I love Japanese architecture for its complex simplicity (if that makes any sense to you). From afar, the forms and design seem simple, but take a closer look and the structures and components are actually wildly complicated, intricate, and labor intensive. This almost effortless beauty is innate in Japanese culture as a whole and can be seen not only in architecture but also in food, fashion, packaging, transportation (I'm not joking, I find the complexity yet facility of the Tokyo subway to be amazing) , and more.
For anyone that has been to Kyoto before, you are aware of the sheer quantity of temples, shrines, and pavilions scattered throughout the city and its surrounds. It's actually quite mind blowing when you take a moment to count them. On my recent trip to Japan, I only had 3 days in Kyoto leading to a pretty rapid run through of various sites - I didn't even get close to seeing everything. Here is a quick snapshot of some of my favorite sites in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Shrine | This incredible and expansive site is located at the base of the mountain aptly named Inari. The shrine is composed of hundreds of bright orange toriis that sweep up and around the mountain, spanning approximately 4 kilometers. Each torii is donated by a Japanese business as Inari was seen as the patron of business and the god of rice! If visiting, plan to spend several hours walking through the toriis. I would recommend visiting in the early morning or early evening as it's less crowded and the lighting is optimal!
Kinkaku-ji | Arguably one of the most famous and most popular buildings in Japan, Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Temple is a pretty spectacular site. The name Kinkaku is derived from the gold leaf that the building is covered in and the structure, originally a villa was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple after the death of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Plan to visit when the temple opens (9am), but expect to be surrounded by hordes of people regardless of what time you show up. Despite the quantity of tourists, it's hard to not be impressed by this temple and its setting.
Ryoan-ji | A Zen temple and garden located in northwest Kyoto, Ryoan-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered the finest surviving example of Japanese Zen temple garden design, featuring carefully raked pebbles and larger rock formations. The temple and surrounding gardens are lit up at night in the fall when the leaves turn and in the spring during cherry blossom season. I was lucky enough to be in Kyoto in late October and was able to catch this site at night. The glowing trees and buildings were quite fantastic!