It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Kyoto (京都府).
Kyoto Prefecture is part of the Kansai Region (関西地方) and the capital is, of course, Kyoto (京都市). A big thank you to Zooming Japan, Sengoku Sophie, and Japan Australia for contributing ideas to this week’s post. As with when I wrote about Tokyo, I’ve decided to focus this week on things worth seeing around Kyoto Prefecture rather than the obvious and incredibly famous sights in Kyoto City itself. Everyone knows Kyoto – it’s full of temples and shrines, such as the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji /金閣寺) and Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) – and whilst these are fantastic places to visit, let’s see what else is on offer.
Arashiyama (嵐山), whilst being not far from central Kyoto on the Western outskirts of the city, is a world away. I’ll tell you a secret – the very first time I visited Kyoto back in 2006 I was a little disappointed. I arrived expecting olde-worlde Japan and instead found a massive, modern station, concrete buildings and pachinko parlours. However, the first time I visited Arashiyama I found the Kyoto I was in fact looking for!
Rickshaws passed by, buildings were old and wooden looking (if not actually wooden), and everything seemed to have a hint of green tea about it. Arashiyama is one of my favourite places in all of Japan actually, and I don’t think I could ever tire of it. The bamboo groves alone are enough to keep me coming back.
One of Arashiyama’s main attractions is the Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋) (meaning ‘Moon Crossing Bridge’), which also acts as a useful central landmark. The bridge, originally built during the Heian Period (794 – 1185) crosses over the Hozu River and Katsura River (the name of the river actually changes either side of the bridge).
There are lots of temples to visit in the Arashiyama area, and lots of beautiful scenery to see too. This area is particularly popular in spring and autumn, when crowds flock to see the cherry blossom and coloured leaves. Incidentally, the name ‘Arashiyama’ (meaning ‘Storm Mountain’) actually refers to the mountains on the southern bank of the river, whereas Sagano is actually the name of the main area. However, the whole area is commonly known as Arashiyama now.
Uji (宇治), a city in the southern outskirts of the city of Kyoto, is somewhere that is firmly on my list of places to visit. Famous for its tea production, Uji is also the home of Byodoin (平等院) – the temple featured on the back of the 10 yen coin. This temple is an example of Buddhist Pure Land (Jodo) architecture.
There are other temples and shrines of note in the Uji area, but Byodoin is by far the most famous. As I mentioned, Uji is also famous for tea – this is the place to go for decent green tea in Kyoto Prefecture. and an array of green tea sweets and souvenirs are available here too. Naturally, there is even an Uji Matcha Kit Kat available, and it’s really good!
Amanohashidate (天橋立) is one of Japan’s ‘three scenic views’ (日本三景) along with Matsushima (松島) and Itukushima Shrine (厳島神社) or Miyajima (宮島). Having seen the other two, I feel it’s my duty to visit Amanohashidate soon, and I might even include it on my itinerary for my trip in November. Amanohashidate is a pine-covered sandbar in northern Kyoto Prefecture, and it is said to look like a pathway between heaven and earth.
There are a number of places from which to view Amanohashidate, with Amanohashidate View Land being one of them and Kasamatsu Park being another. At Kasamatsu Park an odd way of viewing the sandbar became a tradition known as ‘matanozoki’. Visitors are supposed to stand with their back to the sandbar and bed over to view it from between their legs! This way of viewing the sandbar has become something of a tradition over the years – I guess I’ll have to try it for myself!
(Image source: JapanGuide.com)
Miyama (美山) is a remote and rural area in northern Kyoto Prefecture, famous for its traditional thatched roof (‘kayabuki’) farmhouses. People still live and work in these farmhouses, making this a part of Japan with a very authentic and traditional feeling. The main attraction here is the village called Kabayuki no Sato, which features around 40 farmhouses. Visitors are welcome here, but the majority of houses are private dwellings and cannot be entered. There is a museum though, which is a former residence exhibiting traditional tools and household items from the past. Also in the town is an indigo dyeing studio and gallery called the Little Indigo Museum.
Although most buildings are not open for visitors to poke around in, it is possible to arrange an overnight stay in one of these houses, which is by far the best and most authentic way to get a feel for the village and its history. This is something I would absolutely love to do one day!
The places mentioned above are just a few of the reasons why Kyoto Prefecture is probably one of the greatest prefectures in Japan, and that’s without even mentioning all the fantastic stuff in Kyoto City itself. Kyoto is Japan’s cultural capital, featuring some of the most important temples and shrines, a castle, lots of gorgeous traditional architecture, and of course geisha and maiko (known as ‘geiko’ in Kyoto). No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to Kyoto!
The Omiyage Section
There are so many famous souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) from Kyoto Prefecture, and most of them centre around green tea or ‘matcha’. As I mentioned above, there is an Uji Matcha Kit Kat, and there are also Houji-cha (roasted tea) and Yatsuhashi Kit Kats! Yatsuhashi is one of the best things ever invented. It is a sweet snack, and it comes in both a soft form and a baked form. I like the soft one best, but the hard, baked one used in the Kit Kats is amazing too! It has a cinnamon flavour, and tastes a bit like chai latte. The soft one is like a floppy triangle of dough with a sweet filling of red beans or sometimes chocolate or cream, whereas the hard one is a cutter shaped biscuit with a real snap to it.
(Image sources: 1, & own images)
Next week I will be writing about Osaka (大阪府). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!