When people ask me what my favourite part of Japan was during my 3-week visit, I tell them that I loved all of it, and that I really can’t pick. I loved both the traditional and weird aspect of Tokyo, the bulk of Mount Fuji and the unexpectedness of Miyajima. And it is true, I really did love every single corner of Japan which I got to visit, because everywhere had its only unique flavour. Every temple or shrine I visited has something different about it, something which I would come to remember as being specifically there.
Tofukuji Temple Zen garden, Kyoto
So it’s not that Kyoto was my favourite part of Japan. It is more about the fact that Kyoto was the only place I visited where I found that I had nowhere near enough time to see it properly, and therefore, I was left craving for more. Much more.
The fact is that to really do Kyoto justice, I needed at least 5 full days, and I only had 3. Though not as big as Tokyo, its most beautiful sites are scattered around the outskirts of the city. With each area rich in things to see, and the public transport mostly consisting of buses to reach them, it takes time to get to places, and you need time to explore them.
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
I remember my first day in Kyoto. I remember being on the roof of the central station, looking around and seeing only line after line of modern, ugly building. I remember thinking, seriously?? But it turned out that you need to head to the edges of the city, those areas where countryside and mountains meet, where the streets are small and full of character, and temples and shrines can be found everywhere. And when I searched more closely, I found that even within that seemingly grey modern city, there were pockets of tradition, and street after street lined with traditional Japanese Izakaya and cute little gift stores.
I started my first day in Kyoto with a walking tour of Tofukuji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Geisha district of Gion. Our guide, a Chinese student who had been living and studying in Japan for 6 years, taught me what the concept behind the Tofukuji temple zen garden was, with each stone, and each stroke of rake having a specific meaning. She explained how locals pray at shrines and temples, and translated my fortune from Japanese. She took me through the long corridor of Torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and told of how each Torii gate had been donated by someone or by a company over the years, gradually adding to the grandeur of the shrine.
Gion district, Kyoto
And when the light started growing dim, she took me to Gion, the district where real geishas mingle with Japanese ladies dressed as geishas for the day. She explained how the tell-tale sign of a real geisha was the white make up on her face and down to her neck. She assured me that it was not rude to take a picture of them as their role was in part to preserve and promote Japanese culture to the outside world, but the unfortunately thing was that many tourists were clearly taking pictures of normal Japanese women dressed in geisha clothes without asking their permission, which I found exceptionally rude.
And instead of chasing geishas who were darting as quickly as possible, wooden sandals and all, out of one building and into another in the hope of getting that iconic picture, I chose to just soak up the moment. I listened to the pleasant chatter, and looked at the changing light. I watched the lanterns on the facades of the many restaurants light up, and when my stomach started emitting audible noises, I found a place to satisfy it with some great Japanese food. I needed all the energy I could get, as the next day, I had more Kyoto to explore.
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-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved. This is part of Travel Photo Thursday.