I decided to be a typical tourist on my first full day in Kyoto and visit the most popular attractions. First up was Ryoanji Temple which is best known for its Zen garden. This was my introduction to rock gardens and it was quite impressive. Apparently the 15 moss covered boulders are placed in such a way that when looking at the garden from any angle only 14 are visible at one time. In the Buddhist world 15 denotes completeness and yet  in this world that is not possible. Now that is very deep for 9am.

The temple had a lovely relationship with the garden – which is something I’ve found in common with a majority of the temples and pavilions I’ve seen so far.

The grounds were extensive

Next up was Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion which was a short walk away (however I still managed to get lost, which is a very easy thing to do in Japan).

This pavilion is of the Heian period and sits on the edge of a lake which suggests a position between heaven and earth. And it’s covered in gold which is hedging your bets slightly.

More walking lead me to the Daitoku-ji complex which is a bunch of temples and gardens. Some amazing graveyards too.

From here I set off to explore the Kyoto Imperial Palace and grounds – think Hyde Park with Buckingham Palace set within.

The palace is vast.

How to visit 

Below is the map I used to navigate myself around Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Awaji Island and Himeji. This map lists and illustrates each place I visited.

View Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Awaji and Himeji in a larger map

The following directions were supplied by www.japan-guide.com. On the whole they are accurate but don’t be afraid to ask locals or use your compass.

Ryoanji Temple:
From Kyoto Station Ryoanji can be reached directly by JR bus. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes, costs 220 yen and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. There are buses every 15-30 minutes. Alternatively, Ryoanji is a five minute bus ride or 20 minute walk west of Kinkakuji. The temple can also be reached by the Keifuku Kitano Line, a small train that runs through the calm residential areas of northwestern Kyoto and offers a connection to Arashiyama. To access Ryoanji, get off at Ryoanji-michi Station from where it is a 5-10 minute walk to the temple.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion):
Kinkakuji can be accessed from Kyoto Station by direct Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 220 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 250 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, around 900 yen) or bus (10 minutes, 220 yen, bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) from there to Kinkakuji.

Daitokuji Temples:
Daitokuji is located next to Daitokuji-mae bus stop (45 minutes, 220 yen by bus numbers 101, 205 or 206 from Kyoto Station) or a five minute walk from Kitaoji-Horikawa bus stop (30 minutes, 220 yen by bus number 9 from Kyoto Station). Alternatively, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (13 minutes, 250 yen) from where you can reach the temple in a short bus ride (220 yen) or 15 minute walk.

Kyoto Imperial Palace:
Kyoto Imperial Palace is a ten minute subway ride from Kyoto Station along the Karasuma Subway Line. Get off at Marutamachi or Imadegawa Station. Imadegawa Station is closer to the Imperial Agency Office and the entrance gate of the Imperial Palace.