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Travel Inspiration

Tours in Kyoto, Japan

Last Updated

September 13, 2023

Kyoto is a city brimming with cultural treasures, historical landmarks, and natural beauty. With an array of captivating tours available, visitors can delve into the essence of this enchanting city and create memorable experiences. From strolling through traditional neighborhoods to exploring ancient temples and gardens, Kyoto offers an abundance of options for every traveler. Immerse yourself in its rich history, immerse yourself in its vibrant traditions, and embrace the best that Kyoto has to offer with our meticulously curated selection of tours.

Kyoto Food Tour: Savoring Nishiki Market

The Kyoto Food Tour offers a unique and immersive experience for those seeking to explore the world of traditional Japanese cuisine. Led by expert chefs, writers, or food historians, this tour takes participants on a gastronomic journey through Nishiki Market, the heart of Kyoto's gourmet world.

Nishiki Market is renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse range of culinary offerings. Lasting for three hours, the tour provides an opportunity to learn about traditional Japanese food, known as washoku, which has recently been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Participants will have the chance to challenge their taste buds and gain a deeper understanding of this nuanced cuisine by exploring the sights, sounds, and smells of the market.

The tour introduces participants to the four types of Kyoto cuisine: obanzai home cooking, kaiseki cuisine influenced by the tea ceremony, vegetarian shojin-ryori cuisine from Zen temples, and the lesser-known yusoku-ryori cuisine of the imperial court. Throughout the tour, participants will encounter a wide range of traditional Kyoto foods and meet the people who make them, gaining insights into the importance of these different culinary styles.

Starting at the birthplace of Nishiki Market, a Shinto shrine with pure water that allows cooling in the absence of refrigeration, participants will visit establishments specializing in Kyoto-specific foods. They will have the opportunity to taste-test various delicacies such as pickled vegetables (tsukemono), Japanese tea sweets (wagashi), local freshwater fish, miso and other condiments, tofu and tofu skin (yuba) from Buddhist temple foods, and traditional Kyoto vegetables (Kyo yasai). In addition to food purveyors, participants will also visit some of the best cookware shops in Japan.

As participants meander through the market, they will discover two concepts that make Kyoto cuisine unique: shun and umami. Shun refers to ingredients that have reached their seasonal peak, influencing not only the selection of ingredients but also the presentation and tableware used in Kyoto's cuisines. Umami, the savory fifth taste, holds particular importance in Japanese cuisine and enhances the flavors of each dish.

The tour goes beyond mere food tasting, providing participants with a deeper understanding of Kyoto's culinary heritage. They will learn about the socio-cultural factors that have shaped Kyoto's cuisine over time, gaining a greater appreciation for the dishes they sample. By the end of the tour, participants will not only satisfy their appetites but also leave with a profound knowledge of Kyoto's culinary offerings.

With The Kyoto Food Tour, participants can embark on a journey through the flavors, aromas, and stories that make Japanese cuisine an exquisite art form. This is an experience not to be missed for anyone seeking to savor the essence of Kyoto.

Geisha District Night Tour: Exploring Gion

The Geisha District Night Tour offers a captivating exploration of the deeply traditional Gion District, known as the birthplace and beating heart of Geisha Japan. Led by a knowledgeable local guide, this 2-hour tour provides an immersive experience into the rich cultural heritage of Kyoto.

As participants embark on this enchanting journey, they are accompanied by an expert guide who possesses a deep understanding of Japanese culture. The tour allows visitors to witness the vibrant atmosphere of Gion after dark, providing a unique perspective on the district's historic housing structures, shrines, temples, and the significant role of geishas and kabuki in Japan's cultural history.

The tour commences near Yasaka Shrine, where spirituality plays a vital role in the daily lives of both past and present residents. From there, participants venture into Gion Kobu, one of Kyoto's five independent Geisha districts, and explore the grounds of Kennin-ji Temple, the city's oldest Zen temple. Along the streets of Miyagawa-cho, visitors may even catch a glimpse of maikos, geisha apprentices, gracefully navigating the quaint and peaceful backstreets.

Continuing along the picturesque Kamo River, the tour reaches the renowned Minamiza Kabuki Theater, where participants can admire the intricate architecture and delve into the captivating world of kabuki. Moving further north, the group arrives at the second Geiko/Geisha area along the scenic Shirakawa canal. A visit to historic artisan shops along Shijo Street adds another layer of cultural immersion before reaching Gion Higashi, another geisha district characterized by its tranquil canal adorned with graceful willow trees and, if fortunate, blooming cherry blossoms.

Passing by the small Benzaiten shrine dedicated to the goddess of the arts, participants cross the river and take in the lively activity below. As dusk settles over Kyoto, people gather along the riverbank for picnics, music, and to savor the breathtaking view. The tour concludes by crossing the river once more and ascending Pontocho, another geisha district filled with a myriad of dining options, bars, and hidden gems that come alive as the night progresses.

By the end of the Geisha District Night Tour, participants will have gained a deeper appreciation for the charming details of Kyoto and a greater understanding of Gion's historical significance. While spotting a geiko or maiko during the tour is not guaranteed, the expert guide ensures that participants are equipped with the knowledge to recognize and appreciate these cultural icons throughout their time in Kyoto. Joining this captivating tour promises an unforgettable experience where the spirit of Japan's geishas ignites the senses and leaves a lasting impression.

Spirituality in Kyoto Tour: Shinto & Buddhism

The Spirituality in Kyoto Tour offers a captivating exploration of the role of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japanese culture. Led by an expert in Japanese religious history, this three-hour tour takes participants through the historic Gion District of Kyoto, where they will visit key Shinto and Buddhist temples.

The tour begins at Yasaka Shrine, located in the renowned Gion district. This area is known for its traditional wooden buildings, authentic Japanese restaurants, and teahouses that evoke the essence of old Japan. At Yasaka Shrine, participants will learn about the basic principles of Shintoism, including the concept of kami (spiritual deities) and the notions of purity and impurity. The guide will also discuss the influence of folklore on Shintoism and its role in shaping nationalistic sentiments during the Meiji era.

Continuing through the charming streets of Gion, the tour reaches Kiyomizu-dera temple, one of Kyoto's top attractions. Situated atop the hills of Kyoto, this temple offers breathtaking views of the city. Here, participants will gain insight into the introduction of Buddhism to Japan and the structure of temple complexes. They will also observe the abundance of charms and amulets used by visitors to seek good fortune or protection, providing a glimpse into the integration of Buddhist rituals into daily life.

The tour concludes at Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. Founded in 1202 by monk Eisai, who is credited with introducing the Zen sect and tea drinking to Japan, Kennin-ji features impressive paintings, screen decorations, and serene Zen gardens. This tranquil setting serves as a fitting end to the exploration of religions in Japan.

By the end of the Spirituality in Kyoto Tour, participants will have gained a deeper understanding of the significance of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japanese culture. This knowledge will enhance their appreciation when visiting other shrines and temples throughout their time in Japan. Join this captivating journey through spirituality, history, and tradition in one of Japan's most enchanting cities.

Kyoto Garden Tour: The Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji

The Kyoto Garden Tour offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the captivating world of Japanese garden design. Led by an expert guide, this three-hour walking tour takes participants on a journey through the Muromachi period, a time when Japanese culture flourished and Zen Buddhism emerged.

The tour begins at the renowned Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Originally a private villa, this Zen Buddhist temple showcases the exquisite villa garden design of the Muromachi period. Participants will have the chance to explore the lush gardens and gain insights into the various natural elements used to create these serene spaces. The guide will also shed light on how the purpose of the gardens evolved from a private retreat to a place of spiritual contemplation.

Next, participants will board a bus to visit two important attractions that exemplify Zen rock gardens. The Ryoan-ji Temple features the Karesansui Garden, a prime example of a dry Zen garden. This stark contrast to the water-centric landscapes of Kinkaku-ji highlights the diversity of garden design during the Muromachi period. The meticulous arrangement of gravel and rocks in the Karesansui Garden reflects the unique design principles found in Zen Buddhist temples.

The final destination of the tour is Ninna-ji, where participants can compare earlier landscape design styles with those of the Muromachi period. The Goten, the former residence of the head priest, boasts covered walkways inspired by Imperial style. These walkways feature intricately painted sliding doors that beautifully mirror the surrounding landscape. Ninna-ji also showcases a harmonious blend of dry gardens and gardens with water features, providing a comprehensive understanding of the design principles discussed throughout the tour.

The Kyoto Garden Tour promises an unforgettable experience for those seeking to delve into the rich history and aesthetics of Japanese landscape design. Participants will gain a deeper appreciation for the meticulous craftsmanship and profound influence that these gardens have had on Japanese culture. Join this tour to witness the timeless beauty and tranquility of Kyoto's stunning gardens, and discover the artistry that lies within each carefully curated detail.

Philosopher's Path Tour: Nature and Buddhism in Kyoto

The Philosopher's Path Tour in Kyoto offers a captivating exploration of the deep connection between nature and Japanese culture. Led by a local historian, participants embark on a three-hour journey along the scenic canal, visiting significant temples and delving into the principles of Pure Land Buddhism.

Japanese culture has long embraced the significance of nature, with traditional customs and Buddhist aesthetics emphasizing the inseparable bond between humankind and the natural world. This tour aims to unravel this philosophical commitment to nature by immersing participants in the beauty of the Philosopher's Path.

Located in northern Higashiyama, the Philosopher's Path derives its name from Nishida Kitaro, a renowned philosophy professor who used to meditate while walking this route daily. Adorned with hundreds of cherry trees, the canal path offers a breathtaking display of colors throughout the year, from the enchanting cherry blossoms of spring to the fiery red foliage of autumn. Participants can escape the bustling city and find solace in this serene environment surrounded by majestic mountains and traditional houses.

The tour begins with a visit to the Silver Pavilion, where participants learn about its historical significance as a cultural hub during the fifteenth century. Continuing along the Path, the group stops at Honen-in Temple, an important site for Pure Land Buddhism. Here, the harmonious blend of nature and temple architecture is observed, while the principles of Jodo-shu are explored. The Zenki-sui water spring, symbolizing the Japanese adoration of water as an aesthetic element, is also discussed.

Further along the Path, participants reach Eikan-do, another Pure Land Buddhism temple nestled on a hillside. This location provides a deeper understanding of its historical background. The unique Amitabha Buddha statue, with its head turned leftwards, captures attention, while the serene Hojo Pond and the panoramic view from the Tagoto Pagoda leave a lasting impression.

By the end of the tour, participants emerge with a sense of tranquility away from the city's hustle and bustle. They also gain a profound appreciation for the concept of nature in Japanese culture and a deeper understanding of the ideological underpinnings of Buddhism and their role in shaping Japanese society. The Philosopher's Path Tour offers an inspiring journey that unlocks the secrets of nature's importance in Japanese traditions.

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