If Tokyo is the heart of Japan’s fast-paced, electronic, super-powered rat race, then Kyoto is where it comes down to earth with a culture-heavy, inspiring bump. The former capital (and near namesake of today’s) is cupped by craggy peaks, and hides watery temples, delicate castles and the kind of scenes that bring back the picturesque glories of the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, and launch them into the present day.
In fact, Kyoto rightly gains comparisons a plenty with classic European cities like Rome and Paris, featuring over 2000 temples and shrines, an astonishing seventeen UNESCO World Heritage sites and all the tranquil, perfectly-ordered temple gardens you could ever hope for. Follow the floaty dresses of the locals around the bamboo-encircled pathways to the tiny poets huts in the hills, and wonder the arching, spacey world of misty, mazed temples and delicate paper walls.
If there’s one complaint about Kyoto, it’s that it’s beauty’s not as explicit as you might expect. Like many things in life, though, this city rewards perseverance. Get past the humid summers and painfully cold winters (worth enduring, perhaps, if only for the picture perfect images of Kyoto in snow) and you’ll find the origin of plenty of Japan’s defining images, from delicate temples to the seemingly countless vending machines.
Ryoan-Ji and Ginkaku-Ji are the key temples, steeped in a Zen-influenced calm that’ll have you drifting around in silence, wondering how the world can possibly be so ordered and so clean, yet still so beautiful. In some of the smaller temples you can don robes and quirky slippers and sample monkdom, while another key taste of the city of culture can be found at Niji Castle, where delicate black on white paintings hang on every wall, and you can almost picture a Shogan stand off taking place over the towering walls. The Gion area of the city still houses the small bars and restaurants and is the place where you can spot a geisha during the day or night.
There’s no better taste of Japanese culture and history to be found then the near-limitless supply of ancient must-sees on offer in Kyoto. To miss it off a Japanese itinerary would be utter insanity. Dig deep, explore hard, and go home with a kimono in your backpack and a tranquil smile on your face.
Another intense corner of urban Japan, Osaka has it's hidden gems like that of Kyoto and has the manic pace of Tokyo. The capital of Japan’s most cultural-heavy region, Kansai, Osaka was al…