One of the first things that any traveler will notice about Kyoto is that there appears to be a temple or shrine on nearly every block. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Kyoto’s reputation as the home of traditional Japanese culture is well deserved. Once the Imperial Capital of Japan, Kyoto is now a modern city where the traditions of the past live on. In the midst of crowded, multiple-story malls, you will find a number of women shopping in traditional Japanese Kimonos, and when you exit the mall, you are likely to find monks worshiping at a temple just around the corner.
We spent our week in Kyoto visiting only a handful of the many temples and shrines, but the ones we did visit were magnificent. From the moment we set foot in Japan, we were truly humbled by the kindness and respect that people show one another. Even those who have never traveled abroad would feel safe and welcome in Japan. Nonetheless, it was helpful to have a Japanese-speaking guide to get an insider’s perspective on the culture of Japan. Our friend, Patricia, who lives and works in the Shiga Prefecture, met us in town one day to show us around to Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Temple) and Fushimi Inari Shrine. It made the experience that much more authentic.
Before walking through the network of orange gates at Fushimi Inari, Patricia convinced us to dress up in traditional garb at a kimono vendor’s stall. We had no intention of purchasing kimonos, but after we got all decked out, the thought crossed our minds. While they would have been fun Halloween costumes, we eventually realized that they would have collected dust 99% of the time.
Another highlight of our visit to Kyoto was our trip to Arashiyama. We learned about this neighborhood of town from our hostel’s “things to do” board. At a first glance, it seemed like nothing more than something to do on a rainy day; however, it turned out to be one of our favorite places in Kyoto. The paths that make their way through the area are canopied by a forest of bamboo.
Last but not least…the food. A post on The Chamborres Expedition is not a post without writing about the cuisine of a city. We took a suggestion from a friend and sought out a grocery store located in the basement of a department store. We know that doesn’t sound like an exciting culinary adventure, but trust us, some of the best and most affordable sushi in the world can be found in such places. We scoped out our dinner selection early one morning, but lucked out by returning after 6:00PM when much of the sashimi was marked down 20 and 30 percent. No one wants day old sushi.
Everything in Japan is an art form, even the desserts. We were continually impressed by the presentation of products in the artisan sweet shops. The colors, textures and designs are a treat to the eye. Having only known the deliciousness of mochi from home, we were amazed by the taste and freshness of the ones in Kyoto. At over 150 yen/piece, they are not cheap, but they are an incredibly delicate and subtle way to end a meal.
Yesterday, we overheard another traveler saying, “I am so happy, it was something I have always wanted to do.” That is exactly how we felt when we arrived in Kyoto. We have always wanted to visit Japan, and exploring Kyoto was the perfect way to start our visit. It allowed us to see the temples of old, experience the food of today, and get a glimpse of the trends of tomorrow that awaited us in Tokyo.