Of the thousands of beautiful locations people can choose to visit in Japan each year, there’s a reason why millions of tourists flock to Kyoto. Well, not just one reason – hundreds of them! From the stunning kyo-machiya (traditional townhouses) to the intricately patterned and poised pagodas, this former capital really is a must-see during your trip to Japan. But unlike the largely modernised and transport-efficient Tokyo, Kyoto remains traditional and slow-paced. When your only option is to wander through the streets from one location to another, MagicalTrip has got you covered. In this blog, explore the city through their Kyoto walking tour and get a fuller experience during your Kyoto trip. We’ll admire the art of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, explore Kiyomizu and enjoy Kyoto wagashi in the winding streets. So let’s get started on our Kyoto day trip… After a brief history lesson!
Of course this article is about the present, but Kyoto is really a city that lives in the past. When it comes to Japanese cities, other than Tokyo, Kyoto is generally the first name that pops into your head. But why is it so significant?
For starters, Kyoto was actually the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 – over 1,000 years! The majority of Japan’s transformative history lies within this time period, meaning Kyoto was truly the place that saw Japanese history unfold. Tokyo, (historically called Edo) was literally just a tiny fishing village back then. ‘Kyoto’ – 京都 – literally means ‘capital city’, but it has had multiple names throughout the centuries: ‘West Capital’ (Saikyō), ‘The Capital’ (Miyako) and ‘Capital of Peace and Tranquillity’ (Heian-kyō) – my personal favourite!
Kyoto to Tokyo
In terms of positioning within Japan, as you can see in the map below, Kyoto is fairly central. This meant it was in the best position to trade across the nation. In addition to this, access to modern day ‘Osaka Bay’ meant overseas trade could take place directly from the capital. Since 794, Kyoto has seen its fair share of bloodshed and uprisings. Home to the Imperial Court, the majority of political shifts throughout Japanese history occurred here. As the Imperial Court moved to Tokyo, the capital switched and Kyoto, with all of its rich history, was left behind.
Because 1868 is relatively ‘new’ history, Tokyo has more or less developed without the same kinds of troubles since it became capital. However, due to the Japanese industrial revolution around this time, Tokyo was built with little regard for traditional building styles and materials. This is why we see a stark contrast between Tokyo and Kyoto. Thus, it’s recommended to visit both cities to experience the ‘two sides’ of Japan.
Well today we’re exploring the old capital specifically, so let’s take a look at what this Kyoto walking tour has to offer!
Let’s kick off our MagicalTrip Kyoto walking tour with the most basic yet enriching of activities: walking! Breathe in that sweet Kyoto air with its subtle plum blossom scent as you stroll through Kiyomizuzaka with your local tour guide. Kiyomizu is the general name given to one of the central areas of Kyoto. Think of it this way; If you only had one day in Kyoto, this is where you’d spend it. Kiyomizuzaka is the city’s most famous street, with its street vendors, lantern-lit shops and winding cobbled path leading up to Yasaka Pagoda.
So our Kyoto walking tour has begun! With the help of your local tour guide, explore the area around Kiyomizu-dera shrine for a while. With MagicalTrip, you can enjoy 3 complimentary snacks which your guide can pick out or recommend to you: This part of the Kyoto tour is a chance for foodies to get their hands on the local delicacies. It’s essentially a mini Kyoto food tour within the main one! Oh, and for those of you who are vegan, MagicalTrip ensures there are options for you too, so Kyoto street food is accessible for everyone.
Before you head to Kiyomizu-dera temple, you’ll get your first taste of Japanese shrine etiquette at Yasaka Koshindo. You may have seen photos before, but this Kyoto shrine is used in a unique style of worship by Buddhist, Shinto and Taoist groups. This being said, many tourists also queue up for their turn at the shrine, where you can write your wish on a vibrant ball and hang it from the temple. Yasaka Koshindo is often referred to as ‘the most Instagrammable shrine’ – I can see why!
Technically you’ve already been introduced to some shrine etiquette at Yasaka Koshindo. However this is where your true Kyoto shrine tour begins; at Kiyomizu-dera temple. Generally accepted as the ‘main’ Kyoto shrine, this jaw-dropping Japanese temple tour is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
But before we set foot in the grounds, isn’t there an entrance fee? I’m glad you asked, because now I can tell you that the Kiyomizu-dera temple entrance fee is completely covered by MagicalTrip! You can breathe easy and enjoy the Kiyomizu-dera cherry blossom – or alternatively the beautiful autumn or winter scenes that unfold each year.
A sizable chunk of your day tour will be spent within this beautiful temple’s ancient structures. This complete Kyoto temple tour will be a chance to get to grips with some Japanese shrine etiquette, such as how to use the chōzubachi (water basin) and ladle to cleanse your body and mind before approaching the prayer section of the shrine.
In the case of Kiyomizu-dera temple, this water basin doesn’t exist. Why? Because the water is supposed to be caught in the ladle from a waterfall – duh. Otowa waterfall is partially at fault for this temple’s complex name; ‘Kiyomizu’ literally means ‘pure water’, and ‘dera’ means ‘temple’ – pure water temple!
Enjoy the plum blossom, drooping willow trees or the stunning Kyoto cherry blossom scenes as you stroll through the streets. You will now escorted to your final activity; a Kyoto tea ceremony experience. Pre-booked by MagicalTrip for you, enjoy the tranquillity of one of the best tea ceremonies in Kyoto.
Geisha are traditional Japanese entertainers and hostesses. They, and Maiko, their apprentices, will prepare your drink for you as you get to watch an authentic Japanese tea making ritual. Then, enjoy the deep flavours and sit back and relax: You’ve experienced the best of what Kyoto has to offer with MagicalTrip!
As we draw our MagicalTrip Kyoto walking tour to a close, let’s quickly recap what we’ve done today:
- Enjoyed Kyoto wagashi in Kiyomizuzaka
- Visited Yasaka Koshindo, Japan’s most ‘instagrammable’ shrine
- Soaked in the tranquil atmosphere of Kiyomizu-dera temple
- Experienced the intricacies of Japanese tea culture in a Kyoto tea ceremony
So what’s not to love? Sure, we’ve just been on this virtual ride… But when it comes to a magical place like Kyoto, seeing is believing!
So if you missed the link the first 50 times, check out →MagicalTrip← here and experience traditional Japan through their Kyoto day tour.
For some reason Kyoto doesn’t appeal to you? MagicalTrip still offers over 40 other tours across Japan, so there’s bound to be something for you!
Once you’ve booked, why not come back and check out our own store here at Japan Nakama. We’ve just introduced some new Japanese tea set products and teas you won’t be able to resist…
If you’ve already booked and are waiting to jet off to the land of the rising sun, you could check out this Kyoto walking tour video below: