When Tokyo was an unimportant village and Osaka was just a glimmer in the eye of some future shogun, the city of Kyoto was the magnificent capital of Japan. Kyoto Japan rightfully takes its place among Rome, Istanbul and Athens as city that is itself a "living museum." Even after Tokyo (then Edo) became Japan's capital in 1868, Kyoto remained the cultural and historical focal point of the country. But if you travel to Kyoto don't expect a quaint old world town. Kyoto Japan, like Tokyo, is a bustling and often claustrophobic metropolis with busloads of tourists clogging the sacred temples and Zen gardens during much of the year.
If are planning ahead, the most picturesque time to travel to Kyoto is early April when the cherry blossoms bloom. This is also the most crowded season in Kyoto Japan, and those wishing to avoid a crush of tourists should wait until the summer heat thins the throngs of foreign and local sightseers, or until the slight chill of fall sets in around October.
Just a three-hour shinkansen ride from Tokyo, Kyoto is a great second stop on your tour of Japan. Because of its proximity to the capital, numerous Tokyo-based companies offer Kyoto tours. From comprehensive trips of seemingly each and every temple ever built in the Kyoto region, to theater-themed Kyoto tours that promise the best of Noh, Bunraku and Kabuki drama, there are Kyoto tours that cover all the things to do in Kyoto Japan.
But if you want to explore Kyoto Japan minus a herd of tourists, here is a short list of things to do in Kyoto Japan.
To the north and west of the city center you will find three renowned Zen temples that are a must see when you travel to Kyoto. This series of buildings known as Daitoku-ji were established as a small monastery 1315. Eight of Daitoku-ji's 22 temples are open to the public—the best are Daisen, Suiho and Koto. The temple gardens, ancient calligraphy, and traditional Zen temple food (wheat gluton and tofu!) are some the highlights of an afternoon stroll around these Zen temples. Another temple that shouldn't be missed is the Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion.
Another of the more relaxing things to do in Kyoto Japan is visit one of the Kyoto Gardens. One of the best Kyoto Gardens lies inside the Katsura Rikyu (Katsura Imperial Villa) west of Kyoto Station. A number of tea houses overlook a large central pond. Contrasting the almost severe refinement of Katsura Rikyu are the Shugaku-in Rikyu Gardens. Located in the Kyoto's northern foothills, the Shugaku are more ornate and feature a number of different ponds and bridges. Both of these Kyoto Gardens are excellent, but if you are pressed for time, try the Shugaku-in Rikyu and look for the carp carved on the cedar door in the middle of the park. This carved carp is second only to the famous "see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil" carving on the Three Monkeys Temple in Nikko. (As an aside, the Three Monkeys Temple is definitely worth a trip to Nikko.)
With an astounding seventeen Unesco World Heritage Sites, there are sightseeing opportunities literally everywhere you look. So whether you accompany a tour group, or strike out on your own, modern Kyoto is still a treat for those travelers looking to transport themselves back to the days of Zen simplicity, and quiet contemplation in beautiful gardens.