Overview

Kyoto
Kyoto © Shadowgate

Kyoto is Japan's most historically important city and sightseeing capital, packed with something like 1,600 Buddhist temples, 300 Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, gardens, and traditional wooden homes. All are well preserved and present a charming picture of traditional Japanese culture. The city lies in the mid-western Kansai district on the island of Honshu, surrounded by plains full of rice paddies which complete its old-world feel.

Visitors arriving from the Kansai International Airport or on board the famous Shinkansen bullet train at Kyoto's modern central station may be disenchanted to initially discover a thriving, overcrowded industrial city with a straight grid of uniform streets presided over by the futuristic Kyoto Tower.

The city may present a modern face, but explore behind the scenes in the outer districts or off the beaten track in the old merchants' quarters and you will glimpse cameos and images of traditional Japan, from cherry blossoms to geishas and bonsai trees to shoji screens.

Apart from the architectural legacy, which was fortunately spared the heavy bombings inflicted on other Japanese cities during World War II, Kyoto also boasts some of Japan's most significant artworks, a culturally traditional way of life, and superior cuisine. No visit to Japan is complete without devoting some time to exploring Kyoto.