Kyoto is a compact city on Honshu Island in Japan that served as the country’s previous capital. But what is Kyoto famous for other than its former fame? It has preserved its natural beauty and kept its traditional charms, but upgraded in terms of industry leading to its fame.
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What Is Kyoto Known For?
Kyoto is famous for its captivating temples and shrines, as well as traditional arts such as tea ceremonies and kimono. Buddhism predominates, with over four times are many shrines as Shinto, however, both are practiced equally in Japan. In addition, Kyoto is known for its exquisite gardens and nature, nicknamed the ‘City of Flowers’ for its cherry trees, hydrangeas, and irises.
The city’s historical significance, architectural marvels, and timeless beauty make Kyoto an extraordinary destination for travelers seeking a deep dive into Japan’s captivating past and living traditions.
History, Culture, And Traditions Kyoto Is Known For
Former Capital Of Japan
One of the most interesting Japanese facts is that before 1868, the capital city was Kyoto, not Tokyo. Whilst Kyoto was thriving, it was a historical city that represented all of the old things of the country. However, Japan yearned for a new direction and named Tokyo the new metropolis.
Since the 11th century, the city has been called Kyoto. In contrast, Emperor Kammu originally named the city Heiankyo, meaning peace.
Festivals: Gion Matsuri And The Jidai Matsuri
In comparison to other huge cities, Kyoto is only the ninth most populous city in Japan. Nevertheless, Kyoto is famous for hosting the largest festival in Japan, Gion Matsuri.
The cheerful festival takes over the entire month of July, dominating the streets since 869. Its purpose is to celebrate the Yasaka Shrine, making it a Shinto festival. Additionally, it is said to prevent diseases and natural disasters by glorifying the gods causing them.
If you visit during July, you will see elaborate street parties, delicious foods, and a float chosen by the locals.
The main religion that Kyoto is known for is Zen Buddhism. A huge part of this is centered around meditation, and achieving a sense of peace. In the olden days, monks would need a powerful stimulant to keep them awake, which was tea.
During the tea ceremony, locals prepare matcha, a powdered green tea made from leaves. It has an earthy flavor, followed by a sweet aftertaste. Whilst it is a social tradition, it is important to stay silent during the drinking, as it focuses on reflection and tranquillity.
Today, the art of tea making and serving continues to be a culture and expression that Japan is famous for.
That said, one of the best and most cultural experiences you can partake in on your trip to Kyoto is a traditional tea ceremony while dressed in a kimono.
The Onin War began in Japan in 1467 and lasted for 11 years. The conflict was between two families, who could not decide on the next leader after shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa.
Despite being won by Hosokawa, the depleted resources and countless human lives lost resulted in a gloomy aftermath. As a result, the Onin War destroyed much of Kyoto and was one of the longest civil wars the country saw.
Kaiseki refers to a traditional dinner composed of multiple courses of Japanese food. Depending on the region, there could be up to 14 courses, which are served in groups.
Common appetizers are known as sakizuke and are served with sake, a flavorful rice win. For mains, soup is imperative, as well as steamed dishes and raw fish. Subsequently, you will be given shokuji, consisting of rice and miso soup.
Lastly, decadent desserts are served in the form of fruit or sorbet.
Districts And Areas Kyoto Is Known For
One of the main things that Kyoto is famous for, especially in Gion, is Geisha culture. This is especially popular in Western Japan.
Women dress traditionally wearing oshiroi makeup such as white face powder, and cherry blossoms in their hair. Moreover, they partake in tea ceremonies, sing, and dance.
The most famous Japanese landmark in Gion is the historic Yasaka Shrine, a 7th-century Shinto sanctuary. Additionally, the traditional Hanami Lane is a long street peppered with teahouses and impressive architecture.
Be sure to take a guided night walk in this Geisha district to really understand the history and tradition apart from just the visuals.
Arashiyama is one of the most visited destinations in Kyoto, located on the western side of the city. Nevertheless, it is a peaceful area home to shrines, temples, and natural beauty.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is perhaps the most famous in Japan. The huge forest has many trails lasting around one hour, helping you to explore the towering trees and animals. This includes giant pandas and macaque monkeys.
As this is a popular site, the early morning bicycle tour is good for early risers who want to enjoy nature while avoiding the crowd.
Another notable landmark here is the Togetsukyo Bridge, crossing the Katsura River with a backdrop of the mountainous landscape.
Pontocho is a narrow alleyway spanning 500 meters. It connects the avenues of Shijo-Dori to Sanjo-Dori, next to the famous duck river, Kamogawa River.
Whether you are in Kyoto with friends or looking to meet new people, the walkway is the ideal place to visit. The lively nightlife consists of flashy bars, affordable cafes, and loud clubs.
Similar to Gion, Geisha culture is popular here. Therefore, visiting the teahouses where they serve makes for a cultural and unmatched experience.
Higashiyama is a historic quarter that is home to the most famous temples in Kyoto. Buddhist temples include the 8th-century Kiyomizu-Dera and more modern 17th-century Kōdai-ji. On the other hand, the Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto landmark.
A contemporary attraction in Higashiyama that is targeted to all audiences is the Kyoto National Museum. The art complex is made up of several buildings with a plethora of collections, ranging from ancient China to prehistoric Japan.
Landmarks And Architecture Kyoto Is Known For
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Kyoto Imperial Palace is without a doubt the most famous place in Kyoto. The 14th-century structure was once home to the Emperors of Japan, and now hosts the most important events of Japanese culture. It is free to enter, and you can even book a guided tour to ensure you do not miss the best sights.
Structures of significant importance include the courtroom, library, and state ceremony hall. Furthermore, it is enclosed by the charming Kyoto Gyoen National Garden and has been renovated to restore its charm.
The Kinkaku-ji is a wooden Zen Buddhist temple, known around the world as the Golden Pavillion. This is because two of the three stories are entirely coated in golden leaf, creating a distinct, sophisticated style. The irregular pagoda design and bell-shaped windows are characteristic of the Muromachi period.
Many of the things to do in Kyoto are rooted in religion because of the respectful nature of Japan. Hence, notable structures include the shrine dedicated to the goddess of mercy and the strolling garden.
You can explore this iconic temple and other hidden gems in North Kyoto on a popular e-bike tour that makes for a great introduction to the area.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
Whilst many famous temples in Kyoto are Buddhist, Shinto shrines are equally as breathtaking. Fushimi-Inari Taisha rakes in over ten million visitors per year, thanks to its unique red gates.
Originally, the shrine was built in dedication to Inari, the god of rice protection and cultivation. It became cumulatively more popular in 1589, because of the red gates it was gifted. Known as torii gates, these are planted at the entrance to differentiate between the human and the holy world.
The surrounding nature actually also makes it a prime destination for some hiking as you immerse in the tranquility. Discover and explore some of these lesser-known trails with a hidden hiking tour at Fushimi Inari.
Nijo Castle is an early 17th-century fortification built during the Edo period. Initially, it was built as headquarters to showcase the power of the government, by being the main residence of the Tokugawa shoguns.
A fact about Kyoto is that a vicious earthquake destroyed the main keep of the castle which set fire in 1750. It was never restored, and decades later a new fire demolished more of the castle. Nevertheless, the castle remains in good condition, representing centuries of historical importance.
Similarly, be sure to explore the gardens, known for their stark pink Japanese cherry trees.
Food Kyoto Is Known For
Shojin Ryori is a type of cuisine invented by Zen Buddhists. It is strictly vegetarian, avoiding meats and fish, to protect animals from harm.
Perhaps the most famous Kyoto food is vegetarian. This includes tofu, a meat substitute, white rice that is filling, and miso soup that is abundant in vitamins and probiotics. Lots of vegetables are steamed in soups or seasoned as a side with flavorful spices.
Overall, the cuisine focuses on health and the promotion of a working digestive system.
Soba is a type of noodle originating in Japan. It is characteristically thin and brown, made from buckwheat.
The versatility of the soba noodle is what allows it to be so popular. Hence, Kyoto is famous for several noodle dishes that are quick and easy to make, enjoyed by everybody.
For example, nishin soba is soy sauce with dried herring, kitsune soba with a steaming broth and fried tofu, and tempura soba with shrimp and fishcake.
To sample some of the best traditional dishes Kyoto has to offer, take a night food tour and hunt down some tasty delights with other foodies!
Yudofu is a hotpot dish you will find in authentic restaurants. Much of the food Kyoto is known for includes the same core ingredients prepared in different ways, such as tofu and broth.
To make yudofu, you boil the tofu in a hot broth made with kelp. This has multiple health benefits as well as being soothing to the stomach because it is a simple yet satisfying dish.
It has a smooth flavor, which when ladled with soy sauce becomes tangy and sweet.
Yatsuhashi was invented during the Edo period in Japan, conjured up by a blind Buddhist monk. It is a sweet snack that Kyoto is famous for creating and distributing, which you will find on almost every corner.
Yatsuhasi is made from glutinous rice and filled with either a nutty red bean paste or earthy green matcha powder. It is folded and then folded into a triangle.
It can be left alone and eaten as such, or baked for a crispy texture. Try both if you get the opportunity as the variants in texture make for a different experience.
Kyoto stands out as one of the sake capitals of Japan. A traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, it holds great significance in Japanese culture, and Kyoto embraces this importance wholeheartedly.
Fushimi, a district within Kyoto, is particularly renowned for its sake production and has been a thriving brewing area for centuries. It is situated along the picturesque Horikawa River, exuding charm and tradition with its willow-lined streets and historic breweries.
Sake enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of the brewing process and the opportunity to taste a range of high-quality sake, don’t miss out on the Insider Sake Experience.
Famous People From Kyoto
Tasuku Honjo was born in Kyoto and graduated from the prestigious Kyoto University with a Ph.D. in medical chemistry. The university is ranked amongst the top in Asia.
Honjo is a physicist that Kyoto is famous for because of his contribution to medicine. In 2018, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, because of his life-changing discovery. Identifying the programmed cell death protein 1 has revolutionized the way we view cell signaling.
Shinsuke Nakamura is a world-famous professional wrestler, involved in WWE. He is nicknamed the Child of God because of his strong wrestling background, as well as Super Rookie for his combined strength and speed.
Nakamura’s career began in 2002 despite training since a child and has awarded him many wins. He is a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Haruki Murakami is a fiction writer responsible for books that have achieved global success.
His most notable works include Norwegian Wood, one of his earlier novels, a poignant story about loss and time. Similarly, Kafka on The Shore was named The 10 Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times.
Murakami’s books have been translated into over 50 languages, because of the vital lessons they teach about life.
Discovering More Things Kyoto Is Known For
Kyoto is known for its rich cultural heritage and historic landmarks, preserving its traditional values. The famous places in Kyoto have mostly remained well-maintained, despite centuries going by. This is because of the value Japanese people place on history and culture.
The city hosts several festivals throughout the year, such as Gion Matsuri, which showcases elaborate processions and traditional performances.
The emphasis that Kyoto places on education, whilst being the festival hotspot, proves that it is the perfect balance between teaching and celebration.