What is there to do in Kyoto, Japan? After a crazy and amazing few days in Tokyo, we were looking for an experience that was much more zen. We took the high speed train from Tokyo to Kyoto. When we arrived, we discovered ten ways that you can appreciate the points of interest in Kyoto in a mindful way; slowing down to really appreciate the places around you.
1. Go Leaf Peeping in Kyoto to Identify the Perfect Specimen
We visited Kyoto during the peak of Autumn foliage. As we walked among Kyoto's famous temples, I leaned in to the various trees looking for that perfect specimen. I must have spent hours happily wandering around with my camera admiring the shape and color of the Fall leaves. If you can visit Kyoto during the Autumn, I highly recommend it. We visited at the end of November and got extremely lucky. Normally the leaves change much sooner than this. You can get predictions of the timings for peak foliage here.
Take time to look around in Kyoto and you'll soon notice a surprising and lovely thing. In the midst of the tourists and leaf peepers are ladies decked out in gorgeous silk kimonos and precarious wooden sandals. We saw couples arm in arm in traditional garb. We were sitting and admiring a zen garden in one of the temples when a lady with impeccably done hair complete with a fresh flower tucked into it sat down beside us. I felt transported to another time and place.
3. Relax in Kyoto's Temples by Day
Temples are the main attraction in Kyoto. By day, let the sun warm your body and heart as you explore the beautiful grounds.
4. Watch the Lights Flicker in Kyoto's Temples by Night
Kyoto's temples should also be experienced at night. There are many fewer tourists at this time so you may feel as if you have the place to yourself. Particularly around the holidays, the temples are lit up in all their glory and open to admiring eyes.
5. Philosophize with a Stroll Down Philosopher's Walk in Kyoto
Philosopher's Walk is an idyllic walking path connecting the various temples on the outskirts of Kyoto. Take a moment to reflect on the experience and how lucky you are to be strolling through such luxurious surroundings.
6. Marvel at the Scale of Kyoto's Bamboo Forest
Kyoto is also home to a sizable bamboo forest. While the paths through the forest are definitely crowded, take a moment to walk to the trail's edge and look off into the distance into the thick grove. Then look up and marvel at the sheer magnitude of what you are seeing and the awesomeness of nature.
7. Seek out a Tasty Treat at Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Even in the city of Kyoto itself, a slower pace and mindful experiences await. Nishiki covered market is an excellent place to go. Observe the details in each stall. What is the owner proudly offering? What things might you experience for the first time here...maybe some octopus on a stick?
8. Take the Path Less Traveled and Ride Kyoto's Randen Street Car
There are many options to get around in Kyoto including train and bus transportation. We took the opportunity to explore a bit on foot after taking the bus. We were rewarded for our efforts when we stumbled upon the terminus of Kyoto's Randen Street Car, a mode of transportation more than 100 years old. We boarded the lively purple train and rattled our way to the far terminus where we disembarked to explore more of the temples in the region.
9. Sip Sake and Savor a Fine Meal in Kyoto
We took time to wander down the back alleys of Kyoto in search of a fine Japanese meal. I couldn't tell you the name of the restaurant we went to. I took a photo of the sign out front so in theory I could find it again but it was all in Japanese. In the end it doesn't really matter. We wandered into a warm and cozy haven and sipped sake while watching the waiters and chef bustle around us. We patiently waited for our Sukiyaki (meat or tofu chunks in broth served in an iron pot over a heat source) to cool off enough to sample. We savored it slowly (by necessity so we wouldn't burn ourselves) but appreciated the opportunity to slow down a bit and truly enjoy a mindful Japanese meal.
10. Remember Your Loved Ones While Shopping for Treats in Kyoto
Omiyage (Japanese souvenirs) are an important part of the culture in Japan. Japanese will always bring back something for friends and family when they travel. There are tons of omiyage shops in tourist places and lining the train station to make this ritual as convenient as possible for busy people on the go. Take part in the ritual in Kyoto and buy some treats for yourself to enjoy now and slowly consider and compare the lavishly gift-wrapped and decorated boxed treats for your loved ones back home.