The first day or two of any trip to a new country, you really just spend some time getting your bearings. Here in Japan . . . not gonna happen. There’s just too much to do, too much to see, and so little time. With rumors of a typhoon still lingering, I was riding the “superexpress” train through downpours on the way to everything that is Japanese history, Kyoto.
The traditional cultural center of Japan, Kyoto has seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, about six gazillion Buddhist temples, and even though it’s a thriving city of one and a half million, it has some kind of beautiful shrine around every corner it seems.
There are literally too many places to describe. Each site one-upped the last with its unique flavor; an ancient moated castle, incense rising from a Buddhist temple, bamboo forests surrounding delicately manicured Zen rock gardens, and buildings seemingly floating in the middle of a pond. You get the point. I told myself I wouldn’t get templed out, maybe it was the constant rain or the miles walked, but even the most determined sometimes go down. Kyoto will do that to you.
Two things will stick with me as I head to Tokyo. First, one temple seems to surpass the rest, the golden Kinkaku-ji. This three story pavilion is completely wrapped in gold and “floats” in a pond, surrounded by lush forest. It’s quite famous in Japan, and deservedly so, and it was crowded despite the rain and was still that wicked. The other, a more intimate experience, happened down a quiet alley when searching for a dinner spot. I was deciphering a window menu to look up and see a geisha passing by. Once I got my wits about me, she disappeared into a restaurant, not to be seen again.
Typhoon or not, with its golden temple and real life geishas, Kyoto might just be the Japan I had always imagined.
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