Part 2: City of Beauty and Temples: Kyoto
The next part of our trip took us to another of Japan’s major cities, Kyoto, which is also on the island of Honshu. In total, Japan has 6,852 islands but only 80% are inhabited. Honshu is the main island. The other three main islands are Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu.
We got to Kyoto by the famous bullet train, called the Shinkansen. Not only does it look grand and very technically cool, it is very fast, very clean, and quiet. Japan has a term for fans of anything; such people are called ‘otakus’. By the end of our visit we had become train ‘otakus’. To confirm our otaku status we went on a 5-hour round trip train ride, touching another island and then heading back.
The other aspect of the country we really got into was ‘manga’; the common craze all Japanese have for storytelling in the form of comics. We even visited the International manga museum in Kyoto and the manga district in Tokyo. Sanjay bought his first manga book too!
Coming back to Kyoto- it’s very different than Tokyo. Life has a lot less buzz here, a lot fewer night-lights and tall buildings too. But what Kyoto lacks in technical glitz it makes up in cultural heritage. There’s a temple almost on every street. We were heading to a popular tourist temple on our first day in Kyoto and ended up stopping at another equally beautiful but unknown temple. My favorite, of course, was Fushimi Inari; everyone will recognize this temple as it is so well photographed. For 10 years in a row, it is now considered Kyoto’s #1 tourist attraction. It’s about 10,000 orange wooden gates (called Toris) that lead up to a temple on a mountain. It was a fun and spiritual climb despite the oppressive heat.
Kyoto is also the land of matcha (green tea in powder form) and geishas (female entertainers often found in the Gion district) and maikos (apprentice geishas), and of course kimonos (traditional Japanese wear.) We took part in a traditional tea ceremony (called cha-do) and even got to wear Kimonos. Kyoto has a lot of rental kimono shops (since a real one is too expensive to own I think!) It was a lot of fun but very elaborate. We have to end drinking your cup of tea by slurping to show our host we enjoyed it.
One day I got to explore Kyoto on my own by going for a long morning walk along the river. That was fun and it was fun to see locals fishing, walking, cycling, and jogging, overall a very livable city.