Kyoto-City of 10,000 Shrines-Where To Start?


Heian Shrine-one of 400 Shinto Shrines located in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan

Kyoto is located in the central part of Honshu Island, Japan and was the imperial capital of the country for over a thousand years. It is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. It is an absolute must see on a visit to Japan. Because there are so many sites I met my expat friend Niall Gibson, who is a guide and travel specialist living in Kyoto to get an expert opinion on what to see in a short time.

And please some advice on how to conduct yourself in this polite culture.

I first set off on foot near the Yasaka Shrine To get a feel for the city. Wait a minute what the hell is this? Hari Kirshnas? In Kyoto? Well it’s an international city so anything is possible but not my idea of traditional Japanese culture.

So I moved on to the Heian Shrine. It is a top ranked shrine by the Association of Shinto Shrines. Heian dates back to 1895, a relatively short history compared to other important temples and shrines in Japan.

Outside the shrine on a busy road in Kyoto sits It’s Torii Gate, one of the largest in Japan. Built in 1929 it’s over 24 meters high. A torri gate symbolizes the transition from the profane to the sacred.

The orange, green and white buildings inside are meant to be replicas of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace.

The Heian Shrine’s gardens are some of the most impressive in all of Japan. If you’re timing is good you’ll see a stunning display of cherry blossoms in the spring. If you’re timing is good.

No matter what time of year taking a stroll through the gardens is a true zen experience, and hey you can even step over these stones. the same ones Scarlett Johansson hopped over in “Lost In Translation”.

I left the Heian Shrine totally refreshed from my walk through the gardens and headed back to Gion to take a walk through this traditional neighborhood, where I’ve been told real Geisha’s can be seen. Actually the correct term or name for a Geisha in Kyoto is Geiko and an apprentice is called a Maiko. But my best sighting was just the many tourists who come and dress up in traditional kimonos and walk around and pose for pictures.

I took another suggestion from Niall and made my way to Arishiyama, about a 30 minute train ride from central Kyoto to see the Tenru ji Buddhist Temple and finish off my visit with a walk through the world-famous Bamboo Grove. Arishiyama is home to several temples and interesting sites to see including a monkey park where over 170 monkeys reside. It’s also a spectacular place to visit for the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains, especially during the spring and fall.

I made my way to Tenru ji-the head temple of the Tenru branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Construction was completed in 1345 but the temple has subsequently suffered through many fires and the buildings that currently stand here were reconstructed in the last half of the 19 and early 20th centuries. Tenru ji is surrounded by beautiful gardens and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994.

It’s North Gate is the entrance to the famous Sagano Bamboo Grove. It’s no coincidence that bamboo gardens or groves in Japan are usually situated near Shinto Shrines or Buddhist Temples. The bamboo represents strength, a symbol intended to ward off evil.If you want to truly experience the wonder of this place and it’s magical sounds, visit early in the morning or late in the day.

That’s it for this week’s Far East Adventure Travel Podcast. Don’t forget to like the Far East Adventure Travel page on Facebook and for more inspiration subscribe to Far East Adventure Travel Magazine on iTunes or visit

Until next time this is John Saboe. Safe travels and Namaste!

Niall Gibson has a great website full of travel tips on Japan:
If you would like to book a Kyoto tour with him you can reach at:

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