In the last few days in Kyoto, my impression of it began with it being a rather bland, small town (compared to Tokyo) and just full of temples and shrines. But this changed over the course of a few days, to being a rather romantic, peaceful, cultured and an original place. After all, it was once the capital as well as the cultural centre of Japan, thus it inherits some old charms that no other Japanese cities have.
One complaint I do have though, is that the bus stop names here are ridiculously long. It has something to do with the grid design of the city, I think. For example one of the stop I was at, it was called:
Horikawa Shimodachiuri (?????)
This compares to a typical Tokyo station name like:
The long names does not help me with remembering any of the bus or train stops at all! So, be prepared to get lost if you are taking buses here!
Apart from that, you also do not get the massive electric towns like Akihabara, the fancy maid cafes, or a Disneyland. But you do get some pretty old traditional settings instead, like:
The old Gion areas, where you can go Geisha spotting!
I was told it is getting pretty hard to spot real geishas these days. Some say there’s about 50 of them left. Regardless they are still pretty mysterious creatures lurking behind closed doors, enjoyed only by the rich who could afford it! I did manage to spot some maikos (apprentice geishas), but I have no real way of confirming if the 2 in the picture above are actually real maikos at all! That’s because tourists can now pay around 15,000 yen (~AUD$210), to get themselves dolled up to look like one! So they could well be tourists! Regardless, tourists couldn’t care less, and are quick to pull out cameras to take a quick snap, like I did above!
And then, there’s old streets of Gion.
The atmosphere here certainly takes you back in time, and gives you a real sense of community. Even with a bucket load of tourists walking through here, I feel like I am shopping in ancient markets, with some people dressed in traditional yukatas (like Kimonos), carrying the old-style umbrellas. Plenty of tourists here help with this atmosphere as well, by dressing up in yukatas! There is certainly NO sign of McDonalds and KFCs here!
I am glad the locals have a strong will to protect the cultural heritage of these old streets. Because without them, this place probably turned into modern concrete jungle already!
There is only 1 major river running through Kyoto, called Kamokawa (??), which literally translates to ‘duck river’. That is a rather unromantic name, don’t you think?? There’s no sign of ducks either! Regardless, the riverside, along this stretch does come alive in the evening, with couples littered all over the walkway, and open-air restaurants busy with customers just next to it.
Too bad the restaurants are just too expensive for me to enjoy this trip. And besides, I did come alone, so no point of me sitting by the river pondering into space myself.
Kyoto is surrounded by mountains, so you don’t have to venture far to see a little bit of trees. Temperatures in the surrounding areas are several degrees cooler because of the dense trees. There’s even a bamboo plantation in Arashiyama (??) which I thought was pretty romantic:
The only thing missing here, are some pandas chewing leaves! 🙂
Then there’s also plenty of wild monkeys on these mountains too. To make it easy for tourists to spot one, there is even a monkey park, called Iwatayama Monkey Park, for this purpose. It probably has the best views of Kyoto as well. Trust me, I think even monkeys know how good the views are:
I am not sure if this following photo is appropriate. But I have to say, monkeys are a lot more intimate than we humans are. I certainly wouldn’t clean someone else’s butt, doesn’t matter WHO they are! 🙂
Of course, it’s not all old and traditional. It is every bit a modern city as well! You will have no issues finding a place to charge your mobile phone in this 600 years old temple (For a fee of course!)
Or buy an ice-cream or an instant noodle cup prepared with boiling water from a vending machine, in the middle of an ancient garden:
Overall, I have enjoyed my time here in Kyoto. You will probably enjoy it more coming with your significant other, rather than coming on your own.
Now where am I? Oh yeah.. back to big towns for the lone traveller! I am ready for Osaka!! Here goes…