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If you are the adventurous type or indeed have a spare day, I highly recommend you take a day to explore out of Kyoto a little. There are loads of amazing sights and traditions to experience if you go slightly further afield and ‘off the beaten path’. From tasting great Japanese tea and exploring mysteries and magical temples to relaxing Onsen hot spring baths, welcome to the Local guide on day adventures out of Kyoto.
If you are doing most of your travels by train, then it's worth getting a Japan Rail Pass. It'll make travel on JR lines much cheaper and efficient. Click here or on the ad below to buy from the official vendor.
Uji is a really beautiful and historic town just a few clicks south-east of Kyoto city central. You can get there within 40 minutes on local trains. A culturally significant town in the History of Kansai, Uji is known for its superior green tea, Byodo-in Temple, and one of the oldest surviving Shrines in Japan.
How to get there: JR Nara line from Kyoto to Uji. Other trains go there too, so just ask at Kyoto station.
If you have a 10 yen in your pocket, have a look and on one side you’ll see a very beautiful, almost mythical looking temple. This is the Phoenix Hall, which is the main part of Byodo-in temple and is a National Treasure of Japan. The Temple was originally built in 998 (Heian period) as a rural Villa for a powerful Minister Minamoto no Shigenobu. After his death, a powerful member of the Fujiwara clan purchased the property and was made into a Temple by his son. The temple itself is a beautiful example of Jodo (Buddhist Pure Land) architecture.
A pretty little street that leads to Byodo-in. You’ll know you’re close by the intense and seriously powerful aroma of baked tea! It’s an incredibly unique and interesting smell. As you walk down the street you’ll see tea baking machines spitting out roasted tea into large vats. The resulting smell of the street is incredible. I’d recommend buying tea from any of these shops as a souvenir as it is known to be the best in Japan.
Take a walk along the river Uji and feel like you’ve gone back in time a little. There is an impressive 13 story stone pagoda on a little island near Byodo-in on the south side of the river.
You should also check out the Ujigami Shrine which is believed to be the oldest standing Shrine in Japan, and as a result is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located just on the opposite side of the river and is a few minutes walk from Byodo-in.
Mount Kurama (Kuramayama) is a mountainous area northwest-ish of Kyoto city. It's about an hour or so by public transport to get to Kurama station.
Mount Kurama is steeped in religious and folk culture history. It is the birthplace of the Reiki which is a fascinating and ancient art of alternative medicine and energy healing.
Mount Kurama is also said to be the home of Sōjōbō, the king of the mythical Tengu. Tengu are a spiritual being / legendary mythical creature of Japanese folklore. Tengu appears both in Shinto and Buddhism, and are considered gods in both.
One of the main attractions of Mount Kurama is Kurama Dera, which is a stunning Buddhist temple at the top of Kurama mountain. The actual temple is at the top of the mountain so the walk up to the top is strenuous and tiring, so be warned that if you are perhaps not capable of a steep uphill walk of around 45mins, you might consider not coming here. However, if you DO brave the walk and get to the top, it's beautifully rewarding with epic views over the stunning mountains.
If you’re feeling up for it (after the treck up to Kurama Dera temple) you can hike a little further up the mountain and across down to Kibune the other side of the mountain to Kibune (see below). Again, this hike is strenuous and takes around 45mins/ an hour. The uphill portion takes around 20/30mins. The mountain path starts at the back of Kurama dera. It's not hard to miss.
Kibune is a small mountain village that runs parallel to the Kibune river, in the valley of the Mountains north of Kyoto. It is an incredibly beautiful place, especially during Spring, Summer and Autumn.
Kibune is famous for the Kifune shrine, as well as the beautiful restaurants and Ryokans in the area. However, the main reason to visit is to see the incredible scenic beauty of the surrounding mountains and forests. Click here for more info on Kibune!
A great day trip is to head to the famous lake Biwa. Aside from the fact that it's the largest freshwater lake in Japan, its famous for its beauty, fishing, onsens, and other infrastructure factors like historically supplying Kyoto and surrounding towns with fresh water, as well as being very culturally significant. You won't have time to explore the entire lake and surroundings, although if you get the chance you should try.
A fun thing to do, however, is to check out some of the onsens in the area. There are a few dotted around however I recommend checking out Ogoto Agaryanse. Located on the southwestern top of the lake, roughly a 30 min train ride from Kyoto station, it’s close and a great day out. Entrance to the onsen costs around 1000 to 1500 yen and you can spend all day there. They have lots of restaurants, loads of massage chairs with great views across the lake, souvenir shops, fun vending machines selling everything from soda to Japanese local made milk, and of course the actual hot spring baths. There are around 10 or 15 baths and 2 saunas and steam rooms, all with different water properties and, a few of which are outside and look over the lake. They have vending machines in the bathing area that sell beer too! Massages are also available. I haven't got any pictures of the actual baths because cameras aren't allowed in the bathing area for obvious reasons.
How to get there: Jump on the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto station to Ogotoonsen (click here for google maps). Then walk from the station (15 mins walk)
It is also worth noting that there are many very pretty hotels and spa resort / Ryokans dotted around here which would be really nice to stay overnight at. Relax in a bath with great views over the lake and eat awesome Japanese food.
Massage chairs and relaxation areas everywhere. You can order food directly to you on the little screens on each chair!
Kinosaki is an onsen (hot spring) village around 2 and a half hours north-west of Osaka and Kyoto. The village sits on a tectonic fault line meaning that the whole area has many natural hot springs. It is a fantastic day out, but I recommend you stay over there during the night time as you'll need a day and night to fully enjoy it. The village has around 15 bath houses that you can visit, all within walking distance of each other. The speciality food of the area is Japanese spider crabs. They are incredibly fresh as the village is right by the coast. I recommend staying in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and you can walk around the village in Yukata and pop into any of the bath houses. Your Ryokan will give you a ticket that you can use to get into any of the bathhouses. If you don't stay in a Ryokan and get the ticket, you can buy one very cheaply. If you are after a day of great crab and seafood, back to back relaxing bathing sessions, and sublime Japanese hospitality, you must check this place out!
How to get there: From Kyoto station take either the JR Hashidate line or JR Sanin main line to Kinosaki onsen station (google maps). The train journey takes around 2 and a half hours if you get limited express (higher price tickets, fewer stops). If you have a Japan RailPass, you'll save a decent amount. ♦ Click here to buy your Japan rail pass ♦
Another big bath house, in the evening. You can see that everyone strolls around the village in bathrobes and Yukata!
Price per person: around £250/ €280/ $345 per person
5 Star ♦♦♦♦♦
If your budget stretches, I highly recommend spending one night in Nishimura Ryokan. A beautiful family owned ryokan, steeped in history and tradition. The service is incredible, the food is traditional kaiseki, and the whole experience is amazing. The Ryokan has two of its own bathhouses, but you will also receive a bathhouse ticket from the front desk that allows you to use any of the bathhouses in the Village. Just scan the ticket at the entrance of the bathhouse and enjoy!
Price per person: around £200/ €225/ $275 per person
4 star ♦♦♦♦
A romantic, more modest ryokan based in the heart of the village. I recommend this for couples and small families as you can still get the amazing Ryokan experience for less of the price. This ryokan has its own bath house but you can get bathhouse ticket to allow you to use the other bathhouses for free.
The Takaoyama area is an incredibly beautiful place to visit, especially during the autumn leaves and spring blossom. Around 6 km from the Kyoto city centre, you can get there by bus (bus number 8 from Shijo dori). The area is stunning and very ‘off the beaten path’. You will be fully immersed in the beauty of Japan’s mountains. I recommend taking a walk to the following places.
Kozan-ji is a large Buddhist temple set in the Takao Mountains. It is a stunningly beautiful and scenic place. I recommend coming here in spring, or Autumn. Kozan-Ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a culturally and historically significant monument of Kyoto. Steeped in incredible Buddhist history, the temple is believed to be the origin of tea cultivation in Japan.
â–ºAdmission fee: 600 yen
An ancient Buddhist temple of Shingon Buddhism school located in the Takao Mountains and a short walk from Kozan-ji temple. Definitely worth a visit due to its breathtaking views of the mountains, especially during the spring and autumn seasons. The temple is spread over a large area and will require some walking, but get your cameras out, whack in some new batteries because you’ll be finding many great photo opportunities! The temple is located above the Kiyotaki River in a valley. You can purchase little clay plates for a few hundred yen and throw them from the famous Kin’unkei cliff over the valley and into the river far below, which is said to bring good luck and great health.
â–ºAdmission fee: 600 yen
Aa stunning temple in the hills of Takoyama. Saimyoji was founded by the 54th Emperor of Japan, dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddhist god of healing. The temple and surrounding area is so beautiful, and the garden is designated as Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan.
â–ºAdmission fee: 600 yen
In the middle of it all is a really gorgeous little village in the mountains where the Kiyotaki River runs right through. You can get lunch from a number of very pretty little restaurants on the river, and eat delicious herring noodles as the rushing river runs past with the cherry blossom or autumn leaves around you. There is nothing quite like it! I recommend going to Shigetsu Tei, a nice little restaurant that looks over the river. See images below.
If you come to Takaoyama during spring or autumn, you'll find incredible beauty. Pictured here is early autumn as the leaves start to change.
The moss at Saimyo-ji is particularly beautiful. Moss, correctly placed and well kept, is a Japanese art form.
I don't blame you - the area is stunning with incredible mountain views and nature all around, and what better way to enjoy this by staying at one of the few beautiful Ryokans in the area.