Traditional Kyoto

Kyoto is the heart of ancient, traditional Japan. You can’t go 100 yards without stumbling across an archaic – but beautifully preserved – temple, shrine or courtyard. That said, you probably won’t just stumble across these things as they’re quite hidden – meaning that Kyoto is not much to look at at first glance.  There’s a typically Japanese understatement about all these cultural treasures being down some tiny nondescript alleyway, or set back off the road, or just simply behind closed doors.

Kiyooooomizuuuuuu!

However, once you’ve pushed that door, that which greets you is always some kind of other-worldly beauty and elegance. A shrineThere’s a sublime architecture to all the temples and shrines that’s both simple and sophisticated. Even more impressive when you think about the sheer age of these things.  My favourite, Kiyomizu, (pictured) is an amazing 15th century wooden structure built without a single nail. It that sits halfway up a mountain, giving a fantastic view of Kyoto city beneath it. The calm of the sacred, old wood nestling above the modern metropolis seemed to sum up that ancient/modern cultural juxtaposition that Japan is famous for.

Once you’re off the slightly drab streets and into Kyoto’s shops, cafes and restaurants the same rule (of not looking much from the outside) applies. Everything is heart-breakingly beautiful – and wallet-breakingly expensive. There is no such thing as tat; even in the souvenir shops everything is hand- crafted and beautifully presented and made me want to buy everything

Just a little shrine we stumbled across. It happens…

As we were temple-hopping we were frequently approached by small groups of Japanese school children, who found it hilarious toA bit o' bamboo shout “Herro!” at us – and even more hilarious when we replied. There seemed to be a lot of school groups with questionnaires for tourists as well, which we duly participated in. I’m not sure if this is a post-earthquake research activity into tourism or if Japanese schoolchildren are always nosy about foreigners – either way it was fun to talk to them and pose for endless photos with them afterwards (with the obligatory peace hand signs that all Japanese seem to do in photos).

A bit o’ bamboo

Kyoto was a great place to refresh ourselves post India and Tokyo-knackeredness: a real feast for the eyes, ears and mouth. The guesthouse/ ryokan we stayed in (pretty much all to ourselves due to the distinct lack of tourists) was in a lovely quiet street and we ended up with a ‘Japanese style’ room as there was no-one else around, although we only paid for a dorm. Once we’d started dreaming in temples, we decided to break it up a bit with a quick trip to the awesome bamboo forest to finish off our time here – and our memory card. Who’d have known you could take so many pictures of the same plant?! Coming soon to decorate a bathroom near you!

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