For those who enjoy the history and culture of the Samurai, the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto, is the perfect place to visit. Kyoto is less than an hour away from the Kansai International Airport by train and has a direct line too. This makes travel really easy getting to and from locations. This also means the very popular and modern city of Osaka is right on the doorstep.
With Japan’s world-famous high-quality public transport systems, why not spend time exploring both Osaka and Kyoto, both have their very own story to tell. Kyoto’s claim to fame is having not only the largest concentration of temples and shrines in Japan but also has been the home residence of both the emperor and the Shogun. Both of the locations are now open to the public and available for visitation.
Getting back on track. Below we have created a list of many locations within and around Kyoto that are a great way of spending a holiday. Whether you are an avid Samurai and Ninja fan, a martial artist, or just having a passing interest in the unique history or culture of Japan, there is something here that will interest everyone.
1. KYOTO SAMURAI AND NINJA EXPERIENCE MUSEUM
The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience is a great museum tucked into a perfectly convenient location in the Kawaramachi shopping district. This museum is broken into three floors that offer the full experience of learning the history, culture, and even experiencing the Samurai and Ninja.
The first floor is the store where you can buy great souvenirs including your very own Samurai Katana. You also buy the tickets directly from this counter as well. The second floor is dedicated to the displays of the many, many artifacts as well as the huge amount of information. Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum have been designed to give huge amounts of information in a way that is easy to understand for all ages.
The final floor is probably the most popular, especially for the kids. It is here on this floor where the real fun action is. On this floor, you can have a go at using the famous Ninja star (Shuriken) and blowgun (Fukiya) of the Ninja as well as dressing up in Samurai armor costumes. This experience brings all the fun of learning and experiencing all together.
The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja experience is home to a great many exhibits from all across Japan’s history. Everything from the armor and weapons of the Samurai to many of the objects and tools that would have been commonplace in Japan’s medieval eras. The exhibits and information cover all aspects of the Samurai and Ninja Lifestyle.
Whilst going through the tour of the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum you get to learn about everything, from the Samurai’s ways of life, right the way through to the secrets items, weapons, and tools of the Ninja. The museum prides itself on having many genuine articles and artifacts on display for everyone to see and appreciate. Whether you are a practitioner of the arts, a history buff, or just a passing interest, it is truly inspirational to see the majestic items in such detail.
The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum has a large collection of different types of armor from many ages of Japan. A large selection of the armors is from Japan’s Edo period, over three hundred years old! The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum is one of the few museums where you are able to get up close and personal to see these artifacts. Many other museums have everything behind glass and are too far away to really appreciate it properly. At the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum, there are no such boundaries.
Perhaps one of the most impressive displays of the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum is their huge wall of swords. This display has a wide range of different styles of Japanese swords used throughout the ages of Japan. Many of these weapons also have fascinating stories of local and famous Samurai. This display is a favorite of the many collectors of Japanese swords and practitioners of Japanese martial arts, and for those who are in the market to buy a sword may have some luck here too.
The exhibits in the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience Museum are unique in their display and their collection covering all of Japanese history. So no matter your interests, be it Ninja, Samurai, history, or culture, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The museum has such a collection on display it is sure to please all who visit.
The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Experience
Address: 寺町詩の小路 2F, 292 Higashidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8043, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 11AM–6PM
2. SPECIAL NINJA TICKET
So on top of everything mentioned above about the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum they also have to offer special tickets. These extra tickets make your visit to this mighty museum that much more memorable and fun. Perhaps one of the most popular of these tickets is the Special Ninja ticket. This one is perfect for groups of friends or family.
Never before has it been made so easy to experience the life of the Ninja. At the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum, as a part of the Ninja experience ticket, you will be taught how to use some of the most famous weapons of the Ninja, as well as learning many interesting facts. Firstly you get to wear the famous black Ninja outfit, there are many sizes on hand so Ninja of all shapes and sizes are welcome.
Time for the special Ninja Experience is very important. This is where the real Ninja fun begins, this part is more like a private lesson for just you and your group. Your Ninja master will give a more detailed explanation of the Ninja and their part in Japanese history and society as well as their tools and strategies. Then it is time for your next Ninja Challenge. You will be taught several Ninja skills used to dodge incoming attacks from a sword! These are genuine Ninja techniques that have been passed down through one of the last surviving Ninja schools.
3. IGA UENO NINJA MUSEUM
Hidden within beautiful mountains is the town of Iga Ueno is located just a couple of hours by train south of Kyoto. This unassuming town has had a secret for many years which has only recently come to light. This town is the ancient home of the Ninja! In fact, Iga Ueno was home to one of the largest and most famous Ninja clans in the whole of Japan. Named after the town of their origins, they are the Iga Ninja.
Inside of the museum is perhaps the most impressive display of Ninja information in Japan, being the home of the Ninja and home to the research team studying the Ninja the Iga Ueno Museum is truly at the forefront of bringing this information to the public. There are often events of special limited-time displays of information and artifacts at the Iga Useuno Museum, so there’s always something new to check out here.
IGA UENO NINJA MUSEUM
Address: 117 Uenomarunouchi, Iga, Mie 518-0873, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 9AM–5PM
4. HONNOJI TEMPLE MUSEUM
Almost hidden away near to the shopping district of Kawaramachi and Nishiki Market is the beautiful and historic temple of Honnoji. This grand temple is famous for many reasons, not least because of its spectacular beauty, but also because of the famous Samurai to pass through and the events taking place that would forever change Japan’s fate.
Inside the Honnoji Museum is a collection of items from Honnoji’s past. They have everything from ancient incense burners and original parts of the temple such as roof tiles, all the way through to armor and sword belonging to Oda Nobunaga and the samurai who served him. There is a small shop located at the entrance to the museum as well where you can get some nice souvenirs and help to support the museum.
HONNOJI TEMPLE MUSEUM
Address: 522 Shimohonnojimaecho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8091, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 9AM–4:30PM
5. IKEDAYA INN
You will probably recall reading in the first few paragraphs about Kyoto’s Specialist Samurai Police. This group was called the Shinsengumi, Shinsengumi translates as “Newly Formed Group”. This was in reference to the new way of gathering skilled Ronin (Samurai with no master) and putting them into a group that would help to Police a city.
In regards to the Shinsengumi, there is one story in-particular that thrusts the group into the limelight of Japanese history. This event is one of the most fierce combat encounters in Kyoto during its time period. The Shinsengumi were operating in the city of Kyoto close to the emperor making sure that the military commander, the Shogun was not challenged in their rule over Japan.
There is a great selection of food and drink for both adults and kids, so no matter your group there is something provided for everyone. The food includes all of the Japanese pub/Izakaya favorites and classics, so there is plenty to try out. As for the drinks, all the usual suspects are available from beer to soft drinks and fruit juices, as well as a fun selection of character-themed drinks, named and flavored after the famous Samurai of Japan’s past. There is also a small store available here selling figures and DVDs of many of the famous characters as well. A great souvenir for a great experience.
Address: 82 Nakajimacho, Sanjo Kawaramachi-dori Higashi-iru, Nakagyo-ku Saruwasanjo Bldg, Kyoto 604-8004 Kyoto Prefecture (map)
Hours: Open 24 hours
Phone: +81 75-257-8122
6. NINJA DOJO AND STORE
Are you looking for a place where you can learn some of the techniques of the Ninja from a genuine descendant of the Ninja themselves? Then look no further. At the Kyoto Ninja Dojo and Store, their Ninja master is exactly who you are looking for. Izo Ichikawa is ready and waiting to teach you about many of the secret techniques passed down for generations.
Located in a quiet and unassuming district of Kyoto is this incredible experience. The Ninja Dojo and Store is located only a short ten-minute walk away from Karasuma station. Karasuma station is one of the main stations in Kyoto and is right on the doorstep of a great shopping district. So the Ninja Dojo and Store is a perfect way to have a great adventure before going shopping or dining.
Perhaps you are interested in the combat skills of the Ninja? This unarmed style of combat is often referred to as Taijutsu. So for the practicing or aspiring martial artists out there, this is a perfect time to learn some of these hands-on Ninja skills. This ticket includes the Ninja stealth-walking and spells but also the unarmed techniques of Ninja combat. These techniques are taught in the form of a Kata (Set pattern), these are all performed under the careful supervision of the Ninja Master.
There is a style of sword fighting called Tate (Pronounced Tah-tay) This style is used in Japanese film and cinema. This style looks really cool as it is an easy way of learning cool-looking fast-paced sword techniques. This style, although not used in the warring times of Japan, has found great popularity in those who want to learn Japanese swordsmanship. This lesson lasts around ninety minutes and teaching everything from drawing the sword, moving with it, and some cool looking techniques. It all comes together with you getting to have your very own sword fight filmed and put together.
NINJA DOJO AND STORE
Address: Japan, 〒600-8422 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Hakurakutencho, 528 2F (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 10AM–6PM
7. JIDAI MATSURI
The Jidai Matsuri is a festival celebrating the anniversary of the foundation of the city of Kyoto in 794A.D. This festival is held every year on the 22nd of October. The Matsuri, or festival, consists of a huge procession that makes its way all through the city of Japan. Very often the route is shown online or on the many posters that will be dotted across the city not long before the Matsuri.
For those looking to travel Japan in the cooler months late October to early November is the best time to do so. In these months you also get to see the impressive colors of “Momiji”. Momiji is the Japanese term for the incredible display of colors that the trees go through as the seasons begin to turn. This is the perfect season to enjoy good weather, the beauty of Japan, and one of the most impressive Matsuri in Kyoto.
8. NIJO CASTLE
Nijo Castle is located in central Kyoto not too far from the imperial palace, this makes it possible to visit both of these great locations in one day. In fact, there are shared bus routes that go past both locations, as well as both being within a very short walk of train stations. This makes travel to and access to these sites simple and easy. Of course, every single taxi will know these locations.
As with many of these sites, there is a dedicated store available for those looking for a special treat. Although this store, aside from the usual souvenirs and gifts available, also has a fantastic cafe on site. Even the great Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu would have been impressed by the available selection and quality of this cafe. They offer a huge selection of treats including the much advised Matcha beer and golden ice cream.
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 8AM–4PM
9. TOEI KYOTO STUDIO PARK
Located on the western side of Kyoto and only a short walk away from it’s nearest train station is the fantastic Toei Kyoto Studio Park. It is always worth checking online for train guides or asking for further information at stations to make sure you pick the right train as not all will pass through the nearest station. Once at the train station there are taxi services available that know the location very well and can drop you right at the front door. This taxi service is very convenient, especially if traveling with children.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a reconstruction of Edo-Period (1603-1868) Kyoto and has taken great care to all the details of recreating an accurate representation. The studio park has been used in the filming of countless historical Japanese movies and dramas. There are many buildings each serving as their own special museums with explanations for the use and purpose of each building as well as having many items on display that give a great demonstration of life in old Japan.
With everything that is offered by Toei Kyoto Studio Park, this is a fantastic way to spend a day out learning Japan’s history, having great activities and experiences and with the available selection of food, every aspect of a great day out is catered for. With so much to do at Toei Kyoto Studio Park, there is something for everyone to enjoy and take part in, to learn from, and to treasure the memory of for years to come.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park
Address: 10番地 Uzumasa Higashihachiokacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8161, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 9AM–5PM
10. OSAKA CASTLE
For those really looking to get to see the best and most famous of the castles in Japan, Osaka Castle cannot be missed. The city of Osaka is only a one hour train ride away from the ancient capital city of Kyoto. Kansai International Airport is also located directly in Osaka making it a really easy place to land and explore straight away. Both cities are within easy travel once you have arrived at the airport so there is plenty to see as soon as you arrive.
For those who are looking for the famous Samurai of Osaka the best place to visit is, of course, Osaka Castle. The castle towers over the surrounding city demonstrating how much of an incredibly powerful site Osaka Castle must have been during the age of the Samurai. In fact, the castle is only a short minute walk away from the main train station in Osaka, so easy to get to.
When visiting Osaka (or any city) it is worth looking online or in the local information centers to see if there are any open sessions being run by these Dojo. Although they do not always have an open door, you may well be turned away if you try to just walk in, so please make sure you are booked in advance of arriving at a dojo to avoid disappointment.
Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 9AM–5PM
11. HIKONE CASTLE
So everybody knows even a little of Japanese history know of the most famous landmarks and locations of Japan. The Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Honnoji Temple, and a great many museums telling the stories of the Samurai. But what of those castles less known or forgotten over time. These sorts of locations are the real hidden treasures of Japan, especially for those who love the history of the Samurai and Ninja.
Much like the Ninja castle of Iga Ueno which is hidden to the south of Kyoto. There is another castle, just as incredible, hidden to the northeast of Kyoto. This is the incredible and powerful Hikone Castle. Resting on the north-Eastern shores of Lake Biwa ( The largest lake in Japan, and a beautiful location as well), Hikone castle played a major role in Japan’s history at the end of the warring periods.
Once in Hikone, it is easy to see why this castle and the larger town are worth spending several days exploring and learning about the history and culture that surrounds this incredible location. Hikone has a lot of interesting and unique food and candies to enjoy as well as many Matsuri held several times throughout the year. There is also the fun mascot of the castle Hikonyan, a Samurai cat who is great at entertaining the kids.
Address: 1-1 Konkicho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0061, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 8:30AM–5PM
12. KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE
Having already mentioned it several times in this blog, it’s about time to talk about the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Located in the center of Kyoto, the Imperial Palace has multiple train stations near most of its many entrances. If you don’t fancy the train, there are also multiple bus routes available that can drop you right outside. With the palace being so easy to get to, it cannot be missed.
Historically the Japanese Imperial family lived for a longer time in Kyoto Palace rather than the current palace in Tokyo. In fact, looking at the entirety of Japan’s long and illustrious history, Tokyo (Formerly Edo) has only been the capital city for a very short time. With so many generations of the imperial family has lived in this grand palace there is so much to see and do. Before even entering the Palace proper there are huge gardens and outer buildings to explore. There are even cafes on the site to relax and drink whilst enjoying the scenery.
If you are even only passing through Kyoto it would be highly recommended to visit the Imperial Palace even if just for the experience of sharing this same space that many rulers and Samurai of Japan have passed through in their time. It is free to do so and easy to get to and from with plenty of train and bus stations located nearby.
KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE
Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0881, Japan (map)
Hours: Open 24 hours
It is hard to know of Japan and not have heard of this famous and unique city. Nara is located in the south of Kyoto and only around an hour by train on a direct line. Nara is home to some of the most impressive temples in Japan, as well as the many, many deer that wander the city and bow to the visitors when food is offered.
There are many tour groups available for traveling to and from Nara from many of the surrounding cities, this is a good way of making the travel much easier but also getting to see many of the famous sites all around the city in one go. This is a nice easy way of traveling to and from many sites, especially for those who are traveling with large groups of children.
In this shopping district, you can find many of the local delicacies that are unique only to the city of Nara, well worth trying many of these as each of these are a delicious experience. Many of the restaurants are very used to catering customers from all over the world so have menus in multiple languages and many even employ bilingual staff too.
In the city center of Nara, there is also a huge selection of great shops selling all sorts of goods. everything is on sale, from souvenirs through to clothing, toys, and games, and many selling traditional Japanese goods. Anything you could possibly want is catered for in Nara city. Nara beautifully brings together both the old and the new of Japan.
14. TAMBA SASAYAMA
Tamba Sasayama is a little known destination that has recently seen a huge revival to the town that is bringing it the limelight it so deserves. Tamba Sasayama is located to the West of Kyoto and East of Hyogo. There is so much great history here, Tamba Sasayama was originally constructed under order from the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and is home to many unique festivals and customs.
The castle of Tamba Sasayama was constructed under the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu and so has many similarities to the famous Nijo Castle in Kyoto. But, due to the castle’s location, it also had to have stronger defenses against attack. This makes the castle a fascinating place to explore and see these design features.
If you are really looking to get into the spirit whilst visiting Tamba Sasayama, then there is a Kimono rental shop where you are given a huge selection of colors and styles of Kimono which you can wear. You are also helped into and out of the Kimono by a traditional and very well practiced Kimono Sensei. Having a well-versed instructor helps to avoid and faux pas whilst wearing these deeply traditional garments. Many who come to Japan say that having a day wearing these traditional clothes helps to complete the experience.
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