In some senses I approached going to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, with less preparation than I sometimes do picking where I should go to lunch. I had no guidebook, didn’t know a soul, and didn’t know where I was staying, but sorted the latter out quickly at the train station’s tourist information office. They found me a nice ryokan, aka Japanese style hotel, for about 3,000 yen (~30USD) a night- not bad at all considering their dorm beds started at 2,500 yen! It was a great room for that price too, particularly for an expensive place like Japan, thanks to the low season-
Shuffling about in slippers and robe suited me well, I must say, although I never got over feeling like I was camping out on the floor during my time there. And I don’t know if you can tell here, but the picture in the room was deliberately angled so you could see it from the futon on the floor which I thought was a great touch!
It was afternoon before I was settled, so I spent the last hours of daylight heading towards Gion, the old district most famous for geisha, some of whom still practice in Kyoto. It was a pretty long walk but was interesting because you’d keep stumbling across old temples in the middle of modern Kyoto-
My favorite example of this- I was walking down the street wondering how I’d know when I’d reached something interesting when I found this tucked between two buildings. The street was lined with little wooden shops leading up to the pagoda, which supposedly holds remains of the holy Buddha inside.
Geisha! They were at the top of the stone-lined street above, getting their photographs taken by an official photographer for something or another. As there aren’t many of them left I was really excited to see them- plus I confess I loved reading Memoirs of a Geisha and was happy to note things about their attire described in the book, right down to how the white paint should look on the back of a geisha’s neck.
A typical street in Gion, lined with endlessly lovely wooden houses. Kyoto is full of them. Heaven help them during the next earthquake.
All too soon the sun set and I called it an early night, tired from culture shock and walking and everything else. (It was all I could do to watch a movie so I wouldn’t fall asleep before 8pm!) But then I lucked out the next morning by running into this guy-This is Guillaume. He is a French Canadian I saw at the Kyoto Metro station looking just as confused as me regarding how to buy a ticket, so we combined forces for the day so we could be confused together. And trust me, he was such great company I don’t think we ever stopped talking the whole time.
And this is why I travel, by the way. So I can talk about how I spent my time exploring ancient temples in Kyoto with a charming French Canadian.
The Golden Pavilion, which Sasha insisted I see in Kyoto. I must say he was right as the whole area was beyond lovely- each detail carefully thought out so the aesthetics of the temple complex were perfect no matter how you viewed it.
After the Golden Pavilion Guillaume and I wandered a bit, and our wanderings took us to the top of a forested hill with an amazing view of Kyoto.
Guillaume acting like an idiot at the shrine at the top of said hill. (For those who don’t know, it is impossible for Asians to pose for a picture without flashing a peace sign.) What was amazing about finding this place was how there was no one there save ourselves- compared to the Golden Pavilion which was thronging with tourists! What an amazing place Kyoto is…
Another view of the shrine, looking down from the top of the steps.
It should be noted that the difference between shrines and temples in Japan is that “temple” is Buddhist and “shrine” is Shinto- you can tell the difference because temples tend to have darker colors while shrines have bright ones (like the orange fence here). But interestingly enough Japanese people don’t really care about what they are, to the point where when my host Mr. Akazawa passingly mentioned their family is Buddhist it caused my 30-year-old second cousin to exclaim “we are?!”
Japanese also just traditionally get married as a Buddhist and have your funeral with Shinto rights, no matter what your specific religion is. All in all, I rather like this idea.Last but not least, a shot of Kyoto Tower at night. And I must say, I liked Kyoto. It is much more manageable a city than Tokyo was and thus helped me feel like I could manage my way around Japan. You know, just in time to leave, but hopefully the beginnings of travel-savvyness won’t be lost too quickly!