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Culture

Top Rated Attractions in Kyoto

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Fushimi Inari-Taisha

A famed Kyoto landmark, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is an eccentric, exhilarating, and unmissable Japanese attraction. The striking site features thousands of sacred, bright orange Shinto gates known as torii, which line the hillsides and create spectacular tunnels. It was established in 711 AD as the headquarters for shrines dedicated to the fox deity, Inari, who was believed to bring agricultural prosperity. Modern businesses now sponsor the building and the upkeep of its large wooden torii to bring about continued success.

Kiyomizu-Dera

With origins dating back more than 1200 years, Kiyomizu-dera is a timeless shrine to the Buddhist faith associated with the Hosso School. Recognized by UNESCO as part of the larger Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple complex has a rich cultural and historical legacy that's tied to the city of Kyoto. The Main Hall with its tall pillars and pagoda roof is a beautiful example of traditional temple architecture and soars above the grounds overlooking the verdant hillside. The temple's Shinto Jishu Shrine is very popular for those seeking love who come to pray for success in finding a suitable partner. Translating as 'Temple of Pure Water', the complex also features a waterfall revered for its sacred health-giving waters.

Kinkaku-ji

Surrounded by lush foliage and overlooking a tranquil pond in the heart of Kyoto, the stunning Kinkaku-ji is an iconic Zen shrine built in the 14th Century. Originally constructed as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the gilded villa became an iconic religious entity after the former's death. Part of a larger complex, the gleaming shrine is the only surviving element of this former retirement estate. Despite being ravaged by fire twice during the destructive Onin War and later having suffered a fiery fate at the hands of a schizophrenic monk, the temple was restored to its former resplendent glory in 1955. The most striking part of this serene shrine is the upper gold-paneled floors that shine in the mellow sun, and the ethereal reflection of its form in the pond below. The first floor promises the utmost calm, an almost palpable aura that radiates from the statues of the Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu that are placed here. The second floor is a secret sanctum shielded from the eyes of the common public, where the Kannon Bodhisattva rests in peaceful meditation, encircled by idols of Four Heavenly Kings. Designated a National Special Historic Site, the vivid beauty of the Kinkaku-ji attracts scores of visitors from both Japan and the world.

Nijō Castle

Nijō-jō (Nijo Castle) is an ostentatious display of might built for the first Shogun of the Edo Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle is fortified by huge walls, moats and towers which exude military prowess. The magnificent visage gives way to equally-elegant interiors, including the wooden nightingale floors that squeak when stepped, designed thus to ensure that no intruder could pass without inadvertently announcing his presence even at night. Inside, the artists of the Kano School have lavished walls, doorways and screens with elegant paintings. The castle grounds are further enlivened by a tapestry of scenic elements including a placid pond, the lovely Ninomaru Gardens, and breathtaking groves of cherry blossoms. Having found its due place on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the castle is a majestic illustration of not just architectural excellence, but also the social and cultural significance it commanded during its heyday.

Sanjūsangen-dō

Sanjusangendo stands out among the temples of Kyoto. The rectangular hall is filled with numerous carved and gilded statues of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, and dates back to 1164 although the present building was reconstructed in 1266. The multi-armed Kannon figures are arranged in ranks, each revealing subtle differences in expression and accouterments in a testament to the originality and skill of the Momoyama wood carvers. In the days of Edo, Sanjusangendo also hosted an archery contest outside the temple every January. Visitors to this historic treasure can enter it for a modest fee, but must note that photography is prohibited in the hall.

Nanzenji

Dating from the thirteenth century, Nanzenji is an important Zen temple of the Rinzai sect. Nanzenji sits on a large hillside, complete with tranquil ponds and impressive gardens. Before entering the vast wooden entrance gate, San-mon, there is a sublime dry stone garden in the sub-temple, Konchi-in. The main building, or Hojo, contains famous painted screens depicting tigers by the Kano school of artists and more gardens. The temple area is also famous for a number of vegetarian restaurants specializing in Yudo-fu (boiled tofu). Call for hours.

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