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Avoid the Crowds in Kyoto

Avoid the crowd in Kyoto-Featured Image-PP

Kyoto has long been held up as the home of Japanese culture, tradition and history. As one of Japan’s historical capitals, it is filled with a wide variety of temples, shrines, castles, museums and more. However, with the boom in tourism popularity, some of Kyoto’s top tourist sites, while still beautiful, have become overcrowded and difficult to navigate. Here we will look at which destinations are still worth the visit and where to go to avoid the crowds while still experiencing the best of Japanese culture.

Arashiyama – the famous and the hidden gems

One of Kyoto’s most famous areas is Arashiyama. This district is well known for its extensive bamboo forest with a charming, winding path through it. The sunlight filtering through the bamboo creates a beautiful atmosphere and it is a lovely casual walking path. 

This path leads up a mountain passing Tenryu-ji temple, one of the Top 5 Zen Buddhist temples in the city. Over the centuries, the buildings have been burnt and reconstructed multiple times, but the beautiful garden has been maintained throughout with minor damage. It’s a landscape garden surrounding a large pond with an impressive backdrop of the Arashiyama bamboo. 

As you continue along the Arashiyama bamboo path to the top of the mountain, you will find the Arashiyama Monkey Park (also known as Monkey Park Iwatayama). This park is home to 120 Japanese macaques. The monkeys are still considered wild; however they are conditioned to accept food from humans and the park sells special food for visitors to feed the monkeys. There are also great views over Kyoto city from the park.

However, the Arashiyama area is also home to a number of other beautiful locations.

These include Nison-in, a large extended temple found a short distance from the Arashiyama station. Daikakuji is a temple and former imperial palace significant to a number of Japanese cultural events and moments. It is featured in the first work of Japanese literature, “A Tale of Genji” and maintains the traditional court atmosphere. 

A large lake is adjacent to the temple with views of the lake and surrounding nature able to be viewed from a large observation platform. The scenery is beautiful year-round, from the bright autumn foliage to the gently blooming cherry blossoms in spring.

If you are looking for somewhere even more out of the way, Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple in Arashiyama is the ideal choice. This temple is located in a more residential part of Arashiyama and requires walking through small streets up some steep hills. Upon reaching Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple, you will find over 8000 memorial statues dedicated to those who died without any remaining family to maintain their memory. 

This temple is a beautiful and unique part of Japanese culture. As you move through the temple grounds, you can also find a largely abandoned mini version of the Arashiyama bamboo forest. The bamboo is just as large and impressive, the path just as charming, but it is free of the crowds of Arashiyama. The path is much shorter and the forest smaller, but the quiet makes it easier to truly feel the solitude and peace of the bamboo forest.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is commonly considered the most important of all the inari shrines in Japan. This large shrine features many inari fox statues as foxes were thought to be the mystical messengers of the god Inari. Behind the main shrine is a large network of trails leading up the mountain. These shrines are lined with thousands upon thousands of vermillion torii gates. These are usually bought and maintained by local businesses and institutions as a hope for good luck and success. These trails can be very busy as they are famous world-wide, but as you move further up the mountain the crowds thin out. Most tourists stay towards the bottom of the trails, meaning if you are willing to take the hike up, you will be able to enjoy the true beauty of the torii gates.

Nijo-jo Castle

Nijo-jo Castle is one of Kyoto’s most important castles but is often overlooked by international visitors as ‘just another castle’. With many other more famous castles to visit, Nijo-jo castle can fall by the wayside. 

However, the castle has recently found a way to stand out and cement itself as a must-visit site. There are regular light-up events and art events taking place at Nijo-jo castle as they focus on creating unique interactive events; there is a cherry blossom event, an autumn foliage event and a summer festival event at Nijo-jo castle. They usually feature light projections, light-ups of the current nature (cherry blossoms, autumn foliage, hydrangeas etc.) and interactive displays. The event does differ slightly depending on the season. Sometimes Nijo-jo also has events arranged by other companies, such as the Art Aquarium Museum featuring a range of goldfish art exhibits. Visiting the current event is a great way to get involved in local Japanese events and have a deeper experience of current Japanese culture.


Kaiseki-ryori is an extended, multi course meal of traditional Japanese haute cuisine. It is very traditional using only time-honored techniques with a prescribed order to the courses. Kaiseki-ryori has a strong focus on seasonal and local ingredients with the intent being for customers to truly experience the natural flavors of ingredients without over-seasoning. Kaiseki-ryori has its origin in both Buddhist traditional food and the meals of the traditional aristocratic class. The meal usually includes an aperitif, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, a rice dish, a soup and, of course, a main dish.

Experiencing a kaiseki-ryori meal in Kyoto is one of the best ways to finish off a day of exploring Kyoto’s historically and culturally significant sites. A popular restaurant to experience kaiseki-ryori is Hiranoya Arashiyama, a traditional teahouse in Arashiyama serving historically accurate kaiseki-ryori. Another option in Arashiyama is Kitcho Arashiyama Honten, an extremely luxury version of kaiseki-ryori. For one of the most famous kaiseki-ryori restaurants, Kikunoi in Higashiyama is the place to go. Nearby is Roan Kikunoi, a sister restaurant that takes an unorthodox approach to kaiseki-ryori and puts an interesting twist on the dishes provided. A kaiseki-ryori meal is generally quite expensive but is a unique Japanese cultural experience and a great way to try more of Japan’s amazing cuisine.

Making Your Visit Unique

Kyoto is an automatic inclusion in many traveler’s itineraries when visiting Japan, and for good reason. With over 10,000 temples and shrines and many other culturally significant sites, Kyoto is a wonderland of unique and interesting locations. 

The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is commonly held up as one of Kyoto’s most beautiful sites, but the Arashiyama district holds many more destinations to explore for those looking for a more unique experience. Attending one of the seasonal events of Nijo Castle can be a great way to feel involved in the culture of Japan, rather than just observing. 

Use these ideas to get beyond the crowds when exploring Kyoto range of other sites and experiences to enhance your next visit to Japan.