Secrets of Kyoto / Digital Tools Guide Visitors to Kyoto’s Top Sites, with Fushimi Inari’s Orange Gates a Crowd Favorite

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kinkakuji temple in Kita Ward has been a renowned scenic spot since the Edo period (1603-1867), when it was the subject of ukiyoe woodblock prints. The facade was duller then, but a major renovation in the 1980s brought back the original gold luster.

It seems foreign tourist levels in Kyoto are back to about 80% of what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having lived in central Kyoto for a long time, I have noticed that there are more people walking around looking at their smartphones than before.

I wonder if they are perhaps looking at Google Maps or travel guide sites such as Lonely Planet.

Not long ago, I would see foreign visitors to Japan walking around tourist sites with Lonely Planet guidebooks in their hands.

For those traveling abroad from Japan, the popular choice was “Chikyu no Arukikata” (“Globe-Trotter Travel Guidebook”). This guidebook still sells well, and there is probably still one in my suitcase.

“Chikyu no Arukikata France 2024-2025” has 560 pages and “Lonely Planet Japan 17,” published last year, has 928 pages. These books would be heavy in paper form. But now they can be read on a small smartphone, which is very convenient.

Thanks to the location information on smartphones, there have been fewer foreigners asking me for directions.

More than 10 years ago, a young French tourist sought directions from me in front of my house. “I want to go to Kinkakuji temple,” he said. “I will walk there, so please tell me the way.” My house is across the street from the Museum of Kyoto in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto.

But I wondered if he would understand me if I told him to go north on Karasuma-dori street and turn left at Imadegawa-dori street. From my house, it is nearly six kilometers to Kinkakuji, in Kita Ward. That is farther than the walk from Notre-Dame Cathedral to the top of the Montmartre hill in Paris. Unlike this famed French hill, which is visible from a distance, Kinkakuji is in a grove of trees and visitors can’t see the temple unless they get right in front of it.

I asked him, “Are you going to walk for more than an hour with that heavy backpack on your back?” His answer: “Oui.”

So I gave him a rough idea. “Kyoto’s streets are on a grid,” I said, “so if you go three kilometers to the north, turn left and walk 2.5 kilometers, you will be very close.”

Around the same time, another French visitor asked me for directions to Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Fushimi Ward.

Fushimi Inari Taisha is about five kilometers from my house. I suggested he take the Keihan Line so that he would not get lost, but I wonder if he followed my advice.

Kinkakuji and Fushimi Inari Taisha are two of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto. The shrine is one of the most popular tourist attractions for the city.

According to “Good Luck Trip,” a travel website run by Chikyu no Arukikata, the top three sites suggested for first visits to Kyoto are Kiyomizudera temple in Higashiyama Ward, Fushimi Inari Taisha and Kinkakuji.

For Kyotoites, it is surprising to see Fushimi Inari Taisha in the top three. But then I heard that the shrine’s orange torii gates, which form something like a tunnel along mountain paths, are a popular photo spot, and it all made sense.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kiyomizudera temple in Higashiyama Ward has been a popular spot since the Heian period (794-late 12th century). Visitors dropped off sharply after a state of emergency was declared in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Kiyomizu no Butai terrace is seen unusually deserted.

I was curious how Lonely Planet Japan ranked Kyoto’s sites.

As I did not have the book at hand, I found the page for Kyoto online .

To my surprise, listed first under “Must-see attractions for your itinerary” was the Nishiki Market in Naka-gyo Ward, which is the closest market to my house.

I don’t know whether to be proud or to lament how crowded it’s gotten.

The Yomiuri Shimbun<
The Nishiki Market in Nakagyo Ward is one of the “Must-see attractions for your itinerary” according to Lonely Planet.