When I was a kid, my mom brought me to Kyoto to enjoy and appreciate the traditional town, arts and handcrafts. Of course, my junior high school trip’s destination was Kyoto as a typical Japanese student. Over 10 times, I have visited Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji, but still I can enjoy seeing them in different seasons and weather.
With so much to see and do in Kyoto, a visit should be no less than three days, though if you had only one day and if you’re looking to escape the crowds, here are top 5 places for a short journey to escape the crowds.
1. Higashi Honganji Temple
I always start to walk around Kyoto city from Kyoto Station and visit Higashi Honganji Temple which is the most impressive architectural display in Kyoto. Higashi Honganji Temple is the head of Jodo Shinshu Otani group and has a huge site with several buildings, including Goei-do and Amida-do dating back to 1602.
I usually meet up with my friends and family here, rather than at Kyoto Station, because it is a much calmer and quieter space with less people. It takes less than one hour to see around.
2. Shosei-en Garden
Starting from Higashi Honganji Temple, Shousei-en was on the way to the Kamogawa River. The architecture is so unique and intricate, yet the site is so large and overwhelming. One of the superior priests of Higashi Honganji retired and built Shousei-en in 1635 near Higashi Honganji. It took about 10 mins to walk from Higashi Honganji to Shousei-en.
The main buildings, such as Shukuen-tei, a tea house and Kaito-ro, a Chinese corridor-style Bridge, were rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries, but these buildings and gardens are still astonishing to see. It takes approximately one hour to see around.
3. Kamogawa Riverside
Kamogawa River has wide sidewalks and the water is clean enough to walk along. Joggers, cyclists, locals and tourists can spend a relaxing time there. It was refreshing to enjoy time near the Kamogawa River after walking among crowds of people at famous temples and busy areas. If you also wander the neighbourhoods along Takase River, you’d get a taste of local life and see old Machiya (traditional merchant’s houses).Kaikado Cafe: While you are exploring the Takase and Kamogawa riversides be sure to have coffee at Kaikado Cafe. Kaikado produces tea canisters and has expanded to serve coffee near its head store.
After visiting Shosei-en Garden, you can walk to Sanjusangen-do along Takase River on foot in 20 mins. Sanjusangen-do is my most favorite temple in Kyoto. Everytime when I visit Kyoto, I can not resist visiting here. In Sanjusangen-do, there are about 1,000 Kannon statues, all the same size as humans. Each of them has a different facial expression and atmosphere.The inside of statues are great and the architecture is incredible. It takes less than 30 mins to see just all statues, but if you observe detailed expression of each statue, more than one hour is needed.
The main building is so long and wide and I highly recommend walking through from the entrance to the end of the building. You will understand why this temple does Toshiya, a long-range Japanese Archery event, in every mid-January.
5. Japanese Style House of Kanjiro Kawai
Kanjiro Kawai’s house is one of my favorite old Japanese style houses in Kyoto. Kanjiro Kawai’s house could be a reference point of how to maintain a Japanese house with practical and convenient manners. It is astonishing to experience a different world behind a sliding door on a pedestrian side street. I love the Japanese style house, because it is simple and practical. One room could be a living room, a bed room, a dining room or a study room. My parent’s house was built in the early 20th century and I grew up there. I used to hate the old house because the bathroom was so cold in winter. The restroom was located under stairs and this made me scared and I could not go by myself till entering elementary school.
In winter, it was a nightmare to move from one room to another due to its coldness. In summer, we couldn’t sleep well on muggy nights. We had to survive sultry nights with only fans. I dreamed to live in a modern apartment with a clean and automated bathroom, air conditioners and bright corridors. My parents broke down the old house and built a modern new house after all their kids left. I liked their new house, but I sometimes wonder whether they could have reformed the old house into a modern one with earthquake proofing and the latest equipment. When I traveled in Japan, I encountered beautiful old houses that had to be torn down because no one lived there. I started to take an interest in how to maintain and renovate old houses with useful equipment.
Kanjiro Kawai was a ceramic artist leading the Japanese handicrafts protection and folk art movement known as “Mingei”. Mingei movement had a vision of elevating everyday utilitarian objects into artworks worthy of study and appreciation. Artworks included woodwork, folk paintings, textiles and pottery. Kanjiro Kawai designed and built his house in 1937, referring to his hometown houses and Hida Takayam area’s houses. Kanjiro Kawai’s house is integral to Kawai’s vision. It has wide open windows, very cozy living rooms and a huge ascending kiln to bake ceramic arts. The ascending kiln was so huge that I was worried about whether it was safe to construct it among so many wooden houses in Kyoto. Kanjiro Kawai’s furnishings and collections are unique as his works. You can see around his house in one hour, but you can stay more than 2 hours if you wish. Kanjiro Kawai’s house is about 20-30 mins walk from National Museum or Sanjusangen-do.