Anyone who has been to Kyoto can tell you that just one trip is not going to be enough to cover it all; Kyoto is just such an enormous, wondrous spectacle of eye-candy that it’s impossible to take it all in one go. So how can you possibly fit in everything you’d need to see? By reading this list of the top seven hidden gems located within the mighty, ancient city that is calling your name.
1. Laneways of Gion, Central Kyoto
These quiet, secluded little streets are found right smack in the heart of the Geisha district and it’s here that the true beauty of the traditional style of Kyoto architecture can be truly seen and appreciated. These tiny streets date back as far as the Middle Ages and are more or less exactly the same as the day they were completed. It was essentially a rest stop for travelers on a pilgrimage to the Yasaka Shrine nearby. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful, secluded area of Kyoto. If you’re looking to experience the historical side of the city, Gion will definitely be a top recommendation if you’re looking for advice on where to stay in Kyoto.
2. Daigo-ji, South Eastern Kyoto
This is a marvelous place to start on your trek through the aged, former capital of the country. The Daigo-ji Temple and Gardens are located in the south-eastern outskirts of the city, so far removed from the usual tourist hubs that most foreign tourists never even know it’s there. Here, you’ll find a traditional bridge leading to the temple built astride a sparkling pond flanked by hundreds of elegant maple trees. The sheer lack of tourism completes a truly sublime experience of Japanese beauty you’d be crazy to pass up.
3. Gio-ji Temple and Moss Garden, Northern Kyoto
For the nature lovers on the lookout for a peaceful, hidden treasure, look no further. The name is apt; this place is positively carpeted in emerald moss. And because it’s so far off the beaten path of tourists, the chances are good that going there means you’ll practically have the whole place to yourself. The endless greenery and lusciously colored flowers make the trip more than worth it.
4. Adashino Nenbutsu-ji, Northern Kyoto
This one is very unique with a fascinating, but somber idea attached to it. Yet another shrine found in the beautiful Arashiyama area is the Adashino Nenbutsu-ji, a small temple surrounded by lush forests and mountains, dotted with thick, fluffy trees and utterly covered in stones. What makes these stones unique is that each one stands for a person who passed away without any next-of-kin. While this idea is instantly hollowing, it’s made more uplifting and hopeful when you learn that every year, these people are remembered in a small, annual ceremony, reminding their departed spirits that they’re still thought of from time to time. So go and pay your respects to these people and remind them that even in death, they’re never alone.
5. Shirakawa Minami-dori, Central Kyoto
Ever heard the phrase ‘the best place to hide is in plain sight’? This lovely little street takes that to a whole new level. Located in the southern Higashiyama district, this tiny little street is considered one of the most beautiful streets in Asia. During the spring, it’ll positively explode with pink cherry blossoms on all sides. And because it isn’t marked clearly or presented, most tourists will never even see it!
This temple is gold! No, no, we’re serious. This Buddhist temple is literally covered in gold. It’s an incredibly famous sight in Kyoto, and for any photo buffs out there, what better travel story can you bring home to your friends and family than a photo taken of you at a temple covered completely in gold? The only problem is that this one is one of the more open secrets of Kyoto hidden treasures and at certain times of the day, the tourists coming to see it can get a little boisterous, so plan your visit accordingly.
7. Kuramadera and Mt Kurama
This one is a special spiritual trek. The Kurama Temple sits at the base of its majestic namesake, and many locals whisper about the mysterious spirits and otherworldly creatures that call this area home. You might be walking through the serene forests around the temple and catch sight of a swift, long-nosed little goblin called a tengu, which is honored highly in this place. You’ll also be surprised to learn that it’s said that the healing art of reiki finds its origin right on this mountain.
Your trip to Kyoto should be choked to the brim with wonderful memories of the one-of-a-kind experiences you’ve had. But to really spice them up, you’ll have to dig as deep as possible to find the truly unique gems that most tourists are never even going to notice. Some of these specialties are right under your nose the whole time. Take your trip to the next level; step into the shoes of a native and explore every back street you can find. The wonders you might discover are potentially endless.
Guest Author:Tiffy, a.k.a. asiatravelbug, is a travel planning freak, an ex-finance manager and currently a digital marketing ninja. Traveling has kept her sane from all the hustles and bustles of corporate life. Despite being a nervous flyer, Tiffy’s wanderlust has led her to visit Japan for 10 times (and counting). Her favorite cities are Kyoto and Tokyo and would choose to visit Japan over Paris in a heartbeat.