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Kyoto

Do Not Miss Lists

Kyoto, Japan – DNM List

DO NOT MISS LIST – Kyoto, Japan:

  1. Kiyomizudera temple – nestled into the mountains, view of the city
  2. Fushimiinari taisha shrine – personal favorite – arrive around 5pm to catch the sunset and see it after dark as well, very cool when illuminated
  3. Tofukuji temple – on the way to Fushimiibari
  4. Ginkakuji temple (silver pavilion) – the walk up to the temple grounds is just as fun as the temple itself, so enjoy the way up and down as well
  5. Kinkakuji temple (golden pavilion) – furtherest from the city center, good to pair with ryoanji
  6. Ryoanji temple – rock garden and landscaped grounds
  7. Gion district (home of the gieshas)
  8. Sanjusangendo Temple – hundreds of golden buddhas inside, beautiful site.  No indoor photography allowed
  9. Kyoto tower – view of entire city, if you’d like to get oriented 
  10. Kyoto station – an enormous above and below ground transport hub that contains your every want and need inside. The buses and trains all depart from here. There are a ton of very good restaurants including affordable/delicious sushi that comes out plate by plate on a conveyer belt. There is also a large super market here with produce, etc. at much better prices than the corner markets.
Adventure, Art, Culture

Our take on Kyoto

While David and I expected Kyoto to be filled with ancient shrines and temples, we didn’t imagine that the entire city would also be frozen in time. It seems as though construction of the newer areas of the city ceased sometime in the 80’s and not one thing has changed since. The actual city is not at all what you’d expect – mostly simple, old rectangular buildings…

So then what should you expect of Kyoto?  The temples are each unique, the city is huge, the bus is very useful and only costs about $5 per day for unlimited rides, train is cheap, mall is great. Constructions have been developed in areas that feel like they should be dedicated to the temple that sits beside it, so it feels a little cramped around some sites. Kyoto can initially feel small, but once you ride the bus, you realize it’s actually quite large and sprawling. There aren’t many sky scrapers or huge buildings besides the Kyoto tower, and it doesn’t light up the way Osaka does, not much night life or activity after 10pm.

Take away: Go there expecting not to love the city itself, go just for the temples/shrines. When you get there grab a city map and mark all the sites you’d like to see. The city is quite spread out, but the bus system is quite well mapped and organized – so as long as you have your sites selected, you’ll have no problem making your way around and fitting them all in a few days (one day if your pressed for time and start early, as most sites close up by 3 or 4pm).

Art, Culture

Geisha Encounters

Kyoto is famous for the Geishas. But arriving in Kyoto we had no real idea of what a geisha was, we knew they were pretty Japanese women who dressed up in traditional attire, but what for? We weren’t quite sure.  David thought they were something like a traditional prostitute. Boy was he wrong. Staying at Ks Guesthouse we found a poster hanging by the tea and coffee station that explained to us exactly what Geishas are all about.

Geishas are broken down into Maiko and Geiko. Maiko are Geishas in training or apprentice Geishas, they’re under 20 years old and study how to be a professional in Japanese traditional culture. They’re taught how to entertain people with tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, and they know a lot about Japanese traditional music and dance. When they are 20 years old, a Maiko becomes a Geiko, a matured Geisha. Someone who is thought of to be skilled in Japanese Culture and Arts, they’ve reached “a higher level of artistry”.

It’s rare to meet Geisha’s unless you know exactly where to find them.  You will see women dressed up like Geishas wandering the streets of Gion, but more often than not, they are not the real thing.  Take the advice shown in these posters and you will more than likely find yourself the real thing!

Culture, Latest News

Japan’s bright future – The next generation

Sightseeing around the various temples and riding buses in Japan, especially in Kyoto, we were perplexed by the number of children running around at all the sites. We’d go to a temple on a Tuesday afternoon and there would be kids in school uniform everywhere. It turned out the kids were just following their standard curriculum. All kids in Japan, throughout the entire country have to travel to the city of Kyoto and around the the mainland to learn about the history.

At first I was a bit confused, why do we need to learn so much history when we are so young, even in the American school system? We mostly don’t remember what we learn in school when we’re young. But as we traveled more and encountered more kids I had a realization: these kids are taught real life skills of riding buses and trains on their own or with friends. They’re taught to read signs and have encounters with foreigners. In fact, they are required to speak to English speaking foreigners as a part of their curriculum as well.  One project they have is to interview tourists in English and transcribe answers. As a result they’re exposed to a lot from a young age and taught a lot about real life, not basic history and “after school” like we do in the states.

Overall we were quite impressed with the Japanese curriculum, one thing we caught on tape at the Golden Temple in Kyoto and thought was cute was when a young boy in his class came up to us and started to speak to us in English. He was communicating well with absolute strangers in a foreign language (we have the video here) and he couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. We quickly learned that this communication where kids would ask “hi, can I ask you a question, where are you from?” Was something they were assigned to do while visiting tourist sites.

We were happy with our realization and absolutely support this aspect of their curriculum.  Japanese children are taught valuable  communication tools that help them gain some insight into other cultures. And, even more importantly, they’re taught to have confidence and independence from a young age.