In winter, the glitz and glamour felt in the seasons of cherry blossoms or autumn leaves disappear from Kyoto. It is the season when the dignified beauty of the city stands out. Here are 5 tips to enjoy Kyoto in winter.
1. Enjoy the snowscape in Kyoto
Shrines and temples in the cold and clear air of winter in Kyoto have a dignified atmosphere and a unique elegance. Above all, what can be called as the highlight of a trip to Kyoto in winter are the snowscapes. The scenery of pure white snow falling on beautiful vermilion lacquered shrine or temple architecture, which has only become more profound over centuries of history, is so beautiful that it might make you speechless!
The place especially famous for its beautiful snowscape is Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion (official name: Rokuonji). The landscape of the shiny golden main temple with silver-white snow falling on it and reflected on Kyokochi Lake is definitely whimsical. No doubt you will admire it, forgetting the cold.
Opening hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (open throughout the year)
Entrance fee: Adults (high school students or older) 400 JPY
※The opening hours may vary when there are special viewings.
2. See cultural properties open for special viewings on the Kyo no Fuyu no Tabi
When it comes to sightseeing in Kyoto in winter, the recommended event is the annual Kyo no Fuyu no Tabi ("winter trip in Kyoto"). It has been conducted since 1967 by the city of Kyoto and the Kyoto City Tourism Association. During this event, temples or important cultural properties are available for special viewing. 2017 marks the 150th year since Taisei Hokan (the restoration of government to the Imperial Court by Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the 15th shogun of the Edo shogunate, which ended the samurai government) happened in Nijo-jo Castle in Kyoto. That is why cultural properties will be exhibited in 14 places, including temples related to Taisei Hokan. Some of these places will be open for special viewing for the first time. You can visit places associated with the historic event that became the first step for Japan to develop into a modern nation, and feel the traditional culture of Japan.
Opening Hours: Jan 7, 2017(Sat) to Mar 18, 2017(Sat)
※Opening hours may vary according to temples/places. For details, please check the Kyoto City Tourism Association website.
Mibudera, the temple associated with the Shinsengumi (the new squad) which acted as guards of the government at the end of the Edo era (1603-1867)
Shimabara Sumiya, the only ageya (an elegant restaurant where banquets and dinner parties were held accompanied by the entertainment of geisha) architecture left in the former geisha neighborhood of Shimabara
3. Enjoy Kyoto Arashiyama Hanatoro
Arashiyama Hanatoro, an annual event taking place since 2005, is a winter event in which Kyoto is decorated with whimsical light displays. Approximately 2,500 paper-covered lanterns with LED light bulbs warmly illuminate "the path of light and flowers," which is a path in the Sagano/Arashiyama area, while beautifully arranged flowers along the path add glamour to it. Temples, shrines, and touristic places in the area are also decorated with light displays and during the event the whole Sagano/Arashiyama area will be covered in warm light. The scenery of sightseeing spots representative of Arashiyama, such as Togetsukyo or the bamboo grove shining brightly under the winter night sky is especially beautiful and out-of-this-world! This event will make you feel like you want to continue walking on this path forever, so it's highly recommended.
Opening hours: Dec 9, 2016 (Fri)-Dec 18, 2016 (Sun)
Lighting time: 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm
4. Savor the winter specialties of Kyoto
One of the joys on a trip is regional specialties. There are many delicious dishes unique to Kyoto, but since this is a winter trip, you should taste dishes only available during this season.
Some dishes representative of Kyoto's winter cuisine are yudofu (boiled tofu), mushizushi (steamed sushi), and yakifugu (grilled blowfish), but a particularly recommended dish is kaburamushi. This is a dish of grated winter turnip mixed with egg whites, then placed on the meat from a white-fleshed fish together with lily bulbs, ginkgo nuts, and mushrooms, then glazed with kudzu sauce or a clear soup. It has a refined taste. The white winter turnip looks like snow, so the act of eating kaburamushi is the act of "eating snow in a warm room" on a cold winter day. Kaburamushi has a soft texture but it's hot, and the sweetness of the turnip and the chewiness of the lily bulb are exquisite. This is a dish that will warm you up both body and soul.
Kaburamushi is beautiful to look at.
Yudofu (boiled tofu) is another Kyoto winter specialty.
5. Visit a sake brewery in Fushimi
Fushimi, blessed with abundant and high-quality water flowing underground from the water of the Momoyama hill terrains, is famous nationwide for sake production. In Fushimi, when sake brewing starts in October, the fragrance of rice being steamed or of moromi (ingredients of sake, fermented in a special tank) floats everywhere in the air. The cold winter season is also the season for sake brewing.
In the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum run by Gekkeikan, a sake company in business since 1637, they introduce the steps of sake brewing as well as the history of sake by introducing well-preserved precious sake brewing tools and plenty of documents. After the tour of the museum, you can taste 3 different types of sake and on top of that, you can receive a souvenir! The more sake knowledge you have, the more ways you can enjoy it. Sake in the Kyoto winter will warm you up.
Opening hours: 9:30 am - 4:30 pm (Reception open until 4:15 pm)
Entrance fee: Adults 300 JPY
Days closed: Bon holiday (Aug 13-Aug 16), New Year (Dec 28-Jan 4)
There are many more places to see and foods to taste in Kyoto in winter. Why not go and discover a new side of Kyoto this winter?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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