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kyoto-city-viewKyoto today only has 1.4 million inhabitants, but has tremendous cultural assets including around 20% of Japan's National Treasures, and 15% of the Important Cultural Properties. Capital of Japan from 794 until the 1868 "Meiji Restoration", this city is cupped in a ring of mountains and cut through by rivers. Home of several UNESCO World Heritage sites, the city remains beautiful in parts, but has an unfortunate micro-climate - Kyoto is notorious for uncomfortably hot/humid summers and frigid cold winters.

zen-garden-kyotoKyoto is a must see for any traveler interested in Japan, with a long history and rich culture. Although the genteel rooflines and historic cityscape have largely been replaced by a concrete, steel and neon mess, traditions remain vital to the city - people flock to see raked pebble gardens at Zen temples such as Ryoan-ii, Ginkaku-ii experience the artworks and history of Nijo Castle, dine in Pontocho or experience an overnight stay in a traditional ryokan in Gion.                                  

A major business center and home of high tech corporations such as Kyocera (Kyoto Ceramic), there are as many temples to mammon as to deities. Kyoto is also a major student town with more than 35 universities and colleges - and although some may be attracted by famous colleges, one of the major lures attracting young Japanese university students to Kyoto is the raucous nightlife. It is a particularly great place during the Gion Festival and New Year.                                      

  • Kyoto National Museum (9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m, closed Mondays; admission ¥500) is near Sanjusangen-do, and has a large collection of ancient Japanese sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, painting, and other artifacts. (It's quite similar to the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo/Ueno.) The Museum building is fairly grand, but the statue of Rodin's The Thinker out front is a bit out of place, as there's no Western art inside. It's seven minutes east of Shichijo Keihan.
  • myoshinji-temple-kyotoGinkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) is at the northern end of the Philosopher's Walk. Much like its golden counterpart at Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion is often choked with tourists, shuffling past a scrupulously-maintained dry landscape Zen garden and the surrounding moss garden, before posing for pictures in front of the Pavilion across a pond. Unlike its counterpart, however, the Silver Pavilion was never actually covered in silver; only the name had been applied before the plans fell apart.
  • Nanzen-in Zen Temple - a small, but relaxing temple and moss garden behind the aqueduct, dating back to the 13th century, Kenninji, Japan's oldest Zen temple, has handsome halls and sand and moss gardens, and is of particular interest to art lovers. Sotatsu's famed Edo-period screens of the Wind and Thunder Gods are on display. And on the high ceiling of the Hatto Dharma Hall writhe Koizumi Junsaku's splendid Twin Dragons, painted and installed in 2002. Open daily, 10 a.m.-4 pm.
  • Kyoto Tower, just north of Kyoto Station, A sightseeing tower that provides views of Kyoto's urban sprawl. Open from 9 AM to 9 PM.
  • Nijō Castle Certainly one of the highlights of Kyoto. The series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru complex is particularly impressive, and known for its "nightingale floors" - wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on. From the donjon of the inner castle, you can get good views over the castle layout, and the rest of the city. Open daily, 8.45 am-5 pm, with last admission at 4 pm. Nearest bus stop: Nijojo-mae. Nearest subway station: Nijojo-mae.
  • silver-temple-kyotoGion district The flagstone-paved streets and traditional buildings of the Gion district, located to the north-west of Kiyomizu, are where you're most likely to see geisha in Kyoto, scurrying between buildings or slipping into a taxi. The area just to the north of Shijo-dori, to the west of Yasaka Shrine, is particularly photogenic - particularly around Shinbashi-dori and Hanami-koji. Sannen-zaka ("three-year-slope") and Ninen-zaka ("two-year-slope"), two stepped streets leading off from Kiyomizu-zaka, are also very picturesque - but watch your step, slipping over on these streets brings three or two years' bad luck respectively. At the northern end of Ninen-zaka is Ryozen Kannon, a memorial to the unknown Japanese soldiers who died in World War II, with a 24-meter-tall statue of Kannon.
  • ryoan-ji-gardenRyōan-ji Famous for its Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style. Surrounded by low walls, an austere arrangement of fifteen rocks sits on a bed of white gravel. That's it: no trees, no hills, no ponds, and no trickling water. Behind the simple temple that overlooks the rock garden is a stone washbasin called Tsukubai said to have been contributed by Tokugawa Mitsukuni in the 17th century. It bears a simple but profound four-character inscription: "I learn only to be contented". There is a fantastic boiled tofu restaurant on the grounds, which you should be able to find by following the route away from the rock garden and towards the exit. It is slightly expensive, but serves delicious, traditional tofu dishes. Open daily 8 am-5 pm (Mar-Nov), 8.30 am-4.30 pm (Dec-Feb).