Oliver Broad

Kyoto top five

20.07.15 | Oliver Broad

The city of Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, boasts more than 15 Unesco cultural World Heritage sites, helping to attract thousands of UK visitors each year who are drawn to the city’s authentic charm and traditional sites and attractions.

Whether it’s learning about the fine art of tea in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, washing your stresses away with a visit to a Japanese onsen hot spring, or marvelling at one of the city’s many shrines and temples, Kyoto has plenty of cultural experiences. Here Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau (KCVB) has rounded up the top five must-do cultural activities in the city.

Sip tea in a traditional tea ceremony

Experience Chado or Sado, which translates into “tea ceremony” and “the way of tea” – a traditional ritual influenced by Zen Buddhism. Many tea ceremony masters spend years and often a lifetime learning the art of hosting a tea ceremony. Guests begin the ceremony by enjoying a small Japanese sweet and they can watch as powdered green tea (matcha) is ceremonially prepared by the ceremony master by adding hot water and mixing it with a Japanese bamboo whisk. It is then served to a small group of guests one by one in a Japanese tea room.

Catch a glimpse of a geisha

Visitors looking for a glimpse into the secret world of the geisha should pay a visit to the Gion district of the city, where if they are lucky they can catch sight of both maiko (apprentice geisha) and geiko (geisha) dressed in traditional kimonos. Geiko and maiko are female entertainers who wear elegant and intricate traditional dress and they perform at elite ocha-ya, or teahouses, where they sing, dance, and play traditional instruments to guests. Only the wealthy and influential are granted access to the ocha-ya, but experiences with geisha and maiko can be arranged at selected ryokan and hotels across the city.

Relax with a zen meditation class

Many of Kyoto’s stunning temples such as Taizou-in Temple and Saiho-ji Temple offer meditation classes, with one of the most popular experiences hosted at Shunko-in Temple (the Temple of the Spring Ray). The temple is home to many important artistic and cultural properties related to Zen Buddhism and they also offer zen meditation classes and temple tours in English with the classes and tours led by the temple’s American-educated vice-abbot, Reverend Takafumi Kawakami. In addition to lessons on the basics of meditation, participants will also learn how to incorporate zen philosophy into their everyday lives. Meditation classes are often followed by traditional tea ceremonies to bring the intimate experience to a close.

Explore stunning temples and shrines

Kyoto city is home to 15 Unesco World Heritage sites, all of which took on the impressive status in 1994. The most famed temple in the city is the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji Temple, in the northwest region of Kyoto, which sits in the centre of a reflective pond. Also not to be missed is the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. This intriguing shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. Visitors can explore the magical, seemingly unending path of more than 5.000 vibrant orange torii gates that wind through the hills behind Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine.

Wash your stresses away with a Japanese onsen

Onsen are hot springs, usually found in mountainous regions throughout Japan, and they’re a favourite place for locals and visitors to relax and take away the stresses of everyday life. By soaking in the hot water, which is often heated to temperatures of 40-44 degrees, visitors relax in the natural surroundings. Many people pay a visit to the hot springs for their healing powers, as they are often believed to heal the likes of nerve and muscle pain.

For more information about Kyoto, visit kyoto.travel/en.


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