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Join us on the trip to the west side of Kyoto, Japan. We’ll take you through many attractions in this charming city, including Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji, and the beautiful sceneries of Arashiyama.
I hope your legs are well rested from the Kyoto Japan Guide – East Side post from last time, we will continue our adventure in Kyoto traveling through the western part of the city. If you haven’t been to Kyoto before and want recommendations on how to get around and where to stay, please see my previous Kyoto post.
West Side of Kyoto
There are quite a few famous points of interests on the western side of Kyoto, for this post we’ll visit the northwest corner of the city covering three of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Our path will take us from the ornate Kinkaku-ji to the beautiful green forest of Arashiyama.
click the image to enlarge
Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 (read more)
Although there aren’t any subway stations nearby Kinkaku-ji, you have plenty of bus options to get there including the city bus 101, 102, 204, and 205. They all stop right in front of the temple.
Although Kinkaku-ji is known as “Golden Pavilion Temple” and you know already that going there, however it’s difficult to believe it’s real until you see the temple glistening in the sun with your own eyes.
Originally built in 1397 as a villa, the golden pavilion withstood wars and time only to be burnt down in 1950 by a monk suffering from mental illness. The current building was rebuilt in 1955 based on the original structure.
The temple ground is actually quite large and you get to see the beautiful gardens and surrounding greens as the visitor’s path loops you back to the main gate. Here is the guide map of Kinkaku-ji below.
From Kinkaku-ji, it’s just a short 5 min ride on bus 59 or 12 to get to Ryoan-ji, one of the most famous rock gardens in Japan if not in the world.
Based on the temple’s official site, the rock garden was built at same time as the Hojo (abbott’s chamber) at 1499. The rock garden is a rectangle area that’s 250 sq meter (2700 sq ft) made up of mostly white gravel. On top of the white gravel there are 5 groups of formation containing 15 rocks. The number of rocks are not random in each group, one of them contains 1 rock, the second one contains 2, and so forth.
Throughout the years, there has been many different interpretation of the meaning behind the formation and the garden itself. For me personally, it looks like I am looking at magnificent painting by a great artist. Seeing each perfect straight line in the stone spread over such a large area is simply breathtaking. Take a break, sit and observe the rock formation and maybe you can figure out the mystery the garden is trying to convey.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park 東映太秦映画村 (read more)
Time to take a break from temples and enjoy some fun. It’s time to the see how Japanese samurai movies and shows are filmed! You’ll take the Kitano-Line (北野線) from Ryoan-ji to Tokiwa station to get to Toei Kyoto Studio Park. You’ll need to pay ¥200 ($2) for the train since it’s not covered by your 2-day pass.
My children had a blast there. We saw actors fighting with swords, untrapped ourselves from the Ninja Mystery House, took period-style photos of the children, and saw a real life action show. They have a variety of shows from Samurai fighting to futuristic superhero (think PowerRangers). It’s fun for all ages! The buildings on the studio ground are free for you to explore. Mr. JOC was super excited about the Anime Museum because it had all the toys and figures from his childhood on display.
From the Toei Studio Park, you can take bus 11, 91, or 93 and it’ll drop you really close to Tenryu-ji, the last of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto we’ll visit today. As part of Kyoto Gozan (京都五山, five zen temples), Tenryu-ji is ranked first as the most important temple of Rinzai Zen Buddhism (臨済宗).
Originally built in 1339 by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji in memorial to his “frenemy” Emperor Go-Daigo. The ground is massive, featuring with 13 temple buildings and a large garden. The temple has an interesting history as it played a big role as a place of teaching as well as trade with China for many centuries. Most of the buildings were lost over the years due to fires and human causes, the current buildings were reconstructed after 1850’s.
As you exit Tenryu-ji, the main street has a few shops featuring local products, including the popular Kyoto oil blotting paper Yojiya (よーじや) and snack Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋). There are a number of famous temples near by including Jōjakukō-ji (常寂光寺) and Nison-In (二尊院) you can visit if you want to visit. This district is called Arashiyama, where there are many temples, shrines and the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
If you want to take a break from the temples, I would recommend strolling through the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove to Torokko Arashiyama station and taking the sightseeing train on the Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道, also known as the Sagano Romantic Train or Sagano Torokko) (English PDF here). It’s particularly popular during the autumn color season from mid November to early December. The train travels along the Hozugawa river and you can see the beautiful scenery on this historic track.
After coming back take a picture at Togetsukyo (渡月橋) bridge at sunset and get ready for a great meal!
Kyoto Station 京都駅 (read more)
I’ll talk about food and meals in the next Kyoto post, but after dinner I recommend visiting Kyoto Station. This modern futuristic station is a stark contrast to all the traditional temples and shrines in Kyoto and offers one of the best night view of Kyoto City from its rooftop terrace.
There are also shops, a movie theater, restaurants, and a department store in case you want to look for a last minute souvenir gift. At night, the stairs going up to the terrace becomes a light show, oohing and awing the many tourist standing at the bottom of the steps seeing Japanese designs flowing down the steps.
Right across from Kyoto Station is Kyoto Tower Hotel. Kyoto Tower is the tallest structure in Kyoto with its observation deck at 100 m (320 ft).
As I said in the previous posts, there are simply too many places to see and visit in Kyoto. Besides the other thousands of temples and shrines, there is Nijo-jo Castle (二条城), Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所), and many other sites. It’s a city with something for everyone, and I hope you will enjoy visiting Kyoto as much as we did.
Next read about the food we had in Kyoto as it’s one of the best known character of Kyoto. Thank you so much for reading, and till next time!
- Read Kyoto Japan Guide – East Side (Part 1)
- Read Eating in Kyoto (Part 3)
- Read more travel posts about Japan, Taiwan, etc.
Update: Each month 20% of proceeds from selling my eBook will go to charity. For August, I donated to the American Heart Association. Thank you for those who purchased the eCookbook!