To many, Kyoto is one of the most beloved cities in Japan. It has exquisite natural scenery, traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, enticing Japanese gardens, and beautiful historic shops. As the center of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto has one of the world’s largest collections of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As of today, there are 17 UNESCO sites in Kyoto. For first-time visit, many love to visit some World Heritage Sites and try a few Michelin restaurants. Very often the award-winning ones offer outstanding travel experience, but actually some of Kyoto finest sites not yet selected by the big lists are fairly rewarding too. Let’s go and explore some hidden gems in Kyoto.
Shugakuin Imperial Villa
From long ago, love of nature is deeply embedded in Japanese cultural aesthetics. Shugakuin Imperial Villa is a special retreat built for the emperor in the mid-seventeenth century. It is a set of gardens and outbuildings constructed through incorporating the surrounding natural scenery into the landscape design.
As one of Japan’s most important large-scale cultural treasures, its gardens are regarded as the great masterpieces of Japanese gardening. For nature lovers, walking through the leafy walkway and beautiful ponds would be very delightful experience. Beautiful in all seasons, Shugakuin is at best in autumn when leaves turn all shades of yellow and red.
Address: Yabusoe, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan 606-8052
Admission Fee: Free
As Shugakuin is an imperial property, visitors can only enter through guided tour offered by the Imperial Household Agency. There are a few guided tours each day and audio guide is available for non-Japanese speakers. Advance reservation available at the website. The same application procedure applies for our next stop: Katsura Imperial Villa.
Katsura Imperial Villa
Another imperial villa built in the seventeenth century, Katsura not only offers pleasing landscape gardening, it also captures the essence of Japanese aesthetic through artfully designed architecture. Built on Zen principles for the royal family, the five separate tea pavilions are minimal, elegant and graceful at the same time.
Though the residence was built four centuries ago, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, masters of Modernist architecture, were fascinated and inspired by its modernity. Since German expressionist architect Bruno Taut gave Katsura a worldwide reputation in 1933, its design principles, simplicity of structural elements, use of spaces, and harmony between different elements have been intriguing topics for architecture enthusiasts around the world. Blending seamlessly with the poetic landscape, Katsura Imperial Villa is considered a work of art that help spread Japanese aesthetic through twentieth century modernist culture.
Address: Katsuramisono, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan 615-8014
Admission Fee: Free until 31 October 2018 (1000 yen from November 2018)
Toei Kyoto Studio Park
After moments of tranquility through the Japanese gardens, the final stop is a place full of fun, creativity and excitement: Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Managed by Toei Company, one of Japan’s big four film studios, the theme park is situated in its Kyoto Studio where movies have been produced.
Walking through the film set makes one feel like travelling back in time to Edo and Meiji periods. There is a wide range of interesting performances around, including ninja action show, samurai sword fighting, and Edo street shows. Through different fun packed attractions, visitors can walk through revolving doors and secret passages, get lost and escape from ninja’s labyrinth, be amused by illusionary tricks, and undergo ninja training as well.
To complete the visit, many love to have first hand experience and become a historical character themselves. There are more than thirty different types of costume, and with the help of professional makeup artist and hair stylist, you can be a ninja, samurai or geisha in minutes.
Address: 10 Uzumasa Higashihachiokacho, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan 616-8161
Admission Fee: Adult 2200 yen, Children 1100 -1300 yen
For lovers of nature and history, Kyoto is probably the best place to experience the art of Japanese garden and the beauty of traditional architecture. Besides all the must-see Kyoto tourist attractions, Japanese culture and aesthetics is expressed in everyday life too. On your next visit, do walk around residential area, check out local shopping streets or take a stroll through university district. Many little pleasant surprises are waiting to be discovered!