The Kinkakuji Temple, also called the Golden Pavilion for its yellow-colored walls atop a pond in Kyoto, Japan
A traveler's favorite for centuries and one of Japan's most famous sights, the gold-covered main hall of Kinkaku-ji temple seems to float between the sky and the pond of Kyoko-chi that it stands over. It was originally built in the 14th century as a villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, a samurai lord. Snap photos while walking around Kyoko-chi, and see the temple from Sekka-tei Cottage — the view from here can't be beat.
A zen rock garden in the Ryoan Temple in Kyoto, Japan
Not far from the Golden Pavilion, the Zen temple of Ryoan-ji is famed for its mysterious yet beautiful rock garden. This grouping of 15 rocks set in raked gravel is a delight to contemplate from the veranda of the Hojo, the residence of the temple's head priest. Walk around the tatami rooms, and admire the painted fusuma sliding doors. Don't miss the picturesque tsukubai stone washbasin with a bamboo pipe in the back — designed for the tea ceremony, it's inscribed with a Buddhist maxim saying one should be happy with what one already has.
Beloved for its spectacular rows of red torii gates, this hilly, sprawling Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and business; you'll see statues of his messenger, the fox, everywhere. During your visit to Osaka, take the four-kilometer path up the mountain and lose yourself in this vermilion wonderland — the number of gates totals around 10,000. Small restaurants along the paths sell kitsune udon noodle soup and inarizushi rice balls.
As the kitchen for Japan's imperial court for centuries, Kyoto has a long tradition of excellent food. Get the full experience with Kyo-kaiseki-ryori, a multicourse meal of seasonal Kyoto cuisine: You'll be treated to many dishes made with exceptional attention to detail, including gently sashimi-style raw fish and vegetable dishes like turnips simmered in local water with white miso.
Head to the Kyoto Handicraft Center near Heian-jingu shrine for a wide selection of Kyoto crafts including ironware kettles, woodblock prints, Japanese dolls, lacquer ware, as well as kimono and yukata (lightweight summer kimono). Visitors can also try their hand at making handicrafts, such as painting folding fans.
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