Few countries come close to how I felt about Japan once I returned from it.
Maybe because it was a complete culture switch. Maybe because I’ve been enamored by its ways, no matter how mundane the influences that seeped into my life (kanji and kimono, anime and manga, sushi and yakisoba, bonsai and zen). Maybe because it has a way of soothing and invigorating your soul with the way it values nature, design, technology, and doing things well.
In the spring of 2014 (gasp, a season I never had before), just in time for the cherry blossom bloom, we visited the Kansai region. In Kyoto, it was all about getting a feel for old Nihon through its well-preserved temples and districts.
Click on the images to view larger. View the whole album here.
This Shinto shrine to the deity Inari was a visual treat with striking orange everywhere, especially on its thousand gates (“senbon torii”) that you could trek all the way into the mountain. At the quintessential photo spot of the landmark, some posts appear to be sponsored by companies.
Another way this temple set itself apart was Inari’s dutiful foxes (“kitsune”) scattered about, from statues scowling at you, to offerings you drew faces on, to kawaii plushies for sale.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion was once a statesman’s villa turned Zen temple, whose main attraction is said golden structure, but also features sprawling grounds with springs, ponds, pagoda, paths, and other spots to explore. (There’s also a Ginkakuji, a “silver” pavilion in another ward, which we didn’t visit.)
Literally “storm mountain”, we seem to have dropped by when a storm was, indeed, brewing over the mountain. This is another famous touristy neighborhood, featuring Togetsukyo (“moon-crossing bridge”), rickshaw tours (pulled by people), another Zen temple (Tenryu-ji), and the Sagano bamboo forest. In between were blocks of shops and modern architectural homes that blended old and new.
We wound up in Shijo street and had a look at the nearby market. It was one long corridor filled with eye-catching wares, from pretty souvenirs to raw food.
Experiencing Japan was like this: every corner was something new, different, interesting to look at. It may have been ordinary for the locals, but it felt special because you could see the deliberate care and effort. The smallest piece of candy, brush stroke, or store arrangement was artistic.
Up next: Osaka
Our home base was actually Osaka, but it took several days of zipping back and forth to check off Kyoto, taking about an hour each way via train.
Did I intentionally hold off on sakura pics in this post? Maybe. See all photos here.