There are approximately 2,000 sake breweries in Japan, which produce more than 10,000 products, and every brand of sake has a unique aroma and flavor of its own. This museum is located in Fushimi, the traditional sake-making district of Kyoto, with its white-walled storehouses and beautiful row of willow trees. These and the heady aroma of steaming rice and fermenting mash give visitors a timeless experience. For lovers of sake and those interested in its role in Japanese history and culture, this museum is well worth a visit.
Gion Corner is a fascinating theater where you can watch fascinating one-hour shows featuring Kyoto's traditional performing arts – kyogen classical comedy, kyomai dance, gagaku music of the Imperial court, koto harp, bunraku puppet theater, tea ceremony and flower arrangement. There is also a Maiko gallery in the lobby that exhibits hair ornaments. The facility opened in 1962, just before the Tokyo Olympic Games, to provide non-Japanese people with insights into the traditional culture of Kyoto. English commentary is available.
Horino Memorial Museum
Another fascinating museum devoted to the art of sake, this museum features tools, techniques and other sake-related exhibits. It was established by the family of Matsuya Kyubei, who established his sake brewery in Kyoto in 1781; the brewery facilities were moved to the Fushimi district in 1880, to a building that was once the brewery of the famous Kinshi Masamune sake maker. The family residence and sake brewing equipment can still be seen in their original location in central Kyoto. The museum also offers tasting sessions and a label-making experience (reservations required). Closed on Mondays.
is beautiful museum is located in the eastern Kyoto district of Okazaki, the city's “cultural zone.” Based on the collection of Osaka industrialist Hosomi Ryo, the Hosomi Museum features some 1,000 works of Japanese art, representing most major time periods and categories. Especially notable are examples of Buddhist and Shinto art, some of them over 1,000 years old, as well as ink paintings, Negoro lacquerware, tea ceremony bowls, Cloisonné enamel and more. The museum also includes a beautiful traditional teahouse, where tea ceremonies are held, and an excellent museum shop. Closed on Mondays (except holidays).
Kabuki is a unique Japanese theatrical art, a dance-drama known for its stylized forms, elaborate costumes and unique makeup. The performances are rich in showmanship, and the experience is both beautiful and thrilling. The colorful lines of makeup on the actors' faces and bodies, the dramatic poses, the exaggerated movements, as well as the shrill screams you sometimes hear, combine to provide captivating performances. The stages have movable elements such as trapdoors and revolving stages to permit quick scene changes, as well as a footbridge, called a hanamichi, which projects into the audience, allowing dramatic entrances and exits. Some theaters rent headsets that provide narrations and explanations in English.
Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki refer to all ceramics made in Kyoto. The city's porcelain is characterized by elegant shapes, graceful design, and pure, intense colors. It has had a strong impact on the culture of both Kyoto and the rest of Japan, and is collected around the world. The ceramics industry in Kyoto dates back to the 5th century, during the Nara Period. It developed during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603), and many kilns for making ceramics started up during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During that time, Ninsei Nonomura developed the technique of colorful painting on ceramics, and after that, many talented potters such as Kenzan Ogata, Eisen Okuda and Mokubei Aoki developed unique designs using various techniques. Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki have two styles: tsuchi-mono (earthenware) and ishi-mono (porcelain). They are traditionally used as tableware, ornaments and utensils for tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
This museum exhibits the extensive collection of the founder, renowned businessman and tea master Kinjiro Kitamura. Its focus is art on tea utensils, and the exhibits include 34 important cultural assets, including an Iroe Uroko Hamon Rice Bowl by Nonomura Ninsei, and other articles of rare beauty that evoke a sense of spring and autumn. The museum, located in one of the most beautiful spots in Kyoto, is also renowned as a museum of traditional tea ceremony. Closed Mondays except for national holidays.
Kyogen is classical comic theater which balances the more serious Noh; the two styles are usually performed alternately on the same program. While Noh is more musical, Kyogen emphasizes dialogue, and the purpose is to make the audience laugh, with mimicry and clownish elements. Subjects of the plays include people battling demons, ridiculous priests and henpecked husbands. In addition to their own Kyogen repertoire of comic plays, Kyogen actors usually appear in interlude roles in Noh plays. Similarly, Noh instrumentalists also sometimes appear in Kyogen plays.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art
This museum, located in Okazaki Park, opened in 1933 to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Showa. It is the second large-scale public art museum in Japan, after the Tokyo Museum, and was designed by Kenjiro Maeda. The museum boasts an extensive collection of contemporary art and contributes to the promotion of and research into modern art. It also hosts special exhibitions of art from Japan and around the world. Closed on Mondays.
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
Kyoto, with its long history as Japan’s political and cultural center, is still home to a wide variety of handicraft industries. The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts is dedicated to preserving these techniques, so they can be passed down to future generations. The museum displays about 500 artifacts, all created by traditional craftsmen, including luxurious kimono, obi, lacquer ware and ceramics. Some of these craftsmen can be seen in the museum, practicing their craft, every day except Monday. On Sundays, there are dance performances by Maiko, free of charge. These events allow visitors to discover the traditional beauty and culture of ancient Kyoto.
Kyoto National Museum
This is the definitive museum of Kyoto, devoted to the display, preservation and research into art treasures privately owned by temples, shrines and the Imperial Household. Its collection includes over 12,000 items, divided into three broad categories -- Fine Arts (sculptures, paintings and calligraphy); Handicrafts (pottery, fabrics, lacquerware and metal work); and Archaeology (items of archaeological and historical interest). Special exhibiitons are held 2-4 times a year. Closed on Mondays.
Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art
Located in Okazaki Park, the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK) is devoted to the collection and preservation of artworks and related reference materials of the twentieth century in Japan and other parts of the world. The exhibits include fine examples of Japanese-style painting (nihonga), Western-style painting (yōga), prints, sculpture, crafts and photography. The striking modern building was designed by Fumihiko Maki. Closed Mondays.
Noh is classical Japanese performance that combines elements of dance, drama, music and poetry into one highly aesthetic stage art. Mostly based on tales from traditional literature, the plays are written and performed in ancient Japanese language, and rigid rules dictate the movements and speech of the actors. Nevertheless, they are often vivid depictions of the lives of ordinary people in the 12th to 16th centuries. Popular mostly in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, Noh is performed throughout the country by professional actors, mainly men, who have passed down the art among their family members for generations. It also has a wide following of both male and female amateurs who practice and perform Noh chants, dances and instruments.
Nomura Art Museum
This fascinating private museum, based on the collection of the renowned financial magnate Tokushichi Nomura, focuses on tea ceremony and Noh, two art forms that Nomura particularly loved. The collection includes some 1,700 works of art, including tea ceremony implements, as well as paintings, Noh costumes and Noh masks, seven of which are recognized as Important Cultural Properties and nine as Important Art Objects. The Nomura Museum is located near Nanzenji Temple and the famous Philosopher’s Walk, with its beautiful cherry blossoms and autumn foliage.
The Raku Museum celebrates the art of "raku-yaki," or raku-style ceramics. Situated next door to the Raku family home and workshop, the collection consists primarily of ceramics made by successive heads of the Raku family, as well as related documents and tea utensils passed down over the generations. This museum highlights the essence of the Raku tradition for over 450 years, and is a priceless resource for future generations to learn about the techniques, artistry and history of ceramic art, enabling artists to establish their own individual style. The exhibits include over 1,200 items of tea ceremony-related ceramics and books, and once a month the museum hosts an event to allow people to handle actual ceramics. A must-see for lovers of ceramics. Closed on Mondays (except national holidays).
Japanese tea ceremony, sado, the Way of Tea, is an ancient art involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation ofmatcha, or powdered green tea. Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of tea ceremony, as you can see from the ritualized manner in which it is performed. The tea bowls, utensils and the teahouse, as well as the movements, are all highly stylized, and the emphasis is on quieting the mind and fostering discipline, harmony with nature, and oneness between host and guest.
The Museum of Kyoto
This is a great place to discover the history and culture of Kyoto. It boasts excellent permanent displays in the History of Kyoto section; the Fine Arts and Crafts Gallery; the Movie Hall (a comfortable film theater), which shows films from the Kyoto Prefecture collection; and the Movie Gallery. Special exhibitions are also held throughout the year. An Annex was recently added in the former Bank of Japan Kyoto Branch building (an Important Cultural Property). The museum also includes a fascinating full-size replica of a Machiya shopping street, whose "Roji shops" sport the distinctive criss-cross grid decoration of Kyoto. Closed on Mondays.
Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum
The Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum is a must-see for train lovers visiting Kyoto. The museum opened in 1972 (the 100th year of train operation in Japan) to preserve the history of the steam locomotive. The museum boasts 19 locomotives in 17 types. You can enjoy a popular event, “SL Steam,” a chance to ride a real steam train; it is held three times a day. The nearby Umegoji Park is a great place for kids to run around in nature.
Ginkaku-ji temple, the famous Silver Pavilion, is an elegant structure set in a beautiful location at the foot of Kyoto's eastern mountains. The Zen temple has stood on this spot since the 15th century, and its grounds are an outstanding example of Japanese landscape architecture. It is called the Silver Pavilion because the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa had it built as a retirement villa, and wanted it to be covered in silver foil, but turmoil during the Onin War delayed the construction and the initial plans were never realized.
Ginkaku-Ji Temple Garden
The Ginsadan or “Sea of Silver Sand” and the shaved conical white sand mountain, Kogetsudai, form a spectacular backdrop from which to enjoy the lovely green garden and the Silver Pavilion itself. With their strolling garden in the go-round style, the temple grounds are an outstanding example of Japanese landscape architecture.
Heian-jingu shrine is a bit newer than most of Kyoto's sacred places, having been built in 1895 as a reproduction of the magnificent Heian Palace, to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the relocation of the capital of Japan from Nara to Kyoto. Heian-jingu is an impressive shrine, with elegant buildings surrounded by expansive and beautiful gardens.
This shrine is the oldest in Kyoto, dating back to the 7th century, even before the classical Heian period. The Thunder God who lives here protects people from calamities, including lightning – possibly why the shrine is popular with people in the electrical industry. A huge orange torii marks the entrance.
Katsura Imperial Villa
The Katsura Imperial Villa boasts what is considered by many to be the most beautiful garden in Japan. Examples of superb artistic design and craftsmanship can be found throughout the villa, which was built in the 17th century for the Hachijogu royal family. With some of the original buildings and garden created in the early Edo period, the garden expresses the essence of the time of dynasty culture now days. This Japanese-style strolling garden and teahouses are regarded as masterpieces of Japanese landscape architecture. Audio tours in English are available.
Kifune-jinja is an ancient shrine in a small town in the mountainous area north of Kyoto. Dating back some 1,600 years, the shrine houses the gods of water, and people come to pray for rain, or for less rain during times of flood. The complex consists of three shrines perched in different positions up a hillside. Visiting them is quite a hike, which takes about 1 hour. The grounds are famous for the well-worn stone staircase lined with red wooden lanterns.
This Zen Buddhist temple, reflected in its adjoining “mirror pond” with its small islands of rock and pine, is perhaps the most widely recognized image of Kyoto. Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is a breathtaking sight, and a must-see for visitors to Kyoto. The golden pavilion itself is a reliquary hall, destroyed by arson in 1950 and rebuilt in 1955. The grounds depict the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, and illustrate the harmony between heaven and earth; the island in the middle of the pond represents Japan.
Kiyomizu-dera temple is the most popular temple in Kyoto and is world-famous for its magnificent veranda, which juts out from a mountainside, supported by 13-meter-high wooden columns. The views over the city are simply breathtaking. Beneath the main building is the Otowa Waterfall, whose water grants wishes, and in an adjacent building is a pair of “love stones” -- if you walk between them with your eyes closed, you will find true love (it is said). Kiyomizu-dera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Myoshin-ji is a temple complex that includes several main buildings and about 50 subtemples. The grounds are a lovely place to stroll, and the Yokoen pond in the center has beautiful views in all seasons. The temple bell, named Okikicho, was cast in 698, making it the oldest bell in the world still in use. The temple offers visitors an opportunity to practice traditional Zen arts such as tea ceremony and calligraphy. You can learn the art of Zen meditation as well.
Ryoan-ji Temple (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple in Ukyo-ku, and is famous for its incredibly beautiful kare-sansui dry landscape rock garden, the most celebrated in Japan. Enclosed by an earthen wall, 15 carefully placed rocks appear to drift in a sea of raked white gravel. A viewing platform right above the garden allows an unimpeded view, although no matter what angle you view the garden, you can never see all 15 stones. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Officially known as the Rengeo-in, or Hall of the Lotus King, Sanjūsangen-dō was built in the 12th century. Its magnificent main hall is renowned as the world’s longest wooden building, at 125 meters. The main god of the temple is Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara or the Thousand-Armed Kannon. The name Sanjusangen-do ("33 intervals") refers to the number of spaces between the building's support columns, a traditional method of measuring the size of a building.
This is also located in Sakyo-ku, and is registered as one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” by UNESCO. Located at the junction of the Kamo and Takano rivers, Shimogamo shrine is surrounded by an ancient forest, with trees as old as 600 years. It is lovely and cool in summer, and many people go there to stroll amid the peaceful surroundings and soak up the ancient atmosphere.
The Philosopher's Walk is a lovely stone path along a canal from the famous Ginkaku-ji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) and Nyakuoji Bridge in Kyoto's Higashiyama district to Nanzenji Temple. It passes close to Anraku-ji Temple and Honen-in Temple, two quiet and picturesque temples that are less visited than Ginkaku-ji Temple. The walk is lined by hundreds of beautiful cherry trees, which overhang the path for a spectacular canopy in the spring, and the autumn leaves are sublime. The other side of the canal, the mountain side, is all natural forest. The beautiful and serene path has been a favorite for numerous well-known figures, including the famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro.
Yasaka-jinja is sometimes called Gion Shrine, due to its long relationship with Kyoto’s Geisha community centered in the nearby Gion District. It is a bustling, colorful and pleasant downtown shrine that lies at the heart of much of Kyoto's festive tradition, including the famous Gion Matsuri, which Yasaka-jinja has been hosting since the year 869.
Tenyru-ji is a major temple of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism. It was built in 1339 on the former site of Emperor Go-Daigo's villa after a priest dreamed of a dragon rising from the nearby river. The garden is especially beautiful, and visitors can enjoy the change in the scenery as they stroll around the Sogenchi Pond in its center. The composition of the garden includes two hills – Kame-yama and Arashi-yama – which are located outside the garden.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This beautiful shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake, by the Hata clan in the 8th century. Nowadays Inari is popular among businessmen, who come to his shrines to pray for prosperity. Inari is a very popular god, with some 32,000 sub-shrines built in his honor all over Japan. Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii, which straddle a network of trails behind the main buildings. The trails wind through the wooded forest of the sacred 233-meter Mount Inari, part of the shrine grounds.
Kinkaku-Ji Temple Garden
This temple is one of the most recognizable buildings in Japan. Its Mirror Pond with its small islands of rock and pine is surrounded by a garden in the chisen-kaiyu style. In any season and any weather, a walk around this garden is a sublime experience.
Konchi-In Temple Garden
This garden is a magnificent representative of the "tortoise-crane" style, and the stonework and shrubberies here are especially lovely. The kare-sansui dry landscape garden is arranged in the shape of a crane and a tortoise facing each other. In Japan, the pairing of crane and tortoise is traditionally a symbol of good fortune. The garden was created as a prayer for eternal prosperity, and, unusually for a Zen temple, the garden is quite ornate and splendid.
Nijo Castle Garden
The Ninomaru gardens are famous for the central pond, which features three islands representing the three mountains of Taoist mythology – an unusually gorgeous display of stone grouping prominent during the previous Momoyama period. One island is shaped like the mythological Mt. Hori; the others like a crane and a turtle. There is also a two-stage waterfall, and the grounds have numerous cherry and plum trees – a gorgeous sight in March and April!
Ryoan-Ji Temple Garden
This incredibly beautiful kare-sansui dry landscape rock garden is the most celebrated in Japan. Enclosed by an earthen wall, 15 carefully placed rocks seem to drift in a sea of raked white gravel. A viewing platform right above the garden allows an unimpeded view, although no matter what angle you view the garden, you can never see all 15 stones. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Saiho-Ji Temple Garden
Saiho-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple, famous for its beautiful and unique garden. As the name Kokedera (Moss Temple) suggests, the highlight of this temple is its chisen-kaiyu style pond-centered garden, which is covered by more than 120 kinds of beautiful moss. This is a popular garden, where people come to experience the tranquility and particular beauty of the moss.
Shugakuin Imperial Villa
With its location at the foot of Mt. Hiei, the Shugakuin Imperial Villa offers splendid views over the plain on which Kyoto sits. The lovely Yokuryu Pond can be seen from the Kami no Chaya, or Upper Area. With the hills of Iwakura and Kurama in the background, one takes in a view of incomparable grandeur, especially from the beautiful tea pavilion at the top. The spacious grounds are lovely in any season. Visitors need an appointment, and must take a guided tour.
Tenryu-Ji Temple Garden
This pond garden is designed for strolling and viewing from the veranda, and centers around Sogen Pond, borrowing the hills of Arashiyama and Kameyama for its backdrop. The garden features a circular promenade, and dates back to the 14th century.
Tofuku-Ji Temple Garden
Tofuku-ji temple, built in 1236, is the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The gardens are together a magnificent achievement in Buddhist landscape architecture. The north garden has an unusual checkerboard pattern, while the main garden on the south side is a dry garden that centers around several jagged rocks. The east garden has several stone cylinders in a moss field, while the west one is a gentle landscape of moss and azaleas.
Kaiseki: Kaiseki is Japan's traditional haute cuisine, and meals are usually and consisting of 6-15 dishes. The emphasis is on freshness, as well as artistry and delicious flavor, and the dishes change according to the season and what is freshly available at the local market. The dining experience usually takes about two to three hours to complete.
Kappo: This is another style of fine cuisine, just as delicious and artful as Kaiseki, but served in a more casual setting, at a counter in front of the diners. Guests can enjoy conversing with the chef as they watch him prepare the food. Meals may consist of a set menu or a la carte.
Obanzai: Obanzai is a traditional style of home cooking native to Kyoto. This centuries-old cuisine mostly consists of side dishes eaten along with rice. Most of the ingredients are seasonal and produced nearby.
Shojin Ryori: This is Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, and expresses the precept of non-violence. It is eaten mostly at memorial services and via donations to Buddhist priests. The ingredients in Shojin Ryori are vegetables, beans, grains and spices, are usually sourced locally, and are sometimes only available seasonally.
Dashi: This is a flavorful broth made with Kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes, and sometimes mushrooms, vegetables, fish and niboshi, or dried sardines. Since dashi is the essence of Japanese cooking, most Japanese meals contain dashi as a basis.
Yuba: This is "tofu skin," and is made from the film that forms on the surface of soy milk when it is heated. Delicious, nutritious and vegan, yuba is an important ingredient in Shojin Ryori Buddhist cuisine, which is rich in soy protein.
Yudofu: Yudofu is tofu cooked in hot water or dashi in a pot. It usually comes with various vegetables and mushrooms.
Shichimi: This word literally means “seven spices,” and is a popular Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. A typical blend may contain coarsely ground red chili pepper (the main ingredient), ground sansho Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger and Nori seaweed. It is used to add flavor to such dishes as udon and soba noodles.
Matcha: This finely ground tea powder is made from specially grown and processed green tea. Matcha is served during the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and is also popular as a flavoring for ice cream, cookies and confectioneries.
Geiko and Maiko
Kyoto has its own words for its famous Geisha, or traditional entertainers. There are two basic kinds, Geiko and Maiko. Geiko is the Kyoto term for the famous Japanese Geisha – traditional performers who entertain customers in the city’s pleasure quarters. In appearance they are elegant and refined, and the colors of their clothing, their makeup and hairstyles tend to be subdued. They wear a smaller obi (kimono sash), shorter geta wooden sandals, and in general are more mature and sophisticated. There are no age restrictions for Geiko – some continue to work into their 80s. Maiko, on the other hand, are Geiko in training. They are younger, starting their training in junior high school, and continue it for 2-3 years. During this training, they learn dance, tea ceremony, flower arranging, shamisen and other traditional arts. They’re easy to spot, with their long, colorful obi, their hairstyles festooned with lots of decoration, and their girlish pink, red and white makeup, as well as their higher geta wooden sandals. Also, whereas Geiko wear white collars on their kimono, Maiko wear red collars and won't wear the white ones until they become Geiko. We can see them on Hanamiko-ji Street in Gion, but it is difficult to arrange a visit to their place of business. Such visits must be arranged at least a month in advance, and reservations cannot be canceled.
Iwatayama Monkey Park
Arashiyama Monkey Park in Iwatayama is a public facility with 120 Japanese monkeys living in a (sort of) wild environment. There are also wild birds, plants and insects, to give you a unique look at Kyoto's natural environment. A great place for a stroll.
Kimono Wearing Experence
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto offers a unique “Kimono-Wearing Experience” guest activity every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Kyoto Aquarium, one of the biggest in Japan, opened in 2012 near Kyoto Station. This aquarium, being far from the ocean, uses 100% artificial seawater. You can enjoy dolphin shows, as well as workshops and tours of the facility.
Kyoto Municipal Zoo
The Kyoto Municipal Zoo, established in 1903, was the second zoo to open in Japan after Tokyo's Ueno Zoo. Over 700 animals live in the Kyoto zoo, including gorillas, lions, elephants, giraffes and red pandas. You can also pet smaller animals at "Fairytale Land" and read about the creatures in the Animal Library. The zoo also shows many examples of successful breeding. Lake Biwa borders the southern end of the zoo, which is near Heian Shrine and Nanzenji Temple, as well as the Kyoto Concert Hall, Kyoto City Museum, and other cultural institutions.
Another of our popular guest activities is the "Samurai Experience" at 4:00 – 5:15 every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a fun theme park where you can observe the filming of jidaigeki, or period dramas. One Toei shooting set inside the park is open to visitors; depicting a street from the Edo period, the set is used to shoot more than 200 films a year. You can also enjoy the popular Ninja/Samurai shows as well as try dressing up like the characters, ride in a palanquin, and watch exciting sword fighting demonstrations, talk shows, superhero events, lectures on acting and filming techniques, and many others. Reservations are required for the costume experiences.