.

Kyoto, with its hundreds of temples and gardens, was the imperial capital between 794 and 1868, and remains the cultural centre of Japan. Its raked pebble gardens, sensuously contoured temple roofs and mysterious Shintō shrines fulfill the Japanese fantasy of every Western cliché hunter.With an astonishing 1600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shintō shrines, a trio of palaces, and dozens of gardens and museums, Kyoto is Japan's cultural treasure house. Seventeen of Kyoto's ancient structures and gardens have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Kyoto is a sightseer's paradise. It is virtually a living museum of Japan's great artistic heritage. To explore it on foot, at least in each general area, is an intriguing and rewarding experience that creates unforgettable memories. Further, sightseeing is facilitated by the original basic grid pattern in which the city was first laid out. But whichever way you choose to view the treasures of Kyoto, you will never see enough - and never be disappointed.

Kyoto is well preserved as it was not destroyed during WWII. Many temples and shrines are in Kyoto that are worth visiting and it is difficult to see all of them. The Kyoto International Conference Center is located here which hosts many large conferences. With this conference center here and the fact that Kyoto is a large tourist attraction in Japan, you will see many non-Japanese people in Kyoto

Known for its Buddhist shrines, electronics corporations and delicious food, Kyoto is a favorite destination for travelers in Japan. Over a thousand temples still stand, as well as 17 World Heritage sites and imperial parks which are perfect for a stroll.

Kyoto, Japan’s most historically important town, is the country’s sightseeing capital, packed with 1,700 Buddhist temples, 300 Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, gardens and traditional wooden homes, all well preserved and presenting a picture of traditional Japanese culture. The city lies in the mid-western Kansai district on the island of Honshu, surrounded by plains full of rice paddies.

Visitors arriving from the Kansai International Airport or on board the famous Shinkansen bullet train at Kyoto’s modern central station may be disenchanted to initially discover a thriving, overcrowded industrial city with a straight grid of uniform streets presided over by the futuristic Kyoto Tower. The city may present a modern face, but explore behind the scenes in the outer districts or off the beaten track in the old merchants' quarters and you will glimpse cameos and images of traditional Japan, from cherry blossom to geishas, and bonsai trees to shoji screens.

Apart from the architectural legacy, which was fortunately spared the heavy bombings inflicted on other Japanese cities during World War II, Kyoto also boasts some of Japan’s most significant art works, a culturally traditional way of life, and superior cuisine. No visit to Japan is complete without devoting time to experience Kyoto.

Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the 8th century. It had flourished as the center for Japanese politics, economy and culture for some 1,200 years until the capital functions were transferred to Tokyo in the mid 19th century. There remain many temples and shrines that had been built during this long period. Seventeen historic sites including the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the Nijo-jo Castle are designated as World Cultural Heritage sites.

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Kyoto Prefecture is a sightseeing center where people worldwide return time and time again.From the end of the Nara Period (794), Kyoto has functioned as the crossroads of Japanese history. From its beginnings as the Kunikyo and Nagaokakyo settlements until the Emperor moved to Tokyo, it was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years. Even today, Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan, and continues to be loved by Japanese and people of the world alike.

The ancient capital of Kyoto, whose traditions have been matured through the ages, is now making startling advancements.Its rich culture and experience are being utilized in modern technological industries. For example, semiconductor and liquid crystal displays have been made based on the techniques of Kiyomizu Pottery. Traditional skills developed more than 1000 years in this ancient capital are now being utilized in cutting-edge technologies.

Furthermore, the people of Kyoto have produced many religious arts and forms of entertainment. Countless religious Shinto rituals and festivals have captured the imagination of people the world over. Among these, festivals such as Gion Matsuri that were lost in the turmoil of war have been restored, and continue to be carefully maintained traditions.The people of Kyoto as a matter of course open their cultural treasures the world. We hope you will enjoy the inexhaustible charm of Kyoto - its rich natural beauty, culinary culture and arts.

The Kyoto basin was first settled in the 7th century, and by 794 it had become Heian-kyō, the capital of Japan. Like Nara, a previous capital, the city was laid out according to traditional Chinese geomancy in a grid pattern modelled on the Chinese Tang dynasty capital, Chang'an (contemporary Xian).

The ensuing Heian period (literally 'Peace and Tranquility') lived up to its name. Over the next four centuries the city became Japan's cultural and commercial centre as well as its political hub. In this time, isolation from China allowed a native Japanese culture to emerge. Arts and literature flourished, spurred on by the development of a unique Japanese character set called hiragana , and the court reached the apogee of elegance.

However, while the city was to serve as home to the Japanese imperial family from 794 to 1868 (when the Meiji Restoration took the imperial family to the new capital, Tokyo), from the 9th century the imperial family was increasingly isolated from the mechanics of political power. In the provinces a new power was on the rise - the samurai or military class - with an armed force that defended the group's autonomy. Samurai families moved into Kyoto where they muscled in on the court, causing mayhem. This was the beginning of the Shogun feudal system, when a succession of military clans ruled the country until imperial power was restored in 1868.

Despite the decline of the court, Kyoto continued to prosper economically. The Ashikaga period was marked by flourishing arts and the construction of beautiful temples and gardens - many still standing today - but the rest of the country was slowy slipping into civil chaos. In 1467 a feudal argument ignited the most ferocious battle in Kyoto's history. The 90,000-strong Yamana army faced off against the 100,000 soldiers of the Hosokawa. The 10-year Onin war was fought mostly in the centre of Kyoto, destroying most of the city and scattering the population.

The war marked the start of the chaotic Warring States period until 1568, when power was seized by Oda Nobunaga, who used his military genius to consolidate power throughout central Japan. His program continued following his suicide and, by 1590, the whole country had fallen under the rule of 'Mr Monkey' - Hideyoshi. At the time of his death, Hideyoshi had completely rebuilt Kyoto and its population had swelled to 500,000. Soon after a rival government was set up at Edo, and the emperor's authority became nominal.

In Edo, the Tokugawa family virtually rebuilt society, imposing a strict hierarchical social structure and enforcing international seclusion. In Kyoto, a push to increase the power of the shogun led to a wave of antigovernment sentiment and a state of internal unrest. In 1868 the shogun resigned and Japan was again reunified, and began emerging from isolation. Over 1000 years, Kyoto had fought back from its considerable loss of power by using its strongest weapon - culture.

By 1900 Kyoto was again pre-eminent in education, culture and the arts, as well as excelling in industry. The city boasted an electrical system, water system, transport network and hydroelectric power generation.

Fortunately, Kyoto was spared the aerial bombing that razed other Japanese urban centres in the closing months of WWII. The Kyoto Revival Plan was drafted in 1945, and by 1949 the city's university had already produced the first in a long line of Nobel Prize winners. By the late 1950s Japan's economic miracle had made Kyoto an international hub of business and culture. The city rode high on the back of technology and tourism through the 1970s and '80s. With the collapse of the Japanese stock market in 1989, Kyoto again suffered heavily, and recovery - though sure - has been gradual.

Today, even though it has seen rapid industrialisation, Kyoto remains an important cultural and educational centre. It has some 20% of Japane's National Treasures and 15% of Japan's cultural properties. Even though the city centre looks remarkably like the centre of a dozen other large Japanese cities, a little exploration will turn up countless reminders of Kyoto's long history.

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You can learn about the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and other aspects of traditional Japanese culture here.

Tea Ceremony

Chado or Sado (referred to as "tea ceremony" and/or "the way of tea") is a traditional ritual influenced by Zen Buddhism. Powdered green tea (matcha) is ceremonially prepared by adding hot water and mixing it by a bamboo whisk. Then it is served to a small group of guests one by one in a Japanese tea room.

You will be amazed that a tea professional practitioner is normally familiar with not only the production and types of tea, but also with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts. Many of them spend many years and often a lifetime learning the tea ceremony.

Participating as a guest in a tea ceremony may be possible by contacting the one of the locations below. Basic knowledge as to how to take tea and sweets properly can be obtained on the spot.

Flower Arranging

Kado, which literally means "the way of flowers", is the Japanese art of arranging flowers. The practice started in olden times when people arranged flowers to offer them to God or Buddha. In 15th or 16th century when a new building style became popular and the style installed an alcove in a room, arranged flowers were placed in the alcove mainly to decorate the room. Kyoto is a home of kado and there are many flower arrangement schools with their heads actively supporting this traditional art.

Depending on the type of vase to be used (whether a shallow plate-shaped or jar-shaped one), people use different styles of arranging flowers. Two of the most famous styles are Moribana (a three dimensional flower arranging), or Nageire (casually tossed-in flowers). Moribana usually requires kenzan (needle point holder) and a pair of scissors specially designed for flower arranging.

The Japanese flower arrangement creates a harmony of linear construction, rhythm, and color. While western flower arrangements tend to place more emphasis on the beauty of blossoms itself, the Japanese arrangement tries to make flowers/plants look as close to a natural state as possible.

To enjoy flower arrangement, advance booking is essential as materials have to be arranged for you in advance. Find out and enjoy differences of arrangement between Japan and Western countries.

Japanese Calligraphy

Shodo, or calligraphy, consists of artfully writing Chinese characters (known as kanji) as well as the letters forming Japanese syllabary (known as kana). Its tools are brushes, ink, and paper. Shodo was introduced to Japan from China in the 6th or 7th century.

As writing was once the only way to keep records, shodo was an essential skill. Nowadays people do not use Shodo for practical purposes, but it is remains an important part of Japanese culture. People use it to write use it to write on a number of ceremonial occasions, including writing New Year's greeting cards.

There a number of places where you can try Japanese calligraphy. It may look complicated, but if you try working with simpler characters it will be easier than you think.

Incense Ceremony

Kodo "The way of Fragrance" is the Japanese art of appreciating incense, within a certain structure of codified conduct. Kodo is regarded as one of the three major classical arts of refinement along with kado (flower arrangement) and sado (tea ceremony).

Kodo was introduced from Korea in 538. Later people were using incense at ceremonies of Buddhism and at the Imperial Court. In the Heian period (8th to 12th centuries), the Court ladies added incense fragrance to their clothes or hair.

Gradually people were began to make their own original fragrance and compete for superiority. In the Muromachi period (14th to 16th), kodo was established as an art with the founders of Munenobu Shino and Sanetaka Sanjonishi.

To enjoy, you are to burn a piece of wood called chinsuiko and enjoy its fragrance. Kodo involves many rules on behavior and manners. There are some games encouraging people to guess the incense material by smelling the fragrance. These games are conducted in a very elegant atmosphere.

Martial Arts (Kendo, Karate, Judo, Sumo)

Japan originated a number of martial arts, such as kendo, karate, judo and sumo. Kendo is the oldest of several martial arts in Japan which was practiced by samurai warriors. It is a sport similar to fencing using a bamboo sword called "shinai" and protective armor.

In kendo points are added when one contestant hits the opponent's body with a sword. Karate is a martial art that uses weaponless techniques such as punching and kicking to overcome opponents. Fighters wear a white uniform and a belt that indicates their skill level and rank. Judo, now well known as an Olympic sport, is a martial art that makes use of throws, holds and joint locks. There is no kicking or punching in judo. Just like karate, a players belt specifies their level of proficiency.

Finally, sumo, a national sport of Japan, is a martial art where two competitors wearing mawashi (silk belts) push and pull each other within a round ring. The first sumo wrestler to be pushed out of the ring or to have touched the ground with any part of the body other than the soles of feet loses the fight.

Japanese Language

Japanese is a language spoken by over 130 million people, primarily in Japan, but also in a number of Japanese emigrant communities around the world.The Japanese language is written with a combination of three different types of characters: kanji, or Chinese characters, plus two syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana. Kanji often symbolize concepts while hiragana and katakana are phonetic characters representing sounds only.

The Latin alphabet is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos. An aspect unique to the Japanese language is the presence of structures speakers use for indicating respect and modesty. These are known as honorifics. Honorifics include words, structures, and prefixes. By listening to the honorifics, it may be possible to find out the relative status of the speakers or the people mentioned in the conversation.

Japanese Painting & Haiga

Nihonga literally means Japanese painting. Its origin can be traced back to one thousand years ago, but the name Nihonga was given in the Meiji era (1868-1912) in order to distinguish it from other types of art such as oil painting introduced from Europe at that time. However, it was not just pursuing old style Japanese painting.

Instead some Nihonga painters actively tried to adopt techniques used for Western painting such as shading. Nihonga uses iwa-enogu (water soluble rock pigments). These pigments are made from natural minerals, shells, corals, and even semi-precious stones like the garnets. Pigment powders are ground up into 10 gradations from fine to sand grain textures.

The finer the powder, the lighter the color. Nihonga artists paint bearing in mind that the colors they see while the pigments are still wet will become lighter when they dry. Haiga, on the other hand, is an art where the heart of haiku is expressed in a simple and tasteful way. Haiku is a Japanese traditional poem that has the shortest form in the world (17 syllables). There are no difficult rules to be observed in Haiga, but what is characteristic of them is the use of ink and brush for depiction in lines through empty spaces.

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Temperature (average ° C)
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Weather-wise, spring and autumn are probably the best times to visit Kyoto, although they're also popular times for tourists and school groups. Having said that, although the summers (June-Aug) can be muggy, it's still a nice time to be there. If you're really out to avoid crowds, winter (Dec-Feb) - though very cold - might be just your ticket. Holidays and festivals are celebrated with crowded gusto in Kyoto, so cherry-blossom season in April and Golden Week (late April/early May) are great times to be in the city.

There's no question that the most appealing seasons in Kyoto are spring and autumn. Summers are too muggy; the surrounding mountains keep the air from moving around, making things stifled and sticky and producing ample rain. Winter is cold but not devastatingly so, and aesthetically speaking it's quite pretty. However, spring cherry blossoms and autumn amber leaves are just too good to miss.

The best time to visit Kyoto is during the cherry blossom (sakura) or Autumn leaves (momiji) season because the weather tends to be cool and sunny, the temple treasures are on display and museums have special exhibitions. As a general guide, cherry blossom lasts for about a week and could come any time from the first to the third week of April. Autumn leaves turn red from the second week of November through to the beginning of December. However, hotels and guest houses are usually booked up three months in advance for these periods, especially single rooms in cheaper hotels or guest houses.

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Japan is one the most expensive countries in Asia, if not the world for travel, but there are ways of keeping the outlays to a just-about bearable level. A skeleton daily budget, assuming you stay in the cheapest hostels, eat modestly and travel short distances, would work out to US$60.00 . Add about US$10.00 for extras like snacks, drinks, admission fees and entertainment. Staying in business or deluxe hotels and eating in pricey restaurants can easily have the ticker tipping US$200.00 . Long-distance travel is a real budget buster in Japan - if you intend to travel around to different places, it's well worth investing in a Japan Rail Pass. At the other end of the spectrum, high rollers will have no problems off-loading their cash. Japan specialises in establishments catering to the ostentatious flattery of business accounts - the higher the bill, the greater the prestige of the guests

You can buy yen at foreign exchange banks and other authorized money exchangers. At the international airports, currency exchange counters are usually open during normal office hours. The exchange rate fluctuates daily depending on the money market.

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Japan is a shopper's paradise, offering everything from high-tech gadgetry and electronics to traditional arts and crafts. Large department stores, specialty shops, fashion boutiques, hotel arcades and shopping centres abound. Popular buys include cameras, watches, CD players, hi-fi equipment, silk goods, lacquer ware, Japanese dolls, and woodblock prints.

Duty-free shopping is only available in Japan's international airports but tax-free shopping is possible in urban centres at authorised tax-free stores. In these stores, purchases of over ¥10,000 on selected items are exempt from Japan's 5% Consumption Tax but it is worth comparing prices at discount stores and bargain markets before you buy.

Shops & Stores - generally open on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays as well as weekdays. Many smaller specialty shops are closed on weekends, national holidays and over traditional Japanese holiday seasons.Department Stores - usually open on weekends and national holidays. Each store closes one weekday each week.

Kyoto has always been Japan's artistic and cultural workshop, the place where the country's finest artisans worked to produce the goods used in tea ceremonies, calligraphy, flower arrangement and religious ceremonies, as well as in kimono fabrics and other textiles.Searching for souvenirs is a great way to enjoy your Kyoto vacation. Here we'll introduce you to some of the city’s most popular souvenirs, shops, and flee markets.

Wagashi (Japanese Sweets)

"Wagashi", a time-honored Japanese confectionary, are extremely popular, with over 90% of souvenir shoppers adding them to their carts. Wagashi has a long history. Many of the wagashi shops in Kyoto presented special pastries to the emperor. Over time, a unique confectionary culture developed in the ancient capital.Wrapped inside these sweets you will typically find the tasty Yatsuhashi, a local Kyoto delicacy made of bean paste. Fresh Yatsuhashi is made with rice powder, sugar, and cinnamon, and served baked or steamed.

Tsukemono (Japanese Pickles)

"Kyo-yasai" is the name given to famous Kyoto-variety vegetables, and "tsukemono", pickled vegetables, make a wonderful souvenir. From sweet to sour to spicy, there is an endless variety of pickled vegetables to choose from and even the same "tsukemono" can taste different depending on the shop. Many connoisseurs enjoy sampling the same "tsukemono" in various stores, comparing the taste to find the best one to bring home.


During its long reign as Japan's wealthy capital city, Kyoto became famous for its traditional handicrafts, and these remain popular today as souvenirs. Small items such as folding fans, flat fans, bamboo work, items for Buddhist altars, etc are especially popular. In addition, many people bring back "Kiyomizu-yaki", famous Japanese pottery and porcelain from the kilns surrounding Kiyomizudera Temple.

Textiles (Japanese Traditional Textiles)

Beginning with the famous Nishijin silk fabrics and kimonos, Japanese textiles are associated with quality and beauty throughout the world. Since kimonos and yukatas are Japan's native dress, they are popular with foreign travelers. Nishijin textile wallets and bags are also hot items.

Face Blotting Tissue

One of the most popular Kyoto souvenirs among women is face blotting tissue. Kyoto is famous for producing the highest quality tissue in Japan. In the same way that gold leaf is hammered and flattened, Japanese paper that has undergone similar processing absorbs oil very well, and began to be used by apprentice Geisha as face blotting tissue when adjusting their make-up. Kyoto face tissue has a unique color associated with the ancient capital, and it is popular with theater and film crowds, and with Geisha. Recently, fashion models have been adopting the product, and it has become a hit with Japanese teenage girls.

O-cha (Japanese tea)

Tea is by far the most popular beverage among Japanese, and the most famous variety is produced in Kyoto's own Uji City. Eight-hundred years ago, the priest Eisai brought tea from China and it spread throughout Japan. The oldest tea shop is in Kyoto's Kouzan-ji Temple, where Uji-cha originated. Even though all varieties of Japanese tea are made from the same plant, there are many different types of tea depending on the processing method, such as Mat-cha, Gyouro, Sen-cha, and Jouji-cha.

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Sukiyaki is prepared right at the table by cooking thinly sliced beef together with various vegetables, tofu and vermicelli.Tempura is food deep-fried in vegetable oil, after being coated with a mixture of egg, water and wheat flour. Among the ingredients used are prawns, fish in season and vegetables. Sushi is a small piece of raw seafood placed on a ball of vinegared rice. The most common ingredients are tuna, squid and prawn. Cucumber, pickled radish and sweet egg omelet are also served.

Sashimi is sliced raw fish eaten with soy sauce.Kaiseki Ryori is regarded as the most exquisite culinary refinement in Japan. The dishes are mainly composed of vegetables and fish with seaweed and mushrooms as the seasoning base and are characterized by their refined savor.Yakitori is made up of small pieces of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals.

Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet rolled in breadcrumbs.Shabu-shabu is tender, thin slices of beef held by chopsticks and swished in a pot of boiling water, then dipped in a sauce before being eaten.Soba and Udon are two kinds of Japanese noodle. Soba is made from buckwheat flour and Udon from wheat flour. They are served either in a broth or dipped in a sauce, and are available in hundreds of delicious variations.

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After a day of sightseeing, you’ll want someplace comfortable and convenient to return to. Fortunately, accommodations to meet all tastes are available in Kyoto. You can feast on expertly prepared meals while relaxing in tatami-floored rooms in ryokan (Japanese style inns) and shukubo (temple lodging). Those who prefer something more familiar will be pleased at Kyoto’s range of western-style hotels, while so-called “weekly mansion” apartments are an affordable way to lodge for those who plan on staying in Japan for a bit longer. No matter where you decide to stay, it’s best to make reservations well in advance, particularly when crowds pour into the city to admire the beauty of the blooming cherry blossoms of early spring and the fire-red maple leaves of autumn.

You can choose to stay in the familiar comforts of a western-style hotel, or enjoy the comfort and personal attention of a traditional Japanese inn. By taking time to search out some of the nation's less-publicized types of lodgings, you're sure to find clean and comfortable places to stay that suit your pocketbook.

The accommodation charge is subject to a consumption tax of 5%. First class hotels also impose a 10 to 15% service charge as well. Tipping is not customary except at top luxury ryokan, where a guest will tip a maid when she first serves tea in the room.

Deluxe Accommodation

Located in major cities throughout the country, Japan's deluxe hotels are rated among the best in the world. They feature all the amenities you would expect to find in any high class western establishment including TV, air conditioning, room service, health facilities and quality restaurants. Many also offer business centres and airport transfer services. Approximately 500 deluxe hotels across Japan are registered with the Japan Hotel Association.

Business Hotels

Business Hotels are clean and comfortable "no-frills" lodgings often conveniently located within easy reach of public transportation. These hotels are usually smaller and offer fewer facilities than their deluxe counterparts. Room service is not generally available but most business hotels provide vending machines for snacks and drinks and many have their own restaurants. Accommodation is usually limited to single rooms - ideal for the business traveller. Prices generally range between ¥6,000 and ¥9,000 per person, per night.

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Japan boasts a rich sporting history and has plenty to offer both spectators and participants alike. Martial arts such as Sumo, Karate and Kendo have been popular in Japan for centuries and these traditional sports are still widely enjoyed today. Japanese wrestling (Sumo) is one of the most exciting spectator sports in Japan for both visitors and locals. Six tournaments, each lasting 15 days, are held annually in Tokyo (January, May and September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Fukuoka (November). Download a guide to traditional sports in Japan.

Over recent years Japan has also embraced a number of western sports, including golf, skiing & snowboarding, baseball and football (soccer). Baseball is Japan's number one sport and the professional league games, which take place from April to October, are a highlight of the sporting calendar.

You can swim in the Kamo-gawa in the summer. The best spot is about one kilometre (0.6mi) north of Kamigamo-jinja; just look for all the people. Keep in mind that swimming here is not without its hazards and people have drowned swimming in this river.

Kyoto is a great area to explore on a bicycle; with the exception of outlying areas, it's mostly flat and there is a bike path running the length of the Kamo-gawa.

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There's plenty to do in Kyoto when night falls. Indeed, the area around Kawaramachi-dōri and Kiyamachi-dōri fairly pulses with activity almost any night of the week. You can choose from izakaya (Japanese pubs/eateries), bars, clubs and karaoke boxes, many of which stay open almost until dawn.In this section we give you the scoop on entertainment in Kyoto, including where to go to turn yourself into a geisha or samurai.

Japan offers visitors a wealth of entertainment opportunities, both modern and traditional. Contemporary diversions include clubs, discos, live music venues and bars, as well as international performance arts such as opera, ballet, drama and musicals. For culture lovers who want to sample some of the fascinating traditions of Japanese theatre, there is Kabuki, Bunraku and Noh.

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Kyoto has a variety of temples where you can try your hand at things like Zazen meditation and shakyo, or sutra copying. You can also admire the statues on display in these temples. Here we guide you through where to go to do what, and explain how to worship at temples.

Kyoto is loaded with UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites, including Shrines, Temples and Palaces.Kinkakuji is the famed Golden Pavilion. Be prepared for massive crowds, even if you arrive early (before the gates open at 9am). Since the pavilion shines in all weather, it might be a good option to visit in the rain, when fewer visitors tend to be there. Raku Bus 101 takes you from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji.

Ginkakuji was supposed to be the silver analogue of Kinkakuji. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the silver-gilding never happened. The zen-temple is a wonderful sight though. Raku Bus 102 takes you from Kinkakuji to Ginkakuji.

Ninnaji is another classic zen-temple. Formerly a palace, it was converted to a temple. Bus 59 goes from Kinkakuji to Ninnaji, passing Ryoanji along the way.Ryoan-ji houses what must be the most famous and photographed zen garden in Japan. Be prepared for the crowds of people that throng the site, and it is more likely that you find inner solitude in the surrounding gardens, than at the famed zen garden.

If you have time for it, don't miss Kiyomizu, pretty, set in large grounds and lots to see. Don't miss the shrine with the Rabbit, if you can walk from one stone to another, you'll find the person you're going to marry. The main temple is nice but the views are truly awesome. On Route 101.

Zazen Meditation

Zazen is a unique form of meditation that functions centrally in Zen Buddhism. So central in fact that Zen Buddhists are generally known as the "meditation Buddhists". Its goals are is to calm the body and mind, and experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment, known as satori. One might also say that Zazen is the study of the self.

Zazen meditation is performed seated with legs and hands folded and an erect but settled spine. The legs are folded into standard sitting styles. The hands are folded together into a simple mudra over the belly. One breathes from the hara, the center of gravity in the belly, with eyelids half-lowered. The reason practitioners' eyes are neither fully open nor shut is so that one is not distracted by outside objects but at the same time is kept awake.Samurai warriors loved Zen culture. You can try Zazen at Kennin-ji Temple and Nanzen-in Temple.

Dry Landscape Gardening

A karesansui or a dry landscape garden is a garden composed of sand, gravel, rocks, and occasionally grass or trees but no pond or water. A karesansui are closely associated with Zen Buddhism, and often found in the front or rear gardens at the residences of Zen abbots. The main elements of karesansui are rocks and sand, which represent islands and sea respectively. Sand is often raked in patterns, which suggest rippling water. Typical examples are the gardens of Ryoan-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple, both in Kyoto. Plants are much less important in many karesansui gardens. Sitting in front of these gardens for a while may allow you a very serene experience

Buddhist Images

"Buddhist image" is a general term which refers to all images of Buddha used as objects of worship, but most commonly refers to Buddhist statues.

Buddhist images are categorized in accordance with materials and methods as follows :

Sekibutsu: Stone carved images
Chuzo: Metal cast images.
Sozo: clay images
Kanshitsu zo: lacquer images
Kondo: gilded metal images
Mokuzo: Wooden images. (Ichiboku zukuri is an image made by hollowing a piece of wood. Yosegi zukuri is an image made by putting smaller pieces of wood together.)

The physical features unique to Buddhist images include snail-coil hair, additional eyes, hands and/or additional small heads above the main head, 3-layered necks, and extremely large ear-lobes.

Buddhist pantheons are categorized as follows.

Nyorai: Nyorai are the highest ranked and have achieved complete enlightenment. Nyorai fiqures often wear simple robes.
Bosatsu:The Buddhist deities with the 2nd highest ranking after Nyorai. Although not having reached enlightenment, a Bosatsu has enough power and wisdom to reach it. Bosatsu usually have hair piled high on their head plus jewelry and crowns. These two types of images are found often in temples in the Kyoto area.You will see many Buddhist statues in temples. You may have a more enjoyable time there if you understand a little about the Buddhist images there.

Buddhist-influenced Architecture

Architecture influenced by Buddhism came from Korea and China in the 6th century. Temples were built to worship Buddha, and within each compound there were several buildings for the purpose of housing monks or nuns. By the 8th century, each compound basically consisted of seven buildings: the pagoda, main hall, lecture hall, bell tower, repository for sutras, dormitory, and dining hall. Surrounding the compound was a wall made from earth that had gates on each side. Nowadays the main hall in the compound still holds the most prominent object of worship, with the lecture hall being used by monks learning to perform rituals.

Other elements of Buddhist architecture which often attract visitors with are beautiful Japanese gardens. Many of them are landscape gardens composed of trees, ponds, sand, plants, etc. These represent forests, river/lake, ground and trees respectively. Some of them have "Shakkei (borrowed landscape)" which incorporate the backdrop into the whole garden scenery. Place & Price: There are many shrines and temples in Kyoto. Entrance fees differ.

Visiting Temples and Shrines

Temples: Temples usually mean Buddhist temples. Buddha's images are enshrined inside their main building known as "Hondo". When you stand in front of the Hondo, you are supposed to bow and pray with the palms of your hands put together. Many temples have Buddhist images and/or beautiful landscape gardens. Your visit would therefore become more enjoyable and informative if you find out beforehand what to see in the temple you visit.

Shrines: Shrines usually means Shinto shrines in Japan. Japanese people visit there on some festive and ceremonial occasions such as celebrating a new year, a newborn baby. Some hold Shinto style wedding ceremonies. People also visit temples to ask the Shinto deity to make their wish, such as passing university entrance examinations, come true. When you stand in front of the temple's main building, you will see an offertory box. You are supposed to throw some coins into the box, shake bells attached to the top of a rope, clap your hands and then offer a prayer. People shake bells and clap their hands to draw the attention of the shrine deities which are believed to reside there.

Copying Buddhist Sutra

Shakyo is the copying of Buddhist sutras. This has been handed down for many generations, and it is still a popular practice. There are many reasons for people to practice shakyo. Some do it simply as a means of improving calligraphic skill; for others it is primarily to improve mental ability of concentration; for yet others still, it is a meditative practice - calming the mind and bringing a state of inner peace after the ups-and-downs of a hectic day.

The practice of shakyo is considered highly important as a merit-earning activity by Buddhists. By copying the sutras one can obtain the spiritual blessings or grace of a Buddha for oneself or on behalf of others.

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Kyoto is conveniently accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka. From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, JR Rapid trains and airport limousines provide quick and easy transportation. From Tokyo’s Narita Airport it’s simple to connect to the Shinkansen bullet train, which will whisk you straight to Kyoto.

Once you’re in Kyoto, getting around should be no problem. The public transportation system in Japan is arguably the world’s best. Railways provide access to virtually all areas of the country, and trains running behind schedule are almost unheard of. Kyoto is no exception, and it is covered by an extensive network of buses, subways, and private railways.

If you plan on visiting regions of Japan apart from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and Wakayama) we recommend that you buy a Japan Rail pass before coming to Japan. It will allow you unlimited travel for one, two, or three weeks on all trains operated by Japan Rail, with the single exception of the Nozomi Shinkansen.

Kyoto is easily reachable from a number of major cities in Japan. Ways to get there include the Shinkansen bullet train, standard trains, airplanes, and buses. Immediately below we introduce each of these forms of transportation. The recommended ways to reach Kyoto from a number of cities in Japan follow.

From Overseas

Below are listed the flying times and the time differences between the major overseas airports and KIX/NRT.

Airport Flight time Time difference from Japan
Beijing 2 hours 40 min. -1
Seoul (Inchon) 1hour 45 min. 0
Singapore 6 hours 20 min. -1
London 12 hours -9(-8)
Los Angeles 11 hours 55 min. -17(-16)
John F. Kennedy 13 hours 35 min. -15(-14)
Sydney 11 hours 25 min. +1(+2)

Heated competition among carriers has cut the prices of standard airfares to Japan significantly, but fares increase during busy periods like the New Year, Golden Week (late April and early May), and the summer holidays. Many Japanese people fly overseas in these periods, greatly increasing demand for flights to and from Japan. As a result prices jump up.

We therefore recommend you make your travel plan well in advance and avoid these busy seasons to make most of discount fares. Discounted tickets to Japan are available on the internet. It's also possible to make use of your frequent flier miles when coming to Japan.

From the Airport

Thanks to the small area of Japan and to the efficiency of mass transit here, you're never very far away from Kyoto regardless of where you touch down in Japan. Suggested routes to Kyoto from airports throughout Japan are listed below. Accompanying times are estimated using Kyoto Station as the destination.

From Kansai International Airport(KIX)

75min. Airport Express Haruka・
These Kyoto-bound trains, operated by JR, depart from the airport every half hour between 6 in the morning and 8 at night. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can ride the Haruka for free.

・90 min. JR Rapid Service・
If you're not pressed for time and would like to save a little money, you might consider riding the Kansai Airport Rapid Service train to Osaka Station. From there take a Special Rapid train to your destination in Kyoto.

・120 min. Airport Limousine Bus・
Airport limousine buses will drop you off at selected destinations in Kyoto, including some hotels, for a fairly low price. Multiple limousine bus companies have offices in the airport's arrivals hall.

・120 min. Shuttle Taxi Service・
Reservations are usually required at least two days in advance, but shuttle taxi services provide a convenient way to reach your destination directly from the airport. For a fixed fee of a few thousand yen, they will drop you off anywhere in Kyoto for a fixed fee of a few thousand yen.

From Narita International Airport(NRT)

In a few cases it may be cheaper to fly from abroad into Narita International Airport near Tokyo than Kansai international.

・3 hours 15 min. Train・
From Narita Airport ride the Narita Express to Tokyo Station. From there take the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto Station.

・70 min. Airplane・
From Narita, fly to Osaka International Airport (ITM). From Osaka International Airport, take the airport limousine bus into Kyoto.

From Osaka (Itami)International Airport(ITM)

・60 min. Airport Limousine Bus・
You can catch an airport limousine bus in the arrivals hall. They leave regularly to Kyoto Station and less often to selected hotels in Kyoto.

・60 min. Shuttle Taxi Service・
Reservations are usually required at least two days in advance, but shuttle taxi services provide a convenient way to reach your destination directly from the airport. For a fixed fee of a few thousand yen, they will drop you off anywhere in Kyoto for a fixed fee of a few thousand yen.

From Kobe Airport

・90 min. Train・
From the Kobe Airport take the Portliner, the world's first fully automated rail system, to Sannomiya. Transfer there to the Special Rapid on the Tokaido-San'yo Line to Kyoto Station.

From Central Japan International Airport(Centrair)(NGO)

・95 min. Train・
This airport provides service to Nagoya. First take the Meitetsu-Kuko Limited Express to Nagoya Station. From there board the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto Station. Note that since the Meitetsu is a private line you won't be able to use your JR pass on it.

By Shinkansen, Bullet Train

Speeds up to 300 km/h (186 mph) mean the Shinkansen bullet train is the fastest method of overland transportation in Japan. The trains run the length and width of Honshu, the main island of Japan, down to the southern island of Kyushu. They make stops at Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and most other major cities on Honshu and Kyushu.

There are eight Shinkansen lines. The diagram below lists the names of the lines and their starting and ending points. They are listed in order roughly from north to south.

Line Name
From / To
To / From
Akita Akita Morioka
Yamagata Yamagata Fukushima
Tohoku Hachinohe Tokyo
Joetsu Niigata Tokyo
Nagano Nagano Tokyo
Tokaido Osaka Tokyo
Sanyo Fukuoka Osaka
Kyushu Yatsushiro Kagoshima

Shinkansen trains are grouped by speed. The fastest is the Nozomi, which runs from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2 hours and 15 min. Hikari, which makes a few more stops, takes 3 hours. Kodama, which stops at every station, takes 4 hours. Trains on this line depart several times per hour. They are very punctual. In 2003, JR Central announced that the average arrival time of the Shinkansen was within six seconds of schedule.

Being a holder of a Japan Rail Pass, described at the bottom of this page, makes it particularly convenient and affordable to ride the Shinkansen. All trains are open to passholders with the exception of the Nozomi.

By Trains

Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Nozomi trains make the trip in approximately 2 1/4 hours and cost ¥13520. Hikari trains, which run less frequently and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2 3/4 hours, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge.

Travellers can also take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket (in Japanese), which offers a discount for the all-stopping Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥9800 and takes 3 3/4 hours. Note that there is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.

For travel in the Kansai region, a cheaper and nearly as fast alternative is the JR shinkaisoku rapid service, which connects to Osaka, Kobe and Himeji at the price of a local train. Slightly cheaper yet are the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka and Kobe, or the Kintetsu line to Nara.

Though the Shinkansen is convenient for traveling long distances, it's sometimes necessary to ride normal trains to areas not serviced by it. Hankyu, Keihan, and Kintetsu railways provide cheaper services to Kyoto from Osaka and Kobe than JR.

Trains in Japan are designated by their speed. The fastest are Tokkyu (Limited Express) and Kyuko (Express) trains. JR charges people an extra fee to ride these, but the private lines servicing Kyoto do not. Shinkaisoku (New Rapid) are the fastest trains available for a standard fare on JR. You can reach Kyoto via Shinkaisoku in about 30 min. from Osaka or about 50 min. from Kobe Kaisoku (Rapid) trains skip some smaller stations while and Futsu or Kaku-eki-teisha trains stop at each station.

Located in stations together with timetables are diagrams indicating which trains stop at which stations. Please take care to make sure that the train you board stops at your destination.

By Domestic Flights

There are a number of airlines operating domestic Japanese flights, but All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) cover the most comprehensive area. The flight time from Narita International Airport to Kansai International Airport, Itami Airport, and Kobe Airport from Tokyo ranges from one to two hours. Once you have touched down there it will take another one to two hours to reach Kyoto. For more information on how to get to Kyoto from various airports in Japan, please see From the Airport. You can make reservations with ANA through their homepage. JAL has an up-to-date website listing numbers you can call to make a reservation at JAL.

By Buses

Visitors to Japan who are on a budget but would like to travel to Kyoto from elsewhere in Japan may want to take advantage of the night bus. JR and a number of private companies provide overnight bus services bound for and departing from Kyoto. Reservations are recommended but not necessary.

The popular JR Dream Bus runs between Kyoto and Tokyo. The overnight trip takes about eight hours and costs about JPY 9,000 for a one way ticket. If you are returning within one week a return ticket works out cheaper at around JPY 15,000. Private buses are usually cheaper than JR. A good number of them have English language websites, and a few even allow reservations online.

As Kyoto is a major city, there are many daytime and overnight buses which run between Kyoto and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to shinkansen fares.

The JR Bus Group (Japanese Website) is a major operator of the routes from the Tokyo area to Kansai. Buses operate via the Tomei Expressway (to/from Tokyo Station) or the Chuo Expressway (to/from Shinjuku Station). You can receive a discount of between 10 and 35 percent off the cost of the ticket if reservations are made at least 21 days in advance on most routes.

Other bus companies offer trips between Tokyo and Kyoto, but it should be pointed out that seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Moreover, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on ALL JR buses operating from the Tokyo area to Kyoto. (Note that the pass is NOT valid on buses to/from Yokohama.)

Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass will allow you unlimited access to virtually all JR services for a single charge. The two main exceptions to this are the Nozomi, which is the fastest Shinkansen train, and the sleeper cars on night trains. You are not permitted to ride the Nozomi with this JR pass, and you will be required to pay an additional fee to use the sleepers. Nonetheless, the pass can be a bargain for people who plan to explore multiple regions of Japan. Consider that the price of a 7 Day Japan Rail Pass is roughly the same as a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Type: Green Ordinary
Duration Adult Child Adult Child
7-Day JPY 37,800 JPY 18,900 JPY 28,300 JPY 14,150
14-Day JPY 61,200 JPY 30,600 JPY 45,100 JPY 22,550
21-Day JPY 79,600 JPY 39,800 JPY 57,700 JPY 28,850

The JR Pass can be purchased from travel agents overseas and some Japanese airlines, including ANA. It is not available for purchase within the Japan, and is only usable by short-term visitors. You will probably be required to show your passport to verify your short-term visitor status when using it. The pass is only valid on JR lines. Private lines such as the Keihan and Hankyu still require you to pay a fare. More information on the passes is available at Below are instructions on how reach Kyoto from various cities in Japan via ground transportation.

From Tokyo
135 min. Shinkansen Nozomi.
Board the Shinkansen Nozomi at Tokyo Station. It will go directly to Kyoto Station.

165 min. Shinkansen Hikari.
Board the Shinkansen Hikari at Tokyo Station. It will go directly to Kyoto Station.

8 hours. Night Bus.
Dream Kyoto, operated by JR, is an overnight bus that departs at 10pm from the stop at the Yaesu South exit of Tokyo Station. It arrives in Kyoto at 6 in the morning. You can buy tickets at the Bus Ticket Center located there at the exit. For those interested, a women-only bus called the Lady's Dream Kyoto leaves and arrives an hour later than Dream Kyoto.  

70 Min. Airplane.From Narita International Airport (NRT), fly to Osaka International Airport (ITM). From Osaka International Airport, take the airport limousine bus in the arrivals hall into Kyoto. Buses leave regularly to Kyoto Station, and less regularly to selected Kyoto hotels.

From Osaka
15 min. Shinkansen.
Get on the Shinkansen Hikari at Shin-Osaka Station and get off at Kyoto Station. No transfer is necessary.

25 min. Tokaido Line.
Take the JR Tokaido Line directly from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station. 

From Nagoya
57 min. Shinkansen.
From Nagoya Station you can take the Shinkansen Hikari to Kyoto Station without transferring.

From Fukuoka
200 min. Shinkansen.
If you board at Hakata Station in Fukuoka, you will be able to go directly to Kyoto Station without the need to transfer trains.

Narita International Airport (NRT)
70 min. by air from narita(NRT).
International Airport (Narita) to Osaka International Airport (Itami)

How to purchase tickets


In Japan, most people purchase their tickets from ticket vending machines. Rather than destination, tickets are purchased according to fare blocks (how much it costs to travel from the station of departure).

Ticket vending machines

  • First you check the fare to your destination on the map provided near the ticket machines.
  • Then you put your money in the machine and press the fare button corresponding to your destination.
  • Your ticket and change will come out in the slot at the bottom of the machine. Some machines are equipped with an alarm which sounds if you forget your ticket or change.

Transportation between Kansai International Airport and Kyoto




-73 minutes by JR "Haruka" Kansai Airport Limited Express

-About 95 - 135 minutes (Airport Limousine)

-About 120 minutes



Sketch map of Kyoto Station

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Map of Kyoto
Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto City

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