Photo: Blessings hanging outside a pagoda

Prayers from visitors from all over the world hang outside a temple in Kyoto.

Photograph by Belinda Mark, My Shot

Once the country’s imperial capital, Japan’s seventh largest city escaped bombings during World War II, and its centuries-old temples and shrines still stand. The Fushimi-inari Shrine is particularly impressive. It has thousands of orange-red shrine gates (known as torii) that form a 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) path, which ends at the top of Mount Inari-san overlooking the grounds. Kyoto’s Nijo Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dating back to the 1600s, its Ninomaru palace features elaborate wall paintings and sliding doors. Tuck in for the night at the Hotel Granvia next to the Kyoto Station.

Where to Play

Head to the Heian-jingu shrine’s famous 355,000-square-foot (32,981-square-meter) gardens, which are attended by a seventh-generation gardener. Exotic birds inhabit the four sections of the garden—east, west, north, and south—that surround the pond. The garden is especially beautiful in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. For a break from temple touring, head to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, devoted to traditional and contemporary Japanese cartoons. You can search for a cartoon on the Wall of Manga based on age, gender, and other criteria.

At Day’s End

Explore Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district. Geishas and apprentices (known as maiko) usually can be spotted walking to or from a social engagement at an ochaya teahouse. A better chance of glimpsing a geisha or maiko is by attending the early evening cultural show at the Gion Corner, where you and your kids can see Kyoto-style dance, flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and puppet play.


Kyoto is a 2.5-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. For Kyoto travel information, go to

Japan’s official tourism site is

National Geographic's Guide to Japan

Based on articles from National Geographic Traveler and compiled by Stephanie Robichaux

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