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Kyoto

Exit the ultra-modern train station and the first thing you see is a futuristic tower, but don’t be deceived: tradition still lives here, from ladies in kimonos to the beautiful geisha girls.

Things to do:

Kyoto has a wealth of World Heritage Sites, many of them Zen temples. Must-sees are Kinkakuji, its gold-foil walls mirrored in a pond; Ginkakuji,all soft trails winding through hills of bonsai and moss; and Ryoanji, its raked rock garden a haven for meditation. Our tip: if you want to find nirvana by contemplating rocks, get there on an early morning weekday. Ditto for all these sites to avoid the crowds.

Before Buddhism there was Shinto, Japan’s religion of nature and ancestor worship. Check out one of its premiere sites, Fushimi Inari-taisha. Inari is the God of Rice, and Japanese come in their millions to make offerings and pray for good luck on the temple’s five hillsides.

For more than a thousand years Kyoto was the country’s capital, Gosho the imperial palace. Once the Emperor’s home until his move to Tokyo in 1868, today you can wander through its grounds yourself. But it’s Nijo that holds World Heritage status among imperial sites. A walled castle in the heart of the city, cross its moat and enter the exquisite Ninomaru Garden and eponymous palace. Inside this magnificent wooden structure you’ll find delicate paintings on sliding doors, and walk on floors that cry like nightingales - a medieval alarm system.

For an excellent day trip, take a 45-minute train ride to Himeji Castle, another World Heritage Site. It was here they filmed the ‘ninja school’ in You Only Live Twice. While its main keep is undergoing renovation until March 2015, you can still access the rest of the grounds.

Going out:

Kyoto has plenty of bars and clubs, but there’s one kind of nightlife you may not have tried. In Gion you can spend an evening with a geisha. With their supreme hostess and dance skills, not to mention their ability to drink you under the table, the company of these exquisite young women doesn’t come cheap. Another option is to watch their public dances in spring or autumn.

Stay:

Close to the station, K’s House is the best deal in town with rooms from £15pn.


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Honshu glad you visited? Make the most of Japan's main island
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