Kyoto: Japan's Spiritual Capital
When you think about Japanese cities, you might imagine neon-lined avenues, impressively fast trains, or wide-eyed cartoon characters. But there is another urban Japan—one filled with ancient temples, peaceful Zen gardens, and beautifully dressed geisha. To experience traditional Japanese culture, there is no better place to visit than Kyoto.
A great place to start your visit is Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple founded in 778. It is easily recognized from its four-story stage made up of wooden posts. At the base of the temple, visitors can take water from three falling streams, which represent long life, success in school, and fortune in love. In November, the grounds are lit up, and the temple is surrounded by bright clouds of colorful leaves.
Just north of Kiyomizu-dera is Gion. There you can take a walk outside the old merchant houses and have a cup of traditional green tea. You might even spot a few geisha on their way to meet clients. Follow the cherry tree–lined Philosopher's Path all the way up to the Silver Pavilion, which is located in a lovely Zen garden.