1. See a temple.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan from the VIII century. It is a very old city with numerus historic relics. The oldest, and best preserved, are the temples. In Kyoto there are around 50 of them. You could spend a whole week on just going to the temples. You should definitely see a few of them (at least one Buddhist and one Shintoist). In general, when we talk about ‘temples’, Fushimi Inari is an unquestionable number one. You just can’t miss it. It is a temple dedicated to Inari – a god of harvest. It’s very famous for its Tori gates (in Japan they usually mark the entrance to the temple). In Fushimi Inari those gates are placed along the whole 5km long pilgrimage path. Tori on Inariyama Mountain are a kind of thanksgiving offering placed there by believers. Along the way you can see many little shrines. In front each of those there are sculptures of foxes (jap. Kitsune – they are the servants/ familiars of god Inari). There are so many shrines on this mountain, because Inari was worshipped here for centuries (just under different names). Each of those shrines is dedicated to a different name of the god of harvest.
Transport: Keihan line to Fushimi Inari station or JR line to Inari station. When you at the station, all you need to do is follow the crowds ;) Basically everyone goes to the same place after all.
Entrance fee: free.
Pilgrimage path: 1 – 1,5h (depending on how many photos you’re taking along the way). The whole path is paved so you don’t really need trekking shoes. Along the way there are many shops where you can eat something, buy water or drink hot tea. In one of those shops they sell boiled eggs (80 yen). If you’re buying an egg, the tea from the thermos is free. I write about it not because it’s any special treat, but because it’s simply the cheapest thing you can eat there.
Chion-in – a Buddhist temple. Its oldest buildings and gardens come from the beginning of the XVII century. For me it was the most interesting temple in Kyoto (after Fushimi Inari). Entrance to the temple is marked by Japan’s biggest wooden gate. In the temple itself you can walk on famous ‘nightingale floor’. For those unaware – it’s a special kind of wooden floor, made in a way so that it would squeak with every step. According to stories this kind of floors were constructed mainly in castles to protect the emperor or a feudal lord from the attack. It’s said that even ninja can’t walk there without making a noise. In Chion-in you’ll have a chance to try it yourself.
They also have a painting of cat that seems to look at you, no matter where you’re standing.
Personally, I liked the gardens the most. Access to the temple itself is free. You just need to remember to take off your shoes. Entrance fee to the gardens (two of them) is 500 yen. If you’d like to see only upper garden, the fee is 400 yen.
2. Kimono rental
Kyoto is an old city, where old Japanese traditions are still cultivated. You could say that it’s a cultural capital city of Japan. It’s not hard to meet Japanese people wearing kimono while paying a visit to the temple. It’s also understandable why kimono (or yukata) rental became one of the main attractions of the city. The cheapest option I have found in MAICA (4-297 Miyagawa Street, Higashiyama Ward). Renting a yukata (summer kimono made of one layer of cotton instead of silk) together with obi (wide belt), a purse and shoes costs 2500 yen (~24$) per day. You can choose the colour, of the dress and all accessories, by yourself. Japanese people go in those yukatas/ kimonos to see a temple. Personally, I discourage you from doing so. Obi is tied so tightly that it’s hard to breathe. Not to mention that tiptoeing in those shoes just asks for you to twist an ankle. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to get changed to get a souvenir photo. The shop is located at one of the old streets, so even just in front of the gate, you can get very picturesque photo. If we want to have a professional photo, we need do pay additional 1000 yen (~9,5$). For me it paid off because apart from the ‘official’ printed photo, the photographer took a few dozens of photos with my camera.
– Rental of kami kazari (special flower hair clips) – 500 yen
– Hair styling – 1500 yen
For those with deeper pockets there’s an option of going all out and dress as a geisha (with the wig and white make-up) or a samurai and have a full photo session. This kind of attraction usually costs from 6-7000 yen (~67$).
3. Traditional Japanese arts
Everyday at 18.00 and 19.00 there’s a show in Gion Centre that presents compilation of short presentation of traditional art: a tea ceremony, flower arrangement, koto (traditional Japanese cymbals), maiko (geisha’s apprentice) dance, puppet show, comedy and court play. Entrance fee is 2500 yen (~24$). Together with the ticket, you’ll get an English leaflet explaining what the show is about. Without it, it would be hard. Honestly, even with the handout it’s still awfully difficult to understand what’s going on. That show is… weird. This description is probably the best. Nevertheless, I still think it’s worthwhile to see it. Just to experience a bit of traditional Japanese culture.
In general, all alleys leading to Kiyomizudera temple are worth attention. Old houses, temples, pagodas and lots of shops and restaurants. Plus, cultural bonus – crowds of people in yukatas (they go to visit a temple).
5. The Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no michi)
– it’s pedestrian path leading to the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji – in reality it doesn’t have anything to do with silver, though). The path runs 2km along a canal, among old houses, shops and cafes. Very nice place to have a walk. Ginkakuji entrance fee is 400 yen (~4$), although the pavilion itself isn’t any special to be honest. There are more interesting historic relics in Kyoto. It’s very nice to walk along the Philosopher’s Path itself though.