A friend asked what she should see on her first, and short, trip to Kyoto. The only honest answer is, I don't know. One could (and I have) experience a number of different Kyotos--a Buddhist Kyoto, a Shinto Kyoto, a garden Kyoto, a museum Kyoto, a tourist Kyoto, a craft Kyoto...but you get the idea. I once stopped with my group at an exhibit of model homes a contractor had built and we all had a wonderful time going through them.
There are, I am afraid, a number of famous things to see. These are the things that if you don't visit them, people say, "You were in Kyoto and didn't see...." So let's start with those:
Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavilion. Perhaps the most famous temple in Japan, but the grounds are mobbed and the last time I was there you shuffled along pressed by the mob behind even though they do not show up in the picture above.
Sanjusangen-do. An extraordinary building filled with more than 1,000 statues of bodhisattvas and a central Buddha. Go very early to beat the crowds.
Kiyomizu-dera. A temple complex on the Eastern hills above Kyoto. From the platform high above the ground, you can look over the city. Water from a sacred spring gives you health, longevity, and success in studies.
Nijo Castle (the gate above) was the shogun's villa when he visited Kyoto. The scale, art, and grounds were designed to impress the Kyoto aristocracy. They impressed me, and the thing is big enough that I've never felt crowded.
Ryoan-ji. The temple with the world-famous dry garden...five groups of stones in raked white sand. The first time I saw it, I was able to sit on the veranda undisturbed for an hour. Today it is mobbed and the experience does not lend itself to contemplation. Go, but don't be disappointed by the bustle.
Next post, I'll talk about some of my favorite places.