Walk in Kyoto - Take a walk down Shijo-dori, past the department stores, across the Kawagawa River (you can also walk along the river on a wide promenade) to the Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park. Along the way, look at the wonderful window displays, peek into the interiors of shops, and look for lovely gardens in tiny bits of space.
The Yasaka Shrine, also called Gion, is important for its role in one of the big festivals in Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri. In 869, Kyoto was ravaged by the plague. The Emperor sent a parade of carriages, dedicated to the gods, to the shrine, to pray for the end of the disease. The yearly Gion Matsuri parade is held in July.
Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen) is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring, but at any season, wander around the park, stopping into any of the many tea houses for a snack. In summer, there are concerts at the outdoor stage.
Nishiki Market (one block north of Shijo-dori) - Wander down this shopping street, lined with food shops. Each shop has something different - fresh fish, dried fish, seaweed, fruits, vegetables, tofu, noodles, pickles, eggs, sweets.
Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo) - Nijo Castle was built for the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 17th century. After you pass through the gate, you'll see five buildings, the Ninomaru Palace, each one elegantly designed and decorated with paintings. In the outer buildings, the daimyos waited to see the Shogun, the innermost building was the living quarters of the Shogun. (There are life-sized models of the Shogun, daimyos, and guards, in the rooms.) The castle is famous for the "nightingale" floors, designed to creak when you walk on them, a device to alert the palace to intruders. Spend time enjoying the lake garden with ponds, tiny streams, rocks and islands.
Museum of Kyoto (Nakagyo-ku) - The museum presents the long history of Kyoto, from the founding of Heian-kyo (Kyoto) in 794 to today, through dioramas, audio visual presentations and displays. Shop or eat typical food in a re-created 17th century Kyoto shopping street. On the third floor, check out a traditional Japanese style room and garden. Have tea, drinks and sweets in an cafe - the setting is unique - previously this was the vault of the Bank of Japan.
Kyosendo (Shimogyo-ku) - Folding fans were probably invented in Kyoto, during the Heian era. This is your chance to see how to make and paint a folding fan. Watch the demonstrations, or make your own fan (fan will be sent to you).
Yuzen Museum (Kodai Yuzen-en) (Shimogyo-ku) - Yuzen is a Kyoto style of textile dyeing, designs are either hand drawn or stenciled, then dyed in exquisite colors. Embroidery, gold or silver leaf may be added. The result is amazing. You can try textile dying yourself - make a handkerchief or tie at a workshop.
Costume Museum (Izutsu Building, Shimogyo-ku) - The Costume Museum (Fuzoku Hakubutsukan) is a gorgeous introduction to the Heian era, 8th -12th century in Kyoto. Full size mannequins are attired in elaborate court dress, complete with traditional hair styles (long hair down to your knees ...) Be sure to see the Spring Palace of the Rokujyo-in, a re-creation of the palace described in the classic Tale of Genji. In the Spring Palace, Heian period costumes, furniture and palace rooms have been beautifully reproduced in one-quarter scale.
Kyoto Station - If you arrive by train at Kyoto Station, it's an experience. This modern new building is many things in one. Shops on the first floor specialize in Japanese "confections." The basement of the Isetan department store has takeout food, sweets and bakery goods, amusement center. At the top of the Grand Stairway, there are plenty of restaurants. For a bird's eye view of Kyoto, walk through the Skyway or go up to the rooftop area, Big Sky Square.
Kyoto Tower - If you want an even higher panoramic view of Kyoto, take an elevator ride to the top of Kyoto Tower, a space needle sitting on top of the Kyoto Tower Hotel. (Kyoto Tower is next to station.)
Fun food
Department stores - Be sure to stop into one of the big department stores, Takashimaya, Daimaru, or Hankyu. The basement level is devoted to food - fish, vegetables, French pastries, noodles. You can pick up dinner there. The Japanese sweets are incredible! Confections are in tune with the seasons. In summer, when the hydrangea are in bloom, a sweet could be clear gelatin squares, hints of blue, pink and purple, with flecks of real gold leaf!
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