Kyoto lies in Western Honshu, the main island of Japan. This city, regarded as one of Japan’s most
beautiful, wore the country’s imperial robes for over
1,000 years, until Tokyo became the modern capital in 1868. Emerging from ultra-modern Kyoto Station,
you may wonder, “where are the centuries of culture and
tradition this city is famous for?” And as you look down upon the gridded streets
from Kyoto Tower, you might even be forgiven for thinking you’ve
arrived at the wrong city. Yet, the old Kyoto is all around you, and
more often than not, it’s right under your nose.
From Kyoto Tower, head east, and push through the curtains of the downtown’s
high-rise, into the streets of Gion. It is here, in this historic entertainment
quarter, that you’ll begin to catch glimpses of one of Kyoto’s most alluring traditions, the geisha. Refined, artistic and otherworldly, the geisha are the very embodiment of old
Kyoto. Venture further east, into narrow alleyways like Ishibe Koji, and feel the echoes of the past amid the rows of traditional Kyoto-style houses. It’s in areas like this you’ll find some
of Kyoto’s finest Ryokan. These traditional inns originated in the Edo
period, and are the perfect places to lay your head
and dream of days gone by.
Just a rickshaw ride away, are the traffic-free streets of Sannen-zaka
and Ninen-zaka. Explore the traditional teahouses and crafts
shops, then retrace the steps of generations of worshipers who made their way to and from the nearby
Kyoto is known as “the city of 10,000 shrines”, and it would take a lifetime to experience
them all. Kyoto residents’ place enormous importance in the seasons.
And just like the seasons, every place of worship has its own colours,
… its own mood. There are places of spacious austerity, such as the Heian Shrine, dedicated to the first, and the last, of the city’s emperors. And intimate places, such as the Shorenin Temple, where you are
invited to sit, and quietly contemplate the gardens outside.
Visit temples dominated by stone, such as
the Kiyomizadera, one of the most revered in Japan. And others crafted from ancient timbers, such
as Tofukuji, loved for its covered bridges which span valleys
filled with maple and spruce. Water is an integral and unifying element in all of Kyoto’s places of worship. At the Kodai Temple, let your thoughts drift across a raked gravel
garden which represents the infinite ocean. For a water feature with a difference, visit
Nanzenji, and rest beneath the arches of a 19th- century
aqueduct, which still supplies much of the city’s
water. But of all Kyoto’s temples, nothing quite compares to Fushimi Inari-taisha. Dedicated to the fox spirit, Inari, this temple complex spans an entire mountainside. From the main shrine, climb an extraordinary two and a half mile
path lined with 10,000 tori gates. Along the way there are thousands of smaller
shrines where you can pay your respects or simply
catch your breath, before arriving at the summit two hours later. It’s s not just within the streets and temples
where you’ll find old Kyoto. You’ll find it the palace grounds of Nijo
Castle, and in the fleeting cherry blossom season which reminds us of the preciousness of time. It resides amid the whispering leaves and the ethereal light of the Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama, and in the Zen-like calm of the city’s resident
You’ll find old Kyoto in the rising steam of a communal dishes like shabu shabu, in the gentle pad of the rickshaw pullers’
footsteps, and it can certainly be found as evening falls and the city lights up like a living lantern. Perhaps it’s then, beneath the glow of the
city’s lights, you’ll realize that there is no old Kyoto.
Kyoto is timeless, it exists equally in the echoes of the past
and in the ringtones of today. As the world rushes by on the river of time,
Kyoto is but a series of perfect moments, each to be savored and enjoyed. Kyoto is Kyoto, here, now and forever.