Lake Biwa and What You Need to Know

Lake Biwa | An Introduction

Enjoy an evening of colours and sunset at one of the largest water fountains in the world

Lake Biwa is located in Shiga Prefecture, on the northeast of Kyoto. I visited this Lake on the same day I visited Mt Hiei. It was convenient to do so from Mt Hiei by taking the Sakamoto Cable car.

Cycle route around Lake Biwa – Google maps

How to get to Lake Biwa

Getting to Lake Biwa via Sakamoto Cable Car took us to the Shiga side of the base of Mt Hiei, to Sakamoto Station. The track downhill was two-kilometres and took 11 minutes. The journey proved to be well-worth the money as it offered an awesome view directly over Lake Biwa and an opportunity to stroll through the town of Sakamoto.

View of Lake Biwa from the cable car ride down to Sakamoto
View of Lake Biwa from the cable car ride down to Sakamoto | Image: georgina_daniel

My walk from Sakamoto Station through the town of Sakamoto was quiet and pleasant. There were a number of beautiful spots that offered photo opportunities.

The walk from Sakamoto Station through the town of Sakamoto
Some views along our walk from Sakamoto Station to Biwako | Image: georgina_daniel

Lake Biwa Flower Fountain

The Flower Fountain is one of the world’s largest fountain which is about 400 meters long horizontally and it streams high into the air at 40 metres.

This is by far one of the most beautiful attraction here which you must not miss if you are in this area. With the sun setting in the horizon, the changing colours of the Fountain and the cruise ships sailing in the distance makes this a memorable experience. It certainly was for me because I needed to just relax for a while and take in the atmosphere before heading back home.

As the largest freshwater lake in Japan, it is a breeding ground for freshwater fish such as trout and is home to at least 46 native species and sub-species in the Lake. It serves as a reservoir to Kyoto and Otsu and supplies 15 million residents with drinking water in the Kansai region.

Lake Biwa Flower Fountain, Shiga Prefecture
Biwako Flower Fountain, Shiga Prefecture Image: georgina_daniel
The Flower Fountain streams up high into air at 40 metres.
Biwako Flower Fountain streams up high into air at 40 metres.| Image: georgina_daniel

My visit here was very brief but I did fulfil my intention to capture the sunset and relax after my long day of mountain exploring.

Activities at Lake Biwa

Although I spent only a couple of hours here, Lake Biwa is a destination that warrants at least half a day. If you can fit in a longer time, you will be pleasantly surprised at the various ways to enjoy this Lake. As the largest freshwater lake in Japan in the Shiga Prefecture, you can enjoy cruises to the southern end of the Lake. There are many beach activities such as zip line or water sliding. You will also find that the area offer many popular holiday resorts which you can stay at.

A Cruise Boat in the Distance at Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture
A Cruise Boat in the Distance at Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture | Image: georgina_daniel
A cruise boat taking-off to the southern end of the Lake
A cruise boat taking-off to the southern end of Lake Biwa | Image: georgina_daniel

There are historic sites such as the Enryaku-ji Temple in Mount Hiei and Hikone Castle.

Enryakuji Temple at Mount Hiei
Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto
Like other temples, there are shops for souvenirs in Mount Hiei
As with any visits to temples, you would always find shops for souvenirs, light refreshments and incense. You will find that Mount Hiei offer a great selection of these.
Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei
Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei. Sometimes to pray and sometimes a place to meditate.

Travel tips and Useful information

4 ways to travel to Lake Biwa

Otsu:

From Kyoto station take the JR Biwako line (about 10 min), exit at Hama-Otsu station (about 20 minutes from Sanjo-Keihan railway station)

Enryakuji Temple:

From Otsu Keihanzeze station, take the Keihan line, for Sakamoto. From Sakamoto, take the cable car to the temple.

Hikone: 

From Kyoto to Hikone, it is about 50 minutes journey and is the fastest.

If you have the JR Pass, you can take the Shinkansen to Maibara, about 20 minutes journey and then back to Hikone by JR Biwako which is about 5 minutes.

Omihachiman:

Take the JR Biwako line from Kyoto which is about 35 minutes journey.

My Conclusion

This is a destination that warrants more than a couple of hours. If you are in Kyoto and have the time, visit this lake which is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. For a whole day experience, you can also explore the surrounding areas. For ideas and inspiration to experience Lake Biwa and Kyoto, head over to “More than one way to experience Kyoto”

Ask me any questions you may have regarding booking your trip to Japan. You may wish to take a look at the 6-step guidelines to a stress free vacation and a full guide to resources for a memorable experience.

6 steps to stress free vacation
Resources

You may like to read more on Japan also

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Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Lake Biwa? If so please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

I wish you a splendid visit to Lake Biwa!

February 2021, Update


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Lake Biwa Kyoto
Lake Biwa Kyoto
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An easy guide to an evening of colours and sunset at the largest freshwater lake in Japan - also home to one of the largest fountains in the world. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/An easy guide to an evening of colours and sunset at the largest freshwater lake in Japan - also home to one of the largest fountains in the world. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/

How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto

How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto

When you travel to Kyoto, and want to experience a little of rural Japan, then head to the historically romantic city of Uji, a little gem located just twenty-minutes train ride to the south of Kyoto city. This nature filled area is home to beautiful museums, historic buildings and delicious matcha tea. You can spend either half a day or one full day exploring this beautiful ancient city. However, I shall strongly recommend that you make it a one-day visit as Uji is a destination worth visiting and spending time at.

This article gives a little background to the city of Uji and cover details on how to to make the best of one day in Uji, Kyoto. The article suggests a carefully planned itinerary and a walking route. This ideal itinerary include the 7 most popular attractions at this little gem of tourist destination which must be seen for a complete experience of Uji. An early start arriving at about 10:00 a.m should also be in the plan.

Georgina says: My itinerary here involves spending one full day in Uji, returning to Kyoto in time for supper. However, if you don’t have a full day to spare, you may want to make half-a-day trip to Uji.

About Uji, Kyoto

Uji is a historical city in the green valley of South Kyoto. It is popular for its shrines and temples in particular for its two World Heritage sites, the Byodoin Temple and the Ujigami shrine. In addition, Uji is famous for the superior quality of Matcha Green Tea and the Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel. The City has a bridge and a river named after it. A walk along this river affords you picturesque views of the mountains surrounding it, with some regarding it as one of the most romantic places in Kyoto because of its prominence in the Tale of Genji.

Uji City is easily accessible (see below: Travel tips and useful information), just a 20-minute train journey from Kyoto Station, either via the JR Line or the Keihan Line. I used the Keihan Line from Kyoto, arriving at Uji for 10:00 a.m.

As you exit the Keihan Uji Station, you will find easy signposting that directs you to the surrounding areas. A landmark to lookout for is the Ujibashi Bridge across the Uji River.

Uji-bashi Bridge and Uji River

Just south of Keihan Uji Station, you will see the Uji-bashi Bridge, which goes across the Uji River. This wood-trimmed concrete and steel was first built in 646 AD. However, it has been rebuilt numerous times since. Walk across it, and along the way, stop and look at the green hills, rushing waters and the red wooden bridges. This ancient town is well-preserved.

Uji, Kyoto: The view when you are on the Uji-bashi Bridge
Uji, Kyoto: The view when you are on the Uji-bashi Bridge | Image: georgina_daniel

The Uji-bashi Bridge is an important point because it is from here that you will access the rest of the 7 top attractions.

7 top attractions in Uji, Kyoto not to be missed | How to make the best of 1 day

The 7 top attractions in Uji which should not be missed are listed below. I have listed them in the order of my walking route so you can have an idea of what to expect when you visit and are considering how to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto.

Across the Uji-bashi Bridge, you will come to Omotesando Street.

1 | Omotesando Street (平等院表参道), Uji, Kyoto

The Omotesando Street is about 300-meter stretch approach to Byodoin Temple (more on this temple, below). This street is lined with tea shops, eateries and souvenir shops. It is famously known as the Green Tea Street of Uji. Spend some time exploring this quaint street either on your way to Byodoin Temple or on your return.

Shops along Omotesando Street, Uji, Kyoto
Shops along Omotesando Street, Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

There are many tea related products which you can try such as “dango” dumplings, soba noodles or ice-cream.

Loose matcha tea stored in airtight wooden boxes

Matcha tea sold in small packaging as samples

Matcha sprinkled on crushed ice.

Georgina suggests: That you explore the Omotesando street on your return walk back from Byodoin Temple. This means you can take a break for a snack or lunch before you are onward to the next stage of your journey.

2 | Byōdōin Temple (平等院), Uji, Kyoto

Byōdōin Temple is one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Uji and its garden is regarded as Pure Land Paradise. 

Once you have bought your entry ticket, take the path on the left, around the lotus pond and this is what you come to …

Byodoin Temple in How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto.
Byodoin Temple is one of the two World Heritage sites which should be on every itinerary of a visitor here: How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

This 10th century Buddhist Temple was initially built in 998, at the height of political power of the Fujiwara clan during the Heian period (794 to 1192). It was built as a retreat villa for Fujiwara no Michinaga, a powerful politician. The architecture of this temple is spectacularly beautiful and speaks volume. 

However, Michinaga’s son, Yorimichi, turned it into a Temple and ordered the construction of the Phoenix Hall which was built in 1053. The building holds a central hall, two long corridors and is home to a three-meter high statue of Amida Buddha.

Amida Buddha is a wooden statue, covered in gold foil, carved by Jocho Busshi, a Heian period sculptor. His speciality was to join multiple pieces of blocks of wood to carve and join it to form a single piece or figure.

What remains today of this temple is this Phoenix Hall which is home to the soaring shining statue in the midst of heavenly beings playing instruments…it is a treasure well-worth a visit at least once!

The Phoenix Hall is featured on the flip-side of the Japanese Ten yen coin.

How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto: The serenity of this place...you simply got to be here to experience it at Byodoin Temple,
Uji, Kyoto: The serenity of this place…you simply got to be here to experience it at Byodoin Temple | Image: georgina_daniel
Side view of Byodoin Temple
Side view of Byodoin Temple, Uji Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

When visiting the Byodoin Temple, take the path around the Hall, and you will come to the museum where you can immerse in its history. One part of the museum holds original artefacts from the temple and the other is almost like walking into a heavenly whirl! Here, dancing celestial beings, child musicians and birds bearing flowers are depicted in rich, vibrant colours.

NB: Cameras were not allowed, so I do not have any pictures to show here.

2.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Byodoin Temple, Uji

Byodoin Temple & the Museum

Tickets are 600 Yen for both

Phoenix Hall

To visit the Phoenix Hall, it is an additional 300 Yen. You purchase this ticket from a ticket booth within the grounds near the temple. Visits are timed every 20 minutes, so your ticket will have a time printed on it.

Return to the queuing point at least 5-minutes before the ticketed time. A guide will lead the group into the hall for a talk about the building. The talk is in Japanese, no audio guides available. It is a narrow hallway and no photographs are allowed.

Even if you do not understand Japanese, it is still worth paying the extra to view the statue and its interior at least once in your lifetime, after-all you are there already 😊

Opening times:

08:30 to 17:30

Museum: 09:00 to 17:00

Last entry is  15-minutes before closing

Open all year round.

Georgina suggests: **Allow yourself at least an hour in your itinerary – to walk around and enjoy the splendid garden. However, if you are visiting the Phoenix Hall, tickets are timed and you need to allow yourself more time in your plans.

Alternatively, you may wish to experience the Byodoin Temple through a good value for money private tour.

Uplifting Kyoto: Private tour of Ujis Tea and Spirituality

In any case, if you are not pressed for time, spend a few extra moments just to relax and take in the serenity of the garden, the lotus pond and the magnificent Temple.

Byodoin Temple, Uji, Kyoto: Resting Area
Byodoin Temple, Uji, Kyoto: Resting Area | Image: georgina_daniel

3 | Uji Tea in Uji, Kyoto

Uji is famous for its green tea or its Matcha Green Tea.

From a historical perspective, Uji Tea or Green Tea was a popular drink amongst the nobleman and priests in Japan. However, it is ironic that green tea was virtually unheard of in Japan when it first arrived from China in the 700s. It was during the Kamakura period, between 1192 and 1333, that green tea leaves imported from China was cultivated in Uji. This led to popularity amongst the noblemen and priests.

The benefits of green tea, its cultivation and preparation was introduced in a book written by a Zen priest, Eisei. Eisei brought Zen Buddhism to Japan from China, hence, bestowing Uji the reputation of producing superior quality green tea as it was the first place to cultivate green tea.

To experience an authentic and traditional Japanese tea ceremony, go over to Taihoan.

3.1 | Tea House in Uji, Kyoto

A short walk from Byodoin Temple, at the southern bank of Uji River, you will find Taihoan, a public tea house. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to participate in an authentic tea ceremony. It serves matcha tea (powdered green tea) in a traditional tea-house setting and the correct tea ceremony etiquette.

Location of Taihoan Tea House on the southern bank of Uji River, Uji, Kyoto
Location of Taihoan Tea House on the southern bank of Uji River, Uji, Kyoto

You may wonder what makes Japanese Green Tea so special? Get all your answers and more whilst exploring Uji’s history in a private tour AND/OR take a rickshaw tour through Uji, to revered traditional tea shops and centuries-old historical sites with a guide.

Learn more and Book your tour by navigating via the links below:

4 | Ujigami Shrine and the Uji Shrine (宇治上神社)

The Ujigami Shrine is believed to be constructed as early as 1060 during the Heian period and is the 2nd of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uji. It is the guardian shrine to Byodoin Temple. Ujigami shrine is a Shinto shrine and it’s architecture is very simple. The Honden or the main hall is built in the nagare-zukuri architectural style, which is a curved assymetrical roof, extending more on the side of the main entrance than on the opposite side. This design is such to provide shelter to the worshippers.

Entrance to Ujigami Shrine, Uji, Kyoto
A torii gate symbolising entrance to Ujigami Shrine, Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

About 100m south of Ujigami shrine is the Uji shrine, also in the simple nagare-zukuri architectural style.

Entrance to Uji Shrine, Uji, Kyoto
Entrance to Uji Shrine, Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

4.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Ujigami and Uji Shrines in Uji, Kyoto

Opening hours: 09:00 to 16:30

Open all year round

Admission is FREE

Please give yourself anything between 15 to 30 minutes. It is really quiet and peaceful here. On my visit, I observed a painter sketching the beautiful view from the top of the stairs looking ahead. It was rather pretty.

4.2 | Getting to Ujigami Shrine

Location of Ujigami Shrine and Uji Shrine_1
Location of Ujigami Shrine and Uji Shrine

Ujigami Shrine is on the north of Uji River, close to the Tale of Genji Museum

JR Line

Takes 15 minutes to walk from JR Uji Station

Keihan Line

Takes 10 minutes to walk from Keihan Uji Line

By foot

It is about 10 to 15 minutes (depends how distracted you get from the enchanting scenery around you) from Byodoin Temple, across the river via a small island connected by bridges.

5. Uji’s Riverbank attractions, Uji, Kyoto

Uji’s riverbank attractions are within pleasant strolling distance.

5.1 | Asagiri-bashi Bridge – A beautiful bridge that links-up both sides of the riverbank and the park.

The Asagiri-bashi Bridge links-up both banks of the Uji River., Uji, Kyoto
The Asagiri-bashi Bridge links-up both banks of the Uji River, Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

5.2 | Ukifune and Prince Niou-no-Miya

Asagiri-bashi Bridge and the statue of Ukifune and Prince Niou-no-Miya afloat on the Ujigawa River
Asagiri-bashi Bridge and the statue of Ukifune and Prince Niou-no-Miya afloat on the Ujigawa River | Image: georgina_daniel

This is a statue dedicated to the final ten chapters of the The Tale of Genji, which takes place in Uji. Some scenes depicts the maiden Ukifune (which means “floating boat”) who was caught-up in a bitter love rivalry between Prince Niou-no-Miya and Genji’s son, Kaoru. Ukifune eventually throws herself into the Uji-gawa River.

5.3 | Travel tips and Useful information on Uji’s Riverbank, Uji, Kyoto

Uji Bridge is a 5-10 minute walk north of JR Uji Station

NB: Find all the information on the Tale of Genji Museum, on their official website here.

6 | Hashidera Temple – Ho-join

Hashidera, protector of Uji Bridge was built in 604 by Hata no Kawakatsu on the instructions of Prince Shotoku (574-622 AD)

The grounds of Hashidera Temple, Uji, Kyoto
The grounds of Hashidera Temple, Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

6.1 | Getting to Hashidera Temple, Uji

Hashidera Temple is on the east bank of the Uji River, just 5 minutes walk from Ujigami Shrine.

7 | Mampuku-ji Temple (萬福寺), Uji, Kyoto

Mampukuji Temple was the head temple of Zen Obaku sect and was founded in 1661 by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen was the founder of Zen Buddhism and was responsible for importing the Zen Obaku sect, the most recent form of Zen Buddhism from China into Japan. The architecture is distinctively Chinese, incorporating contemporary designs of the Ming Dynasty. It is profoundly peaceful and quiet here.

The main entrance to Mampuku-ji Temple , Uji, Kyoto
The main entrance to Mampuku-ji Temple , Uji, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

The temple grounds are extensive, set out as a courtyard, connected by stone paved path. It has beautiful Zen gardens surrounded by raked pebbles. There were not many people here when I arrived and gave me an opportunity to get “lost” in the extensive space!

Stoned footpath leads to Mampukuji Temple
Stoned footpath lines the entrance to the Mampuku-ji Temple | Image: georgina_daniel
Picture of the extensive grounds of Mampuku-ji Temple
Picture of the extensive grounds of Mampuku-ji Temple

Mampuku-ji is popular for Shojin Ryori, a sophisticated Buddhist cuisine. It is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan and became associated with Zen Buddhism in the 13th century. If you want to experience this traditional dining, you need to book in advance.

7.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Mampukuji Temple, Uji, Kyoto

Opening times: 09:00 to 17:00

Last entry at 16:30

Admission: 500 Yen

Georgina suggests: The grounds of this temple is huge, so getting here just before 16:30 will not really be worth your while. Half-an-hour is too short. You may need at least an hour minimum but anything more will be great.

7.2 | Getting to Mampukuji Temple, Uji

JR Line

Mampukuji is about five minutes from Obaku Station on the JR Nara Line.

Keihan Railways

Take the Keihan Line from Kyoto, Gion-Shijo Station to Keihan Obaku Station. The one way trip takes about 20 minutes, costs around 310 Yen. It requires a transfer of trains at Chushojima Station. Trains run every 5 minutes between Keihan Obaku and Uji Stations, and its 150 yen). Mampukuji is 10 minutes walk from Keihan Obaku Station.

You can also take the local trains between Kyoto and Obaku but these trains stops frequently, at every station and takes about half-an hour.

On foot

Alternatively, you can walk to Mampukuji in 30-40 minutes from Uji Bridge.

Alternatively, you could join a value for money guided tours and learn all about Uji and wider Kyoto.

My final thoughts

Amongst the seven attractions I visited in Uji in one day, I spent the longest time at the Byodoin Temple and then really enjoyed the walk along Uji’s Riverbank. I hope this itinerary will help you make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto. as well.

Happy exploring Uji, the historic romantic ancient town in Kyoto,

Georgina xx

February 2021, Update


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Discover the origins of Matcha green tea in Japan and explore the picturesque and romantic City of Uji, in the valleys of Kyoto. A DIY guide with detailed useful information on what to see, do and how to get to each spot. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/Discover the origins of Matcha green tea in Japan and explore the picturesque and romantic City of Uji, in the valleys of Kyoto. A DIY guide with detailed useful information on what to see, do and how to get to each spot. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/

Ultimate guide to the Best 5 in Kyoto

Ultimate guide to the Best 5 in Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto was the former capital of Japan until 1869. It was the residence of the Japanese emperor between AD 794 and 1868. It is a popular destination both for tourists and locals. As a region, it is home to at least 1600 temples and shrines, both small and large, famous and not so much. In addition there are many imperial palaces and gardens that just beckons a visit. Besides temples, shrines, palaces and gardens, Kyoto is strictly rooted in formal traditions such as kaiseki dining where multiple courses of precise dishes is served and geisha, who is a female entertainer often found in Gion-shiji.

With Kyoto being home to so much culture, food, vibrancy and history to indulge in, I can confidently say that one cannot have too many days in that cultural city. Strolling through Gion or Pontocho to steal a glimpse of the geisha, visiting the many iconic temples or experiencing a traditional ryokan stay will leave you with lasting memories. No matter how much time you spend in Kyoto, saying ‘goodbye’ will always be hard.

As for me, Kyoto is a place I will return to. Having lived in Japan for almost six months I realise there is so much to see and do here that there will always be new experiences to look forward to. Thus, selecting the best places to top my list for the purposes of this blog was a difficult task. Nevertheless, here is the recommended ultimate guide to the Best 5 places in Kyoto which you simply must not miss.

Best 5 places to Visit in Kyoto, Japan

1 | Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto

The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is popular for its thousands (about 10,000) of orange torii gates. These torii gates lines up the path on a steep hillside with about 12000 concrete steps.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto: Bright orange torii gates lined-up all the way to the top of this mountain.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto: Bright orange torii gates lined-up all the way to the top of this mountain |  © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel

These bright orange gates are said to date back to 711 AD and built to honour the Shinto God of Rice, Inari. The Inari Shrine is characterised by a pair of fox and vermilion torii gates.

Everyone, both young and old who visits Fushimi Inari climb these steps to the top. It took me a little over an hour to reach the top of the mountain. Sometimes, these steps were steep but it was well worth the hike! One feels a sense of achievement when you reach the top.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto: The long steps up ...this is a Shinto shrine and the etiquette here varies to a Buddhist temple. These steps are sometimes steep.
Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto: The long steps up …this is a Shinto shrine and the etiquette here varies to a Buddhist temple. These steps are sometimes steep | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel

I stopped to take in the luscious greenery and the many photos of the beautiful torii gates from all angles plus making new acquaintances along the way. Also, there are many tiny shops where you can stop and have your lunch or drinks.

1.1 | Travel tips for when visiting Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

When planning a trip to Fushimi Inari Taisha, use the map below to plan ahead so you could time your breaks for refreshments and for viewing points.

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto: A map of the mountain shows where the torii gates are situated and how high you need to climb.
Fushimi Inari, Kyoto: A map of the mountain shows where the torii gates are situated and how high you need to climb | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel

Fushimi Inari is always open and there are no entrance fee.

This mountain is popular both amongst tourists and locals which means that it will always be busy. Early mornings are best.

Georgina suggests: I was here in May and it was quite hot then. Best to have a bottle of water with you.

1.2 | Getting to Fushimi Inari Taisha:

The Fushimi Inari is situated at Inari Station, a quick 5-minute train journey on the JR line from Kyoto. From Inari Station, it is a short walk uphill a street lined with souvenir shops, food-stalls and restaurants with unique architecture. If you are unsure which way to turn as you get off the train, just follow the crowd and you will get there😊.

1.3 | Enhance your experiences in Kyoto by joining one the following tours:

When visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha, either solo or in a group, you may wish to join a tour group to learn more of its history and traditions. Here are three highly recommended tours which you may find valuable:


2 | Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji is one of the most beautiful Japanese zen gardens in Kyoto which I have been to. It is popular amongst tourist too, so it’s not one to be missed!

This famous spot is home to the Buddhist temple Golden Pavilion, a three-storey building covered in gold leaf situated in a picturesque pond, with tiny little islands dotted all around. It belonged to a Japanese shogun, Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1408), who had it built as his private garden. The paths are beautifully carved out, so you could enjoy every corner of the garden, with plenty of shades provided by the tall trees which may have been there since the 14th century or before.

Walking through the garden, you will totally feel the zen, the calmness and the serenity, knowing that you are walking the steps once walked by the Shogun himself! If you need a break, there is a tea-house where you can either sit seiza-style on the floor in-doors or on low-rise benches outdoors.

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple in Kyoto is surrounded by little islands dotted everywhere..
Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple in Kyoto is surrounded by little islands dotted everywhere | © timelesstravelsteps| georgina_daniel
Kyoto: Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, set in a pond surrounded by luscious greenery
Kyoto: Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, set in a pond surrounded by luscious greenery | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel
Kinkakuji Pavilion in Kyoto: When walking through this beautifully tended garden, you will find pretty little lakes with wildlife where you will want to stop every so often to admire and to capture the moments with your camera.
Kinkakuji Pavilion in Kyoto: When walking through this beautifully tended garden, you will find pretty little lakes with wildlife where you will want to stop every so often to admire and to capture the moments with your camera | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel
Throughout the garden at this Kinkaku-ji Pavilion in Kyoto, you will find lovely moss covered ground which adds to the softness of the luscious green.
Throughout the garden at this Kinkaku-ji Pavilion in Kyoto, you will find lovely moss covered ground which adds to the softness of the luscious green | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel
This is the Tea House within the grounds of Kinkaku-ji Pavilion in Kyoto. I opted for the traditional ceremony indoors.
This is the Tea House within the grounds of Kinkaku-ji Pavilion in Kyoto. I opted for the traditional ceremony indoors | © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel

2.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji is easily accessible from either Kyoto city or Gion-shiji. Take either bus 101 or 205 and its 230 yen. The journey is about 40 minutes and if you can, try to avoid the school rush hour (before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m.).

Kinkakuji is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day. 

Admission to Kinkakuji is 400 yen for adults, and 300 yen for children up to junior high school age.

2.2 | Tour Suggestions


3 | Arashiyama & Sagano in Kyoto

Bamboo Grove + Owl Café + Stroll along the Katsura River

3.1 | Arashiyama in Kyoto

Arashiyama basically means ‘Storm Mountain’ and is situated on western Kyoto. It is designated as a Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. The Oi River runs through this district and meets Togetsukyo Bridge and changes to become Katsura River. The Togetsukyo Bridge, also referred to as the “bridge under the moon” is a landmark in this district.

This part of Kyoto was popular amongst the nobles during the Heian period (794-1185) and were frequented for its tranquillity and natural beauty, so the name ‘Storm Mountain’ does not really do justice to the serenity of this place.

Boating along the Katsura River. Absolutely scenic. Sit here for a moment and absorb the tranquillity of the mountains.
Boating along the Katsura River. Absolutely scenic. Sit here for a moment and absorb the tranquillity of the mountains | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel.
Arashiyama, Kyoto: Simply had to share this! When you are 'amongst' nature, you experience something totally different that speaks to you.
Arashiyama, Kyoto: Simply had to share this! When you are ‘amongst’ nature, you experience something totally different that speaks to you | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel.
A moment to reflect and admire the beautiful mountains that surrounds this valley. Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama, Kyoto
A moment to reflect and admire the beautiful mountains that surrounds this valley. Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama, Kyoto |© mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

3.2 | Owl Cafe, Arashiyama, Kyoto

As one can imagine, as is elsewhere in Kyoto, the main streets of any touristic places are always lined with little shops which are unique in their offerings, be it food, gelato or souvenirs. Interestingly, there was an owl café on the main street here, where a drink is included in the price of the entrance fee. You can walk through this cafe where the owls are nicely secured to the branches. You can touch them!

All photos are © timelesstravelsteps | georgina_daniel

It was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but I guess it is worth a visit if you are thinking of something of interest for your kids.

3.3 | Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto

From the main street, the Bamboo Grove is conveniently accessible from the entrance of Tenryo-ji Temple. As you walk through the gardens and when you arrive at the north gate, take a left as you exit and keep walking, you will soon see and find yourself in the magical midst of the tall, very tall bamboo stalks, swaying in the gentle breeze, with rays of sunlight coming through its canopy high above you. You could feel the gentle breeze against your skin and the serenity of the place. Being here, is one of those “awe” moments and you simply got to experience it! What seems like an endless thick green bamboo grove, continues uphill.

Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto. Tall, very tall green bamboo stalks!
Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto. Tall, very tall green bamboo stalks! | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

Follow this main path and you will reach Okochi-Sanso, a sublime villa, surrounded by lush gardens. I did not visit the Okochi-Sanso because I wanted to spend more time taking a stroll along the river over a cup of coffee.

3.4 | Stroll along River Katsura, Arashiyama, Kyoto

The stroll along the river was an amazing experience. There are people around, but it is also very quiet. It is almost like everyone is just quiet, taking in the serenity, the beauty, enjoying and waiting for the sun to set.

Exploring the little hills along the river proved to be another rewarding experience as I came to little huts tucked away within the lushes of the greens. It was safe and thankfully there were no snakes! You need to be here to know what I am talking about 😊

Little gems hidden amongst the trees.
Arashiyama, Kyoto: Footpaths leading to little gems hidden amongst the trees |© mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel .
Exploring the hills in Arashiyama, Kyoto led us to discover some hidden gem! Can you see Katsura River down below?
Exploring the hills in Arashiyama, Kyoto led us to discover some hidden gem! Can you see Katsura River down below? | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Exploring the surrounding hills in Arashiyama, Kyoto
Exploring the surrounding hills in Arashiyama, Kyoto | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Arashiyama, Kyoto: Sunset over Katsura River - no filters!
Arashiyama, Kyoto: Sunset over Katsura River – no filters! | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

3.5 | Other experiences in Arashiyama:

Tenryu-Ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple is a 14th century temple. It is one of the main attractions in Arashiyama. It is popular for its magnificent Zen garden and its traditional tea house.

Okochi-sanso

Okochi-Sanso has a magnificent garden with breathtaking views over Kyoto. It has been featured in a number of movie sets.

Kameyama-Koen Park

This is a beautiful park where you can enjoy exploring the many trails that lead in and out of this peaceful sanctuary. Some trails lead you directly to the mountains.

3.6 | Travel tips and Useful information on Arashiyama, Kyoto

How to get to Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama is conveniently accessible from Kyoto Station by train.

Take the JR Train from Kyoto Station on the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. When you exit Arashiyama Station, follow signs to the Bamboo Grove. It takes about 10 minutes.

Tour suggestions for when visiting Arashiyama, Kyoto


4. Heian Shrine + Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

Some may think that this is an unusual combination because Philosophers Path is usually combined with a trip to Ginkakuji Temple, which is just a 5-minute walk, up the road from Philosopher’s Path. However, I have chosen this combination as I rather enjoyed the 20-minute walk from Heian Shrine to Philosopher’s Path.

4.1 | Heian Shrine, Kyoto

The entrance to Heian Shrine is marked by a giant torii gate, about 25 metres high which overlooks the Okazaki Koen Park. The main buildings are said to be 5/8th of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian period. The Shrine is surrounded by spacious grounds and there is a large open court at the centre, with spacious courtyard between buildings.

All photos are © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

4.1.1 | Shin’en, Heian Shrine, Kyoto

The most aesthetically impressive part of Heian Shrine is the Shin’en. Shin’en is 33,000 square metres of garden situated at the back of the main building. This garden is divided into East, West, South and Middle. It has lots of flowers, interesting looking trees, ponds and the exact stones that Scarlett Johansson was on in “Lost in Translation” (2003).

A walk through this beautiful garden in Heian Shrine, Kyoto was simply serene. It leads you to discover little gems like this in lotus ponds and the peacefulness here is majestic.
A walk through this beautiful garden in Heian Shrine, Kyoto was simply serene. It leads you to discover little gems like this in lotus ponds and the peacefulness here is majestic | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel.
Aesthetically impressive! The Heian Shrine in Kyoto is popularly used as a wedding venue.
Aesthetically impressive! The Heian Shrine in Kyoto is popularly used as a wedding venue | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Heian Shrine, Kyoto: Stone steps!! Remember Charlotte in 'Lost in Translation'? Here it is!
Heian Shrine, Kyoto: Stone steps!! Remember Charlotte in ‘Lost in Translation’? Here it is! | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
The lotus pond at Heian Shrine, Kyoto was magnificent.
The lotus pond at Heian Shrine, Kyoto was magnificent | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
The lotus pond at Heian Garden
The lotus pond at Heian Garden | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Heian_14
Heian Shrine, Kyoto: The beauty of this amazing garden will leave you speechless |© mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel .
I saw so many trees here of varying heights and shapes. Sometimes I wonder if these branches have a mind of their own?
I saw so many trees here of varying heights and shapes. Sometimes I wonder if these branches have a mind of their own? | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

4.1.2 | Travel tips and Useful information on Heian Shrine, Kyoto

The entrance to Heian shrine is free but there is a small fee, 600 yen for the garden. I would recommend it if you are looking to spend a leisurely afternoon/evening. There is a sitting area right in the middle of the pond where you can just sit, have a picnic or just relax and take in the view.

4.1.3 | Getting to Heian Shrine, Kyoto

4.1.3 | From Kyoto Station:

Take bus number 5 or 100. It is about half-an-hour journey and cost 230 Yen.

Take the subway to Higashiyama Station and it is ten minutes walk to the Shrine.

4.1.4 | Trek from Heian Shrine to Philosophers Path

From the Heian Jingu, I took the 20-minute walk along the residential area till I came to the small winding canal, lined with sakura (cherry blossoms). I didn’t mind the walk as it was an opportunity to see the quiet residential area, the tiny little shops lined up along the canal and really take-in the scenic view.

The 20-minute walk from Heian Shrine to Philosopher's Path was a walk of discovery where I came across little boutiques of handmade clothes and arts & crafts
The 20-minute walk from Heian Shrine to Philosopher’s Path was a walk of discovery where I came across little boutiques of handmade clothes and arts & crafts | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Found this art shop along the canal, Philosopher's Path, Kyoto: This art shop is one of its kind - worth the visit.
Found this art shop along the canal, Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto: This art shop is one of its kind – worth the visit | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Shops by the narrow canal along Philosopher's Path, Kyoto
Shops by the narrow canal along Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

4.2 | Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto is a popular destination during the cherry blossom season which is typically late March to early April.

View post on When is the best time to go to Japan – contains a month by month guide and best cherry blossoms viewing days .

Philosopher's Path in Kyoto begins with a stone path in pleasant surroundings.
Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto begins with a stone path in pleasant surroundings.|© mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
The canals along Philosopher's Path, Kyoto
The canals along Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel

4.2.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

If you are planning a trip during Hanami (the tradition of viewing and appreciating the beauty of the sakuras), please dedicate some time to planning your travels. The sakura are in full bloom for only 2 to 3 weeks in Spring, between 20th March and 14th April, so you don’t really see them in full-bloom for a full month. Cherries peak at different times and are very weather dependent but they generally peak on 1st April. If you are planning a trip, then you need to consider the followings:

  • Where you will be going to for the Hanami?
  • When will you be going?
  • Where would you stay?

Ideally, you will need to give yourself longer time, more than just a couple of days in Kyoto. Accommodation during the Hanami is typically expensive.

4.2.2 | Tour Suggestions

You may like some of our bestsellers – click on the link to find out more and book your activities.


5 | Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto

No visit to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple which basically means “Pure Water Temple” is situated in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto. It was founded around AD 780. It is an independent Buddhist Temple and has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

The Kiyomizu-dera is popular for its wooden stage that stands-out about 13 metres above in the hillside below. The main hall and the stage were built without any nails. It is said that the wooden stage offers a magnificent view of the maple and cherry tress below and a spectacular view over Kyoto. However, the hall was closed for renovation during my visit and is expected to reopen in March 2020.

Narrow streets lead to Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. This is popular tourist destination so expect it to be busy on any day of your visit.
Narrow streets lead to Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. This is popular tourist destination so expect it to be busy on any day of your visit | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
These beautiful lanterns greets you as you enter the payment hall at Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. Despite its vast space here, it was exceptionally busy.
These beautiful lanterns greets you as you enter the payment hall at Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. Despite its vast space here, it was exceptionally busy | © mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel
Scaffolding covers the wooded hall at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. Closed to visitors.
Scaffolding covers the wooded hall at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. Closed to visitors |© mytimelessfootsteps | georgina_daniel .

Unlike other temples I had visited, I found the entrance to this temple to be extremely busy with visitors, especially older teenagers who were also rather noisy. I soon understood why.

5.1 | Jishu Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Beyond the main hall, was the Jishu Shrine, which is dedicated to the deity of love. In front of it are two stone pillars of 18 metres apart. If one could walk from one pillar to the other successfully, with their eyes closed, it is said that the one will be lucky in love. There were many older teenagers who were doing this with great excitement. I understood then, the popularity of the temple amongst the younger generation in Japan.

From here, as I started exploring the grounds, I began to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding hills.

5.2 | Koyasu Pagoda, Kiyomizu-dera

In the far distant of the south of the temple, among the trees, is the three-tiered Koyasu Pagoda. This is a popular place visited by women as a visit here is said to bring about an easy and safe childbirth.

5.3 | Travel tips and Useful information on Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto

From Kyoto Station

Take bus 100 or 206. It is a 15-minute journey and cost 230 Yen. Get off at Kiyomizu-michi stop and then it is about a 10-minute walk uphill to the temple.

5.4 | Tour Suggestions

I am an absolute believer in “mixing-up” my vacation! One of the activities I often do is to sign up for at least one guided tour at the destination of my vacation. You may like some of our bestsellers in Kyoto. Click on the link to find out more and book your activities.

More than one way to experience Kyoto | All recommended tours


6 | Inspiring destinations for a day trip from Kyoto, Japan

Alongside the best 5 places to visit in Kyoto, there are a number of destinations around the city of Kyoto that easily make for a day-trip . Himeji is a popular destination for its white castle, built in the shape of an eagle taking flight and surrounded by nine gardens. Nara, with many of its UNESCO buildings and the people friendly deer is another popular attraction both for visitors and locals alike. While visiting Kyoto, you may not want to miss the romantic city of Uji and the sacred Mount Hiei, – all making a fascinating experience of Japan. Read the articles in its entirety on the destinations by navigating through the links below:

7 | Travel essentials for when visiting Kyoto, Japan

Read – Best time to visit Japan – to plan your visit and season/weather guide including what you need to pack.

Book accommodation – Read beautiful places to stay in Kyoto + peruse all available accommodation on booking dot com here

Book flights – Check Google flights for competitive pricing and Etihad Airways which is popular for its long-haul flights and cabin service. For further reading, navigate to Best deals on flights

Book activities – there are so many ways to experience Kyoto and here are some carefully selected experiences for you to book

Travel Insurance – Do not leave home without it! World Nomads is highly recommended (and I use) for their flexibility to insure on the go and cover. I also use Travel Supermarket to compare prices before purchasing to ensure I have the best deal. Use the link below to find out what it costs for what you need.

6 | My conclusion on the Best 5 in Kyoto

To select the best 5 places to visit in Kyoto was a difficult decision. There are so many more temples here that requires a visit for example Ginkaku-ji also known as Silver Pavilion, the Nanzen-ji and Toji Temple. There is also the Imperial palace which is a popular destination in Kyoto. Last but not least, are the Kyoto flea markets which go back centuries!

Ultimately, my choices rested upon selecting what would give my readers an authentic experience of history, culture and traditions if you were to have just a few days in Kyoto. I sincerely belief that the Best 5 selected here reflect what is quintessentially Kyoto. It will be a rewarding experience if these Best 5 places, Fushimi Inari, Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Heian Shrine + Philosopher’s Path and kiyamizu-dera are on your itinerary when travelling to Japan.


Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Kyoto, Japan? If so, please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, Or, have you visited Kyoto? Do share your experiences, I would love to hear from you.

Have a splendid time exploring Kyoto!

Georgina xx

Updated February 2021




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Kyoto is a historical city and former capital of Japan. It is home to at least 1600 temples and shrines. Find out the Best 5 that you should not miss. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/Kyoto is a historical city and former capital of Japan. It is home to at least 1600 temples and shrines. Find out the Best 5 that you should not miss. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/