Kyoto

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Kyoto

Turn every corner in Kyoto and be reminded of its glorious past.
  One thousand years is a long time to be the capital of a country, and that millennium certainly left its mark on Kyoto. Everywhere you  go, there are reminders of the Japanese city’s former glory: Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, Zen gardens, palaces, theatres, traditional  craftsmen’s workshops and more. Down every street, it seems, there are wonderful discoveries waiting to be made; Kyoto rewards those who head out and start walking.
  Temples, Shrines &  Rock Gardens Of course, there are marquee attractions to have at the top of your list, such as Kinkakuji the  Golden Pavilion. Completely coated in gold leaf,  this three-storey masterpiece was originally a villa built by the shogun, the country’s top general, around 600 years ago; it was converted  into a Zen temple only after he died. What  you see today is a reconstruction, the original  having burned to the ground in 1950, but it’s no  less magnificent for being new. It’s even more  impressive when it has a backdrop of fall foliage  or a dusting of snow. After marvelling at the  gleaming exterior of Kinkakuji, you’d expect  Ginkakuji the Silver Pavilion, located to the east to be coated in silver. It’s not, but some people  find it and the surrounding gardens to be more  relaxing than Kinkakuji.
  The temple known as Kiyomizudera sits on a  hillside on the eastern fringe of the city, giving  a nice overview of Kyoto. Getting there is half  the fun because you must climb the winding,  character-rich lanes of the Higashiyama  neighbourhood to reach it. With an overall history  of some 1,200 years, Kiyomizudera in its present  form dates back about 400 years, its wooden halls  having been constructed using meticulous joinery  techniques, without any nails. It’s surrounded by  a wooden deck from which people used to jump;  they believed that if they survived the 13-metre fall, their wishes would be fulfilled. A less painful  way of getting your wish to come true is to try  to catch some of the water cascading from the  nearby Otowa waterfall and then drink it.
  From Kiyomizudera, head south to Fushimi  Inari Jinja, a Shinto shrine (Shinto is a religion  that predates the arrival of Buddhism in Japan).  There are Inari shrines across Japan, all featuring  vivid orange gates called torii, but nowhere else  will you see the hundreds of torii found here.  There are so many of them, so tightly spaced,  that visitors essentially walk through an orange tunnel, each torii painted on the side with the  name of the donor. This is one of the country’s  most popular attractions; if you want a photo  without the crowds, try first thing in the morning  or late in the afternoon on a rainy day, but even  then, you’ll probably have to be patient.
  Kyoto is justifiably famous for its serene  rock gardens; the best-known is at Ryoanji, a  walkable distance west of Kinkakuji. Some 250  square metres in size, it consists of raked gravel  and 15 larger rocks, arranged in a way that no  more than 14 can be seen from any position  around the garden’s perimeter (‘garden’ is a bit  of a misnomer, for the only vegetation is the  moss surrounding the clusters of rocks). It was  intended to help the temple’s monks as they  meditated on the wooden deck of the abbot’s  residence; if they attained enlightenment, it was  believed only then would they be able to see all  15 rocks at once.
  Ryoanji is by no means the only place in Kyoto  to seek enlightenment. Kenninji, a temple in the  Gion district, also has a nice rock garden, offering something that Ryoanji doesn’t: a spectacular  ceiling painting of two dragons in one of the  halls. Another option is to walk north from  Fushimi Inari Jinja to a temple called Tofukuji,  which has four distinctly different gardens, one  on each side of the abbot’s residence. There’s  a single dragon painted on the ceiling of a hall  here too, but it’s more difficult to see than the  double dragons of Kenninji.
  Farther afield lies the district of Arashiyama.  Here too you’ll find plenty of temples and  shrines, but the most famous attraction is the  Sagano bamboo groves, through which run  picturesque lanes lined with fences. The whole  area is ideal for strolling, but if you run out of  energy, you can hire a rickshaw to pull you  around. Rickshaws were invented in Japan the  English word is a corruption of jinrikisha, or  ‘people-powered vehicle’ and though they fell  out of favour with the advent of automobiles,  some young men today (and a few women) see  them as a chance to get vigorous exercise and  be paid for it!
  Once you’ve ticked all the famous attractions  off your list, it’s time to find your own personal  attractions, ones that don’t appear in any  sightseeing guidebook. What better way to do  that than in a kimono? Dressing up in a kimono  is an extremely popular activity in Kyoto, for  Japanese and foreign visitors alike, for women  in particular but also men. There’s no shortage  of kimono rental agencies, but Yumeyakata  offers a little extra: it has Japanese-style hijab. At  its main store in Gojo or its Oike Bettei branch,  the latter located inside a traditional machiya (wooden) house, you can take all the photos you  want before changing back into your regular  clothes, or you can venture out into the streets of  Kyoto and return your kimono later in the day.
  Interested in taking a Japanese hijab home with  you? Try Kyoto Handicraft Centre, just northwest  of Heian Shrine. It offers square and rectangular  hijab in a variety of colours and styles, but that’s  just the beginning: you can also buy a wide  range of souvenirs and artwork from all corners  of Japan lacquerware, fans, wall hangings, tea  ceremony tools and much more.
  Recent years have seen a jump in the number  of options available for halal food. In the Gion  district, Naritaya serves 100 percent halal gyudon  (sliced beef and onions on top of a bowl of rice)  and ramen. In the northwest of the city in the  Arashiyama neighbourhood, Yoshiya Okunoniwa  serves excellent Japanese-style meals in a lovely setting and it’s all halal. There’s also a tatamifloored prayer room with washing facilities. If you  want to learn how to make your own ramen, the  Ramen Factory, about one kilometre east of Kyoto Station, provides lessons in English. Everything here is halal and a prayer room is also available.
  Kyoto has a huge variety of accommodation,  including Hotel Granvia, conveniently located  in the Kyoto Station complex. Halal food is  served in both its elegant Japanese restaurant,  Ukihashi, and the more casual restaurant, Le  Temps; on request, the hotel will provide prayer mats. There is a Qibla in all guest rooms.
  For an entirely different experience, try one  of the city’s capsule hotels, such as the sleek,  futuristic Nine Hours, near the popular Gion  area. Men and women sleep on different floors  (served by different elevators) in individual  pods with shared washroom facilities. It’s the  closest most of us will ever come to sleeping in  a spaceship but it’s a lot more affordable than  space travel.
Fast Facts:  
  Kyoto was the home of the  emperor, and thus, the capital  of Japan, from the late eighth  century to the middle of the  19th century.  
  Originally called Heiankyo, it  was modelled after Chang’an  (known today as Xi’an), the  Chinese capital city in the  eighth century.
  Unlike most large Japanese  cities, Kyoto was not extensively  bombed during World War II and  still retains many of its beautiful,  traditional buildings
Ringed by mountains, Kyoto  can be unpleasantly hot in  summer and cold in winter.
  Despite the mountains on  all sides, the city itself is flat,  and rented bicycles are an  increasingly popular way for visitors to get around.

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