Let's Go Back A Little
Trip Start Jul 22, 2006
59Trip End Aug 15, 2010
1) This is the first of many Posts I Should Have Posted Long Ago.
2) This will be the first of a two-part post, because I have too many pictures to share.
I've been to Kyoto twice, both times in October. Since Kyoto is to the south (south-west, to be precise) of Tokyo, the climate is warmer, the cherry trees bloom earlier, the leaves turn later, and I can only imagine that the summer is even muggier! October, however, is very pleasant. Still warm, not particularly humid, and is probably as free of tourists as you're ever going to get there (so not that free, really), since it's not a major travelling time, neither for Japanese nor for foreigners
Kyoto was the seat of power for a long time, and it's the place to go if you want to see what Japan used to look like. Compared to Tokyo, it's quite small (only about 1 million inhabitants) and spread out, without any real industry. Whereas Tokyo's streets seem to delight in not running straight and not meeting at right angles, Kyoto was modeled on the imperial cities of ancient China, so much of it is laid out in a grid. This makes it quite a bit easier to find one's way, and the surrounding mountains are also good markers. As an added bonus, many streets have names!
Since it's smaller, it's also much more relaxed, and has a very different feel from Tokyo. Getting around is easy, except it's better to take the bus than the subway, which only has two lines. Because of the huge number of tourists, the Kyoto bus company publishes a map indicating all the major points of interest (i.e. temples and shrines) and which buses will take you there.
The first time I visited, in 2006, it was to see two different festivals. The first is the "Jidai matsuri", or festival of the ages, for which over 2000 people get to dress up in costumes from various times in Kyoto's long history. The procession goes back in time, so that the first costumes to go by are the most recent (19th century) and two hours or so later, you finally get to see the two first emperors. In between are various groups and historical figures, mostly soldiers, but also many generals, noblewomen, poets, and notable characters.
The second festival I got to see was the Kurama Fire Festival
Most people probably think of geisha when they think of Kyoto, and you can see some, but probably only if you're hanging around one of the teahouse districts in the evening. A popular tourist activity for women is getting dressed up in full geisha kimono, wig and makeup, and going out to have your picture taken. So the "geisha" you see dressed to the nines and out in public at two in the afternoon... probably isn't the real thing. Still pretty, though!
There's more to be said about Kyoto, so next time it'll be temples, temples, and more temples!