Being the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, Kyoto offers no shortage of spectacular shrines, temples and gardens. Naturally, covering them all in a short period of time is impossible, and believe it or not, the term “templed out” is a real thing. There is an unofficial recommended list of must-see places in Kyoto which most first-time visitors attempt to cover, and I was not an exception. However, ever since my last visit to the city I yearned to go back. I was irrevocably charmed by the allure of its narrow cobblestone alleys, manicured gardens and stunning shrines. I was enchanted and wowed by the incredible beauty of places like Fushimi-Inari Taisha, the Golden and Silver Pavilions, Arashiyama bamboo forest and the Gion district, just to name the few. However, my inexhaustible curiosity as a travel blogger makes me want to push my boundaries and long for new experiences. This time, my intent was to revisit some of my favorite shrines, as well as explore new, unique, and off the beaten path sights in Kyoto. I had an undeniable craving to forget about time and get lost in the vastness of the city awash in vibrant fall colors. Just me, myself and magnificent Kyoto in fall. Here are the unique sights I found during this journey.
This quite remarkable statue of Kannon was erected in 1955 to commemorate Japanese soldiers who fell during WWII and is an example of Showa era art. Seeing her against the placid, ever-green mountain range of Kyoto was definitely worth a visit.
Nestled in the forested foothills of Kyoto, Nanzen-ji was turned into a temple after the death of its owner – Empreror Kameyama – and became the most powerful Zen temple in Japan for a time. The sprawling grounds feature enormous San mon (Triple Gate) symbolizing entrance into the sacred part of the precinct; a peaceful Leaping Tiger Garden and the brick aqueduct which serves as a nice photoshoot backdrop.
Established in 1605 and serving as one of the largest and most important sub-temples of Kennin-ji, Kodai-ji is renowned for its beautiful design and exquisite craftsmanship. There is so much to explore here and the grounds were absolutely stunning during autumn. I enjoyed wandering around and taking in the scenery of the expansive garden of serene pools swimming with colorful koi, hills of meticulously tended moss, a forest of tall bamboo, tea houses with thatched roofs and the rock garden with raked grey gravel.
This zen temple dating back to the 9th century is undoubtedly one of the best spots for colorful foliage viewing in Kyoto. You could easily spend a couple of hours here admiring the scenery of maple trees, ponds, and rock gardens. The view of the pagoda nestled in the woods is one of the most iconic fall views of Kyoto and one of the main features of the temple is the statue of Amida Buddha with a turned head.
This zen temple, first established in 1601 as an educational institution, is tucked away in the north-east of Kyoto. One of the primary features is a stunning garden containing a bamboo forest and numerous maple trees which is so picturesque as to attract crowds during fall. The garden also has a remarkable underground water basin that allows visitors to appreciate the delicate sound of dripping water.
Probably one of my favorite temples in Kyoto, Tofuku-ji has a beautiful gateway arch – the oldest in Japan – that leads to an expansive medieval complex consisting of 24 temples. Four contrasting gardens – both dry gravel and landscaped – are arranged around the main hall. In addition I don’t think anything can compare to the sight of the burnished maple trees that cover the entire grounds.
Have you been to Kyoto? Which temple/shrine was your favorite?
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