Kyoto was the capital city of Japan from 794-1869. It is a place where ancient traditions meet modern technology. Famous for it's vast arrays of Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines, Palaces, Traditional Houses, Kimonos, Arts, Crafts, Tofu, Green Tea, and Geisha. It also has some amazing modern buildings. A number of High Technology companies have their Headquarters in Kyoto such as Omron, Rohm Semiconductor, Kyocera, Murata Manufacturing, and Nintendo.
My aim is to provide you with images and information to help you make the most out of your visit to Kyoto. I also hope show the beauty of the different seasons in Kyoto to inspire you to come again to this wonderful city.
I have lived in Kyoto prefecture since 2008. Prior to my move here, I visited Kyoto as a tourist in 1998, 2005, 2006 & 2007. While the majority of the photos I'm planning to post will come from 2008 onwards, occasionally I'll post some older photos.
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Autumn Light Up
One of the things to do in Kyoto during the Koyo (Autumn Colour Change Season) is to go to an Autumn light up. Many famous and not so famous sites in Kyoto have them. This photo was from an Autumn Light Up at Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu Temple). Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous sites in Kyoto actually it was nominated for (but din't make it to) the list of the New 7 Man Made Wonders of the world. So the Autumn Light Up was very crowded there. If you don't like crowds there are plenty of light ups which can be just as pretty at not so famous sites out in the Kyoto suburbs.
Although the weather varies from year to year generally the peak of Koyo in Kyoto city is around the last week of November. I have a feeling it's going to be a little later this year, because the weather has been warmer than usual.
I don't like using buses in the centre of Kyoto, but there aren't any trains that get you close to Kiyomizu-dera, although I've walked from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan line a few times. During the light up there is a regular shuttle bus from outside of the Keihan Kiyomizu-Gojo station. There are also regular scheduled buses from Kyoto Station, but spending an hour (if you're lucky and there's no traffic it should only take 15mins) packed in like sardines on that bus, put me off doing it again. Even if you catch a bus there (normal or shuttle), you still have a fair walk up hill, unless you take an expensive rickshaw ride or have a gofer.
Today's photo is a re-edit of an old favourite of mine. Sometimes I like to go back to older photos and re-edit them with new software I have available. Actually it's only a minor adjustment, but the new version of iPhoto I used did it much better than before. I took this photo on the only time I went to Kiyomizu-dera for The Autumn Light Up in 2010 with a Nikon D700 camera and a Nikkor AF 35f/2.8D lens.
The Nishiki Markets
The Lonely Planet's Kyoto guide lists the Nishiki Markets in its top 5 sites in Kyoto. I would agree with them. The Nishiki Markets are the place to see all the unique Kyoto ingredients (pickles, vegetables, fish and tofu) that are used in Kyoto's cuisine on sale in the one location. It's also a place where you can see something a little more traditional in the way they run their business, that you definitely won't see in modern retail establishments. There's also a couple of places where you can buy ready to eat food.
The market's stretch out along Nishikoji Dori from Teramachi Dori in the East to Takakura Dori in the West. Access to the East End of Nishiki Markets is via Teramachi Dori Arcade about 100m North of Shijo Dori (nearest station Hankyu's Kawaramachi Station). Access to the West End of Nishiki Markets is via Takakura Dori about 100m North of Shijo Dori (nearest stations Hankyu's Karasuma Station or Karasuma Subway's Karasuma Shijo Station).
I've taken people through these markets on a number of occasions, but I've only ever photographed the place with point and shoot cameras. Someday I'm going have to take a DSLR there, since it's a place that I think needs good High ISO to really do it justice. Today's photo was taken with a Casio EX-Z850.
An Autumn Wonderland
Jojakko-ji (Jojakko Temple) is probably the best temple in Arashiyama for autumn leaves, but it also makes it one of the most crowded places during Koyo (colour change season). The gardens are extensive so even with the crowds it is still possible find a little bit of space as many don't stray from the main paths. If you are visiting Kyoto during Koyo then I recommend going to Jojakko-ji on a weekday early in the morning (the temple opens at 9am).
If you go to Jojakko-ji at other times of the year it's remoteness makes it a reasonably quiet temple to visit. There's plenty of interesting buildings to see there. There's also a good view of Kyoto from the higher parts of the temple grounds.
Jojakko-ji is about a 20 minute walk from the nearest train station which is the Keifuku Arashiyama station. If you've got money you might want to try riding a rickshaw to there, but that kind of thing is out of my budget.
Today's photo was taken during my third visit to Jojakko-ji and the only time I've been there during Koyo. For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and Nikkor AF 24f/2.8D lens.
In Kyoto it is possible to see people wearing kimono's and other traditional costumes quite easily. Some people have to wear them if they work in traditional restaurants. People who work at shrines have a certain type of costume. Many tourists from Japan and all over the world, like to dress up in traditional Japanese clothing just for the experience of being in Kyoto.
If you really want to see a lot of different kinds of traditional costumes then watch a Matsuri (traditional festival). There are many Matsuri through out the year when people parade in all kinds of traditional costumes often reenacting a historical event. The biggest Matsuri in Kyoto is the Gion Matsuri in July. However there are lots of smaller Matsuri throughout the year in various parts of Kyoto prefecture.
The photo I've posted today comes from the Garasha Matsuri in Nagoakakyo city in the Southwestern part of Kyoto Prefecture. The Matsuri runs for a number of days in the city, culminating with the main parade on the afternoon of the second Sunday of November. The festival is in honour of Hosokawa Garasha, a local Samurai's wife and a Christian who was very kind to people in the area.
The parade leaves at 1pm from the Nagaokakyo city library to Shiryo-ji castle taking Azalea Dori and Saigoku Kadio. Access is via Nagaokakyo Station on the JR line or Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu line.
Today's photo is of a lady who was taking part in the Garasha Matsuri in 2011, she was dressed as one of the local maidens from Garasha's time.
For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera, a Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR Zoom lens and a Nikon SB-600 flash.
Today's photo is the one I used background of the contact cards I handed out at the Content Creators meet up this evening at the Polo Dog Cafe in Kobe. As I was designing the card, I considered a few different photos and showed them to my wife and some of my students, they all choose this photo. I added a photo of me and my details to it and printed them off a the local DPE (develop, print, enlarge) shop.
The story behind this photo: I took it while walking between Heian-jingu (Heian Shrine) and Chion-in (Chion Temple), I noticed an interesting tree and took the photo. That's the thing with photography, you don't have to be at a famous location to find interesting things to photograph. In Kyoto there are interesting things to see everywhere. Actually, wherever you are in the world keep searching for something interesting and new ways to look at things, never allow your vision to become jaded. Everyone sees things differently, you have a vision which is truly unique, learn to express it. Those who can express their vision well are the photographers, videographers, artists, directors, and even business leaders whose work I admire.
For today's photo I used a Nikon D50 camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens.
November's Flower is Chrysanthemum
I've decided that for the first entry of the month for this Kyoto Photo Blog, that I'll write about a flower that is common to see in Kyoto during the month. Since I moved here I've found that every month here has it's flowers. All year round in the lower lying areas of southern Kyoto you can enjoy different types of flowers. The mountainous areas in the north get snow cover during winter and the flower seasons are different there.
Given the spectacular autumn colours of the Japanese Maples (Momiji) and Ginkgos (Ichou) that are so abundant in Kyoto during November it's easy for the Chrysanthemums to get overlooked. However if you are looking carefully from late October through to the beginning of December various types of Chrysanthemums are in bloom. There are two basic types of Chrysanthemums: the ones with lots of smaller flowers on a bush like the ones in the shot I've posted today; and the solitary large Chrysanthemums (which I call "Jellyfish Chrysanthemums").
During November you can often find the "Jellyfish Chrysanthemums" in pots at the entrances to Buddhist temples and also placed near the alters. Both types of Chrysanthemum can be found as pot plants outside peoples houses (especially beautiful in old neighbourhoods). Some parks also have colourful beds of the smaller Chrysanthemums during November.
Today's photo was taken only a few days ago at a Shrine Called Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine in the city of Nagaokakyo which is in the South Western region of Kyoto Prefecture. This shrine is actually most famous for it's Kirishima Azaleas which bloom at the end of April. It's also a great place to view Ume (plum blossoms) at the end of February, Sakura (cherry blossoms) from the end of March to about the 10th April, and Autumn colour in the last two weeks of November.
Access to Nagaoka Tenmangu is via the Hankyu line, it's a 13 minute trip on a Hankyu Limited Express (departing even 10 minutes) from Hankyu Kawaramachi station in downtown Kyoto to Nagaokatenjin Station. It's a five minute walk due west from the station to the Shrine (either via Azalea Dori or Tenjin Dori). If you are staying near the JR Kyoto station catch a local JR train to Nagaokakyo (takes 15mins) and then get a bus or a taxi to the shrine from the west exit of the station.
For today's photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
A Shrine Designed like a Palace
Heian-jingu (Heian Shrine) was built in 1895 to celebrate 1100 years since Kyoto became the capital of Japan. The shrine's design is based on the first palace that was built in Kyoto (which no longer stands). That palace in turn was design based on Chinese Tang Dynasty palaces, so this Shinto shrine has a rather Chinese look to it unlike most Shinto shrines.
Another thing interesting about this shrine is the giant outer torii (Japanese Shrine gate) which crosses over the main road (Jingu-michi) leading to the Shrine. It's by far the biggest torii in Kyoto city and makes the place easy to find from a distance.
Entry to the main grounds of the shrine is free, but you have to pay if you want to look at the adjoining gardens. It's well worth paying for that, as they are fantastic gardens. Maybe later I'll post a photo or two from the gardens.
Access to Heian-jingu: It is a about a 1.0km walk to the north from Higashiyama Station on the Subway Tozai line. Another option is about a 1.5km walk to the east from Keihan's Jingumarutamachi Station. If you can't walk so far, then you could get a bus northward on Jingu-michi from near Higashiyama station or you could catch a bus eastwards on Maruta-machi Dori from near Jingumarutamachi Station.
Today's photo was taken on my first visit to Heian-jingu in 2007. I've been back a few times, and explored the area near the Shrine. It's an interesting part of Kyoto which is worth exploring on foot. For this photo I used a Nikon D50 camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens.
A Japanese Castle that's Different
There are various ways to group Japanese Castles. The first method is between originals and reconstructions. Another method is between mountain/hill top castles, castles that are built on manmade platforms, and finally the low lying ones that sit a the same level as the surrounding territory.
Original castles are rare, I think there are about 17 remaining in Japan, compared to hundreds of reconstructions. Low lying castles are rare too. Nijo-jo is both and original and a low lying castle. Not only that apart from one regular Japanese Castle looking guard turret, it's architecture is completely different to other Japanese castles. The only building I can compare it to is the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Palaces are different to castles because in the past the Emperor was consider a living god and his role more religious than administrative. Castles were usually built as fortresses for local warlord rulers.
Nijo-jo castle was built as the Kyoto residence for the Shogun (the warlord ruler of Japan). Normally the Shogun would reside in Edo (which is now Tokyo), but the Emperor lived in Kyoto during the time of the Shogun. When the Shogun era (known as the Edo period) finished, the Emperor moved to Edo, it was renamed Tokyo and from that time Japan has been a constitutional monarchy. The Shogun was removed and the Emperor set up his palace where the Shogun's castle in Edo once was.
Access to Nijo-jo is pretty easy just catch the subway Tozai line to Nijo-jo Mae.
The image I've used today was taken on my only visit to Nijo-jo, which was when I came to Kyoto as a tourist in 2007. I'm not sure why I haven't been back, but I guess there's so many things to see in Kyoto. I've heard it's a great place to visit during the Cherry Blossom season, I'll have to check it out some year. This photo was captured with a Casio EX-Z850 camera.
A View from the Kyoto Tower
The Kyoto Station can be seen in the foreground, beyond the station is part of southern Kyoto city. I love how the reflections of the street on the station walls creates an optical illusion that the street continues on to the street on the other side of the station. I wonder if it was purposely designed in this way to give the illusion from the tower?
This photo was taken about 1 year before we moved to Japan, when we were visiting Kyoto as tourists. Everything I had been told by people who visited the tower before I did, was that it wasn't so great. However the hotel we stayed in gave us complementary passes to the tower, so we decided to go and take a look. To our surprise the the tower had been renovated just prior to our visit and was much improved. One of my friends who had said bad things about it to me, after I told him of my positive experience, tried it again on his next visit to Kyoto and thought it was much better the second time.
Actually, today I wanted to post a shot of the tower from the ground looking up. However nothing in my library of images of the tower (even though a couple of them have been published in print), seemed to fit with what I'm trying to do with this Kyoto travel photo blog. So I'm planning to go and shoot the image I want in the near future. As soon as I get it, I'll post it up on this blog.
Access to the Kyoto tower is easy, it's just across the road from Kyoto Station on the North side.
The image I used today has also been published in print (and it looks great in print). I still hold all the rights to this image, but anyone can purchase a license (aka digital download) to use it for a print or digital publication. It was captured with a Nikon D50 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on a tripod (at that time you could use tripods in the tower, I'm not sure if you still can).
There are various kinds of traditional dining options in Kyoto from the simple udon or soba meals for those on a tight budget to expensive Kaiseki restaurants. However the table setting in today's photo comes from a place called Ryoan-ji Yudofu. Technically this place is not classified as a restaurant, it is a dining area of a sub temple building of the Ryoan-ji temple complex. They also didn't have a cash register, I remember my wife's aunty placed the money in an envelope and gave it to one of the ladies working there. As with any place my wife's aunty has taken us in Kyoto it wasn't cheap.
The kind of food they serve is a special Zen Buddhist Vegan cuisine know as Shojin-Ryori. The food is basically boiled tofu and vegetables with various herbs. Everything was exquisitely made, the vegetables were cut into various shapes, with the famous Japanese attention for detail. Not only was the food and table setting beautiful, the whole dining areas decor and the view over the koi carp pond made it a relaxing dining experience. Definitely worth trying once to experience some Japanese culture, but to get the most out of it, it's probably best dining with someone who can speak Japanese well.
We dined at this place after viewing the famous rock garden at Ryoan-ji (temple). I'm planning to post a blog on the rock garden sometime in the near future.
Ryoan-ji is located near Ritsumeikan University and Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The Keifuku Kitano line has a station called Ryoanji which is about a 7m walk from the temple, we got a bit lost of the way to the temple as the the signs weren't so clear and that was with two native Japanese speakers!
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 camera and the kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55f/3.5-5.6G lens.
The West Gate of Yasaka-jinja
As far as I can remember I think that Yasaka-jinja (Yasaka Shrine) was the first Shinto shrine I ever visited. The first time I went there was in January 1998 and I remember being shocked at how mercantile it was, although it was free to enter it seemed everything was on sale there. Over the years I've seen plenty of Shinto shrines, but there's not many like this one.
This West Gate is probably the best looking structure in the whole complex and it's architecture is different from the rest too. Upon entering the west gate you find that the path up to the main court is filled with "temporary" food stalls that never seem to leave the place. These food stalls sell typical Japanese festival foods (eg Takoyaki, Yakisoba, corn cobs, fried pork ribs, toffee apples, etc) and a staffed by loud bleach blonde spiky hair colourful clothing types.
The main court area is nothing much to look at, but the things that happen on the stage in the centre and around can create some photo opportunities. There's wedding's, there's plenty people in Kimono's, the Geisha like to frequent the place. There's even Geisha dance performances at certain times of the year.
Yasaka-jinja is at the very Eastern End of Shijo-dori (one of the main streets in Kyoto). The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo on the Keihan Main Line and Kawaramachi on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. There are probably buses that will get you closer, but I don't recommend catching buses around the centre of Kyoto.
About this photo: I took this photo during the Higashiyama Hanatouro in 2010 which is a special event in March when they light up the roads with lanterns and some of the temples and shrines have special light ups. However as far as I know these west gates are flood lit every night. You might notice the lanterns along a red fence, these where part of the Higashima Hanatouro. I used a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G lens on a tripod to take this photo. This version of the photo has been enhanced with DXO: Default camera corrections applied; Shadow areas have been brightened; Highlights darkened; Vibrancy enhanced; and Micro Contrast levels increased.
The Station that's a Destination
Where I come from train stations aren't that interesting. Sure some of them have moderately nice architecture, but there's not much else there to keep you lingering any longer than it takes for your train to arrive. On the other hand Kyoto station is almost a small city! No kidding there have been times that I've caught the train to Kyoto and spent a few hours at the station and then gone back home. It has everything: a tourist office, a cultural centre, a Japanese language school, 100s of shops including a department store and supermarket, 100s of restaurants, cafes, even a wedding chapel and a hotel.
The other thing about Kyoto station is the amazing architecture and engineering of the building. You could spend quite a few hours just investigating these things. One of my favourites is an area known as the sky walk, where you can get some pretty amazing views of the city, for free. Another cool place is the passage that runs from the area near the Western Ticket Gates of the JR Station to the Hotel Granvia, passing right over the top of the Central Ticket Gates. It's definitely a place to bring a DSLR with good high iso and a Wide Angle Lens.
Kyoto station is also good for a myriad of train connections. There are so many JR lines coming through the station. There are JR trains to Osaka, Kobe, Sagano (and further north), Uji, Nara, East Shiga, and West Shiga just to name a few. There's also the Shinkansen if you want to travel further and faster. The private Kintetsu Lines can take you to parts of Southern Kyoto prefecture and Nara for cheeper and faster than JR (especially useful if you don't have a Japan Rail Pass). There are Ticket Gates for the Kyoto Subway Station on the Karasuma Line directly outside the Eastern Ticket Gates of the JR station.
Other sites of interest nearby the station (if you feel the need to explore further) include the Kyoto Tower, Nishi-Hogan-ji (temple) and Higashi-Hogan-ji (temple), the Kyoto Branch of Yodobashi Camera, a couple of Huge Shopping Malls (if the shops in the station aren't enough for you!).
I've been to Kyoto station countless times now, but today I chose a shot from my first visit there. It seems that the fresh eye often catches things that familiarity makes us blind to. This shot was taken with a Nikon D50 and the kit Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-55 F/3.5-5.6G lens. Maybe later on I'll share few more shots I've taken in various parts of the station over the years.
Koyo in Arashiyama
With Koyo (Autumn/Fall colour change season) approaching in another 3 to 4 weeks in Kyoto. I though it was time for a Koyo image to whet the appetite. Today's photo is from Arashiyama an area to the North West of Kyoto where it is possible to step back in time and see a bit more of the traditional side of Japan. However it's quite easy to get to from the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, meaning that on weekends and national holidays it can get quite crowded. I find it's best if you want to really take in the scenery without the crowds to arrive early in the morning and leave at 10am! Although if your prepared to hike a bit further from the trains stations and away from the tourist strip you can still find places of tranquility at anytime of the day.
It's possible to take a special "Romanic Train" from Torokko Saga in Arashiyama to Kameoka then take a boat down the Hozu River back to Arashiyama. It's a very popular thing to do in the Cherry Blossom and Colour Change seasons. It's also possible just to get a boat from Arashiyama and cruise up the river a little and back again. The boats from Kameoka have to be returned their by truck as it's not possible for them to head all the way back to Kameoka on the river. Most locals I've spoken to say Arashiyama is better in the Colour Change season than in the Cherry Blossom season. I would say though there are things to see there at all times of the year, so it's worth placing it high on your itinerary when you visit Kyoto.
Access to Arashiyama: There are three railway lines going to Arashiyama the Hankyu Arashiyama Line, the Keifuku Arashiyama Line and the JR Sagano Line. The Hankyu Arashiyama Line is a good choice if your staying in South Western Kyoto Prefecture (like me) or for day tripping from Osaka or Kobe. The Keifuku Arashiyama Line is a very fun, but slow way to get there in it's light rail cars departing from Shijo-Omiya station in downtown Kyoto. If you're staying near Kyoto Station or Transferring from other parts of Japan via the Shinkansen or other long distance trains then the JR Sagano Line is the best option.
I've been to Arashiyama at all different times of the year, so I'm planning to share with you some more images of this wonderful location later on.
The image I'm sharing today was shot on Fujichrome Velvia 50 film with a Nikon F80 and a Nikon AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
Let's Start with Kinkaku-ji
Since it was one of the first places I visited in Kyoto.
Also know as the temple of the Golden Pavilion. Originally this place was a wealthy person's tea house, when he died he gave it over to become a temple. The main building is a modern reconstruction as the original was destroyed by fire. The current building has much more gold coating on it than the original.
This photo was from my visit to Kinkaku-ji in 2007 when I came here as a tourist. Since moving to Kyoto I've been back to Kinkakuji twice, however on both those times I was more busy showing friends around the temple than getting photos, so this photo is my favourite. I also went to this temple on my first visit to Kyoto in 1998, and got a few shots then with my trusty Canon Prima AF-7, I might post one or two of those sometime later.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 and a Sigma 10-20f/4-5.6 lens.
Ignore all the travel guides which tell you to catch a bus from Kyoto Station to this temple, you'll waste half your day on crowded buses. The quickest buses to Kinkaku-ji go from near Hankyu's Saiin Train Station or from near Nijo-jo Mae Station on the Subway.