Tokyo and Kyoto may have the exact same letters in their English spelling, but that’s pretty much where the similarities of the two cities end. All things considered, part from both being major cities in Japan, they are both very different.
You can think of Tokyo a stylish, cosmopolitan city girl, up-to-date and constantly on the go and looking for the next best thing. Meanwhile, Kyoto could easily be the quiet, laid-back country girl, the girl next door that is slightly more traditional and conservative than it’s sister city.
But while Kyoto is seen as more traditional, there is a regal quality about it that is unmistakable. That regal quality could perhaps be because Kyoto was actually the Imperial Capital of Japan, until the emperor moved to Edo (now known as Tokyo) in 1868. And so, Kyoto had several hundred years to establish itself in Japan’s history.
In fact, so much of Kyoto is so lush in history, that the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are composed of 17 locations within the vicinity of Kyoto, including Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion.
The Golden Pavillion used to be the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu until his death in 1408. After that, it was taken over and converted into a zen temple. What most people find so attractive about the pavilion are its top two floors, the exteriors of which are completely covered in gold leaf.
However, the Golden Pavillion as you see it today is a rebuilt version of the original. Throughout it’s long history, it has been burnt down several times; the last time in 1955.
The three floors of the pavilion actually adapt different architectural styles, each from a different period. If you were to visit the gardens of the Golden Pavillion, there you would see the original sculptures that have been around since the days of shogun Yoshimitsu.
In Kyoto as well, you will find the district of Gion, which most people might recognize as the setting for the popular novel, Memoirs of a Geisha. This is because Gion has become the most well-known geisha district in all of Japan. In fact, the geisha of Gion do not refer to themselves as geisha (“person of the arts”), but rather, geiko (“child of the arts”).
Did you know? A girl need not first become a maiko to become a full geisha. Some girls that are already 21 years old go straight to becoming full geisha once they’ve debuted in their community. But passing through maiko training usually adds to a geisha’s reputation.
Modern geisha are still trained in the arts, playing traditional instruments, dancing and tea ceremony. However, most geisha in Japan are almost never seen out of the main geisha districts like Gion. Most maiko tourists will see walking down the street in Kyoto may actually be fellow tourists that have paid to be dressed as maiko.
But speaking of tourists, one of the most breath-taking sights of Kyoto that most tourists visit is the Kiyomizu-dera, the Temple of Clear Water. It is a historic temple complex built in 778, when Kyoto was still the capital of Japan. It is one of the locations designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Kiyomizu-dera is considered a very well-known landscape that captures and represents the beauty of Kyoto.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the vast landscape of Kyoto. Cool JapanLovers, this is definitely a must-visit place for you.
So if you’re coming from Tokyo and have the time, the train ride to Kyoto is totally worth it.
You can find out more about how to travel to Kyoto, as well as other information about the things we’ve mentioned here, check the links below:
Travel to Kyoto:
Photographs by Justin De Jesus