Kyoto is Japan's seventh largest city with a population of 1.5 million people and a modern face. It has managed to preserve an historic atmosphere, as it was the only major Japanese city to escape the devastation of WWII. Famous for being the the residence of the emperor and Japan's principal cultural center for almost 1,100 years, Kyoto today boasts numerous fine examples of art in its many museums and galleries. The city is also home to 17 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites situated in a cityscape dominated by 2,000 temples and shrines. You will get inspired by the rich Japanese culture through tea ceremony, sake brewing, kimono wearing, swordsmanship and more.
Kyoto is the educational hub of western Japan with several universities and higher educational establishments. Half of all Japanese Nobel Prize winners have been Kyoto researchers. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 was awarded to Prof. Shinya Yamanaka from Kyoto. His discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells started a revolution in stem cell research not only in neurodegenerative disorders but also in other fields of medicine. This tradition of innovation is also the life blood of Kyoto industry that has produced some of the world's most exciting companies, the battery technology, green energy solutions and numerous inspiring products.
No trip to Kyoto is complete, without visiting at least some of its amazing sites.
Nijo Castle is a vast samurai castle that was the official Kyoto residence of the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate, rulers of Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Designed both to impress and demoralise their rivals, the huge wooden buildings contain gorgeous palace style rooms with ornate sliding doors, elegantly decorated ceilings and tatami mats surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Byodo-in Temple, which can be seen on the back of Japan's 10 yen coin, is the star attraction in Uji, a small city to the southeast of Kyoto. The Phoenix Hall at Byodo-in Temple is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Japan, and is stunningly perched over a serene reflecting pond. Uji is a great day trip out of the city and offers a unique cultural experience.
Daigo-ji Temple is a sprawling temple complex located to the east of Kyoto in the Fushimi district. The main temple grounds are found at the base of a mountain and are connected to the temple buildings via a hiking trail which leads to the summit. It is famous for its five-story pagoda, magnificent cherry blossoms in spring and fall foliage in autumn.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan, and was in fact on the short list for the New 7 Wonders of the World. It offers a truly unique experience. The main hall is perched on a hill overlooking the city with a huge veranda offering spectacular views of Kyoto. Just below the hall, you can drink sacred water from a waterfall believed to bestow health, wisdom and longevity.
Saiho-ji Temple, known as the "Moss Temple" for its superb moss garden, spirits you to another world with a beautiful Japanese garden carpeted by lush green moss. The spectacular heart-shaped garden was laid out in 1339 and surrounds a tranquil pond. Entrance to the temple and garden requires a reservation in advance.
Ryoan-ji Temple, also known as the "Temple of the Dragon at Peace" is famous for its iconic Zen rock garden, one of the symbols of Kyoto. The garden features 15 mystical rocks floating adrift in a sea of white sand and is the perfect spot to contemplate the world and the meaning of life.
To-ji Temple is a huge ancient temple located to the south of Kyoto Station that served as one of the guardian temples of ancient Kyoto. In the southern part of the garden stands the Goju-no-to, a huge wooden five story pagoda, the highest in Japan at 57 meters (187 ft) tall. Check out Japan's most famous flea market held on its serene grounds to pick up a classic Japanese souvenir such as a kimono or antique.
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