Things to do in Kyoto
Public baths have been a cornerstone of the society for centuries in Kyoto. The first public baths, or sentō (銭湯), were documented in the 13th century. Soon they became one of the few places in society where social status was irrelevant. Noblemen shared baths with commoners and warriors. Today over 140 bath houses remain in Kyoto. Funaoka Onsen is the oldest of these and dubbed "king of sentō", but newer bath houses and super sentō are just as much part of the Japanese bathing culture. If you have the time, make your way to one of the many public bath houses Kyoto has to offer.
- Funaoka Onsen (船岡温泉), Kyoto, Kita Ward, Murasakino Minamifunaokacho 82-1 京都市右京区太秦東蜂岡町10 (take bus line 206 from Kyoto station), . 15:00 - 01:00. Funaoka Onsen is one of the oldest public bath houses in Kyoto still in operation. Its classic building is an excellent example of bath house architecture of the beginning of the 20th century. Funaoka Onsen is popular with both locals and visitors and is a must if you have an hour to spare. ¥410.
Kyoto is the traditional home of the Japanese film industry and while it has declined since its heyday in the 1950's, to this day, the majority of Japanese period dramas (時代劇 jidaigeki) continue to be produced in Kyoto.
- Toei Kyoto Studio Park (東映太秦映画村 tōei uzumasa eigamura), Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Uzumasa Higashihachiokacho 10 (take bus line 75 from Kyoto station), . 09:30 - 16:30. Toei Kyoto Studio Park is an active film studio which continues to be used for the filming of period dramas. Visitors may visit the outdoor sets used in many samurai movies, and if they are lucky, could potentially observe the filming of a period drama. ¥2,200.
Well known for its abundance of historical sites, Kyoto often draws visitors eager to experience traditional Japanese culture. Buddhist meditation sessions are one of the most popular of these activities, and multiple options are available. In Northern Kyoto,Taizo-in and Shunko-in (both sub-temples of Myoshin-ji) offer authentic Zen meditation sessions, complete with explanations of the meaning and significance of such meditation. Reservations are necessary.
Kyoto is arguably the most well known place in the country to view cherry blossoms, and there are certainly no lack of options. On the Official Top 100 cherry blossom spots list, three are in Kyoto (Arashiyama, Daigoji, Ninnaji).
Eastern Kyoto is particularly popular during the cherry blossom season. A walk from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji along the Philosopher's Path, lined with cherry trees, is enjoyable, as there are a variety of temples and shrines to stop at along the way. The garden of the Heian Shrine, not far from the Philosopher's Path, features colorful pink blossoms, which is a nice contrast to the white blossoms you'll see on the Philosopher's Path. The famous cherry tree in Maruyama Park is often the center of attention in the evenings when it is lit up. Vendors line the pathway leading up to it, creating a festive atmosphere. Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji have extended hours during the first few days of this season offering visitors the opportunity to view them at night, lit up against the blossoms. Blossoms can also be seen along the Kamogawa River. The entire area literally blossoms in the spring!
In Central Kyoto the northern section of the Imperial Park is home to a variety of different types of cherry blossoms. Nijo Castle hosts its own Nijo Light-Up, in which visitors can walk the grounds of the castle at night among the cherry blossoms (typically for 10–14 days). You cannot enter the castle during the light-up, so those who want to enter should visit during the day to see the castle and the blossoms. Just south of Kyoto station, the grounds of Toji Temple bloom beautifully below the towering pagoda.
In Arashiyama, a large portion of the mountainside is bright with cherry blossoms, along with the area around Hankyu Arashiyama Station. During the day, many people enjoy viewing the blossoms on the mountainside from the "Romantic Train" that travels through Arashiyama. At night, the area is lit up and food stalls are set up with a variety of delicious snacks.
Northern Kyoto offers cherry-blossom scouts worthwhile experiences at Hirano Shrine and Kyoto Botanical Gardens, and a walk inside the large grounds of Daigo-ji in Southern Kyoto is certainly made memorable when all the blossoms are in full bloom.
Although they are less well-known to foreign tourists, who tend only to focus their attentions on seeing cherry blosssoms, for those with plans to visit Kyoto from mid-February through mid-March, plum blossom viewing makes for a great alternative. Kyoto has two popular plum blossom locations; Kitano Tenmangu and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, both in northern Kyoto. Kitano Tenmangu has a large grove of plum trees just outside the shrine entrance that, with a ¥600 fee, you can stroll about. Within the shrine grounds, there are many more trees (viewable for free). The shrine even hosts annual performances by geisha amidst the plum blossoms. Plum blossoms have a very pleasantly distinct fragrance. These Japanese ume trees are actually more closely related to apricot trees. However an early mistranslation by the Japanese resulted in these trees being called "plum" trees instead.
MeetUs Kyoto offers various cultural activities hosted by locals. The project is organised by university students, and they will translate between English and Japanese during the tour (usually locals don't speak English.) More than 15 things to do are listed and each has specific available dates (Japanese hairstyle arrangement and Kimono, for example, is not available on Monday). See MeetUs Kyoto for more information.
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