If Tokyo runs like a well oiled machine, than Kyoto is that old classic car that causes you some headaches, but you like because it’s pretty.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Kyoto station ( after riding on your high speed Shinkansen at 320 km/hr) is that you are no longer among the locals going about their days, but rather one of the hoards of tourists shuffling about confused. The order and cleanliness of Tokyo is out the window, and my blonde hair no longer stands out.
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years and the emperor’s main palace is located here. It was spared from the atomic bombs in WWII at the last second ( 2 weeks before) due to it’s cultural importance, with more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines including 17 World Heritage Sites.
It’s easy to see the beauty of this place, with large temples, shrines and palaces almost everywhere you go. To me, it’s similar to Rome, you turn a corner and there’s some beautiful ancient structure next to a convenience store. So, you can expect with such history, beauty and cultural significance that people want to come and see it- and boy do they. Hundreds of tourists at every spot, shoulder to shoulder with some lady yelling “ RICK! HERE! GET A PICTURE OF ME!” kind of takes away some of the elegance and atmosphere. Luckily, tourists are predictable and don’t like to get up early. This means that we do. 5:45 rolls around and we’re up and at ‘em leaving our hostels by 6:30 and making our way to the sites. By the time we’re done exploring, the tour bus groups are there and we can quietly sneak out. This obviously doesn’t work for all places, but we pick and chose where we want to see the most and go there early.
For example: Fushimi Inari-taisha. This is a Buddhist temple and Shrine dedicated to the God Inari- God
of rice. Though the temple itself is nice, the real draw are the thousands of torii ( traditional Japanese gates) that line a path up to the top of the mountain.
Carved into the gates are people’s names who have donated and the date of donation. There are said to be over 10,000 torii gates, and I believe it. The 5km path to the summit of Mount Inari has very few places where you are not walking through these gates. It’s very peaceful climbing up the mountain with the sun rising and slowly bringing the vibrant orange of these gates to life.
Kyoto is also said to be one of the best cities in Asia for bicycling. Not liking the idea of having to rely on buses, we rented some ( which was a bit of an ordeal itself). It’s quite nice to be able to easily go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, seeing things quickly and that we might not otherwise see. We’ve gone about 40 km in the last 2 days. The negative is bike parking! Never have I been more frustrated with biking. Kyoto has VERY strict rules about where you can park your bike (essentially no where) and very few parking spots- which are not well marked. The easy breeze of getting somewhere on your bike is taken away by the 30 min it takes to find a parking lot to go get some lunch. We’re getting better at finding them, but Kyoto- you need to up your parking game.
All in all, Kyoto has many beautiful things to offer, but we’re ready to hit the next bullet train out of here and go to somewhere where we don’t fit in.