Visitors often ask me how to find somewhere free of people and still worth seeing. I invariably answer: earn it. To become popular, an attraction must have a strong natural draw and easy accessibility. Remove accessibility and the crowds vanish magically. After all, the view from Mount Everest is simply breathtaking, but you won’t find throngs of tourists there (though recently, perhaps throngs of mountain climbers).
Wildly popular among tourists in recent years, Kyoto has been swarmed with sightseers from all nations, packing the streets, avenues, and temples with selfie sticks. Wonderful temples like Kinkakuji or Kiyomizudera play host to legions of tourists, all looking for that special photo to share. I still recommend to see those places, but so much more of Kyoto lies beyond them.
It only takes an intrepid spirit and sense of adventure to find that special place. A favorite of mine is Enryaku-ji—an ancient temple complex that sits in the mountains above Kyoto. There are many ways to visit this sprawling site: by foot, car, or public transit, but hiking is the best method by far. On foot, the scope of the temple becomes apparent. Those special sites pop up among the quiet temples and tall pine trees. A guide makes the experience all the more special, as there are many temples, each with its own peculiar history.