In this extract from the Lonely Planet guide Discover Japan, Taga Kazuo, founder of Kyoto Cycling Tour Project and author, tell you the sights to hit on a two-wheeled tour of this culturally rich city.
A bicycle is the best and fastest way to get around Kyoto: it’s economical and you don’t have to worry about traffic jams. Most of Kyoto’s sights are located in a compact area and there are no big hills. Kyoto is easy to navigate and a bicycle lets you get to the heart of the city.
Zen is perhaps the most famous of all schools of Buddhism and this is a great example of a classic Zen temple. Nanzen-ji is surrounded by the rich nature of the Higashiyama area and the subtemples scattered around the temple precincts are spectacular.
The 20th-century philosopher Nishida Kitarō used this fine canal-side path for his daily walking meditation. Almost every part of the 1.5km length is lined with some sort of blooming flower or tree.
Ginkaku-ji was built as a villa for shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in the late 15th century. It is said by some to be the birthplace of the Japanese wabisabi aesthetic. Here, beauty was found in simplicity and quietness rather than in splendour and luxury (although, the garden here is pretty splendid by almost any standard).
This quaint mountainside shrine is commonly called the ‘mouse shrine’ because you will be welcomed by cute koma nezumi (stone guardian figures in the form of mice). These unusual figures come from a story of mice saving an important Shintō deity from a forest fire. Spread about the grounds are bird guardians and money carved out of stones, also to guard against evil.
This quiet temple is a refuge among the greenery. Near the gate, you will see the sand mounds on either side of the path. These represent water and are said to purify the body and mind. Ever-changing patterns are drawn on them by the temple’s gardeners.
Things you need to know
Bicycle rental and bicycle tours: Kyoto Cycling Tour Project
Be warned: The Higashiyama area can be very crowded during the cherryblossom and autumn-foliage seasons.