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Letters from Hidden Kyoto

Whether it's your first time here or your hundredth, you'll find that Kyoto is full of little-known locales. I'm an American expat living in Kyoto. Come explore the city with me!

Rakusai: A Pilgrimage to the Green of Western Kyoto

The Rakusai area lies to the west of Kyoto’s downtown area, where I visited the mountainside overlooking the city center. Yoshimine-dera Temple is hidden here in the mist, a beautiful treat to visit in any season.

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Kyoto's Historical Textile District

Kyoto’s Nishijin district is well-known for its textiles, many of which are turned into exquisite kimono. To better get to know these traditions, I visited the Orinasu-kan Museum of Hand-Weaving for a better look at these fabrics, and the master weavers at the Watabun workshop next door. I also visited Tondaya, a traditional Nishijin home in which visitors can try on the authentic kimono of the Tanaka family, kimono wholesalers and custodians of the home for thirteen generations.

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Eastern Kyoto’s Treasure Trove of Living Traditions

The southeastern Kyoto district of Yamashina hides a number of historical Kyoto treasures, large and small. My first visit this time is to the vast temple of Daigoji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a unique philosophy about the use of its 1,000 year-old monuments. Not far from Daigoji, I visit the kilns and galleries of Kiyomizu-yaki Danchi, an area famous for its beautiful Kiyomizu pottery, a living tradition passed through generations.

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Ohara: Tranquil Getaway to the North of Kyoto

In Ohara, the northwestern region of Kyoto City, I find a pastoral getaway, from the mossy paradise of Sanzen-in Temple, to the twisted trees of Jakko-in Temple. The surrounding land is peaceful, rolling countryside, but it is land steeped in history, once walked by figures from the medieval samurai epic, “The Tale of the Heike.”

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The Deep Mountains of Kyoto

Though still within the city limits, the beautifully pastoral Keihoku is located deep in the mountains of northeast Kyoto. I got a taste of the authentic country lifestyle with the Tanaka family, who run several guest houses out of traditional Japanese country homes, and was surprised to see the extent of the local’s artistic talent at a closeby café and glass-making studio.

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Escape to the Outdoors in Takao

I visited Takao, the mountainous area northwest of central Kyoto, to see not only its great outdoors (the area is very popular with hikers), but its history. I visited Jingo-ji and Saimyo-ji Temples, whose remarkable history connects them to the development of Buddhism and tea in Japan, and Japan’s “first manga.”

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