If Tokyo is the modern beating heart of Japan, Kyoto is its old and beautiful soul. It undeniably holds court when it comes to history and tradition and is probably the best place to acquaint yourself in Japan’s unique cultural practices, whether it is the ritual behind a tea ceremony or the intricacies of wearing a kimono. There are multiple standouts on Kyoto’s tourist trail—the geisha district of Gion, the ethereal Kiyomizu temple and the iconic torii gates at the Fushimi Inari shrine immediately come to mind. It is also revered for its mastery of kaiseki, bustling coffee scene and the abundance of artisanal crafts such as lacquer and porcelain.
With so much to do in the city itself, it is not surprising that most visitors choose to spend their time taking in everything in the city centre. But in order to experience Kyoto’s true spirit, seasoned travellers should head to its quieter locales for mindful excursions that soothe the mind, body and soul. Our pick is Koyasan, an ancient village in the Wakayama Prefecture, that offers a deeper immersion into Japan’s sacred practices.
A Pilgrimage to Koyasan
There are a few ways to get to this mountainous area, but nothing beats taking a 30-minute helicopter ride. Not only is it the fastest route, the stunning bird's-eye view of the city below is well worth the nerves; it also offers a modern counterpoint to what awaits at Koyasan. As the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism, it is home to over 100 temples and it is quite common to see monks going about their day here.