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A Week in Kyoto, Japan

Updated on May 21, 2019
Sivakumar Sathiamoorthy profile image

Siva is a risk manager, watch enthusiast, music lover, and wine student who likes to explore and travel the world through photography.

Kyoto Palace Grounds
Kyoto Palace Grounds

Do you have Japanese Friend?

Unlike most people who visit Tokyo or Osaka during their first visit, i chose Kyoto and made it a base to explore the areas around it. To be honest, i was quite apprehensive about going to Japan. How will i cope in a place where people don't speak English? Furthermore, i was travelling alone. On the night flight from Singapore to Osaka, a Japanese looking air stewardess at Singapore Airlines smilingly asked me if i could speak Japanese? I was one of the very few Indians on that flight.

As i was making an exit at the Osaka airport, i was stopped by the security guard. I thought he wanted to check my bags. He looked at me, a bit concerned, and asked in English "Are you travelling alone?" and 'Do you have Japanese friend?". I told him no to both questions with a confident smile. He waved me to proceed anyways.

River Kamogawa
River Kamogawa

River Kamogawa

It is always my habit to have a river walk on my first day in a new city. I am always drawn to water bodies. Readers would be interested to read about my similar walks along River Esk and Derwent in Tasmania (refer to links below)

There is a vintage feel to the Kyoto (Kamogawa) river and the buildings along it. The river is rather shallow and the water flowing through it originates from the mountains nearby. The spot where the Takano and Kamo river join is called the Tadasu River Bank. This triangular area is popular with tourists and Japanese film makers.

Confluence of Takano and Kamo Rivers
Confluence of Takano and Kamo Rivers
Willowy Tree
Willowy Tree
Tadasu River Bank
Tadasu River Bank
Stone Steps at Kamo River
Stone Steps at Kamo River

Walking around Kyoto

Kyoto can get crowded and since i was there before the cherry blossoms period, it was relatively less crowded. As i was walking, i realised that not everyone is Japanese. From the languages they spoke and their dressing, it is apparent that many are from Korea and China.

The covered markets at Teramachi and Shinkyogoku are useful to get under when the weather turns bad. I particularly enjoyed eating Tonkatsu dishes and frequented the Katsukura Tonkatsu restaurant at Teramichi.

I remembered that i got hungry while walking up to the Golden Temple and decided to enter a small restaurant. It looks like a place where the elderly locals eat and the owner could not speak English. He asked me "American?" Maybe he mistook me for a black american! I told him "Ten-don" and he knew what i wanted!. I think if you take an average Japanese restaurant at Kyoto, the meals are hands down way better than the Japanese restaurants in Singapore. Even the McDonald's tastes good.

Pachinko (Arcade) House
Pachinko (Arcade) House
Wood work at Kyoto Old Town
Wood work at Kyoto Old Town

The People

The reason why it is so easy for someone like me who doesn't speak Japanese to get around Japan are the people. Even though many Japanese can't speak English, they try their best to help me get around. People are generally courteous and the service orientation at shops and restaurants is excellent. It seems like they follow a process in whatever they do.

However, there was one incident where a frail, old man boarded a crowded train from Kyoto to Inari. Strangely, no one gave up their seat to him and i wondered why. So i rose up and gestured him to take my seat.

Shinto Shrines, Round Mirror and Holy Tree

Kyoto is home to many and some of the oldest Shinto shrines. It is common to see a round mirror at Shinto Temples and I wondered what it symbolises. Maybe it is a reminder to look into yourself. The world is a reflection of your thoughts. At the forested area near the Tadasu River Bank, i came across the Shimogamo Shrine which is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. I was instinctively drawn to a tree which i think is holy, judging by the strings and paper attached around it.

It is also common to see Ema boards of various designs at Shinto Shrines. This are used by devotees to wish for whatever they prayed for. This has some parallels with Hindu Temples in South India where devotees tie strings or amulets on holy trees to make a wish.

Another shrine that i visited was the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine which is a highly regarded shrine dedicated to the royal scholar Sugawara-no-Michizane. At the shrine, there is a bull statue which resembles Nandi, the Hindu vehicle for Lord Shiva.

Tadasu Forest
Tadasu Forest
The world is a reflection of you
The world is a reflection of you
Shimogamo Shrine
Shimogamo Shrine
Holy Tree at Shimogamo Shrine
Holy Tree at Shimogamo Shrine
Ema Boards
Ema Boards
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Bull Deity
Bull Deity
Shogun at Kitano Shrine
Shogun at Kitano Shrine
Golden Lantern
Golden Lantern

Gold & Silver Temples

The Japanese are the masters of simplicity, beauty and function. The Zen approach to strips everything down to bare essentials and the architecture resembles that. The use of wood, little or no furnishings, widespread use of cushioned mats are common in even palatial buildings. The Silver Temple (Ginkaku-ji Temple) exemplifies this. It is a simple building that has one of the most beautiful and well crafted gardens. And there is no silver in it!

Unlike the Silver temple, the Gold Temple (Kinkaku-ji Temple) does have gold in the form of gold leaf decoration on the building structure. I personally felt that the Gold temple building was more beautiful.

Ginkaku-Ji (Silver) Temple
Ginkaku-Ji (Silver) Temple
Beauty in Simplicity
Beauty in Simplicity
View from the Top
View from the Top
Kinkaku-ji (Gold Temple)
Kinkaku-ji (Gold Temple)
Gold Leaf decoration
Gold Leaf decoration
Gold Temple Pond
Gold Temple Pond

Kyoto Imperial Palace & Gardens

"Do you have a passport?" asked the receptionist at the Imperial Palace grounds? I said no as i thought it was unsafe to walk around with my passport. I thought she will decline my request to do the Palace tour. But she said "that's fine as long as you have the passport number". While being strict on rules, the Japanese also know how to relax depending on the situation. Or maybe i looked innocent!

The guided tour within the palace is tightly controlled and well executed. The Imperial Palace grounds is huge. It was a bit uncomfortable walking along the pebble stones to get to the palace entrance but one can't understand how huge is the palatial ground until one experiences it.

The Zen or minimalistic approach is also adopted in the palace in the form of wood structures, cushioned mats, simple furniture, well manicured gardens and pebble stones.

The Kyoto Imperial Gardens is a good place to walk around and relax. The park has many types of exotic trees which i have not seen before, like the heritage tree below.

Heritage Tree
Heritage Tree
Kyoto Palace Entrance (Kenshunmon)
Kyoto Palace Entrance (Kenshunmon)
Vermillion Doors
Vermillion Doors
Road to the Palace
Road to the Palace
A part of the Palace
A part of the Palace
Entrance (Jomeimon)
Entrance (Jomeimon)
Palace Gardens
Palace Gardens
Imperial Gardens at Kyoto
Imperial Gardens at Kyoto

Goodbye Kyoto. I will be back!

Kyoto has left me with some great memories of Japan. I will be certainly back and want to spend a few months travelling up and down the country.

Goodbye Kyoto
Goodbye Kyoto

© 2019 Sivakumar Sathiamoorthy

Comments

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    • edhan profile image

      Edward Han 

      10 months ago from Singapore

      Wow! Thanks for sharing those great photographs. I am thinking of travelling to Japan next year and seems like it will be an adventure for my family members.

    • profile image

      Debbie Naka 

      10 months ago

      I too, have enjoyed these places. It’s so beautiful. My family will go back with me. I also enjoyed Pachiko, so much. I now have my own. Thank you for sharing. Bringing back good memories.

    • Sivakumar Sathiamoorthy profile imageAUTHOR

      Sivakumar Sathiamoorthy 

      10 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks Liz and Joy again for appreciating my articles

    • profile image

      JoySantos 

      10 months ago

      The astounding memory that this guy carries for his writing won’t surprise me, that someday, his remarkable intellignce will land him in Ophra’s book launching.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 months ago from UK

      This is a very well-illustrated account of your visit to Kyoto.

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