Kyoto Japanese Garden Lover's Private Tour with Nationally-Licensed Guide

Traditional and historical Japanese gardens are best sites to see Japanese aesthetics. Both artistic landscape gardens with seasonal plants and dry landscape gardens at Zen temples help you get relaxed for meditation. Visiting various styled gardens and experiencing traditional Japanese spirits which are represented in plants, rocks, and total design.

Our nationally-licensed and experienced multilingual guides will help you efficiently enjoy a one-day private tour of the best Japanese gardens in Kyoto.

Select gardens from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary. In addition to gardens, you may also choose any famous site in Kyoto for a truly memorable experience!

Note*1: Please select your must-see spots from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary.
Note*2: The Nationally-licensed Tour Guide-Interpreter certification is issued by the Japanese government requires a good knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture and history.
* Duration: 6 hours
* Starts: Kyoto, Japan
* Trip Category: Cultural & Theme Tours >> Cultural Tours




Traditional and historical Japanese gardens are best sites to see Japanese aesthetics. Both artistic landscape gardens with seasonal plants and dry landscape gardens at Zen temples help you get relaxed for meditation. Visiting various styled gardens and experiencing traditional Japanese spirits which are represented in plants, rocks, and total design.

Our nationally-licensed and experienced multilingual guides will help you efficiently enjoy a one-day private tour of the best Japanese gardens in Kyoto.

Select gardens from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary. In addition to gardens, you may also choose any famous site in Kyoto for a truly memorable experience!

Note*1: Please select your must-see spots from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary.
Note*2: The Nationally-licensed Tour Guide-Interpreter certification is issued by the Japanese government requires a good knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Itinerary
This is a typical itinerary for this product

Stop At: Kinkakuji Temple, 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8361 Kyoto Prefecture

Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.

Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Ginkakuji Temple, 2 Ginakuji-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8402 Kyoto Prefecture

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) is a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains (Kitayama). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490.

As the retirement villa of an art obsessed shogun, Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture, known as the Higashiyama Culture in contrast to the Kitayama Culture of his grandfather’s times. Unlike the Kitayama Culture, which remained limited to the aristocratic circles of Kyoto, the Higashiyama Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. The arts developed and refined during the time include the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, noh theater, poetry, garden design and architecture.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Honen-in, 30 Shishigatani Goshonodancho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8422 Kyoto Prefecture

Starting with an incredibly scenic approach that culminates in a moss-covered gate, Honen-in works its magic on the visitor right from the start. Once inside, you’ll pass between two sand mounds that are said to purify the visitor. You then cross a lovely stone bridge over a pond and then make you way through a moss-covered garden to find yourself at a secret grotto behind the main hall.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Nanzenji Suirokaku, Nanzenjifukuchicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8435 Kyoto Prefecture

Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺), whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger.

The history of Nanzenji dates back to the mid 13th century, when the Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa at the temple’s present location and later converted it into a Zen temple. After its founding, Nanzenji grew steadily, but its buildings were all destroyed during the civil wars of the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573). The oldest of the current buildings was built after that period.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Tofuku-ji Temple, 15-778 Hommachi, Higashiyama-Ku, Kyoto 605-0981 Kyoto Prefecture

Tofukuji (東福寺, Tōfukuji) is a large Zen temple in southeastern Kyoto that is particularly famous for its spectacular autumn colors. The temple was founded in 1236 at the behest of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Its name is a combination of the names of two great temples in Nara that were also associated with the Fujiwara, Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. Tofukuji has historically been one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto, and is a head temple of one of the schools of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

In autumn, people come from all over Japan to see Tofukuji’s autumn colors. The most popular view is of the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which spans a valley of lush maple trees. The view from the bridge is equally spectacular, and the 100 meter long, covered walkway becomes extremely crowded when the colors reach their peak, usually around mid to late November.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Kyoto Imperial Palace, 3 Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo-Ku, Kyoto 602-0881 Kyoto Prefecture

The Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyōto Gosho) used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park (京都御苑, Kyōto Gyoen), an attractive park in the center of the city that also encompasses the Sento Imperial Palace and a few other attractions.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Shugakuin Imperial Villa, 1-3 Shugakuin-Yabusoe, Sakyo-Ku, Kyoto 602-8611 Kyoto Prefecture

Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮, Shugakuin Rikyū) was built in the 17th century by Emperor Gomizuno and is now managed by the Imperial Household Agency. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.

Shugakuin’s name comes from a former temple built on the same site in the tenth century. The Imperial Villa was constructed between 1655 and 1659, with a palace for Gomizuno’s daughter added ten years later. More recently in 1964, the surrounding farmlands were bought by the Imperial Household Agency. They are leased out to local farmers who continue to work the fields.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Ryoanji Temple, 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-Ku, Kyoto 616-8001 Kyoto Prefecture

Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat’s villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.

As for the history of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden, the facts are less certain. The garden’s date of construction is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Taizo-in, 35 Hanazono Myoshinjicho, Ukyo-Ku, Kyoto 616-8035 Kyoto Prefecture

The garden at Taizo-in, one of the subtemples of Myoshin-ji Temple, in northwest Kyoto, is among Kyoto’s most famous. It’s highly recommended in any season.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Daitoku-ji Temple, 53 Murasakino Daitoku-Ji-Cho, Kita-Ku, Kyoto 603-8231 Kyoto Prefecture

Visiting the Zen temple complex of Daitoku-ji in northern Kyoto, you will discover temples within temples. Michael Lambe guides us through its rich history and the deep significance of its many meditative gardens.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Kokedera Suzumusidera, Matsuomangokucho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 615-8287, Japan

Saihoji (西芳寺, Saihōji), more commonly known as Kokedera (苔寺), is one of Kyoto’s Unesco World Heritage Sites. Entrance to this temple requires a reservation made well in advance.

Kokedera means Moss Temple, referring to the temple garden’s estimated 120 different varieties of moss. Visitors to the temple can walk through this spectacular garden, which has strongly influenced subsequent Japanese garden design.

Kokedera was originally the site of Prince Shotoku’s villa before becoming a temple in the Nara Period. In 1339, the temple was renovated and converted into a Zen temple under the priest Muso Soseki. Muso is also credited with creating Kokedera’s gardens.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Katsura Imperial Villa, Katsuramisono, Nishikyo-Ku, Kyoto 615-8014 Kyoto Prefecture

Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮, Katsura Rikyū) is one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture and garden design. The villa and garden in their present form were completed in 1645 as the residence for the Katsura Family, members of Japan’s Imperial Family.

Visiting Katsura Imperial Villa requires joining a tour. The tour follows the garden’s circular walking trail around the central pond. Palace buildings can be viewed only from the outside, and photographing is allowed only from designated spots. Tours in English are available.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Togetsukyo Bridge, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8385 Kyoto Prefecture

The Togetsukyo Bridge (lit. “Moon Crossing Bridge”) is Arashiyama’s most iconic landmark. It was originally built during the Heian Period (794-1185) and most recently reconstructed in the 1930s. The bridge looks particularly attractive in combination with the forested mountainside in the background. A riverside park with dozens of cherry trees is located just adjacent to the bridge.

Stop At: Bamboo Forest Street, Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamacho, Ukyo-Ku, Kyoto 616-8394 Kyoto Prefecture

The walking paths that cut through the bamboo groves make for a nice walk or bicycle ride. The groves are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries.

Stop At: Okochi Sanso Garden, 8-3 Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8394 Kyoto Prefecture

This is the former villa of the popular actor Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), located in the back of Arashiyama’s bamboo groves. Okochi Sanso consists of several different gardens and buildings, including living quarters, tea houses and gates. The buildings can only be viewed from the outside. Admission includes matcha green tea with a snack.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Gio-ji Temple, 32 Kosaka-cho, Sagatoriimoto, Kyoto Kyoto Prefecture

Gioji is even more nestled into the forest than Jojakkoji and Nisonin. It is known for its moss garden that is punctuated with tall maple trees. The temple’s entrance gate and small main hall have thatched roofs. The latter has an attractive round window looking into the gardens.

Duration: 30 minutes

Stop At: Kyoto Botanical Garden, Shimogamohangicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-0823 Kyoto Prefecture

One of Kyoto’s most overlooked and most affordable hidden gems, the Kyoto Botanical Gardens is a must-visit for both visitors and locals alike.

Duration: 30 minutes