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As with Osaka, Kyoto is a fabulous city to visit in the winter, as you won't have to deal with the horrendous heat and humidity that melts everyone during the Summer months and early Autumn time. However as Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on all sides, it creates a basin effect which means the climate is extreme. Summer is exceptionally hot and humid, and winter is pretty chilly. Expect temperatures in the single figures, and sometimes lower. It hasn't snowed for many years (thanks global warming) but it is known to snow occasionally.
Take a stroll around Gion, the geisha district. You’ll find many nice little Cafes and restaurants, back streets and you may even spot the odd Geisha or two. Geisha are traditional entertainers and hostesses. However, their services do not include anything sexual. In Fact, they are seen, especially in modern days, as something of a sacred tradition, and therefore efforts are kept to keep it maintained.
They start training from a very early age (usually 14) when their parents send them to a tea house. The tea house becomes their house where they train in the arts of dance, singing, conversation, drinks pouring, and everything in between, it's kind of like a boarding school. Customers will then hire or book them for events and dinner etc. It is very hard to actually book them as you need to have contacts at a tea house. There are other ways you can enjoy watching Geiko and Maiko perform their arts (see below), Please note that these events are usually in Spring.
If you'd a true Geisha experience, please get in touch and we may be able to sort something.
If you'd like to experience a traditional tea ceremony followed by a traditional Geisha musical performance, then you must check out Gion Kaihan. This is one of the best ways to actually experience the Geisha culture without having to book actual Geisha through a tea house, which is almost impossible, especially for tourists. Similar to a west end show, they run these performances regularly. Located very near to the Yasaka shrine, at the end of Shijo, it is very easy to get on foot if you are in central Kyoto. To check availability and book, visit https://www.miyako-odori.jp/.
They are seasonal you'll need to keep an eye on the schedule. Visit the website above to keep an eye. Next is in spring - Miyako Odori in Shunjuza and will be held in The Kyoto Art Theater “Shunjuza” is managed by the Kyoto University of Art & Design and located at Kitashirakawa in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto city.
Similar to the Miyako Odori, just a different company and supporting tea houses. The Miyako Odori takes place annually at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo, which is an entertainment house located in the Kamishichiken district, which is similar to the Geisha district of Gion, but it is actually older and less busy/touristy! The Venue turns into a beer garden during the summer.
Tickets are around 4800 yen (including matcha green tea service/ceremony).
For tickets visit https://www.maiko3.com/
A famous Zen temple that you may have seen images of during your research of Kyoto. Originally a retirement villa for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu of the 14/15th century, it is now a beautiful building that looks over a large pond. The top two floors are completely covered in Gold leaf. The building is in the north of Kyoto city.
â–ºAdmission fee: 400 yen
Possibly one of Kyoto's most iconic and famous temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu Dera (literally: “pure water temple”) is set on the east hills of Kyoto, facing in towards the city. Founded in 780, the Temples was associated and tied with the Hosso Sect, one of Japan's oldest Japanese Buddhist schools. Its most famous for the wooden stage/platform that juts out of the side of the hill, allowing incredible views of Kyoto city. The temple is spread out over a large area but you can follow the path or indeed the crowds and it’ll take you round the whole site. I recommend getting there earlier in the day as it gets incredibly crowded with other oriental tourists.
One of the other fun things I enjoy about Kiyomizu Dera is the streets that lead up to the temple entrance. The main street is called Matsubara Dori. Have a stroll up and down this street and enjoy the fun foods and wares that are being sold. You can even take some left and right turns down some smaller streets. Shops are selling loads of tasty rice snacks, ice cream, fried snacks and other Japanese Oyatsu (snacks). You can even find the famous Machiya style Starbucks which is great fun. The temple is located just a kilometre east of the city centre and accessible on foot.
â–ºAdmission fee: 400yen
Kiyomizu Dera main balcony. Notice that it has the scaffolding for repairs. This will continue until 2019
Probably at the top of my personal favourite is Nanzenji. Possibly Japan's MOST important Zen temples, this complex is based at the foot Kyoto's mysterious and beautiful Higashiyama mountains. It is the head temple of one of the main schools in the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. In the 13th century, Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa where the temple is today and later converted it into a Zen temple.
You can walk around the temple grounds free of charge, but entering actual temple buildings and sub-temples will cost a small fee of around 400 yen.
â–ºFun Fact: The famous Sanmon gates tower above the treetops and is the location where the legendary thief Ishikawa Goemon and his son were boiled alive for a failed assassination attempt on the warlord Hideyoshi. Goemon stole gold and other goods and gave them to the poor - some say he inspired the story of Robin Hood. These days when you go to hot spring onsens and bathhouses, you often will find a iron or stone bath that is in the shape of a cauldron, called Goemonburo - named after Goemon and the cauldron that he and his son were boiled alive in.
Another fun fact: Near the Hojo (main building and former residence of the head priest) you will come across a large structure that looks very out of place - a huge red brick European aqueduct. It was built by a British architect during the Meiji period (1868-1921) and is part of a canal system that connects Lake Biwa and Kyoto, and is still active today.
Nanzenin is a sub-temple located just behind the brick aqueduct. This spot is a particular favourite of mine as it's incredibly beautiful and peaceful all year round. The main building hall looks out onto a pond and Japanese garden that surrounds the building. There is a mausoleum for the Emperor Kameyama as this was the original location for his retirement villa.
â–ºKyoto - Sanjusangendo
A Kyoto festival that is over 400 years old, held in Sanjusangendo and taking place on the second Sunday of January, it's a great event to go check out while in Kyoto this winter.
The sanjusangendo (33 statues) temple is a beautiful temple to visit, and this event has always been held here as one side of it is very long (120m/390ft) and samurai and other contestants would try to fire an arrow the length of the side of the temple and hit targets. The modern-day event takes places the day after the coming of age day, which is where young ladies who turn 20 dress up in kimonos and celebrate. This event consequently is mainly for these young ladies, Hundreds will participate and shoot arrows at targets set at 60 meters, half the length of the side of the temple. However professionals and older more experienced archers will demonstrate. The art of Japanese archery is called ‘Kyudo’.
Game centres, called Gemu-sen (short for game centre) in Japanese English, is a great Japanese pastime and fun thing to do in the evening. What I find interesting is the kind of people you find in there. You get loads of gamer veterans playing various drumming games, street fighter/Tekken type of games, and others who gamble and smoke. The Game centres are open really late, and I think some are open 24/7.. So occasionally you get a drunk and end up in a game centre. You should also get a cute print club photo and be super kawaii!
â–ºThere are a few game centres and print clubs in Nishiki market, which is great to visit during the day when the shops are open!
Game centre / gemusen... shot a pic of these young guys who clearly come here regularly. The handspeed was unreal
Kameya Yoshinaga is a very famous and respected Wagashi maker, located in the very centre Kyoto, with a long history of making the finest sweets. They use the finest ingredients to make sublime Japanese sweets. Japanese sweets is an art in Japan, and it is definitely worth going to visit the beautiful store to try some sweets.
You can also learn to make these sweets in a class! The classes start from 14:00 and last 70 minutes. Tickets are 2700 yen for adults, and 2160 yen for students and children up to 18 years old.
Click here to go on their website and book the Class!
Ippodo tea shop is very famous, and one of the most renowned and respected tea companies in Japan. Located in north central Kyoto, you should definitely visit here. You’re in Japan, in Kyoto, the cultural capital… would be weird if you didn't check out the best tea shop in Kyoto!
Steeped in history and tradition, the tea here is fantastic and varied. Tea is a complete art, and you can go experience a tea experience, rather than just sit there and sip. A waitress will come over and explain how to pour, drink, and brew the tea with a little timer too. The tea will change flavour as you go!
You can book some master classes on tea too, click here to check out their website for more info.