5 Underrated Places in Kyoto to Avoid the Tourist Hordes

5 Underrated Places in Kyoto to Avoid the Tourist Hordes

Sick of jostling with other travellers when visiting Kyoto? Stray from the beaten path, and visit these five locales for an equally immersive experience.

For those of you who have been to Kyoto, here’s what comes to mind when the ancient capital of Japan is mentioned: the lush Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, the spellbinding Fushimi Inari Shrine with its magnificent torii gates, and the rustic Gion district where Kyoto’s kimono-clad geishas mingle and roam.

But these popular tourist sites are not all that this rustic nexus of Japanese culture and tradition has to offer! In fact, Kyoto hides many lovely locations for wondrous admiration and Instagram masterpieces, well away from the tourist crowds.

If you are heading to Kyoto or planning a trip there soon, check out these five underrated picturesque locations:

1. The Venice of Kyoto

places in kyoto

Image credit: Raita Futo

Here’s a secret gem that most travellers don’t know about – the Boat Houses of Ine. Nestled in a narrow strip of land between the Sea of Japan and the mountains of Honshu (the mainland), this sleepy village is comprised of traditional wooden buildings called “funaya”. Directly translating to “boathouse”, each funaya is built along the water’s edge, and even has its very own “garage” for each funaya-owner’s boat! The village’s unique architectural design has earned it a two-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide Japan, and the nickname “the Venice of Japan”.

While originally a fishing village, some of Ine’s funaya have been converted into small inns, allowing you to stay in this quiet fishing settlement. You can enjoy the splendid panoramic view, feast on extremely fresh seafood and strike hearty conversations with the friendly locals.

2. The Buddhist temple for your graffiti art

Kyoto’s most famous temple might be its Kinkakuji Temple, with its stunning gold pavilion drawing hordes of tourists all-year round. However, there are more interesting temples in the city, such as the city’s one and only graffiti temple!

Image credit: rocketnews24

Also known as the Tandenan Temple, this graffiti temple allows you to scribble your deepest wishes on the temple’s walls! More specifically, you can write on the walls of the chamber dedicated to the Japanese household deity Daikoku. This tradition started a few decades ago when the locals in the region came to help renovate the Daikokudo (the chamber). In return, the incumbent head priest permitted the locals to write their biggest wish on the walls of the chamber for Daikoku to answer. The walls are painted over every year, so the temple never runs out of space for wishes.

While there are certain rules to adhere to while participating in this graffiti activity, such as using only the pens provided by the temple, this is a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience that only Kyoto’s Tandenan Temple has to offer.

3. The serene Hozugawa River boat ride

places in kyoto

Image credit: Pete Birkinshaw

Image credit: Mike Desisto

What’s the best way to enjoy a traditional boat ride? To do it in Japan! And where’s the best boat ride to take in Japan? The Hozugawa River Boat Ride, of course! This boat ride allows you to cruise along Kyoto’s river from Tanba-Kameoka to Arashiyama on a traditional flat-bottomed boat, and enjoy the spectacular sights along the way.

Admire the gorgeous scenery as skilled boatmen steer you down gentle rapids and past mysterious whirlpools with traditional wooden oars and bamboo poles. In fact, the boat ride is one of the best ways to cover some of Kyoto’s lovely Arashiyama attractions! Do remember to pair your journey down the river with a train ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway for the ultimate scenic fest.

4. The demons along Yokai Street

Image credit: Sparklig

Remember the colourful spirits you saw in Studio Ghibli’s award winning film, Spirited Away? Well, some of them are actually demons in Japanese folklore! And here’s where you can see some of those idiosyncratic creatures in person: Kyoto’s Ichijo-dori Street.

Also known as Yokai, the demons purportedly roamed the streets of Japan centuries ago, sometimes taking the form of animals or humans. While most of them are thought to be threatening to humans, there are exceptional yokais that help to guard shophouses, in the belief that they will help bring the business good luck. As such, some of the shophouses along Ichijo-dori street have yokai statues at their entrances! As you walk along the street, check out these statues, and enrich yourself on the deep intricacies of Japanese folklore.

5. The enchanting Kimono Forest

places in kyoto

Image credit: Nigel Goodman

Mention “forest”, and you’ll naturally (pun intended) think about groves of lush green trees and chirping birdsong. But what about “Kimono Forest”? These two words seem to contradict, but in actuality describes one of Kyoto’s most picturesque attractions!

Located right outside Arashiyama station, the Kimono Forest is an installation of 600 cylinder-shaped pillars displaying one of Japan’s most beautiful and impeccable kimono textiles. These works are done by artist Yasumichi Morita, and were dyed the traditionally via the Kyo-yuzen way. You can stroll among the pillars during the day and admire the beautiful designs, or visit the station at night and watch as each pillar is illuminated by LED lights!

With these five places, you can both avoid the tourist crowds and immerse yourself in the rustic splendour of Kyoto. So add these attractions to your bucket list, and see you in Kyoto soon!

About Author

Mirabelle Koh
Mirabelle Koh

Mirabelle is an avid tea lover with an extreme fervency to travel and work on anything visual. Apart from doing photography, designing and writing, she spends most of her idle time hunting for delectable cuisine and planning her next venture. Always armed with a camera in hand, she writes for the ink that lives in the back of her throat. She also (unashamedly) plays dota 2.


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