4 Places to Visit When You’re Stuck in Tokyo but Longing for Kyoto

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  • Kyoto (京都) is arguably one of the best must-see places in Japan: a prefecture full of picturesque spots that preserve Japanese culture and history. But when, for whatever reason, you’re stuck in Tokyo’s (東京) busy streets and tall buildings, with so little time and resources (that shinkansen or plane ride does not come cheap!), you may feel that your Japan trip is just incomplete. Fret not, though, because some Kyoto favorites can actually be found in Tokyo if you look hard enough!

    1. Hie Shrine (日枝神社)


    Author’s photo

    Dreaming of posing for a photo under the long stretch of torii gates in Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)? Well, Hie Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward (千代田区) is a good alternative to that. This Shinto shrine is in the heart of Tokyo and is just a few minute walk away from the Kokkai-gijido-mae (国会議事堂前) and Akasaka (赤坂) Stations.

    Since it is not among the more popular Tokyo spots, very few tourists visit this place, so you can leisurely explore the shrine without much congestion. You can also buy monkey-themed omamori (お守り; amulets) and ema (絵馬; wooden votive tablets) here, as the guardians of Hie Shrine are monkeys. And if you’re lucky, you may chance upon a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony!

    Hie Shrine Website

    2. Tokyo Imperial Palace (皇居)


    Author’s photo

    Kyoto, being a former capital, is home to one of the few Imperial Residences in Japan. Hence, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is one of the popular tourist destinations in the prefecture. Luckily, you are in the country’s CURRENT capital, so Their Majesties’ abode is actually just a train ride away.

    Housed in the former Edo Castle (江戸城), the Tokyo Imperial Palace is the current official residence of the Imperial Family. The vast grounds is enveloped by a water-filled moat that is especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season. Inside the grounds are perfectly manicured gardens that are great for a relaxing stroll when you want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

    And the best part? Entrance to the grounds is free! If you want to visit the area around the palace itself, you can make a reservation in advance here.

    Tokyo Imperial Palace Website

    3. Old Kan’ei-ji Pagoda


    Author’s photo

    The Yasaka Pagoda (八坂の塔) in Kyoto is a sight to behold, especially when viewed from the glorious traditional slopes of the Ninen-zaka (二年坂) and Sannen-zaka (三年坂) streets. So is the To-ji Temple (東寺), with its beautiful gardens and historic grounds.

    Good news is, five-story pagodas are also found in Tokyo. The famous Senso-ji Temple (浅草寺) in Asakusa (浅草) has one, but since it may have already wriggled its way into your sightseeing checklist, you may also want to add the Kan’ei-ji (寛永寺) Pagoda in Ueno Park (上野公園) in your visit.

    This pagoda is located inside the Ueno Zoo (上野動物園), so you will need to pay the entrance fee to get in: 600 yen for adults, 300 yen for 65 years and older, 200 yen for 13- to 15-year-olds, and free for children 12 and below. Not a bad deal, though, since you will also get to enjoy the zoo, which is famous for its panda bears.

    Old Kan’ei-ji Pagoda Website *Japanese only

    4. Hokoku-ji Temple (報国寺)

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    This is a bit like cheating since this one is actually outside of Tokyo, but if you don’t mind an hour and a half travel for an Arashiyama (嵐山) Bamboo Grove-like experience, then just head straight to Kamakura’s (鎌倉) Hokoku-ji Temple. With approximately 2,000 moso bamboos growing behind this Zen temple’s main hall, this is surely one of your transported-to-Kyoto kind of trips.

    Hokoku-ji Temple Website

    With the skyrocketing cost of living Japan is known for and shinkansen rides that are far from cheap, much as we want to maximize our trip, oftentimes it is compromised by monetary limitations. Usually, people are drawn to either the bright city lights of Tokyo or the classical grandeur of Kyoto, but given the distance and the expensive fare, what is supposed to be a joint Tokyo-Kyoto trip is reduced to a singular trip. For those who find Tokyo to be too metropolitan for their liking and want to complement their trip with Kyoto but can’t, fear not for these four spots will surely provide your trip to the capital with the Kyoto vibe you are longing for!

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