From bustling, cosmopolitan Tokyo, food coma-inducing Hokkaido, and rustic Magome-Tsumago to Kyoto. They say Kyoto is the heart of Old Japan. I bet those many, many tourists think so too. We did the touristy thing and visited many tourist traps. Fushimi Inari-Taisha, a Shinto Shrine with its thousand vermilion Torii gates standing like dominoes pulled in the most crowds. And we came late afternoon. Obviously, many other tourists had the same idea. We walked and climbed past many, hoping the crowd will dissipate but again, we realized we didn’t have a monopoly of smart ideas. I located myself outside of the gates and waited for this shot. Then I saw a maiko (Is she real? Maybe not) and snapped another shot.
Oh Kyoto. Why is everyone here? There were not as many tourists in Hokkaido and hardly any in Nakatsugawa. Never mind Tokyo. We got what we expected. Besides, we did Tokyo for the Museums and felt happy over that. But Kyoto? On trains and buses, I met tripod-bearing and selfie stick-wielding tourists who took sooo many narcissistic shots of themselves. Mostly Asians too. My apologies. But surely, one or 2 shots should suffice, right? Especially in a crowded space. Oh, I should skip the subject and move on. Back to Fushimi Inari, we missed this the first time. Rode a train bound for Nara only to learn it won’t stop here. Then and there, we decided to go to Nara and not waste time. Many tourists were there too but the park is huge so that’s fine. It didn’t feel as “confined” as walking under a thousand Torii gates and breathing the same air with a thousand curious tourists. Nara is a good day trip from Kyoto. Read my separate blog on Nara here. Go ahead, tap “here”. 😀
We chose 6 more Kyoto sites. There’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), the Imperial Palace, Gion and the Path of Philosophy. Except for the last, every site was teeming with tourists. But we enjoyed the gardens of the Golden and Silver Pavilions. The leaves are starting to turn yellow-orange and crimson, and the Japanese gardens and koi ponds were soothing to the nerves. I’d give it a week or two before autumn foliage is in full bloom. Next time I’m here, I’d sleep at 8pm and get moving before the sun rises. Kyoto must be very beautiful when it’s “quiet”. Yeah.
I like Ginkakuji. Not really the Silver Pavilion but its gardens and walkways overlooking the Pavilion and more should be enjoyed. Don’t rush it. Even when you hear busloads of tourists being unloaded 😩 There is no reflection of a heritage Pavilion on a pool here, but I noticed there are more locals who were visiting the gardens. The stairways make for a good exercise. Not that we needed more. But going up has its rewards — the cityscape beyond is lovely. I’d say Kyoto is most charming this way. Quiet. Calm. Away from the core of the metropolis. With its well- maintained but natural-looking gardens surrounding sacred shrines and temples.
We could have visited more sites but temple-fatigued and growing anti-crowd, we saved a night in Gion for last. Downtown Kyoto. The bus we took probably had tourists filling half the bus. The city is very tourist-friendly with buses clearly making out where one is, the next stop, and even a voice-over commentary on what to expect there. Historical trivia too! Gion is exciting if you like “traditional”. If you’re lucky, you’d even spot a maiko (geisha or geiko apprentice) here. Just remember the rule: DO NOT TOUCH. You can run after them for that quick shot, like I did, but no touching!
We found many tourists waiting at the corner here. The early evening entertainment has these geisha apprentices performing and displaying their expertise in Japanese arts like classical music, dance and poetry. Though there are tourists who don kimonos for a few hours of faux sophistication, I’d say it’s not difficult to spot the real maiko or geiko (geisha means “person of the arts”). The grace, the mystery, the sophistication cannot be dismissed. That, despite the onslaught of camera-wielding tourists like me. Watching them, I felt so unpolished. Like a caveman 😩 Little, dainty moves even with the way they turn their heads. I can never be like that. But this is Japan. So much romantic mystery while steeped in traditions and rituals. Much like their sumo-wrestlers and noh and kabuki actors. So apart from the rest of the world with its culture. How can you not love Japan?