Kyoto is a definite must-visit destination for anyone visiting Japan. Having served as the emperor’s residence and the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, this cultural and historical city boasts some of the most beautiful and wondrous examples of Japanese temples and architecture and is home to an amazing 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
We have designed this tour of Kyoto to ensure that you are steeped into the tradition and culture of Japan with the knowledgeable assistance of your private guide, while ensuring that you are given the freedom to do some exploring on your own and do Kyoto on your own terms – although we can always give you tips as there is no end of exploring to be done in this beautiful city.
We start your tour by visiting perhaps the most iconic and recognizable temples of Japan and your 1st world heritage stop– Kinkakuji, better known as the Golden Pavilion. This Zen temple was formerly the retirement home of a shogun before converting into a temple in 1408 and is famous for the beauty it displays with its top exterior covered in gold leaf. From here you are on to your 2nd world heritage site, Ryoan-ji. This Zen temple is the site of the most famous rock gardens in Japan and the design and history of this garden is as mysterious as each individuals own interpretation. Talk about Zen! After lunch, you will experience the quintessential Japanese tradition by taking part in an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony. This experience will leave you with a warm and peaceful feeling all over, not just from the tea. Your late afternoon and evening are free.
The second day has you continuing your world heritage site tour by visiting your 3rd location, the former home of the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867) – Nijo Castle. This magnificent castle provides you with a rich immersion into historic Japan and will provide you with awe inspiring sites and a history lesson of the life of a shogun – listen for the knighting gale floors as your tour the buildings. Your next stop is Sanjusangendo a temple famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon the goddess of mercy and the longest wooden structure in Japan at 120 meters. After lunch, your final stop before your free afternoon is at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and your 4th world heritage site and a spectacular one at that. This temple was founded in 720 at the site of the Otowa Waterfall and the name Kiyomizu-dera literally translates into “Pure Water Temple”. The views and buildings at this site are truly breathtaking and a great place to end your day. You will want to make sure to leave enough time to enjoy the quaint stroll down the hill from the temple and tour the shops that populate the area in the preserved historical district.
Day 3 starts with a visit at a Zen temple where you will participate in a Zen Meditation Program. You will learn the elements of Zen Buddhist philosophy and meditation, an experience that will stay with you long after your trip. With your body and mind fully relaxed, your afternoon activity maintains the peaceful nature of your day as you take lessons in the beautiful art of Japanese Flower Arrangement.
Your fourth day has you diving into the world of Japanese cuisine. You will visit the local markets to learn the techniques and skill to train your eye for picking out the best Japanese ingredients. We then have you take a Japanese Cooking Lesson to learn the art of preparing some of the finest cuisine in the world.
On your fifth day you have a morning of leisure to do some exploring on your own. The early afternoon has you taking a hands-on lesson from experience craftsman in the intricate process of Roketsu Dyeing. This complex and traditional dyeing technique is a unique experience to Kyoto where using a brush, hot wax and other tools you create your own beautiful handmade souvenir of Kyoto.
Visiting the Arashiyama Area of Kyoto on your sixth day will be one of the highlights of your visit. This area is so beautiful that it has been a popular destination since 794 – over 1200 years! Between March and November your day will start with a Hozu River Cruise. This journey down the Honzugawa River, once used to transport logs to build the temples you have visited and other supplies, will provide you with an unparalleled view of the natural scenery of Kyoto. Your afternoon has you strolling through Bamboo Grove where you will be awe struck by the sheer size and beauty of the bamboo growing here that has been used in Japanese manufacturing for centuries. Along this walk there are many temples and shrine hidden along the path for you to casually visit. Later in the afternoon, you pick up on your world heritage site visits with your 5th location being Tenryu-ji Temple. Built in 1339, Tenryu-ji is ranked as the top Zen temple in Kyoto and the buildings and gardens will prove to you why it deserves this status.
On day seven, you are off to Nara for a day visit. Here you are going to visit Todai-ji Temple where you will view the world’s largest wooden building, the main hall called “Daibutsuden” which houses one of the largest statues of Buddha in Japan. His right hand is as tall as a person. This temple was constructed in 752 and you will want to make sure to explore the building and grounds to see why this is a landmark of Nara and one of the most historically significant temples in Japan. After lunch you will visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine, famous for its lanterns that have been donated by worshippers, Kasuga Taisha is dedicated to the deity responsible for protecting the city.
Your eighth, and last, day in Kyoto is at your leisure once again, so make sure to investigate areas to visit or ask for our advice. In the late afternoon you will experience a true Japanese event by having a private dinner with a Geisha. This dinner is in the historic district of Gion in Kyoto which is Kyoto`s most famous Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) districts and consists of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. After touring the traditional streets and shops, you will be hosted by a trained Geisha who will entertain you with conversation, traditional songs and dance. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the ultimate closure to this cultural and historical tour of Kyoto.
After your visit to Kyoto (or even before), we recommend a few nights in Tokyo. We will complete your art and cultural tour of Japan by custom tailoring your experience in Japan’s largest and diverse city to meet your wishes. Whether it is visiting historic locations such as the Imperial Palace and its gardens, touring the impressive and large Meiji Shrine, or switching gears and indulging in the modern wonders of Tokyo; we are sure to put together the perfect cap (or start) of your Japanese adventure.
This is just an outline. I would be happy to customise this tour to meet your specific preferences.
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Japan & Luxury Travel Specialist