The southern section of Kyoto, along with the adjacent city of Uji, is dotted with temples and Shinto shrines, each with their own histories for the curious to explore.
The scenic Ujigawa river runs through the area and many travelers enjoy walking from one site to another over green hills and dales.
A must-see is Byodoin, a Buddhist temple renowned for its Phoenix Hall. The hall's roof has phoenixes on top, one in gold and the other silver, stretching their wings as if ready to fly. The hall houses a statue of Amitabha Tathagata.
The hall was built with the lofty aim of recreating a Buddhist paradise here on Earth.
Byodoin was originally a villa owned by a local nobleman. It was turned into a temple in 1052 by Fujiwara no Yorimichi.
Located in Uji, the temple can easily be included in a tour of other sites in the southern part of Kyoto.
Another stop could be Kyoto's Daigoji, the head temple of the Daigo branch of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, whose origin dates back to 874. Here one finds much of interest, including Kyoto's oldest five-story pagoda, built in 952 and now designated as a national treasure. Also of note is the temple's collection of paintings, sculptures and calligraphy that date from the Heian Period (794-1185) and later. Many are open to public viewing at the temple's treasure house.
Daigoji is also noted for its cherry blossoms.
Cherry trees were first planted by the temple's patron, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98). His blossom-viewing party of 1598 is still remembered for its magnificence.
Both Byodoin and Daigoji are World Heritage sites.
Fushimi Inari Taisha, also in Kyoto, is the central shrine for 30,000 Inari shrines all over the country. The Inari shrines are widely honored as homes to the gods of good harvest, commerce and luck.
A prominent feature of these shrines are fox statues, which eventually came to be regarded as messengers of the Inari deity. Pieces of fried soybean curd are often offered at the shrines, in the belief that they are the favorite food of the fox.
Finally, don't miss the many bright red shrine gates built with donations from shrine patrons that line pathways leading up to the main shrine at Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Other sites of interest include Mimurotoji temple, known for its many types of flowers, and Ujigamijinja, a small shrine on the World Heritage List.
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Byodoin: From Kyoto Station, take JR Nara Line to Uji Station. The temple is a 10-minute walk. It's also a 10-minute walk from Uji Station on the Keihan Uji Line.
Daigoji: From Daigo Station on Kyoto Municipal Subway's Tozai Line, the temple is a 10-minute walk.
Fushimi Inari Taisha: The shrine is a 5-minute walk from Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan Line and a 3-minute walk from Inari Station on the JR Nara Line.
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