Ryoanji Temple#5 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
Every day, hundreds of people visit Ryoanji Temple to see its Zen rock garden – which is probably the most famous of its kind in Japan. Located in Kyoto's northern outskirts, the temple was built in 1450, but details surrounding the rock garden's origins are hazy. Its white pebbles, which surround 15 larger rocks, were laid sometime during the Muromachi period (between 1392 and 1573), but beyond that, the garden's origins are unknown.
From any vantage point, at least one of the garden's 15 rocks is obscured from view. But why? Visitors are invited to come to their own conclusions about the garden's deeper meaning. Along with viewing the rock garden, you can explore the temple's grounds, which include a 1,000-year-old pond fringed with lily pads and tree-lined walking trails. The garden, as well as the grounds, are among the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which were designated by UNESCO in 1994.
Recent visitors described the temple as very special, serene and a must-see. Many suggested combining a stop here with a visit to the Golden Pavilion since the two sit within walking distance of each other. Though it is not the most popular temple in Kyoto, Ryoanji still warrants a visit, according to past travelers. To avoid the perpetual crowds that congregate here, visitors recommend you stop by right as it opens or just before closing.
Ryoanji Temple is open daily between 8 a.m. and 5.p.m. from March through November, and between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. from December through February. Entrance costs 500 yen (about $4.50) for adults and 300 yen (about $2.60) for children 15 and younger. There is also a restaurant on site that serves Yudofu, a tofu dish that is a specialty in Kyoto. To get to the temple, either take the No. 50 bus from Kyoto Station to Ritsumeikan daigaku-mae stop, or take the Keifuku Kitano subway line to Ryoanji Michi Station. For more information, visit Ryoanji Temple's website.
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#1 Fushimi Inari Shrine
As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.
It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and torii gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.
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