A two-day guided walk through the cityscape and history of one of the greatest cultural capitals of the world to fabulous temples, exquisite gardens and charming backstreets. Also includes the tea ceremony, history and art.
Timed to immediately precede Walk Japan's iconic Nakasendo Way tours.
A two-day city tour. Each tour day is fully guided and starts, depending on the day’s itinerary, at either 8:00am or 8:45am and finishes at 5pm. For customers joining the Nakasendo Way tour, please note that Day 2 of the Kyoto tour finishes at 5pm, and the Nakasendo Way starts at 6pm the same day.
The maximum group size for this tour is 12 persons. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.
Walk Japan's two-day Kyoto Tour takes us through the city's rich history while exploring in depth some famous and some less well-known areas that were instrumental in making Kyoto the cultural capital of Japan. We glean a unique look into Japan's old capital; its history, arts, crafts and people.
Kyoto was originally known as Heian-kyo, the capital of peace and tranquillity, and modelled on Chang-an, the great capital of the Chinese Tang empire. Kyoto remained the home of the imperial court for eleven centuries before it was removed to Tokyo in the late 19th century. Over 1100 years as the imperial home, Kyoto justly became one of the great cities of the globe. At times it experienced turbulence and violence but – often at the same time – it was where some of the most distinct and exquisite arts and one of the world’s greatest cultures were cultivated. This was so to the extent that today to talk of the culture of Kyoto is often to talk of that of Japan as a whole. Our gently-paced walking tour unveils Kyoto’s importance at the heart of Japanese culture and history in typical Walk Japan style, inimitable and fascinating.
2,000 temples and shrines, 17 of which are listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites, together with many gardens and other sites of interest make for an overwhelming number of places to visit in Kyoto. Of these, Walk Japan’s Kyoto Tour visits some of the famous and not-so-famous to provide a coherent and fascinating experience, for an understanding of how the city came to nurture such arts as Noh Theatre and chado, the Way of Tea. We learn of the colourful historical personalities such as the Ashikaga shoguns Yoshimitsu and Yoshimasa, the Tea master Sen-no-Rikyu, Haiku poet Basho and the great samurai warriors Kiyomori and Nobunaga.
We learn how much of the beauty that resides in Kyoto and Japanese culture developed in spite of internecine warfare, treachery and murder, combined sometimes with its rulers’ Nero-like indifference to the surrounding mayhem. We also enjoy a hands-on experience of chado, also known as the Tea Ceremony, in the company of a expert tea master who penetrates to the heart of this often misunderstood art.
Day 1 of Walk Japan’s Kyoto tour has a focus on tea and the refined culture, which imbues Japanese culture and customs to this day, that developed around it. We will learn how chado developed through Kyoto’s pivotal Higashiyama Culture, reaching its apogee with the great master Sen-no-Rikyu. The day culminates when we make a cup of tea for each other in the chado style.
On Day 2 we stroll through Kyoto’s Kitayama culture, which was centred on what is possibly the most recognisable icon of Japan, the Golden Pavilion at Rokuon-ji temple. Here the arts of Noh Theatre, Kyogen – a comical theatre – and suiboku ink and wash painting developed and flourished. A distinct contrast follows as we visit the subtle Ryoan-ji temple, which is synonymous with its mysterious rock garden that is justly considered the supreme example of its type. We then travel to Arashiyama on the western edge of the city. Here we go a little off the beaten path for a stroll through a park and elegant bamboo groves, an enduring image of Kyoto, to some of Kyoto’s lesser known attractions including a small but exquisite temple set in a moss garden.
Walk Japan’s Kyoto Tour consists of a two-day itinerary. On both days we meet at the day's starting point as indicated in the itinerary. Walk Japan provides detailed instructions on how to join the tour at its starting point. Please note that Kyoto’s transport system is very comprehensive and easy to use. Taxis, in particular, are reasonably priced and the drivers honest and almost invariably very helpful.
Each day ends at 5pm in central Kyoto. Your Walk Japan tour leader will help arrange onward travel to your accommodation or other desired location, or give recommendations for some of the myriad excellent local restaurants.
For customers joining the Nakasendo Way tour, please note that Day 2 of the Kyoto tour finishes at 5pm, and the Nakasendo Way starts at 6pm the same day.
The group meets at 8:00am for transfer to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion temple, which was built by the eighth Ashikaga shogun in the late fifteenth century. In the beautiful surroundings of this temple we begin our look at Higashiyama (East Mountain) Culture and its greatest development, chado, the tea ceremony. The Silver Pavilion, an exquisite structure which is silver in name only, is set in beautiful gardens and provides an apposite setting for our exploration of Kyoto culture. A leisurely stroll from the temple along the Philosopher's Path, through quiet suburbs and past many temples, brings us to the Heian-jingu Shrine. Here we delve into Japan's Shinto roots and gain an idea of how Kyoto used to look in its earliest days. A nearby museum is the setting for an entertaining introduction to the many and splendid crafts of the city.
Afterwards we transfer by taxi to Daitoku-ji temple, one of Japan’s finest Zen monasteries, a complex of main and sub-temples covering 56 acres. We enjoy lunch within Daitoku-ji at a restaurant specialising in shojin ryori, delicious vegetarian temple cuisine, after which we soak up the serene atmosphere and learn about the temple’s greatest resident, the tea master Sen-no Rikyu. We then take a short stroll to meet our tea master for the day. In his expert and insightful company we experience chado and make tea for each other.
Although the tour does not extend into the evening, your tour leader will be available to make suggestions regarding where you may like to eat your evening meal.
The second day starts with a visit to Nijo-jo castle, where we will see the magnificent audience halls built for the Tokugawa Shoguns, the rulers of Japan in the Edo Period. Transferring to Rokuon-ji temple by taxi, we are introduced to Kitayama (North Mountain) Culture in the environs of Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion. The pavilion, coated in gold leaf and reflected in a lake, is probably Japan’s most recognisable icon.
We travel on to nearby Ryoan-ji temple and its world-famous garden, considered the epitome of a Zen garden. From there it is a short walk to a small train station, where we ride a local tram-cum-train to Arashiyama in the west of Kyoto. Following lunch, we stroll through the low hills of Arashiyama. The scenery is more reminiscent of rural Japan than a city and here we visit a gorgeous, almost delicate temple that is associated with Gio, a concubine of Taira-no-Kiyomori. Taira was a central figure in the Tale of Heike, the epic story of the power struggle between the Taira and Minamoto Clans that engulfed Japan in the twelfth century.
We continue on our walk through quiet elegant suburbs before taking another train back to central Kyoto where the tour ends.
This itinerary is subject to change.
The airport closest to the tour’s start at Kyoto is Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Transfer is also easily made from both Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.
FROM OSAKA’S KANSAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIX)
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, Haruka Express trains depart to Kyoto Station, where the train terminates. The journey costs about JPY3,290 per person and takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes. From here, take a taxi to your accommodation.
FROM TOKYO’S HANEDA AIRPORT (HND)
From Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, Keikyu Line trains depart to Shinagawa Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Kyoto. The journey costs about JPY13,900 per person and takes approximately 3 hours 10 minutes. From here, take a taxi to your accommodation.
FROM TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT (NRT)
From Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Narita Express trains depart to Tokyo Station, where shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Kyoto. The journey costs about JPY16,240 per person and takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes. From here, take a taxi to your accommodation.
The pre-tour pack includes detailed instructions, including a map, for travel to the starting point of the tour.