Established in 794 AD as the official seat of the imperial court, Kyoto truly is one of the last places in modern Japan where you can sip and savor a cup of green tree while mediating on the finer points of a centuries-old Zen rock garden. Of course, like any tourist destination the world over, Kyoto has its seasons, which is why the city is jam-packed when the sakura bloom in the springtime, and when the leaves fall in the autumn. Indeed, Kyoto can be stiflingly hot in the summer, and frigidly cold in the winter. However, if you can get over your sensitivity to the harsh elements, there are some serious deals out there to be had. For the second year in a row, the city is sponsoring the “Kyoto Winter Special” to lure in foreign tourist dollars. Although the global economy is dropping, and the value of the yen is rising, it’s worth parting with some cash this winter, especially if you want to catch a glimpse of Kyoto’s hidden national treasures. As part of the Kyoto Winter Special 2009, which runs from January 10, 2009 to March 18, 2009, the city will be temporarily opening up twelve cultural heritage sights to the public. Kyoto is something of a mountain town, which means that the winter chill can run deep to the bone. However, it’s worth a bit of mild frostbite to catch a glimpse of ancient sights that are normally hidden from the public eye. Here are a few of the highlights:
Anrakujuin: An ancient temple that marks the location of the detached Imperial Palace of the Asuka Period (538-710).
Kodai-ji: A Rinzai Buddhist temple built in 1606 to commemorate Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the great unifier of Japan.
Ninna-ji: First built in 888, this temple is now the world headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect.
To-ji: This temple houses a veritable treasure trove of ancient books and scriptures of incredible value.
Myoshin-ji: The largest Zen temple in all of Kyoto contains no less than 46 sub-temples.
Myokoji: Completely surrounded by a dense bamboo forest, this is the head temple of the Rinzai Kenninji sect.