In a park close to the Tenryu-ji temple in Kyoto, a statue of a Shinto Buddhist monk peels back his face to reveal exactly the same face underneath. The temple's gardens have been designated a "Special Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan".
Kyoto – Fact Check

Where gardens are a numbers game

Photo by Floris Leeuwenberg

Kyoto – Fact Check Where gardens are a numbers game

Many visitors to Kyoto spend only a short amount of time in the city. To explore the sheer number of gardens, temples, and palaces, you need to do a bit of planning first.

Jurriaan Teulings
Jurriaan Teulings Travel Writer

While attempting to grasp 1,000 vibrant years of history in a few days might seem like a daunting prospect, that shouldn't – and doesn't – stop anyone from trying.

A good start is a visit to the Zen gardens of Ryoanji, whose deceptive simplicity hides a complexity that subconsciously evokes a feeling of calm and well-being.

In fact, It took a team of scientists to properly demonstrate the garden’s mathematics. In an article published by Nature, they analyzed the rock garden and found that along a central line of sight the appealing shape of a branched tree emerges in relief. If one of the rocks is moved, the magic disappears.

Less abstract is the beauty of the 1,001 statues of the Sanjusangen-do temple which, like Senso-ji in Tokyo, is dedicated to Kannon, this time in a 1,000-armed incarnation. Not to be missed are the splendid gardens of the imperial palace (the palace itself is not open to the public) and the Golden Pavilion, after which more than 2,000 places of interest remain.

Even the most dedicated garden and temple aficionado could spend years visiting the sights of Kyoto without seeing the same site twice.

Other stories about Japan

During Kyoto’s annual Mifune Matsuri (Three Boat Festival), beautifully decorated boats float down the Oigawa River, transforming it into a gorgeous, colorful spectacle. Three decorated with dragons lead the way, followed by numerous smaller boats.

Kyoto, Japan's truly wonderful cultural hub

Tokyo is not the best place to get acquainted with traditional Japan, if only for the fact that the city was largely destroyed – not once, but twice – in the last century. Kyoto, a two-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride away, has had a much different fate. With more than 2,000 temples and an astonishing 17 Unesco World Heritage sites, the former imperial capital of Japan is one of the richest cultural cities in the world.