I finally head to the main city of the old times in Japan - Kyoto. Lately it has become synonymous with the Kyoto protocol which is a big shame for a city bless with such beauty like this. The city contains so many historical and beautiful old temples and shrines so the American high command decided to strike the city from the list of possible nuclear bomb targets to preserve the city for posterity. Hence most people tend to head for Kyoto just after they have been to Tokyo. I have sort of a reverse itinerary where I have saved the best for last.
The city used to be the residence of the imperial family for more than a thousand years from 794 till 1868 when the imperial family moved to the new capital Tokyo which actually means eastern capital.
Garden at the old emperors house
During most of the time when Kyoto served as the imperial residence it had limited political power. The seat of the political power moved around to the main seat of various warlords which used to have the power in the country. Hence most of the period Kyoto only had limited political power - but it remained the cultural centre of the country as well as the spiritual centre as well.
One problem with Kyoto is the fact that the long period as cultural and spiritual centre of Japan have left the city with an enormous number of sights and attraction which makes it impossible to visit all of them unless you got months to spare. In the Kyoto area you will find no less than 400 Shinto shrines and 1.600 Buddhist temples. I realize I will have to limit my sightseeing to some of the main sight during the next couple of days. When I leave my hostel I realize the city got lots of attractions which attract foreigners in huge flocks - unlike the rest of the country it is very common to see Europeans around the city - actually sometimes in the central part and around the main sights it seems more like a European city than a Japanese city.
I am heading down towards the central station in Kyoto - I actually thought I would just walk straight there - but this being Kyoto it’s hard to walk that far without stumbling upon something interesting on the way. On the big road leading down to the station I step into the Higashi Hongan-ji - it is free of charge - so I figure why not take a look in there. The buildings are huge - apparently the main building is the biggest wooden structure in the world - even bigger than the Daibutsu-den in Nara. There is another huge and impressive building just south of the main hall but unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos of this part of the complex. After walking around on the ground for a bit I venture on to the station and get ready to catch a train out to the Arashiyama area on the outskirts of Kyoto.
Arashiyama is a nice suburb area down at a river I walk a bit along the river where the city life is centered on entertaining the daily stream of visitors coming to the area.
The imperial castle wall
Then I head toward the Tenryo-ji it is a nice little area with a home of an old emperor. Today one of the attractions is actually located behind the area with a big bamboo grove. Walking around in the bamboo is interesting with all that extremely tall grass towering over my head blocking the sun and casting a shadow over the area.
I go back to central Kyoto where I head from the station to the central park with the imperial palace in it. You can visit the palace but you need to apply in person for an access ticket for the same day - which seems to be quite a bit of work - hence I decide not to try to get access to the imperial palace and just settle for the walk around it and through the park. It is a bit of a walk because the imperial palace park is taking up a big area in the central part of the city. Then I walk back to my hostel to officially check in and get my luggage out of the office before heading out for dinner.
Walking around searching for a restaurant actually gives me the opportunity to have a bit of a look of the city after dark - with the light on KyotoTower and the main restaurant area of the city - this is one of those places where you can get confuses - are you in Japan or Europe? - it looks more or less like a European city the people is mainly of European decent as well.
Special delivery by shinkansen
We finally find a restaurant - one of those quick service restaurants where they have cut down the cost by getting rid of the fire in the kitchen and the waitresses - instead the dinner is served raw and transported to the table on conveyor belts - with special orders coming in on the shinkansen express.
After dinner we walk back through one of the unique districts in old town Kyoto - the Gion district. The Gion district is famous for its geishas and maikos. I never real understood what the idea is with the geisha entertainment. Apparently there are no exchange of sexual favors but still men are ready to pay several thousand dollars per night to be entertained in some way by these women - and one of the main attractions should be they will greet you with the unique old Kyoto dialect. Somehow I don’t get how an introduction in an old Kyoto dialect can be worth thousands of dollars - but then again it might be because I am not really able to distinguish between the old Kyoto and the Tokyo or Osaka dialect - or for that matter the Beijing, Hanoi or Seoul dialects.
After walking around for a bit there is suddenly activity a couple of maikos or geishas are on the heading for one of the expensive teahouses. They are moving fast so I only manage to catch a picture of one of them from behind.