Words & photos: Chris Andre
The old-world charms of Kyoto remain picture perfect today, a paradox to Tokyo’s futuristic present
Kyoto seems always overshadowed by the capital city, Tokyo. But just several hours away on Japan’s bullet train could really transport you to what practically feels like a different planet. The old city breathes quaint charms that still live in the way how kimono-clad citizens wade through the swarm of daily commuters. In fact, you don’t have to roam far to have chance encounters with, say, a real-life geisha. They just happen to live right in the city center.
The Gion District
This old town of Kyoto is within walking distance from Kawaramachi Station, quite convenient even for those traveling without a tour guide. It would be hard to miss as
Gion’s façade simply juts out amid rows of slightly modernized buildings along the main thoroughfare, Shijo Avenue.
Gion is quiet at day, with many of the old houses welcome guests for private lunches or sometimes private meetings—with or without geishas in sight. The thing is, you need to book in advance and shell quite a fortune for a lunch or dinner with a geisha. What you’ll get mainly is pure entertainment, where a geisha will sing a song or play a game with you. However, Gion itself is quirky with some houses selling antiques or beautiful souvenirs. Even camera brand Leica has a museum there, which is open for public.
The Ryōan-Ji Temple
A stone’s throw away from Gion lays a tranquil temple called Ryōan-Ji. For a small fraction of Yen, you can go in and walk around one of the best well-maintained
Zen temples with stone gardens, raked to showcase a flowing pattern. Meditation or dozing off would simply be perfect—that’s the point of it all. As you delve further, you’d find an attached hall at the back, where an impressive Japanese painting adorning the interiors is out of this world. It depicts a dragon in a magnificent display, which
should appear in full splendor during most important religious ceremonies.
The Fushimi Inari Temple
The icon of Kyoto has got to be the orange gates of Fushimi Inari. It’s a grand shrine that begins at the foot of mountain and finishes at the peak, spanning four
kilometers and taking about two hours to walk up.
There are interesting stops along the paths, and you can see how a magic fox is some sort of a holy creature in this temple.
Each torii or the orange gate is often part of donation from Japanese businessmen, hence their name etched at the back of the torii. While a selfie is a must, note how the
Japanese who come to pray often sport their finest kimono here.
You don’t need to go all the way up to soak up the entrancing scenery, as on the way back down, you’ll see how this temple is surrounded by a small village touting a huge variety of Japanese delicious bites. Not far from there is a train station that would easily take you to other places in Kyoto.
Speaking of which, there are, of course, other unique spots worth mentioning, such as the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, the Sentō Imperial Palace, Maruyama Park and so much more. Staying two to three nights in Kyoto would definitely give you enough time to really fall in love with the old city and get to know the real Japan beyond the high-tech hype.
Originally published in 3S Newsletter, Jan-Apr 2017 edition.