Familiar images of Japan come to life in Kyoto. The city limits contain opportunities to experience leading modern technology and architecture, neon lights and deafening gaming parlours, graceful geisha and serene Buddha, a formidable castle and secluded temples, and even lush green rice paddies. There is a great deal to see and experience in this city during free time in the business schedule and for accompanying persons who want to venture off site. Each season brings festival and event highlights that date back to the foundation of Kyoto in the eighth century AD. Please refer to the excellent information provided by the organisations listed below to assist in your planning. When you get here a network of tourist information offices will help you make the most of your time to explore. A very brief guide to the region follows.
The area south of Kyoto city has always been an important transport corridor linking the former capital with the sea ports in Osaka and Kobe. There are many things to see and do such as visit the home of Japanese green tea in Uji as well as its UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites of Byodoin temple and Ujigami shrine, the spectacular Uji River and a museum dedicated to interpreting the Tale of Genji.
Central and north-eastern Kyoto prefecture is called the Tamba region. It is characterised by mountainous, sparsely populated natural scenery. It is primarily an agricultural area and it provides Kyoto connoisseurs with culinary delights such as prized matsutake mushrooms and Tamba beef. Tamba wine has become one of the leaders in a fledgling Japanese wine industry. Kameoka is the closest onsen spa resort to Kyoto city, Fukuchiyama castle commands the central highlands, and Miyama town presents a chance to experience rural life as it always has been.
Kyoto prefecture's north coast and hinterland Tango region is a leisure area of stunning coastline and wide sandy beaches. Miyazu is famed for its Amanohashidate land bridge of white sand and pine trees that is considered one of the three most scenic sights in Japan, and Kotobiki beach in Kyotango attracts visitors to sand that squeaks when you walk on it. The naval port of Maizuru boasts Japan's oldest brick warehouses. The cold winter helps Tango produce some of the finest silk crepe sought by the connoisseurs of Kyoto and Japan.
Kyoto is located in the centre of the Kansai region made up of the prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga, Mie, Wakayama, Nara, Hyogo and Osaka. Kansai has long been a culture and economic driving force for Japan. Perhaps this is the reason that the transport network is so comprehensive and cheap to use making the region an ideal place to explore and experience Japan. Popular day trips from Kyoto include Lake Biwa & Hikone, Nara, Osaka, Kobe, Himeji Castle and Hiroshima.
There are a number of choices of guided tours in Kyoto. Sunrise Tours are the best known with daily departures to a choice of important and popular historic and cultural attractions. The expert guides bring added meaning and interest to your adventure in Kyoto. You can also get fully personalised tours. Volunteer groups such as SGG and Good Samaritans also have Kyoto members who are keen to assist.
Kyoto offers the unique opportunity to learn about Japanese culture in the birthplace of many traditions. It is highly recommended to take part in a hands-on workshop while you are here to get a deeper more meaningful insight into Kyoto city life.
Kyoto fabrics, such as the Nishijin style of weaving, are renowned throughout Japan. The art of kimono making is therefore at its most refined in Kyoto. Try on a Kyoto masterpiece for a unforgettable experience.
Tea brought from China was first planted in Kyoto. Kyoto temples developed the highly stylised Tea Ceremony to entertain, relax and appreciate tea. Taking part in a ceremony is the ideal break during your exploration of Kyoto.
Kyoto is home to more than a thousand Buddhist temples and thereby a vast array of opportunities to relax through Zen meditation. Ask at your hotel concierge or nearest tourist information office for details on which temples offer meditation sessions.
Let the enthusiasm of an expert give you a gentle introduction to the fundamentals of balance and beauty in nature. The Japanese way of flowers traces its roots to Kyoto and the heads of several of the many schools of flower arrangement are Kyoto temples.
Origami paper folding is more than just an intricate art form in modern Japan. It is enjoyed by all to make toys or decorations, and just for the sake of doing it. Kyoto washi paper is the envy of the nation and what better than to take this opportunity to make your own souvenirs in one of these workshops.
The fine restaurants and practitioners of tea ceremony demanded the finest most sophisticated ceramics to best show off their art. Hence Japan's leading ceramics artisans developed their skills in Kyoto. Many of the workshops in the Kiyomizu area nearby the temple of the same name will teach you some of their secrets and send your finished work of art to your anywhere in the world.
If you are inspired to write about your discoveries in Kyoto, why not practise traditional sweeping strokes with a brush and charcoal ink? You can learn how to write your name in Japanese characters and perhaps choose a kanji that sums up your experience in Kyoto.
Further information & places to take part in workshops
Few people are lucky enough to catch a fleeting glimpse as the geisha flit between appointments in the Gion and other quarters of the city. Kyoto is the home of geisha arts, and only Kyoto geisha are referred to by the special terms Maiko - an apprentice - and Geiko - a fully qualified artist. You can see maiko and geiko perform at Gion Corner.
Noh is a classical performance that combines dance, drama, music and poetry. The present aesthetic form dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Stunning costumes and incredible masks are used to convey the characters. Kyoto is the home of this theatre that is recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Noh can be seen throughout the year at the Kongo Noh Theatre and outdoor performances are given at some temples depending upon season.
Kyogen is a light comical interlude in a Noh play that is now performed alone as well. Kyogen is highly accessible due to its pantomime qualities that overcome language barriers and bridge cultures. You can see Kyogen at Gion Corner and if you are lucky enough to be in Kyoto during a public performance at one of the temples.
Gagaku is music from the Imperial Court that sat in Kyoto for more than a thousand years. It is a serene combination of music, dance and chorus. Performers impress with their Court costume that dates back to the eighth century. You can see Gagaku at Gion Corner.
Kabuki is one of the best known Kyoto performing arts internationally. Kabuki plays are long and impress their audience by telling the story through stylised movements and striking costume and make up. The seasons are short but look out for schedules in listings like the Kyoto Visitor's Guide (free in hotels).
Further information & places to watch
Kyoto celebrates the changing of the seasons in time honoured habits, events and festivals that form a central part of its daily life. Look out for special events in local listings such as Kyoto Visitor's Guide (free at hotels) when you get here.
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The information above is provided by Kyoto Convention Bureau.