Why I started my Round the World (RTW) in Kyoto?
I’ve travelled in Japan before and as a good friend put it how can you not love Japan – “sushi, karaoke, sake, heated toilet seats, efficient mass transit and Haruki Murakami”. I’ve explored a bit of Japan and didn’t have a deep desire to go back until last year I read Pico Iyer’s Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World. Kyoto is not so much a lonely place but an ancient capital where tradition meets modern. I was intrigued by Iyer’s description of Kyoto and interested in both the Shinto shrines and the Buddhist temples. Kyoto was an ideal place to start my RTW journey with spiritual grounding.
There’s a sense of peace as you disembark from the hustle of Kyoto train station. Even though Kyoto is a large city, you slow down just a bit, and you are slightly more mindful of your surroundings. In Gion, there are traditional teahouses and Starbuck sharing the same street. Young Japanese women dressed in the latest fashion alongside with their friends who are dressed in a traditional kimono. You walk thru the narrow walkways and you’ll notice traditional wooden sliding doors with no locks and paper screens where you can often see silhouettes of those inside.
I saw about half the shrines and temples that are on the Kyoto "must-see" list, I skipped a few of them because of crowds. Fushimi Inari is worth going to regardless of the crowds, early morning or late afternoon/evening is better. Honen-In Temple on Philosopher's Path is my favorite, it's not a popular temple so I had the entire temple and the garden to myself.
Kyoto is not a city you rush thru sightseeing, take your time and enjoy the details of the temples and the zen gardens. Stop to reflect over a sake and matcha tea. Don't forget to have some of the famous Japanese cuisines, be sure to try takoyaki, tonkatsu and other local flavors at the Nishiki Market in Downtown Kyoto.