Living history is getting harder to come by, as some countries trade in their heritage sites for more lucrative real estate opportunities. But then there is Japan, which retains a powerful connection to its history and culture, and maintains meticulous heritage sites throughout the country.
This is maybe most evident in Kansai, the central-west region of Japan that is Japan’s spiritual and historic heart. It is anchored by the one-time imperial capital of Kyoto, but is also dotted with numerous sites outside the city that reflect Japan’s history from centuries past. A visit to Kansai is a world away from Tokyo, the more familiar cosmopolitan face of Japan.
New flights from Canada to Kansai, via the region’s economic capital, Osaka, offer a convenient access to this more spiritual, scenic side of the nation. The air service is operated by Air Canada rouge.
Some visitors may choose to bypass Osaka and stay on the train for an extra 80 minutes to reach Kyoto, about 100 km from KIX. Even though it has a population of 1.2 million, Kyoto retains a small-city feeling. This is accomplished by the preservation of numerous historic shrines, ceremonial gardens and other places of significance throughout the city. Long unbroken walls of palaces and shrines line some avenues, and the grid streetscape is easy to navigate on foot and bicycle. The skyline is not punctuated by business towers.
There are are over 1,600 Buddhist temples and shrines in the city, some vast, and the challenge is finding those that aren’t necessarily filled with visitors. The most popular are the Kiyomizu Temple and the Golden Pavillion Temple (Kinkakuji). But there is not much chance that a visit to these won’t be accompanied by big travel groups and coach tours, bearing in mind that Kyoto hosts 50 million tourists per year.
So a good option is to plan a visit to the Myoshin-Ji temple grounds, in the northwestern part of Kyoto. These grounds cover about 31 hectares and have a history that stretches back over 650 years.
The city buzz of Kyoto is rendered silent upon walking through the wooden gates, and the serenity there lends itself to slow strolls.
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