My trip to Japan has been full of unexpected pleasures especially once I ventured further afield and got outside the modern and shiny Tokyo.
As you know my quest in Japan has been to discover or should I say uncover the traditional or “Old Japan”. I knew when I planned my visit this was always going to be a tall order, because as with most of us I had romanticized about something that had long since passed. Perhaps if I had of visited in the early 20th century then maybe my expectations may have been met. 🙂
And its not that I’m disappointed, if fact I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised with my adventures so far. The Japanese people that I’ve met have been warm and welcoming. In particular, that has been true of my visit to Kyoto.
This beautiful old city has been well known for its old world charm and hospitality, and yes its true the older part of Kyoto has a lot to offer. However, the best part of my experience wasn’t the sights or the old quarter (although quite pretty), it was the people.
I stayed at a fabulous hotel (Kanra Hotel) which is about a 400 meter walk from the train station almost equidistant between there and the downtown core. I had booked a traditional room, which was delightfully decorated in the Japanese style including a wooden bathtub! My room had a sliding gate outside an alcove which led to the door of my room, where I had to take my shoes off and use slippers – yes, this was the perfect touch to an awesome experience!
The best part were the warm and welcoming staff who were both fluent in english but also knowledgable about where to visit and more importantly where to eat that wouldn’t be crowded with tourists and that gave me taste of the local cuisine.
They booked me at a Yakatori style (grilled chicken on a stick) place called Sumibi-Torito just behind the Nishiki Market which was an easy 15 minute walk from the hotel. Sitting at the bar watching the chef and sous chef prepare these small meals was mesmerizing! Not only were they super fast, but added quite a bit of flair and panache to the way they prepared and cooked these delightful delicacies.
Not just chicken but a myriad of fresh ingredients and dishes were placed in front of me and I basically just ate and drank to my hearts content until I could eat no more. Thank goodness I could walk to get home before bed. 🙂
Day two of my Kyoto experience dawned warm and humid as I set out for Fushimi Inari-taisha which pays homage to the Shinto god of rice and which dates back to the year 700. Now that’s old!
It was a lovely 5 km walk from the hotel, and definitely could of caught the subway, but decided instead to explore the local neighbourhoods with my camera…just cause that’s what I love to do! 🙂
The main shrine entrance is set at the base of Inari mountain, with its colourful series of 10,000 shrine gates winding its way up the mountain path it was a sight to behold. Unfortunately because of the recent Typhoon the mountain was closed due to fallen trees and the damage caused, irrespective the lower half of the trail was sensational!
I set myself away from the tourist throng and off the path by a bridge, here I was immersed in thick tropical jungle, the sound of running water and bird song filing my ears while in the near distance the brilliant vermilion gates contrasted with the green tropical plants – one of the most beautiful places on earth without doubt.
It was difficult to leave but finally pulled myself away after about 200 photos…(curating them will be difficult!)
Next on my list was to explore the Gion Higashiyama district well known for its traditional streets lined with tea houses and shops not to mention the Yasaka Pagoda which you often see in the photographs of Kyoto. Such a kaleidoscope of beauty in so many forms it was almost overwhelming! For the lovers of Japanese architecture then Kyoto is a great place to visit, with its mix of traditional and modern there is something for everyone here. I know Sam would have loved it!
Next on my list was Ponto-chō which runs parallel to the river and is an alleyway best known for its tea houses, Geisha and Maiko. Yes, I thought you’d ask – a Maiko is a Geisha in training often a young girl. This lively alleyway was a perfect place to be with my camera at sunset as it still wasn’t too crowded with the evening crush.
It was with mixed emotions that I leave this beautiful city. It truly encapsulates everything that I hoped for in my visit to Japan, and although busy with tourists you can always find your way off the beaten path and enjoy even the busiest of cities on your terms.
My advice is that if you’re planning on a visit to Japan definitely make Kyoto a key stopover…you won’t be disappointed!
Next stop – Kanazawa!