If anyone goes to two places in Japan chances are they'll be Tokyo and Kyoto. I suggest that if you only go to one of these cities it be Kyoto. Famous for traditional Japanese architecture, spiritual temples, beautiful riversides, tight back alleys with amazing restaurants and a few white faced geishas, Kyoto is far from the tech-crazed, neon-lit Tokyo.
Absolutely, the most recognizable of Kyoto's attractions is Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. It's certainly beautiful and the gardens surrounding it are also extremely striking.
In Gion there's a small chance you'll see a painted geisha walking around, but it's much more likely you'll be jumping out of a taxi's way and avoiding the ridiculously priced restaurants.
Probably my favorite area of Kyoto is along the Kamo river. I'm told that a few years ago a lot of people would gather on the river bank to BBQ and enjoy themselves, but has since been banned due to fire hazards. Now it's just a date spot. But still, it's not a bad river to look at and the surrounding areas are great.
My personal favorite attraction in Kyoto is the striking Fushimi Inari Taisha, where there are more than 10,000 bright orange Shinto torii gates lining miles of pathways.
Heian Jingu, home to one of the largest torri gates in Japan and a really nice open space where Stacy and I saw some weird Chinese lady dressed entirely in pink frolicking and pretending she was a movie star.
A pretty new trend throughout Japan is the Cat Cafe. Just as it sounds, they are cafes where you are completely surrounded by cats. It was a bizarre experience. Stacy and I were completely alone with at least a dozen cats, some violently attacking and trying to mate with each other, others curious as to what we were. The tea was okay, but the complimentary waffle was phenomenal.
The bamboo forest can be a bit of a trek to reach from certain locations, but it's worth it. There aren't too many places in Japan, especially the touristy areas, where you can be completely surrounded by bamboo.