Kyoto, Japan

Colorful maple leaves at a Kyoto temple. Photo Creative Commons License Bryan Cole.

Nestled in the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto has earned a worldwide reputation as Japan's most beautiful city. Kyoto is known as "the city of a thousand temples," but it actually has more - an astonishing 1,600 Buddhist temples, plus 400 Shinto shrines, a trio of palaces, and dozens of gardens and museums! Kyoto boasts more World Heritage Sites per square inch than any other city.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto thus spent a millennium as the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion. During this time Kyoto accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. And Kyoto was one of the very few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombings during World War II. There is much to see in Kyoto - start your virtual explorations of its temples and shrines below.

An important Rinzai Zen temple on the Path of Philosophy, Nanzenji has a beautiful Zen garden and extensive grounds.
Originally intended to be coated in silver, this harmonious temple ended up in simple wood. It houses an image of Kannon and includes lovely gardens.
This gold-leaf-covered temple is one of the most beautiful sights in Kyoto, nestled in the woods and reflected in the waters of its garden pond.
Yasaka Shrine
This Shinto shrine to the god of health and prosperity was the site of the first Gion Matsuri festival. It remains the spiritual heart of Kyoto.
A World Heritage Site famed for its Zen rock garden.
Heian Jingu
An imperial Shinto shrine built in 1895 in honor of the founding of Kyoto.
The head temple of Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism, Chionin boasts the largest gate and the heaviest temple bell in Japan. It was built to represent the Pure Land on earth.
A Shingon Buddhist temple in the center of the city, Toji includes a five-story pagoda that is the tallest wooden tower in Japan.