3 Things you MUST do in Kyoto
Kyoto was my bias. Though I sometimes escaped to Osaka or Seoul for a wild night out, I am glad that I lived in such a beautiful city. Almost everything I recommend you do in Japan can be done anywhere in Japan, and so these things are specific to your Kyoto experience!
Forget the inferior taste of every green tea bag you've ever had and get yourself some rich and authentic Uji matcha. Though partaking in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a truly fascinating experience, there is an abundance of green tea confectionery and beverages sold in vendors and restaurants across Kyoto. It was in Gion that I ordered matcha and wagashi, delightful, little sweets that balance out the bitterness of the tea. In Arashiyama, I had a matcha crêpe before a short but pleasant stroll in the famous Bamboo Forest. If you only get as far as Kyoto Station, you can grab some soft serve ice-cream in Porta, the underground shopping centre.
A much cheaper - oftentimes free - alternative is sencha, which is not made from green tea powder but from steeping the leaves in hot water. For those who find green tea powder a bit overwhelming, sencha is a great way to consume green tea.
Bonus! Matcha is great but be sure to try other unique treats like soy bean powdered rice cakes and black sesame ice-cream!
Maiko and Geisha
Considered the epitome of beauty, grace and poise, maiko (students) and geisha (professionals) are beautiful and talented entertainers. Despite what you might have seen in movies, they were not and are not escorts or prostitutes. They dance, sing, play instruments and are said to be very well-read.
If you're trying to tell them apart, maiko have a more elaborate and floral headdress and kimono. Though your chances of seeing a real one are quite slim, you might be able to catch a glimpse of one in Gion making a graceful dash into a tea house, or leaping into a taxi.
Bonus! In two years, I saw a geisha and a maiko on separate occasions at just around sunset! If you don’t have the patience, I recommend seeing a show at Gion Corner.
Temples and Shrines
As the capital of Japan before Tokyo, Kyoto has a rich and lengthy history, and there are so many temples for you to learn more about it. Many have been renovated, and some have been rebuilt numerous times due to war and natural disasters. Though an over-rated coffee shop might pop up, and a few trees might get chopped down, Japan does quite well in preserving its historical sites.
My favourite temple is Kinkakuji (‘The Golden Pavilion’). The gold-leaf exterior sparkles beautifully on a sunny day, and it is truly a sight to behold in winter. Tenryuji must be on your list in autumn because the garden looks just like a painting. Watch the koi fish dance in the pond and flip coins into a lucky pot. I visited Tenninji Temple in Higashiyama and found it incredibly satisfying to watch the perfectly sculpted gravel.
Bonus! There are plenty of shrines too, but this one is my favourite!
So there you have it! Kyoto is a lovely blend of traditional culture and modern advancements. I highly recommend you see Kyoto by day and experience Osaka by night!
All images are my own and are subject to copyright.