Kyoto: Japan's Cultural Capital

An ode to traditions that translate to the modern era
Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji TempleContributed photo

Adventures of Teacher Maita

Located in the picturesque Japanese countryside, the prefecture of Kyoto is recognized as the cultural core of Japan and has a rich history. Kyoto has been there for more than a thousand years, and it was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand more. Despite the rapid pace of modernization, the city managed to hold on to its rich history.

Kyoto, Japan, is a living testimony to the strength of Japan's traditions; it has managed to combine the modern with the ancient in a way that is both beautiful and culturally rich.

My 11-day trip to Japan this year was a well-organized adventure full of exploration and revelation. Joined later by my sister, I was accompanied by my best friend and her friends then later joined by my eldest sister.

Dotonbori Lane
Dotonbori LaneContributed photo

Our journey started in Osaka, where my companions and I were greeted by the lively atmosphere of Dotonbori in the mild, rain-scented streets. I was sick that afternoon because our first day in Osaka was so chaotic with lost avenues, uncooperative Google Maps and rain.

While my friends explored Dotonbori, I took it easy. My best friend brought me food and tea when she wanted to make sure I was okay to go the next day. You can always rely on your best friend to make sure you were alive and not hungry. She stayed with me at night just to make sure the fever wouldn’t progress.

The following day, I was fine. We set out on a coastal tour of Amano Hashidate and Ine, both of which were still within Kyoto Prefecture. This may get extremely lengthy if I recount everything in one article, therefore I will compose a different article for it. I am committing 11 pieces for the entire 11 days in Japan, so please stay tuned for that.

Ten hours is not enough

We set off for Kyoto City on the third day and, drawn in by the city's many sacred temples and old shrines, had a quick tour of its most famous attractions. To get around Kyoto Proper, we rented a car for ten hours. We visited popular tourist spots including Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyumizu Dera, and Fushimi Inari Shrine. 

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari ShrineContributed photo
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari ShrineContributed photo

A feeling of spiritual awe engulfed us as we meandered around Kyoto's revered temples and shrines; every prayer echoed with a whisper of appreciation and optimism. Visit temples as an experience. This is a must when in Japan. Spirituality in Japan is unique and actually very inclusive. My best friend and I bought and offered candles in Kinkakuji but in our hearts, we were asking Jesus for the protection of family, health, beauty (this is very popular to pray about in Japan) and academics as I am writing my thesis. 

We could only visit these four locations in ten hours, so clearly it was insufficient. Every sight took one hour, except Kiyomizu took two. As the afternoon sun fell below the horizon, we sadly said goodbye to Kyoto's legendary embrace and retreated to the lively streets of Dotonbori to relish the last remnants of our day's activities.

Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji TempleContributed photo
Kinkakuji Temple, Golden Phoenix on the top.
Kinkakuji Temple, Golden Phoenix on the top.Contributed photo

However, time was a fickle travel companion. We had to return to Osaka at four in the afternoon because our ten hours were up. The rest of the evening was occupied with exploring the side streets and Dotonbori.

One of the many smaller temples in Arashiyama.
One of the many smaller temples in Arashiyama.Contributed photo
The author with Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as background.
The author with Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as background.Contributed photo
Small Quaint Café named Banana Juice. I took shelter when it snowed again.
Small Quaint Café named Banana Juice. I took shelter when it snowed again.Contributed photo

My sister and I went back to Kyoto on day nine. On the other hand, I was sick again on day nine, and I missed our planned event at Nijo Castle because of the alternating snowfall and rain.

Sanjo Dori
Sanjo DoriContributed photo

We set out on an exploratory and reflective adventure, passing through the precarious zone between tradition and innovation, amidst the charming town of Sanjo Dori and the mesmerizing town of Teramachi.

My observation of Kyoto

As we made our way through Kyoto's winding alleys, we discovered handmade wonders and culinary treats, each one a reflection of the city's steadfast dedication to genuine workmanship and authenticity.

Teramachi, shopping district in Kyoto.
Teramachi, shopping district in Kyoto.Contributed photo

This was tourism done right. Even the Japanese tourists reveled in the “touristy” activity that Kyoto had to offer. Still, we had our wits about us, aware of the fine line that exists between genuineness and commercialism, even as we navigated the tourist traps.

Upcycled Cool Designs.
Upcycled Cool Designs.Contributed photo

Kyoto offers a little something special, in contrast to the commercialized Tokyo. Their neighborhoods are all across the business district and tourist hotspots. Their homes have a modern appearance that is nonetheless distinctly "Japanese." Take their doors as an example; they all have a distinct look. Bonsais can be seen on many driveways and front porches.

Visit random galleries in Sanjo Dori.
Visit random galleries in Sanjo Dori.Contributed photo

Additionally, the roof has a distinct profile. Many homes make an effort to preserve the original, historic timber. Keep in mind that businesses close early if you are not in a bustling commercial district. Lunch is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in many parts of Nara and Kyoto. Additionally, they lock their doors at four o'clock in the afternoon. Make dinner reservations at the hotel in advance or limit yourself to establishments close to the train station. 

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the tourist traps. There are bound to be several tourist traps, particularly in the places I've already indicated. Exercise caution when you shop. Look up the costs on the internet if you must. Because most of the items will cost money, you should only buy touristy stuff for the experience.

Except for Kinkakuji, which charges 500 Yen entrance, all of the temples are free to visit. While ice cream shops closer to temples might charge 500 yen, those farther away will charge only 300–400 yen. The grocery store or the Don Quixote Department store are good places to look for non-specialized mementos. 

Random Temples in Teramachi.
Random Temples in Teramachi.Contributed photo
Sanjo Dori
Sanjo DoriContributed photo

The architectural environment of Kyoto attested to the peaceful cohabitation of the modern with the ancient, whereby contemporary practices were woven into a tapestry of unmatched beauty. Residential areas in Kyoto radiated an aura of cultural resonance and ageless grace, from the distinctive silhouette of traditional Japanese residences to the tranquil elegance of porches decked with bonsai.

Taking the Hello Kitty Haruka Express to the airport.
Taking the Hello Kitty Haruka Express to the airport.Contributed photo

Kyoto, as our voyage came to an end, was a symbol of the tenacity and beauty of Japanese culture and heritage. As the rest of the world changes around us, Kyoto stands as a monument to the resiliency of a people that are proud of their heritage while still looking forward to what the future holds.


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