Kyoto

The Land of the Rising Sun is a country that has exceeded my expectations for natural beauty and modernity. The people here have combined the best of both worlds and made this ‘small’ patch of land an incredibly different and diverse experience from anywhere else I’ve been to in the world. From the huge cities teeming with life and excitement (and tourists), to the parks in the countryside all the way to the remote mountain towns, there is a place for everyone to satisfy their needs, especially thanks to the more-than-excellent transport system in the country. 

Something I particularly appreciate about this country is their preservation of national culture and history. In places around the world, tourism has become an abundant and necessary means of national income, so naturally the need to accommodate everyone is very important … most things will come in English as to help the poor old traveller who can’t figure out what’s going on in this new and exciting country.

The walk of life – through the Graveyard of Dreams.

In Japan things are a little different. Popular means of travel such as the Shinkansen bullet trains and local trains are usually written in both Japanese Kanji and English to help everyone get to places, signposts to popular attractions like castles or famous shrines are also in both languages. To that extent, I think they’ve done an amazing job to help the millions of tourists coming to this side of the world; however, where they differ is in their local and daily activities … shops, local restaurants, barbers, etc. will have little to no knowledge of English at all – and they seem to like it that way (Tokyo might be a whole different story). I totally support this kind of culture because it promotes the necessity for everyone to speak a common language in the host country. Rather than English being the continuously, overused and over-dominant language of the world, the people here disregard those facts and simply stick to what they know: Japanese.

Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto

What this does to the odd traveller who expects to find easy means of communication in english with the locals, is a complete reversal of mentality. It’s become such a norm for everyone around the world to speak at least a little english that it comes as a welcoming surprise (to me, at least) that communicating with people here is a little more challenging than usual and it forces everyone to TRY and learn at least a tiny bit of Japanese to get by daily necessities. I honestly think that people who attempt to integrate into the host society, even for two weeks during their travel, tend to appreciate the country and places they visit more because they begin to understand the reason for such incredible cultural differences – and the first step for that is through language.

Flowered kimono selfie, under the cherry blossom of Japan.

Travellers will often tell you that trying to learn the basic words for communication of the host country vastly improves your relations with the local communities. I, for one, can and will attest to that. People in general are more welcoming and more often than not will smile at your attempts to use their language – you’ll usually fail miserably if you haven’t actually studied the language – but they appreciate the efforts more than you can imagine.

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Bamboo grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto

“We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong.”

Kyoto is a pretty awesome place in Japan. It has lots of places to see and it is very central in terms of transportation around the country (on par with Osaka). Already in the city itself, I’d recommend visiting for three days and then branching out to the surrounding areas. The numerous castles, temples, shrines and other activities will keep you busy until you eventually become templed-out (I apologize to all you guys who love temples!) as it inevitably happen if you travel in this country for more than three weeks. But in all honesty, the ones in Kyoto are quite impressive and noticeably different from the typical Shinto and Buddhist shrines in other cities or provinces – maybe that’s a big reason why Kyoto is one of the biggest tourist hubs in the entire country (outside of Tokyo obviously).

The thing is, during high season, there are tourists EVERYWHERE on the main tourist line, as one would expect. Places like the Fushimi Inari Shrines (the thousands of orange toris/gates as seen below) or the bamboo grove are overloaded with people trying to get ‘that shot’ to share on social media. You’ll also have the odd photographer with a huge 500mm telephoto lens and takes up half the walking space just to take a picture … but it’s still enjoyable and impressive! The best times for these activities is usually around sunrise and shortly after.

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My Dad travelling with through Japan for a week. Here pictured walking through the famous Fushimi Inari Gates.

The reason is that there are fewer people, obviously, but also because the sunlight is a lot softer and it makes pictures much more beautiful (in my opinion) – also it’s not as hot! The picture above wasn’t taken at sunrise unfortunately, but I can tell from personal experience and recommendations from many other people, sunrise at Fushimi gates and Arashiyama Bamboo grove is worth it!

InsideKyoto website – Arashiyama

The Inari gates, if you’re willing to walk up to the top section of the mountain, you’ll find there are nearly no tourists (it’s actually quite a tiring walk, but worth every step of the way) and the views are quite impressive. The other nice thing about it is the further you go up, the more you become surrounded by wildlife and untamed forests.

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Nishihongan-ji temple, Kyoto

The various other temples (there is something like 1600 in Kyoto …) are pretty cool but if you ask me, go and see the main ones where all the tourists are because they are the most impressive. They will undoubtedly satisfy your temple-gauge! It is nice, however, to go and visit some remote and long-lost shrines and temples to have a bit of peace and quiet while contemplating the traditional culture of Japan.

Japan Travel guide: Honganji temples

I’d definitely recommend the suggestions made by Lonely Planet (they are REALLY reliable in terms of travel advice) as well as tips and tricks from local tourist websites such as Japan Travel Guide (www.japan-guide.com) or InsideKyoto (http://www.insidekyoto.com) as they provide accurate and up-to-date information on things to do and the best time for them!

Anyway, enough of my endless writing! Thank you for reading and hope you have a great day!!

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